Loss - a definition
- Failure to keep or to continue to have something
- The experience of having something taken from you or destroyed
Despite the pretty clear similarities in the first and second definitions above (loss; not having something), apparently we can have different definitions of loss, and different interpretations of what that means.
When we lose a pregnancy, infant, baby or child - it is a loss, and it hurts.
When 'help' is not helpful
As I listened to a parenting radio show the other day, a caller rang in to ask for some assistance. She was constantly worrying about her children dying or something terrible happening to them. She had experienced four miscarriages; two before her first child was born, and another two before her second child was born.
Her eldest child was four years old, and her youngest just five weeks.
Her anxiety was palpable, and she was close to tears as she begged for guidance so that she would not become immobilised by her anxiety and the fear that she would lose her two living children as well.
The ‘expert’ who was providing the so-called help, suggested this mother needed to 'reframe' her miscarriages. My ears perked up and my senses went on alert. She suggested, instead of framing the miscarriages as a 'loss' of a child, she should simply think about them as pregnancies that 'weren’t meant to be'.
I was dumbfounded.
She went on to share she also had experienced two miscarriages but wasn’t 'bogged down by loss' (her words), and went on to have four healthy, living children. She said she simply felt that these were just pregnancies that 'didn’t work out' (her words again).
At that point I turned the radio off.
Baby loss is always painful
I can see that what the parenting expert said may make sense. And that approach may certainly work for many people, especially if they take a far more pragmatic view of the world.
However, nearly every woman I meet and speak with feels a huge sense of loss and grief when they experience a miscarriage. Suggesting that they ought to simply “reframe” that loss doesn't seem particularly helpful to me. Even less helpful when someone is clearly begging for help!
Certainly there are times in our lives where thinking about the positive and trying to see the bright side is appropriate. I completely agree with that, and often do it myself.
However, I can’t stretch that approach to apply when a baby has died. No matter how small that child, if it was wanted and loved and is then achingly and desperately missed, no amount of “reframing” is going to stop that experience from hurting.
From being a loss.
Baby loss hurts, whenever it occurs
Does it vary based on how far progressed your pregnancy is? I know there is an argument that if the pregnancy ends within the first 12 weeks, it’s not uncommon. And therefore whilst you shouldn’t expect it, you equally shouldn’t be surprised.
But do these messages help when it’s your own child, your own body, your own pain?
No. Not at all.
For those of us who desperately want a child, have been trying for ages, then when we are finally pregnant, to have that pregnancy fail - this is loss.
Or, once we are feeling secure in our pregnancy (post the first 12 weeks), something goes wrong and we experience a late miscarriage - this is loss.
Or, like me, something goes wrong just weeks before the baby was to be born.
Or, like some of my dearest friends, something goes wrong at the due date.
All of these babies are and were wanted and loved. And therefore, when they are no longer with us, we feel it as loss. An aching, painful, deep loss.
One in four
The Australian Bureau of Statistics does not collect data on rates of miscarriage. Therefore, the statistics, where available are frightening.
One in four Australian women experience the loss of a pregnancy, either by miscarriage or stillbirth. But most likely, these statistics are higher, as many miscarriages happen outside of a hospital setting and are therefore not recorded in centralised records.
All of these women, all of whom are mothers, have experienced loss.
I don’t believe a simple “reframing” is going to help them cope better.
Having an open conversation about pregnancy and infant loss and what it means, might go someway to at least acknowledging the pain parents experience when they lose their much-loved child.
Light a candle
This coming weekend, October 15 is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. To honour all the babies lost, please light a candle at 7pm and keep it burning for at least an hour. In this way, a wave of light will circle the world in remembrance of all babies lost.
If you have lost a child and would like to join a group with other similar parents, Parents Evolving & Transitioning After Loss (PETAL) is here to support you. To learn more about the group, click here.
If you are ready to live your life in a way to honour yourself and the child you lost, get in touch. I'd love to work with you to help support you make it happen.