Having lost three children to miscarriage, one of my biggest fears is that my children will be forgotten. I am not looking for me or my miscarriages to be remembered—I am looking for my children to be remembered.
In many ways, this is really an impossible request. No one has ever met my children, and other than an indecipherable eight-week ultrasound of our first, I don’t even have pictures to share. But their souls graced this earth, if only for a short time, and as their mother I yearn for others to carry my children in their hearts.
I do know other people miss our children. My husband and I are not the only ones with empty arms. Their grandparents, aunts, and uncles are missing baby snuggles; their cousins are missing playmates; and their church is missing baptisms. But as their mother I carry the weight of their memory every day, and ultimately, I fear they will be forgotten.
I am blessed beyond measure when my children are remembered. Following my third miscarriage, we were blessed by an outpouring of love and support from friends and family. One day I answered the door to find a good friend holding five flowers. As she handed them to me, she simply said, “A flower for each member of your family.” As heartbroken as I was following the loss, my heart was full. My children had been remembered.
Remembering Our Children
Every parent who has lost a child carries the memory of his or her child, and many fear their children will be forgotten. But unfortunately, not every loss parent has a way to remember his or her child. Due to the silence surrounding pregnancy and infant loss, too many parents are burdened and alone, with no space to channel their own grief—let alone encourage others to remember.
As my husband and I shared our losses publicly, we have also been able to give life to our children. We refer to them by their nicknames when talking to friends, we reminisce about my pregnancies, and we honor special days. Often, this is accompanied by tears, but it is also often accompanied by great joy as we have the pleasure of celebrating and remembering our children. But our story is not the norm.
Our culture has a deep need for a space for parents to grieve their children. Countless articles and blog posts have been written over the last few years crying out for the freedom to talk about our children. The subject has been covered over and over again because the silence has been imprisoning families for too long. Inspired by the upcoming film project on this subject, “Don’t Talk About the Baby,” I second them and say: it’s time to talk about the baby.
Although slowly, this need is being addressed, and perhaps this outcry is evidence of more than 30 years of work. In 1988 President Reagan recognized the tragedy of pregnancy and infant loss as he declared October National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. Reagan is often attributed with saying, “When a child loses his parent, they are called an orphan. When a spouse loses her or his partner, they are called a widow or a widower. When parents lose their child, their isn’t a word to describe them.” By making a proclamation for a national day of observance, Reagan recognized that part of the problem was our cultural understanding (or lack of understanding) and place for parents grieving child loss.
More than a decade later, the first Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day was declared in a House resolution on October 15, 2001. Among its many goals, the day is set aside “to remember all pregnancies and infants lost in order to heal and be comforted in a time of pain and heartache, and to have hope for the future.” Now, on each October 15 everyone all over the world is invited to light a candle at 7 p.m. for at least one hour to remember the children lost.
With the power of social media, a collective voice, and political leadership, we see a budding space for women and families to share, grieve, and remember their babies in community.
What Miscarriage Awareness Accomplishes
While things have improved on this front, we have not yet arrived. Unfortunately, this day of remembrance must carry a greater burden than simply being a day to remember our babies. Due to the veil of silence that still surrounds pregnancy loss, our remembrance also becomes an act that raises awareness. Despite Reagan’s nearly 30-year-old proclamation, many are still not aware of pregnancy loss.
That’s why one of the stated goals of the Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day is to “inform and educate the public about pregnancy and infant loss so they can better learn how to respond with compassion to affected families.” We need awareness before we can get to remembrance. People must know there are grieving families all around them to then remember their children with them.
Our lack of awareness is pervasive, as Katherine Hobson pointed out in her 2015 article “People Have Misconceptions About Miscarriage, And That Can Hurt.” She references a study conducted by Dr. Zev Williams that revealed 55 percent of his respondents believed miscarriage occurs in less than 5 percent of pregnancies, while the number is actually between 15 to 20 percent. Adding to the misunderstanding, most people do not know what causes a miscarriage: as many as 76 percent believed one could be caused by a stressful event.
These misconceptions are why we need awareness. As long as these misconceptions are prominent in our society, women and families are often left alone or sometimes even hurt by those who try to help with well-meaning, yet painful and misinformed comments. We need awareness so we can better love our neighbors. We need awareness so we can remember our babies.
So it is time to ask: where is this greater conversation about pregnancy loss awareness going? In 2015, I complained about the hushed culture surrounding early pregnancy. In August, I noted that the conversation is getting better. Women and families are starting to share their experiences, and that is really good. But as I noted in the same article, awareness is only the beginning.
The Beginning of What?
It is important for the people involved in any awareness campaign to consider what they want. Is the awareness necessary so organizations can raise money for disease research? Is the awareness to change public policy? Or cultural norms?
Also, how do we know we have succeeded? Have we reached our goal when everyone properly knows the pregnancy loss statistics? Do we simply want everyone to know that pregnancy loss happens?
No. It seems that, like any awareness effort, the purpose of pregnancy and infant loss awareness is not simply to make people aware that this tragedy happens. We need awareness because women and families are not getting the love and support they need. We need awareness because as a culture we have failed to recognize their children as children and in turn love these families rightly through their grief.
We need awareness so you can join us in remembering our babies.