In 1988 President Ronald Reagan announced that October would be known as pregnancy and infant loss awareness month (or PAIL month). The month encompasses all forms of pregnancy and infant loss, from miscarriage and ectopic pregnancies to stillbirth to neonatal death due to prematurity or sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). And because October is also breast cancer awareness month, PAIL Month doesn’t always get the same recognition it deserves. It's vital that we, as a country, support bereaved parents, especially during PAIL month. After all, according to the American Pregnancy Association (APA), one in four pregnancies will end in a loss. Chances are, you know someone who has experienced this pain. Someone like me.
Before I lost my first baby to prematurity, I'd never heard, thought of, or observed pregnancy and infant loss awareness month. I had no idea so many pregnancies end before parents are able to give birth, and I was completely clueless about all the different ways infants can die just after birth. This was not information I was given when I first got pregnant, and there were few media portrayals, if any, about these types of losses. And while no one is under any type of obligation to share and articulate this pain with others, the only person I’d known to have a miscarriage was completely silent about it.
So when it happened to me I was alone and unable to find the support I needed. Eventually, and thankfully, that changed, though. Over the years I’ve heard so many stories and met so many bereaved parents. I’ve taken it upon myself to write about pregnancy and infant loss as much as I can (until it gets to be too much and I need a break). It’s my way of supporting others like me, in the hopes that no one ends up feeling as alone and lost as I did. So if you’re wondering how you can support those you know who are going through this type of loss, here are a few ideas:
Check In On Your Grieving Friends More Than Usual
It’s not hard to remember those friends of yours who have had a loss. Send them a quick, “Hey, how are you doing?” text. If you’re comfortable and close enough, ask them how they’re doing this month in particular. Just show them that you’re there for them. Loss parents often have trouble maintaining relationships after a loss, and it’s amazing when you realize your friends still remember you and care about you.
Educate Yourself About Pregnancy & Infant Loss
Don’t let your friend be your only go-to person about PAIL. While it’s OK to reach out to them with questions or referrals, you’ve also got this lovely thing called Google. There is a ridiculous amount of information out there about loss that you can easily discover yourself.
Spread Awareness About Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month
Now that you’ve educated yourself about some of the many ways parents can lose a pregnancy or baby, share what you’ve learned. Make a Facebook post. Tweet it out. Find a graphic on Pinterest. Create flyers and hand them out. Include info about it in your next newsletter. Do what you can to gently but accurately inform others about what is, quite frankly, an epidemic.
Make A Donation To An Organization That Supports Pregnancy & Infant Loss Prevention Research
At the end of the day, what all of us loss parents want are answers and solutions. We don’t want to experience this pain again, and we don’t want others to go through it either. The only way things can change is by funding and pushing for more research.
Find PAIL Month Events In Your Community
If you want to go a step beyond, look into PAIL month events in your area. March of Dimes puts on events around the country. Many other organizations also have memorial walks, balloon releases, and other similar events. A quick Google search can yield a number of local events. Share these on social media for any parents who might be grieving, including those you’re friends with.
If Asked To Join In Any Sort Of Memorial Event, Attend If Able
While this likely won’t happen often, if your loss friend invites you over for any kind of memorial service, and you’re able to attend, please do so. I’ve found that most families are generally private about their grief, but some are not. Consider it an honor that someone would want to include you in their memorial.
Do Something Special In Honor Of Your Friend’s Loss
One friend of mine in the loss community recently wrote down all the names of the babies that left the world too soon. She included my daughter. She then put them on her wall and made a short video showing all the different names. Another loss mom I know has made beautiful music videos that include the names of those babies who didn’t make it. While not entirely necessary, it’s always nice when people find a unique way to remember your baby.
Participate In The International Wave Of Light
Oct. 15 is known as National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day. At 7:00 p.m., people all across the world participate in the International Wave of Light. Simply put, at that time, you light a candle in honor of all the pregnancies and babies lost. Many people take a photo of their light and use the hashtag #waveoflight to post on social media for others to see and become aware. It's a totally simple, but very powerful, way to remind your friends you’re there for them and the little one(s) they lost.