October is Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month
By Rebecca Erickson, President of Sharing Parents Pregnancy & Infant Loss Support Group, Sacramento, CA
In October 1988, President Ronald Regan proclaimed the month of October to be “Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.” In his speech, he noted that our society has terms for the loss of a spouse (widow or widower) and a child who has lost a parent (orphan), but no term to describe a parent who has lost a child. Such a loss is unimaginable and indescribable. Child loss goes against the natural order. The lack of a term to describe a parent who has lost a child could be viewed as symptomatic of society’s tendency to ignore the reality of child loss. Our society tends to have difficulty acknowledging and discussing death in general—let alone the death of a child. The loss of a child during pregnancy or early infancy is further minimized in our society. When it comes to child loss, people tend to think that how long you’ve known a child dictates how much you love it. In Sharing Parents’ experience, how much one loves a child does not depend on how long the child lives. As long time Sharing Parents volunteer, Deanna Lockhart, describes it, “Parental love is instinctual and complete. Many new parents are instantly in love before the baby is born. This intense love doesn’t increase as our children get older; we just get more experienced in loving our children. Parents have more memories as the child gets older, but we don’t love our children any less if they die very young.” Parents grieving their babies are also grieving the loss of potential. As Doug Manning states in his 2003 Special Care Series of bereavement books, “the child has not lived long enough to establish their significance in the world so we must establish it for them. It is almost as if we must walk through the world for the child.” At Sharing Parents, we find that bereaved parents are also grieving what they imagined parenthood would be like. Parents who have no other living children may even question whether they are parents.
Some might be shocked at the frequency of pregnancy and infant loss in the United States. Miscarriage rates are usually reported as 1 in 4 pregnancies although some estimates are as high as 1 in 3. The CDC reports one in every 115 American pregnancies ends in stillbirth-defined as naturally occurring fetal death after 20 weeks gestation. This translates to more that 3,000 babies being stillborn in California each year; 25,000 babies in the United States each year. Due to the “Back to Sleep” campaign, SIDS is much more recognized but happens much less often. The American SIDS Institute reports 1 in 2,500 US children die of SIDS. According to Michael Bergman’s 2001 book Parenthood Lost, birth defects are the leading cause of infant mortality in the US, and “of all infants born each year approximately 1 in 115 has heart and/or circulatory defects” (203). While these statistics can be helpful, once we or our baby(ies) have become a statistic, statistics can loose all meaning. The tragedy 100% happened. The more open parents are about their loss, the more they might find that they are not alone in their experience. Many parents who have experienced a pregnancy or early infancy loss find themselves in a secret club of which no one wants to be a part. All too often, pregnancy and early infancy loss is revealed and discussed only when we learn someone else has undergone a similar loss. Fortunately Sharing Parents Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support Group exists to help support grieving parents over the age of 18 whose babies have died from conception to early infancy (up to 6 months of age). Formed in 1981, the purpose of Sharing Parents is to provide an atmosphere where grieving parents can come together and share their feelings about their loss and the love for their babies. Based in Sacramento, it is a place where parents can both give and receive emotional support by sharing common experiences and learn about the natural grief process while
working through their loss– hence the name, Sharing Parents.
Sharing Parents is a self help, peer support group. Our services are free and we are run entirely by volunteers who have had a pregnancy or early infancy loss. Our meetings are held at Mercy Women’s Center, 650 Howe Ave, Suite 530, Sacramento, CA. We offer three main types of support meetings:
Sharing Parents Meeting Options
• General Meetings are for parents who are looking to work through their grief and receive support from other parents regardless of how long ago their loss(es) occurred. General Meetings meet the second Sunday of the month from 7-9pm with the exception of May and October.
• Subsequent Pregnancy Meetings are for parents who are pregnant or are considering a future subsequent pregnancy. Subsequent Pregnancy Meetings are held the fourth Sunday of the month from 7-9pm with the exception of December.
• Short Term Grief is a month long series of weekly meetings with the same group of parents within a year of their loss. We explore grief and the grieving process. Registration is required to attend our Short Term Grief Series.
Since the time when President Regan’s speech brought heightened awareness to pregnancy and infant loss, October 15 has become internationally recognized as “Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.” On October 15th everyone in all time zones all across the world is encouraged to light a candle at 7pm and keep the candle lit for one hour. With this simple act, we are creating a continuous wave of light all across the world. In place of our October General Meeting, Sharing Parents holds a non-denominational memorial service which recognizes and honors our dead babies. This year’s October Memorial will be October, 14, 2012 from 3-5pm.
Anyone who has had a pregnancy or infant loss is invited to attend. The ceremony takes place in the State Capitol Park World Peace Rose Garden whose theme is Peace for Women, Children and Families. The Sharing Parents October Memorial is a time of sharing and remembering that includes a candle ceremony, special music, and a dove release.