In 1988, President Reagan established October as National Observance of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month. His intention was to offer Americans “the opportunity to increase (their) understanding of the great tragedy involved in the deaths of unborn and newborn babies” and to use this time to consider how we might support bereaved parents and family members. Reagan aptly stated, “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 widower. When parents lose their child, there isn’t a word to describe them.”
The loss of a child is a devastating, life-altering experience. These heart-wrenching losses can come through the death of an infant or child, stillbirth, miscarriage, SIDS, abortion, among others. All losses are, at the core, painful; however, the loss of a child is uniquely difficult, as a parent doesn’t expect their child to die first. Many moms and dads-to-be have longed and dreamed about being parents, so these tragic deaths of their infants or children are tantamount to the loss of a dream.
When I lost my daughter through stillbirth, my life changed forever. I have described this experience as the “day my life fell apart.” After the heartache of years of infertility, her loss broke me, shattered my heart, my hopes, my dreams. I was haunted by thoughts of what might have been: the child I dreamed of holding, rocking, caring for, and watching grow up. My arms ached to hold her; my body felt like it had betrayed me. I couldn’t sleep, eat, or enter her nursery. Like many women long desiring to be mothers, my baby represented to me the end of my infertility journey, my happy family.
With between 10 to 20 percent of pregnancies ending in miscarriage and the tragedy of stillbirth and infant loss, how do we remember babies gone too soon and those with “angel babies?” How do we grieve the “what might have been” or support those who have suffered the tragedy of infant or pregnancy loss?
These are some things I learned as I fumbled my way through my grief journey: be kind to yourself, learn to recognize and name your feelings, know that your experiences do not define you but shape you. Consider talking to a therapist who specializes in infertility and infant loss. Use good self-care, journal, get rest. Be a student of yourself: learn about yourself, what you need, how your friends and family can support you. Ask for what you need, directly. Find others who understand your experience and your pain. Your journeys will not be the same but find someone to walk alongside you-a friend, therapist, or support group. Talk about your experience. I was shocked to learn of how many women I knew who had suffered a stillbirth. Their stories gave me hope. Hope that I could survive my personal tragedy and hope that I could go on without my daughter.
In my journey of healing from the loss of my angel baby, I have had the honor to meet a fellow loss mom who has used her tragedy to minister to hundreds of women. After the death of her infant daughter, Finley, due to medical malpractice, Noelle Moore saw “a large gap between the hospital and the home.” She states that her care ended when she left the hospital after the death of her baby. She was left to navigate the pain of her tragic loss on her own and determined that she wanted to change this lonely, heart-breaking experience for other women.
Noelle started The Finley Project, a Central Florida-based agency that serves clients nationwide. The Finley Project is the nation’s only holistic program for mothers after infant loss and bridges the gap in care. Noelle states that The Finley Project’s unique holistic approach is more than just a support group; it is a 7-part program that is free to the mother. Care for the mother who has lost her infant includes funeral planning and support, grocery gift cards, house cleaning services, massage therapy, counseling, support group placement, and support from a volunteer, the majority of which are other loss moms or grandmothers. Noelle and her staff are uniquely positioned to support grieving moms after infant loss. Please visit https://www.thefinleyproject.org for more information.
Like Noelle, I will never forget my daughter. September 11th marked the day that would have been Hannah Catherine’s 18th birthday. I was struck by how much her brief life affected me. She changed me. Being her mother has shaped the way I look at life, family, parenting, and the gift of a child. God promises to work good in all things for those who love him. 18 years ago, as I walked out of the hospital, heart broken, arms empty, without my baby, I could not have said this. Today I can. Have hope, care for yourself, give yourself time to grieve and heal.
written by Megan White