In 1988, when President Ronald Reagan declared October to be Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, I was still in college, not yet married, and motherhood was a distant point in my future. The proclamation, even if I had heard about it, would have sailed right past my consciousness.
Five years later, when I became a mother, if I had heard about the proclamation then, it might have caught my attention, but I wouldn’t have given it much thought. I hadn’t yet lost a baby during or after pregnancy, nor was I aware of anyone who had.
Everything changed in June of 1995 as I held my beautiful stillborn daughter, Miranda, in my arms and said goodbye to her. Within the next year (compounded by a subsequent miscarriage), I had become fully aware of the importance of President Reagan’s proclamation, and learned of many families around me who had indeed experienced the death of a baby during or after pregnancy.
Babies aren’t supposed to die. Yet, each year, in the United States alone, approximately 26,000 babies will be stillborn. Another 26,000 will die within their first year of life. And it is estimated that nearly one million babies will be lost to miscarriage. Worldwide, these numbers become staggering. While pregnancy and infant loss affects millions of people each year, there are still many who know little about it. There are still many who are afraid to talk about it. And grieving parents are still expected to quickly “get over it” and get on with their lives.
That’s all changing. In the past thirty years, more than 700 local, national, and international organizations have begun offering support and resources to bereaved parents and their caregivers. The government took notice in 1988, and since then, thousands of memorial walks and ceremonies have taken place across the United States. In 2006, October 15th was declared Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day.
Parent support groups have successfully lobbied in twenty-seven states for the passing of the MISSing Angels Bill requiring that parents of stillborn children are given the option of receiving a Certificate of Birth Resulting in Stillbirth as opposed to only a Certificate of Death or Certificate of Stillbirth; three more states have pending legislation. Not only about dignity and validation, the movement is also about maternal and newborn health and research.
The research sector has indeed undertaken numerous studies recently to learn the causes and treatment of miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant death, as well as the emotional effects on bereaved parents. One such endeavor is an extensive international stillbirth study completed in 2005 by doctors from the University of Oslo, Yale, and Harvard, sponsored by two international parent support groups (www.momstudy.com).
Artists have joined the movement with The Secret Club Project, a national traveling exhibit and slide presentation featuring over forty-five international artists that aims to break the silence surrounding pregnancy loss and infertility by exhibiting, publishing, and presenting its growing collection of powerful works of art (www.secretclubproject.org).
During the past several years, major magazines and newspapers have written with increasing frequency about the heartbreak and emotional effects of pregnancy and infant loss, and the subject is finding its way into mainstream television programming and news shows. MTV2’s hit reality show Run’s House (televising the daily life of former Run-DMC rapper Joseph Simmons, a.k.a. “Rev. Run” and his family) followed the pregnancy and tragic stillbirth of Run’s and wife Regina’s baby girl, Victoria, in 2006.
In 2008, major publisher Little, Brown and Company released novelist Elizabeth McCracken’s memoir, An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, about the stillbirth of her son Pudding. Even Disney-Pixar’s hit family movie Up, released this past summer, touches on this great sadness when Carl and Ellie’s only child is miscarried.
Put eloquently by Joanne Cacciatore, Founder of MISS Foundation, “The death of a child at any age and from any cause…challenges families’ sense of security and causes stressors in even the most stable households. The death of a child at any age is life’s most devastating tragedy.”
Miranda’s brief life and death had a profound effect on our entire family and community of friends, as have the lives of millions of babies around the world on their families and friends. The time has come to acknowledge these lives, for by allowing us to share our stories, we gain strength for ourselves and give hope to others. The time has come to reach out with compassion, not retreat in fear. The time has come to shed light on the subject of pregnancy loss and infant death, for where there is light, there is healing and love.