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Pregnancy and Infant loss, We need to talk about it.

Introduction

Pregnancy and infant loss are far too common, devastating thousands of families across Canada every year. In 2017 1,699 infants died within the first year after birth and 3,159 babies were stillborn. After experiencing the death of a loved one it is normal to mourn, but families who have lost a pregnancy or infant are at a much greater disadvantage. Parents, often riddled with grief, retreat into isolation after the loss of their child. Our society does not speak enough about these realities, creating stigmas by some not living through them.

 

The Stigma

After a loss of such magnitude, it is normal to experience loneliness, isolation, depression and strains on the relationship. Oftentimes people blame themselves for the loss. In a survey conducted in January 2017, one person reported they “face stigma and felt embarrassed like I should hide my losses and I was responsible” and due to isolation or a lack of medical care instructions, these symptoms and feelings like these often go untreated.

 

Support systems

The same survey indicated participants received care from several facilities including their primary care provider, Emergency Medical Services (EMS), birthing units, fertility clinics and others. They were asked about follow-up instructions given to them from healthcare providers, 23% indicated they were given no instructions, while 8% said they did not remember if they had or had not received instructions.   

Many participants of the survey described isolation and exclusion as significant factors in their experience of loss, with one person stating “it just felt like once I wasn’t pregnant anymore, I didn’t matter to anyone.” Each loss is unique, meaning that many feel unwelcome in support groups, feeling as though they did not belong, leading to further feelings of exclusion and the inability to access desired support. 

Relationship Strain

Partners are also at risk of feelings of isolation and depression, often experiencing feelings of exclusion as well. The survey clearly indicated the lack of support for the impact the loss has on a relationship, in one person’s comment they expressed watching their partner “Fade away” as they felt they had no one to talk to. 

The LGBTQ2+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, queer, two-spirited) community is especially overlooked when talking about pregnancy and infant death exacerbating feelings of isolation. Most support groups are gendered with a  focus on mom and dad leaving many LGBTQ2+ couples feeling there isn’t a place for them to heal.   

Although many understand the priority being given to women, a more compassionate and integral family care approach is needed to be offered to all family members. Partners carry a significant amount of stress as well, often feeling that on top of their own grief they must “stay strong” and provide for their grieving partner despite having experienced the very same loss.

Join the conversation the right way

Discussing such a topic can be hard, awkward and uncomfortable when you don’t know what to say or how to approach the subject but we NEED to talk about it. The Stigma surrounding pregnancy and infant loss such as grief, embarrassment, shame and guilt are all added weights to an already tragic and emotionally weighted experience. Together we can create a safe space for all family members to support those who have had this tragic experience. We have put together some talking points that could help you support a loved one, friend, or community member on their recovery journey:

Rather than saying : Try saying this
“Everything happens for a reason, this wasn’t meant to be” “I’m so sorry. I can imagine this is very difficult for you.”
“At least you know you can get pregnant” “I can’t imagine the pain you and your partner are going through, but I am here to listen if you need to talk about it”
“At least you have a healthy child already”, “I’m deeply sorry for your loss”

How to show your support 

  • Say their name.
    •  Remember babies together with their parents by speaking their names and keeping their memory alive.
  • Acknowledge their existence.
    • As a community, we want to acknowledge the significance of the babies who died too early. They matter to their parents and they made a difference in this world.
  • Light a Candle.
    • Simple gestures like lighting a candle for a baby can show parents that you care and want to support them.

 

About the Author: 

Dr. Sanjay Rao is an experienced teacher and Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Ottawa. In 2018, he was awarded a Fellowship of the Canadian Association of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for his contribution to CBT in Canada. He has received an award from the Department of Health, UK for CBT development. He is the Director of Unified CBT Academy and the Medical Director at the Center for Mental & Psychological Health. To find out more about Dr. Rao you can review his profile.

 

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