Warning: This article discusses statistics and detailed personal stories about Pregnancy and Infant Loss that may be upsetting for some readers.
October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month. Chances are, you probably know someone who has suffered from such a loss. 15-20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage and around 2.6 million stillbirths occur each year. It’s been found that Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), is the leading cause of death in babies. We live in a world that’s notorious for staying silent on subjects deemed too “taboo” to openly discuss. This forces so many parents to stay silent and not talk about the immense loss they’ve experienced. Those impacted are stifled from sharing their story, when they should be encouraged.
Despite consistent medical findings that prove otherwise, many people continue to believe that if a woman has a miscarriage or stillbirth, it is her fault. Pregnancies are normally not announced in the first trimester because that is when the chances of miscarriage are highest. A couple may be excited to discuss their unborn baby but the standard expectation is to not do so since if they do, and the baby is miscarried, they will have to talk about the loss equally as openly.
In cases where an infant dies, many people think that SIDS must always be a result of negligence on their parents’ part. This is completely false. SIDS is a sudden and undetectable medical disorder that can happen to even the healthiest babies. Nobody is to blame.
Ignorance and discomfort needs to stop in order for love and support to take over. One of the most important pieces of the puzzle is awareness. Awareness is driven by education and discussion. The end result is to create a more understanding, and accepting environment. In order to achieve that, we must first understand what miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant death mean.
A miscarriage is what happens when a baby passes away during the first 23 weeks of pregnancy. 85% of miscarriages happen in the in the first trimester (weeks 1-12.) Many women suffer from habitual miscarriages, meaning that they’ve suffered 3 or more in a row.
Miscarriages are more common than many realize.
A stillbirth occurs when a baby passes away 28 weeks or more into the pregnancy or passes away during birth. The mother must deliver her baby as opposed to the miscarriage occurring naturally. The majority of stillbirths are due to chromosomal issues, development problems, an accident with the umbilical cord, or premature birth.
So what is it like for families who begin planning for a baby that never arrives? What is it like to leave a hospital empty handed? Two brave young women have shared their stories, similar to many others about how miscarriage and stillbirth forever impacted their lives, and could easily impact yours too.
“My brother passed away from a still birth before I was born and my parents had always planned for just 3 kids. If it wasn’t for his passing, I may have never been here today. I was chatting with my family doctor, and he told me the last crisis in our family was the still birth. He flew back from a vacation just to see my mom. He said how hard it was for her and how confusing it was for my other brother who was too young to understand at the time. I’ve grown up with that missing piece in our family, and have always paid respect to him on birthdays and holidays. But I have no choice but to be grateful in a way for the blessing in disguise because in the end, it gave me life and gave my parents a baby girl.”
“I was 19 and engaged to someone who I thought was the man of my dreams. When I found out I was about 12-13 weeks pregnant, it didn’t scare me. I actually wanted a family. I was planning a wedding and a life with someone I thought would never hurt me. He was financially stable with a great job in the US Navy. But sadly, my relationship as I knew it ended through a downwards spiral of abuse and I became a single mother.
As a mother, you’re supposed to protect your child from everything, even if it’s their father. I became severely depressed. My parents started getting concerned, begging me to eat something. Occasionally, I would cry so hard I made myself throw up. 2 weeks after losing the man I thought I loved, I went to my doctor’s appointment and found out I lost the baby too. The doctor told me that these things happen and that I was supposed to have had a baby boy. I sat staring at the ceiling, wondering how this happened, but knowing exactly who was to blame, me. I was selfish in starving myself, when I should have forced myself to eat for my baby.
I became depressed because of what had happened to me, when I should have been strong for him.
It’s been 4 years, and I still think about you. I often wonder what you would have looked like. Would you have my big blue eyes and my chubby cheeks? Would you have your father’s curly brown hair? I sometimes look at my door in the morning, and hope that you were opening it up to run and jump on the bed to wake me up. Whenever I hear a little boy say “Mommy!” I close my eyes imagining what your voice would sound like. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about you or miss you. There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t hate myself for losing you. My heart will never be completely whole until I’m with you again, Kyle Anthony. Mommy loves you.”
Many women carry similar heartbreaking stories with them everyday of their lives. When you lose a child, it changes everything. There is so much guilt, pain, and wondering “what-if.” There are countless women who have to struggle with the reality of being a mother but not having their child with them. The fact that some babies do not have the opportunity to live in this world, does not make them any less special or any less of someone’s child.
SIDS falls under the umbrella of “Sudden Unexpected Infant Death (SUID),” which include all unexpected deaths of babies. In some cases the cause of death is unclear (like SIDS) and in others, the cause is clear. SIDS accounts for half of these cases. SIDS most commonly occurs when the baby is sleeping. More than 2,000 babies died of SIDS in the year 2010 (most recent study.) SIDS is most common between the baby’s 1st and 4th month (accounting for 90% of cases) but can happen up to 1 year. It is not caused by suffocation, choking, vaccines, or the result of parental abuse or neglect. SIDS is not preventable.
Many parents feel alone and that they have no one to talk to about their feelings. As friends and family, we should be seeking to better the lives of those around them, particularly in times of struggle. The next brave women to share her story has never forgotten her baby cousin whose life was claimed by SIDS when she was younger.
Melissa DeBaets :
“Johnny was such a happy little guy. His smile would light up a room and his laugh was infectious. Although he couldn’t say many words, I knew he loved me and loved spending time with his big cousin.
It was exactly one month before his first birthday when tragedy struck. My Aunt woke up at 7am. Johnny hadn’t made a peep so she prepared breakfast and got ready for the day. At 7:30am she went to check on him because normally he didn’t sleep that long. When she saw Johnny lying in his crib, it was worse than any nightmare imaginable. His soft baby skin was blue. His body lifeless. She immediately called 911, began CPR and called my parents.
I remember laying in bed and hearing the telephone ring. My parents began to scream. The next thing I knew, we were in the truck in our pajamas flying down the street. When we arrived at my Aunt’s apartment, the ambulance was parked out front. A paramedic was carrying Johnny out of my Aunt’s apartment wrapped in his favorite blanket. He didn’t look like Johnny at all. We followed the ambulance to the hospital and to this day it’s still is the quietest car ride I’ve ever experienced.
I knew something just wasn’t right.
After sitting in silence for what felt like an eternity, the doctor came in. He said a bunch of words that I didn’t understand and the next thing I knew, my entire family was crying uncontrollably. That’s when I learned that Johnny went to Heaven. In fact, that’s when I learned what Heaven was. I didn’t understand how just the other day we were playing trucks and now everyone was saying he was gone.
It wasn’t until later in life that I learned what truly had happened to Johnny. A perfectly happy, healthy little boy passed away from SIDS. For no reason, with no explanation why. For years, I was terrified to go to sleep because I feared I wouldn’t wake up. It impacted my life tremendously. Even 15 years later, when my son was born, he slept in my room until his first birthday. I would stay up for hours every night staring at him. I wouldn’t let him out of my sight. My handsome son reminds me of Johnny in many ways. His middle name is Johnathon, in memory of the best baby cousin any little girl could ever ask for.
Losing him was one of the hardest things I’ve been through in my life… But his spirit lives on and the love I have for him continues to grow each and every day. Johnny was a huge part of my life, even if it was for only a short period of time. I will always remember him and I will continue to cherish the memories we shared and the unbreakable bond we had. Rest in Paradise Johnny, my Angel that’s not so little anymore.”
There is so much you can do to support families that suffer in this tragic way. A great starting point is choosing to not be silent. Educate yourself and others. Be there for those who lose their children, in whatever way they see fit. You can also spread the word about and donate to organizations and charities that seek to offer critical services to these families. One example being; “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep.” They are an amazing organization that provides free photo sessions for families whose children are stillborn or pass away prematurely in infancy. Their goal is to provide images that will remind the parents of the love they felt for their baby, instead of the pain they felt for the loss. If nothing else, just be a catalyst for change. Be a leader who brings uncomfortable subjects like this to light, because no one should feel shame, judgment, or fear when discussing the child they love so much but never got to know.