Children of all ages wear bracelets displaying, “I (heart) boobies!”, #fuckcancer and #savethetatas messages take over social media, and men wearing “Save Second Base” shirts is a normal sighting during the month of October. But, there was a time when those sights were considered lewd or vulgar. Openly talking about breasts was considered taboo. The whispers, “can you believe she’s wearing a shirt that says her boobs are fake because the real ones tried to kill her?”, gasp! Those shocking gasps, however, continue today surrounding pregnancy and infant loss, which shares its awareness month with Breast Cancer. That negative stigma women feel when they first experience the loss hangs over their heads like a dark rain cloud. That sense of feeling alone, ashamed and at fault are hard to shake.
It wasn’t until last year when I was affected by that loss, until I became a 1 in 4 statistic that the awareness month caught my attention. Much like when breast cancer awareness month began, Pregnancy and Infant Loss month exists to remove the stigma that comes along with miscarriage and other losses. It’s about bringing the reality of living with this loss to the forefront of the discussion and removing the things that we do as a society that isolate the women who are affected by it. While there’s no amount of awareness about the issue that can take away the grief that we live with every single day, there is a way to change the conversation.
Stop shaming women
Not every woman wants to have a child. Stop asking the insensitive questions like, “do you want kids” and “when are you having kids”. Stop making us feel like having children is the natural progression in our lives. Parents, this includes you. Stop it with the never ending pressures you put on your children after they get married about when they’re going to give you a grandchild.
It’s no wonder women feel a sense of shame after a miscarriage or pregnancy loss. Society has tied our purpose in life with a desire and ability to have a child. We feel like we’re going against the grain if we can’t deliver a healthy baby. We feel like we’ve failed as women and we carry that feeling of failure with us every single day. We blame ourselves and we feel like we don’t fit in.
So, please, just stop with those questions. Remove them from the discussion. They are not innocent questions. They’re intrusive and they create a culture of expectation that’s impossible for many to live up to.
For those of you that continue to be pestered with those questions, remember this, your worth is not defined by your ability to carry a pregnancy to full term or bring a child into this world. You are worthy and loved by God and child bearing doesn’t define you.
Find ways to help honor the losses
Ronald Reagan said it best back in 1988 when he declared October as National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Month, “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.”
Help those experiencing miscarriage or pregnancy loss honor the life lost. While there might not be memories to think back on or pictures to remind you of that life, there are ways to remember. Some things that people did that helped us honor our babies – a butterfly bush, an angel wing necklace with the babies birthstones, prayed with us, brought by dinner, gave me time off from work. There may not be a funeral to attend but helping the parents feel like the life they lost mattered goes a long way.
Companies need to provide bereavement leave for miscarriage. It’s provided for losses of grandparents and parents and children, but not for miscarriage. That sends a message that you don’t recognize the loss as real. Businesses will have a better employee return to work if you give them time off to grieve and find a new normal.
Share your pregnancy news when you’re ready and the way you want
If and when you are pregnant, don’t let our culture set the timeline or shape the story. Want to share a picture of the pregnancy stick the minute it shows a positive? Want to keep it private until you find out the gender? Not interested in making an official post on Facebook? You do you. It’s not a requirement to wait until the 12th week to announce your pregnancy. You also don’t have to feel guilty about keeping it secret for as long as you want. This is your journey, your story to tell. Tell it your way, not society’s way.
Together, we can change the way our culture views motherhood, pregnancy and loss. Let’s make a difference!