October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month, and while this is often overlooked and belittled as a “women’s issue”, it is something that impacts so many, and needs to be spoken about.
I am sure anyone who isn’t a mother, knows a mother, and it’s important that we start showing up for the women in our communities, who often carry these heavy burdens in silence. Awareness is the key to community and support, and it is only possible if everyone does their part.
According to Statistics Canada, “the pregnancy and infant grief encompass the griefs that occur after a miscarriage, a medical termination of pregnancy, a stillbirth, a death following baby birth or a death occurring within days or weeks of birth and most medical studies show that about.”
In today’s day and age, thanks to advanced science, women are having children later in life -- but certainly not without criticism.
There is a common expectation that a woman’s biological clock should dictate their life, especially in the South Asian community. There is often a misplaced sense of entitlement over women’s bodies, that often takes away from a woman’s autonomy over her own body and choices.
In most circumstances, it should be considered wholly inappropriate to ask a woman about her fertility or when she plans on having children, but somehow, it isn’t, and is often a common conversation topic, especially in Desi households.
It is very unfortunate that these kinds of questions are so normalized, and nobody hesitates to consider that it might be a very emotionally loaded topic for some people.
It is not easy to be a married woman in her 30s without children at a South Asian family event. There is so much societal pressure to have children, which is so weird because sex is such a taboo topic, yet babies, the consequence of sex, is everyone’s favourite topic?! It is exhausting having to constantly explain yourself.
Many couples struggle with infertility and/or other issues such as mental and physical trauma from infant loss, PTSD, postpartum depression to name a few, and such nosy inquiries only pour salt on the wounds.
Why is it so difficult to accept that people will have children when and if they want to?
Cultural approaches towards infant loss vary greatly across the world, but they all share a common theme: immense shame and stigma.
Society romanticizes pregnancy and childbirth which leads to unrealistic expectations and misinformation. Pregnancy is viewed as a beautiful time where you glow and have revelations about your womanhood, but in reality, each experience is unique, and in most cases, uniquely difficult.
Some women may have that quintessential experience, but many have to face a lot of struggle, that they feel ashamed to talk about because they are deviating from that romanticized image that is often shared.
These women are burdened with feelings of inadequacy, guilt, and self-blame for something that is actually quite common and normal. Women feel pressured to hide their struggles in fear that they might be judged or invalidated for their experiences.
Infant loss is more common than it seems, and it is extremely traumatic, both physically and mentally. “Many women report that no matter their culture, education or upbringing, their friends and family do not want to talk about their loss.” Everyone happily shows up for gender reveals and baby showers, but mourning the loss of a baby is a lonely process. Couples are left feeling very alone when they try to express the complex emotions they are experiencing.
One grieving father reported: “My father, within a couple of weeks after losing my son, told me to “snap out of it” and “it’s not like you knew him.” He said similar things basically saying that he did not matter, and that hurt me in an incomprehensible way. He did not mean to hurt me,.”
It’s not that people are inherently inconsiderate, but the process is a vicious cycle of shame and guilt. Infant loss is so heavily stigmatized that often couples, especially women, suffer in silence. Silence leads to lack of awareness, which then leads to people who have no experience with infant loss being unable constructively to support mourning parents.
“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.”
Sadly, many physicians, nurses and health care professionals are also not aware of how to actually support parents trying to come to terms with such an immense loss.
While there is no “right” way to offer support, communities need to stop pressuring women, instead learn to be more empathetic.
Recently, Chrissy Teigen and John Legend shared about their loss of their son, Jack, and many people resonated and applauded them for their strength and candor.
Teigen also recently shared her first-person account of what she experienced on Medium.
“People say an experience like this creates a hole in your heart. A hole was certainly made, but it was filled with the love of something I loved so much. It doesn’t feel empty, this space. It feels full.”
Her sharing validates the experiences of so many that are suffering in silence, and gives them the strength to share their stories, which leads to education and increased access to resources.
1 out of every 4 pregnancies endures a loss: let’s help break the silence for that 1 in 4.
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