Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day in October

Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day is observed around the world from Canada and the United States to Ireland and the United Kingdom, and from South Africa to Australia. Since the early 2000s, recognition of this annual day of remembrance has grown, with candle-lighting vigils and a Wave of Light – a worldwide lighting of buildings and monuments, according to Wikipedia.

As of March 2021, this annual day of remembrance on October 15 has been formally recognized in the United States, Canada, and Australia while the United Kingdom observes it as part of their Baby Loss Awareness Week.

The day is observed to remember the pregnancies lost and the infants no longer with us for reasons including ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage, stillbirth, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and the death of a new-born.

Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day also raises awareness of this sadly common experience. Pregnancy and infant loss have historically been subject to social and cultural taboos broadly applied to maintain silence about the loss of a pregnancy or a baby.

Fortunately, today, the World Health Organization (WHO) advocates breaking this silence. A growing number of public figures are coming out in support of speaking out about pregnancy and infant loss, with many leading by example by telling their personal stories of pregnancy loss and infant death.

These include, for example, Pink – who spoke about experiencing a miscarriage on The Ellen DeGeneres Show; Courteney Cox who suffered multiple miscarriages before giving birth to her daughter; and Beyoncé who described her experience as “the saddest thing I’ve ever been through”. Explaining why she chose to share her story during an interview with Oprah, Beyoncé said: “there are so many couples that go through that and it was a big part of my story”.

These celebrities are not out-of-the-ordinary: an estimated 1 in 4 individuals and families have had their lives are irrevocably altered by the death of a child during pregnancy, at birth, or in infancy.

Pregnancy loss is defined differently around the world, but in general a baby who dies before 28 weeks of pregnancy is referred to as a miscarriage, and babies who die at or after 28 weeks are stillbirths. More than 40% of stillbirths occur during labour, many of which are preventable.

The WHO says that miscarriage is the most common reason for losing a baby during pregnancy. Pinpointing the exact reason is often challenging, because there are many reasons why a miscarriage may happen, including fetal abnormalities, the age of the mother, and infections, many of which are preventable such as malaria and syphilis.

The prevalence of pregnancy and baby loss is also underestimated. The WHO reported 4.1 million infant deaths in 2017, and estimates an annual occurrence of 2.6 million stillbirths. It also says that up to 22% of pregnancies result in miscarriage. However, because miscarriages and stillbirths are not systematically recorded, even in developed countries, the numbers could be even higher.

Each individual and every family unit will experience this immense loss in their own way. However, some of the common effects include depression, anxiety, changes in relationships, unhealthy coping mechanisms and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Sadly, the bereavement, subsequent intense grief and mental health issues that accompanies a pregnancy or infant loss is often overlooked, misunderstood or underestimated by healthcare professionals, friends and family members.

In addition, because the general advice for preventing miscarriages emphasise lifestyle factors such as eating healthily, exercising, avoiding smoking, drugs and alcohol, controlling stress, and being of a healthy weight, many women also experience extreme guilt that they may have caused the miscarriage.

Women who lose a baby in pregnancy or infancy can go on to develop mental health issues that last for months or years– even after they give birth to healthy babies. Many more women report that no matter their culture, education or upbringing, their friends and family avoid talking about their loss.

Even more disturbing is fact that, according to the WHO, stigma, shame and guilt emerge as common themes during this experience around the world. As is evident from the first-person accounts showcased on its website, women who lose their babies are made to feel that they should stay silent about their grief, either because miscarriage and stillbirth are still so common, or because they are perceived to be unavoidable.

For example, Larai, 44, pharmacist, Nigeria writes: “Coping with my miscarriage was traumatic. The medical staff contributed a lot to my grief despite the fact that I am a doctor too. The other issue is the cultural attitude. In most traditional African cultures, people think you can lose a baby because of a curse or witchcraft. Here, child loss is surrounded by stigma because some people believe there is something wrong with a woman who has had recurrent losses, that she may have been promiscuous, and so the loss is seen as a punishment from God.”

But even in the most developed countries, women face a difficult situation. “I’ve had four miscarriages,” says Lisa, 40, a marketing manager from the UK. “Each time it happens, a piece of you dies. The most traumatic was the first one. We were so excited about our new baby. But when we went in for the 12-week scan, I was told I had a missed miscarriage, also called a silent miscarriage, which meant the baby died a long time ago but my body hadn’t showed any signs. I was devastated. I also couldn’t believe that they were going to just send me home with my dead baby inside me, and no advice about what to do.”

You can read more of these stories here.

These stories underline why it is so important to raise awareness of pregnancy or infant loss, and of the means available to cope with this experience.

Medical staff that show sensitivity and empathy, acknowledge how the parents feel, provide clear information, and understand that the parents may need specific support both in dealing with their loss and in potentially trying to have another baby, are among the WHO’s recommendations.

At Medfem Fertility Clinic we recognise the extraordinary impact recurrent pregnancy loss can have on a couple’s well-being. For this reason, counselling and support is part of the package at Medfem Fertility Clinic.

Speaking to a counsellor that understands the unique stresses of pregnancy or infant loss can be immensely helpful, as are learning about coping mechanisms that are relevant and proven effective for many couples who have experienced it.

Effective counselling can help you process the implications a pregnancy or infant loss has for you as a couple, to put it in the context of your life and relationships, and to assist you to realise that you are not alone in coping with this life crisis.

A good therapist will also assist you in sorting out emotions and feelings, help you to communicate with others more clearly and strengthen already present coping skills while helping you to develop new coping strategies.

If you would like to know more, or to meet our experienced resident counsellor, Dr Mandy Rodrigues, who focusses on infertility and specialises in miscarriage and infant loss and has decades of experience in helping couples cope with the stress of infertility and pregnancy loss, we invite you to connect with us by simply clicking here or contacting us telephonically on +27 (11) 463 2244.



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