By Dervla O'Driscoll
*trigger warning- some language and topics discussed are of a sensitive nature*
This week marks the 18th anniversary of the inaugural Baby Loss Awareness Day which was held on the 15th of October 2002. Since then, there has been a formal collaboration between several charities, including Sands, the ARC, the Miscarriage Association and the Ectopic Pregnancy Trust, with the aim of encouraging remembrance, raising awareness and driving change around the topic of child loss.This year there is a focus on the impact the isolation caused by the coronavirus has had on those suffering a perinatal bereavement.
According to the Mayo clinic,10-20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage. Despite it being such an unfortunately common experience among those who become pregnant, the topic is so often skirted around within the mainstream media.
One woman who has spoken publicly on her miscarriage is comedian Katherine Ryan.
In an interview with Jameela Jamil on her podcast ‘I Weigh’, Ryan recounts her own experience with a so-called silent or missed miscarriage in which the foetus is no longer alive but is not expelled from the body.
" I didn’t realise", Ryan says, "that once you saw a heartbeat on the scan at 7 weeks that you could go back at 10 weeks and, without any pain or any bleeding, you still have all your symptoms, you’re still nauseous every first trimester symptom is still there, there’s just no heartbeat and you are a tomb for this deceased embryo these last few weeks."
Jamil, on the other hand, describes her miscarriage as being ‘as dramatic as the movies tell you they are.’ The vast differences between the two experiences only goes to highlight the need for a wider and more nuanced conversation around pregnancy loss.
One reason that people feel discouraged from talking about their experience with miscarriage is a societal expectation that the person carrying the baby had done something wrong. In the same interview, Katherine Ryan explains ‘I think that people attach it to this deep failure,’ and that she felt like she ‘let [her] husband down.’
This shame and feeling of failure are embedded even into the language we use to describe the loss of a pregnancy. St Clair hospital, a branch of the Mayo clinic, write that ‘miscarriage is a somewhat loaded term- possibly suggesting that something was amiss in the carrying of a pregnancy. This is rarely true. Most miscarriages occur because the foetus isn’t developing normally.’
Baby Loss Awareness Week has been an opportunity to destigmatise and break the silence around perinatal loss.
Dr Clea Harmer, Chair of the Baby Loss Awareness Alliance and Chief Executive at the stillbirth and neonatal death charity Sands, has said,
“This year during Baby Loss Awareness Week we are highlighting the isolation many people experience after pregnancy and baby loss. Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, feelings of isolation have become more widespread than ever and many people have begun to talk more openly about grief. Many of those whose baby died during the pandemic will not have been able to spend time making memories or saying goodbye to their baby in the way they would have wanted to. Now more than ever, we can all come together to let those affected by pregnancy and baby loss know they are not alone and that we are all here to support them.”
Throughout the Week, landmark buildings across the UK will be lit up pink and blue – the colours of Baby Loss Awareness Week.
Each day of Baby loss Awareness Week 2020 will have a different focus:
Friday 9th October: Introduction to the week, mental wellbeing, a day for those directly affected;
Saturday 10th: Partners (also including those without partners);
Sunday 11th: Wider family (including children) and friends – support for them and how they can support someone they know;
Monday 12th: Workplace – how to support employees, advice for employers/managers, HR departments, and colleagues;
Tuesday 13th: Culture, Ethnicity, and Religion – including issues or positive impacts around access to care and to information or support, higher risk pregnancies, assumptions regarding family support systems or culture or religious beliefs and language barriers;
Wednesday 14th: LGBTQ+ – including trans parents, male couples, those using surrogates and non-biological parents/parents-to-be;
Thursday 15th: Remembering your baby – different ways people can do this, cultures, traditions and Wave of Light.
Baby Loss Awareness Week will culminate in a global Wave of Light at 7pm on 15 October when candles will be lit across the world to remember all those babies who have died. Anyone can join a digital Wave of Light from 7pm on 15 October by posting a photo of their candle to Instagram, Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #WaveOfLight.
For more information about how you can access support if you have experienced a pregnancy loss explore these links: