Updated: Oct 11, 2021
In the birthing community, October is known as Pregnancy and Infant Loss (PAIL) Awareness month. Pregnancy and Infant loss encompasses a multitude of terms. For instance, a woman who experiences an abortion, miscarriage, stillbirth, and/or fatal diagnosis is considered to have had pregnancy loss. Whereas, an infant loss may range from premature birth to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) to a terminal illness or a loss as a result of child abuse.
Personally, I always felt awkward learning about a family member or friend who miscarried during their pregnancy. I never felt like I had the right words of comfort to offer. I would empathize with them from afar, call to check on them, or send flowers. For some reason these gestures never seemed long-lasting or that I provided any real relief to the grieving family. I think it's because I wanted this awful feeling of what my friend/family member was going through to hurry up and go away. I'm thinking, "they are such a good person, why did this have to happen to them?"
But then I realized it is really less about my feelings and more about being in tune to my family and friends needs at that given time. For instance, I can "hold space," where I am fully present with them emotionally, mentally, and physically. In these moments I am non-judgmental to what they are feeling and follow their lead. If they want to acknowledge the baby by name then I call them by their name too. If the mother wants to cry and sit in solitude, then I can ask to hold her hand and sit next to her for as long as she needs.
Now when I encounter a mother who has experienced loss in my personal or professional life, I acknowledge their state of grief. Previously, I observed that asking specific questions are beneficial. I do my best to completely avoid the common "go to" question of "what do you need right now?" By doing so, I am presented with a natural dialogue and find the mother begins to open up more. I ask if they would like to remember or honor their baby in a particular way. If they are unsure, I may offer suggestions then inquire about their sleeping and eating habits. The point I am making is it is imperative to tap into your empathetic intuition when supporting someone in this way. Try not to over think whether or not you are offering comfort. Parents that have experienced loss share with me that they want people to check in on them so that they can express their emotions and not feel isolated.
If you are interested in learning more about supporting the PAIL community or want to become a PAIL advocate I encourage you to sign up for a course facilitated by Nneka J. Hall (NNEKAJHALL@gmail.com).