Breaking the silence on pregnancy and infant loss

October is national Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, and we want to take time to remember these families and their precious little ones. October 15 is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day. On this day, families who have lost a little one due to miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant death light a candle to remember these precious lives.

On this day and during this month, please take a moment to hold these families in your hearts.

One in four known pregnancies is lost due to miscarriage occurring within the first trimester. One in 160 pregnancies ends in stillbirth, which can occur anytime between 20 weeks gestation to full term. Prisma Health is no stranger to caring for these precious little ones and their families. About 1-2% of the approximately 6,000 annual deliveries at GMH end in miscarriage or stillbirth.

That 1-2% may be a very small percentage, but that “percentage” was someone’s child. That “percentage” may have already lived a full live, complete with having their own child, in the parents’ imaginations.

In generations prior to mine (I’m 36), pregnancy and infant loss has often been disregarded. Those who have experienced this tragedy have often pocketed their grief and moved on through repression, distraction, and sometimes subsequent pregnancies that birthed new life. Historically, when a mother delivered a stillborn baby, the baby was often whisked away and taken to the morgue. The mother had to find it within herself to move on from the loss, never holding, seeing or even touching her baby.

The phenomenon was so common it had a name – “silent grief.”

But studies now show that parents recover more quickly – both medically and psychologically – when they are given the time and support to more fully grieve those deaths. Even so, the loss is not something someone can ever fully “recover” from, it’s always a part of them and their story. Increasingly, hospitals are taking steps to allow parents to hold, see and spend time with the babies.

At Prisma Health, we provide counseling both during the hospital stay and after through community support groups. Our nurses, physicians, chaplains and other staff work closely with families to help them at this incredibly sad stressful time.

We also give memory boxes to our bereaved families that include their precious baby’s footprints and handprints, perhaps pictures, a certificate of life, a keepsake memory book that may include sonogram photos of the baby in-utero or even photos of the parents and baby after birth, clothing or blankets used by the baby as well as wristbands that say “Forever in My Heart.” When possible, the family is given 3D molds of the baby’s hands and feet. Our bereaved mothers may also receive a slightly weighted bear to cradle in their arms at discharge in memory of their little one so they don’t go home with “empty arms.”

And now a device called CuddleCot is able to give healing time back to families by extending the amount of time a stillborn baby can be present in a hospital room. The CuddleCot was made possible by the very generous donation of a local couple, Brent and Natalie Watkins, who experienced the stillbirth of their first child, their daughter Hannah, at full term.

The CuddleCot is a cooling device that can be laid in a bassinet and circulates cool water under a baby’s body. The circulation can preserve a stillborn baby’s body for up to five days, allowing parents and family members additional time to grieve the baby through holding him or her, taking photos and measurements and accepting visits from loved ones. By extending the time families have with the baby, families are able to honor the life of the child and say goodbye at their own pace, which alleviates some of the suddenness that makes this grief particularly difficult.

To read the Greenville News’ touching story about the Watkins and the CuddleCot initiative, click here. Or read the story in the Prisma Health newsroom.

Share Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support, Inc., a national support group that provides care for mothers and fathers who have lost their little ones due to miscarriage, second trimester loss, stillbirth, and/or infant death, is a good resource for families needing info: http://nationalshare.org/

The Rev. Amber Blackwell is a chaplain at Greenville Memorial Hospital.

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