Remember Grieving Parents Today On Infant and Pregnancy Loss Awareness Day

Today is Infant and Pregnancy Loss Awareness Day.  In truth, every day is Infant and Pregnancy Loss Awareness Day for someone who has had a stillbirth, a miscarriage, or had a baby die soon after birth.  Many will light a candle today.  I encourage you to do the same to remember babies and their grieving parents.  The pain may dull but one never “gets over” the death of a longed-for baby, no matter how much time passes.

This remembrance comes from the October 14, 2013 “Motherlode” blog in the New York Times, entitled “On National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, a Mother With a Candle to Light” By Monica Wesolowska.

Around town, people recognize me for different things. For some, I’m the woman who grocery shops on Friday mornings. For others, I’m the woman who bikes downtown. For still others, I’m the bookstore browser, the teacher, the wife of the beekeeper, the mother of the two boys with a skateboard. But rarely do people recognize me as the mother of a child who is gone.

Unlike the terms “widow” and “orphan,” no one word describes a woman who has lost a child. Without a simple term, the loss often goes unsaid. Unless you wear a T-shirt emblazoned with your children’s names or tattoo them on your wrist, you rarely speak their names aloud no matter how much you need or want to tell others. And for women who have struggled with pregnancy loss, there seems even less place to mention the love they feel for babies they will never have.

For Robyn Bear, the woman behind National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, there needed to be a place for these losses. According to her Web site, Ms. Bear began the campaign to make Oct. 15th a national day of remembrance “after having had five miscarriages with little to no support.” She wanted a day for people to grieve visibly, get the support they needed, and unite around the world by lighting candles.

She was not the first to address this need. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan had proclaimed the whole month of October as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. In 2006, Congress supported Ms. Bear’s proposal to create one day of remembrance in the middle of that month because, as stated in their resolution, “each year, approximately one million pregnancies in the United States end in miscarriage, stillbirth, or the death of a newborn baby.”

Parents who lose babies usually feel alone. Health care practitioners often are not well trained in dealing with a patient’s loss. Treatment for mothers generally ends once the physical symptoms of loss have abated. Friends and family may not know how to help. In our case, our son Silvan was severely brain damaged during birth. Knowing he would die, we brought him home to the care of hospice. Thanks to hospice, once Silvan died we received a year of free weekly visits from a social worker. Those weekly visits carried us from fresh grief to the birth of our second child. We were lucky. Most people are left on their own.

Fortunately, parents these days can find other sources of support. A brief Internet search reveals dozens of organizations dedicated to helping bereaved parents. Many of these online resources offer chances for parents to meet in person. Meetings are for more than the newly bereaved. As one friend wrote in her note of condolence to me after Silvan died, “You will never get over this.”

Though I will never “get over” Silvan — in the sense of forgetting my love for him — what has changed with time is how I live with his absence. The first year was the worst. That year I needed to tell the story of losing him over and over to make sense of it. I was also pregnant again, fending off eager questions from strangers while in agony over whether I would ever have a living child.

It has been 10 years since Silvan died. I have two more boys. I’m open with them about Silvan’s absence. Each year, we mark his birth and death in different ways. We sit on his memorial bench. We go on a silent hike. But one of the most memorable ways of remembering Silvan does not happen around his anniversaries. It happens a season later, in October, when we remember him with strangers.

This Oct. 15, we’ll light a candle for Silvan. From 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. in each time zone around the world, thousands will join us. We’ll mark International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day with a “wave of light” that symbolically sweeps across the globe. Though it’s unlikely anyone will see that wave of light, the image is still powerful.

So for anyone passing by my house this Oct. 15, I’ll be the woman with a candle in my window. Most passersby will not know my candle is for Silvan. But I’ll light a candle to remember more than my own son. I’ll light it to honor all whose lives have been too brief and all who are still here. Please join us.

Monica Wesolowska is the author of the memoir Holding Silvan: A Brief Life (with an introduction by Erica Jong) and a speaker at hospitals, book clubs, and other venues about motherhood, medicine, and grief. She teaches writing at UC Berkeley Extension.


Skip to content