By Carolyn Hecken
On this day, October 15th, we observe an international day of remembrance for pregnancy and infant loss. This includes miscarriage, stillbirth, SIDS and the passing of a newborn. Unfortunately, the loss of a baby in pregnancy is not uncommon.
Some studies suggest that between 10% and 25% of all clinically confirmed pregnancies end in loss. In speaking about this topic, it is important to recognize that the passing of a baby – no matter the stage of pregnancy – is a loss. While the myriad of ensuing emotions may vary in their constellation for each grieving mother over time, grief and sorrow remain absolute – immeasurable and incomparable in their very nature. They can only be experienced in their entirety, in other words, as 100%.
As a mother who has lost two babies in early pregnancy, I want to thank you for opening your hearts and allowing me to share with you my thoughts about this day as well as my inner struggle to accept and embrace the vulnerability that comes along with sharing personal grief within the public sphere.
Pregnancy and infant loss – it’s not easy for me to speak openly about. I want you to know that the words you’re reading on the screen of your tablet, smart phone or computer at this very moment are an utterly imperfect and incomplete representation of the deep and everlasting love and connection I share with my children, regardless how fleeting life can be.
As I sift through the catalogues of my mind, recalling the early loss of my babies and each family I’ve encountered who has experienced the loss of a child in pregnancy or infancy, I am struck by the realization of how many of us there are. We – those who grieve the loss of a beloved, dear one(s). Dear one. This is how my late grandfather used to address me as a child. I would say, “Grandpa?” and he would respond with great interest, “Yes, my dear one,” patiently awaiting whatever question I had for him, no matter how trivial. At the time, I was naïve, oblivious to the intensely profound love and emotion conveyed through these simple words. Now I get it. Dear one says it all. My babies are not a “loss”; they, and every baby, are deserving of a description reflecting more than just their passing. They are forever my dear ones. In the brief time that I carried them within my womb, we dreamt about the infinite possibilities of who they were and who they would become.
My dear ones, and others dear to me, constitute an existential piece of who I am. It is a piece of me from which I tend to shield both myself and society. But why?
I suppose, on a certain level, it is a subconscious, yet misguided coping strategy: to feign strength by masking vulnerability. It’s a means of self-preservation. It’s a means of functioning in my Alltag and maintaining status quo.
Perhaps, I avoid talking about it to keep myself from being catapulted down the proverbial rabbit hole of grief, guilt, sorrow, helplessness – not knowing how deeply each twist and turn may take me, nor how long it will take me to reemerge at the surface. It is especially in this respect that I appreciate this day. It’s much more than a day of remembrance. It’s a day of permission – permission to allow myself to give into that vulnerability, for this is truly an act of courage and strength.
It is my impression that we, as a society, tend to perceive grief and sorrow as a kind of weakness – perhaps because it is inextricably bound with an insurmountable and paralyzing sense of helplessness. But, as I have come to find out through my own journey, and those I have been honored to be a part of, the timeless experience and processing of grief requires a tremendous amount of enduring strength and vulnerability.
When we choose to uphold status quo by casting grief to the periphery of our daily lives and choose to conceal our vulnerability, we shroud both the existence of these lives and the powerful and significant ways in which they touch and change us. We effectively banish a defining aspect of our humanity from the realm of everyday discourse and thereby lose a piece of our collective selves. We are no longer equipped with the knowledge of what to say or do when someone we love or care about experiences the passing of a dear one.
So, I wish to share these words with the parents and families grieving the loss of a dear one:
Today, and every day, I carry in my heart love for all your precious babies as I do for you, too. And, to the families and babies I have come to know throughout my life, I consciously hold and preserve, in my mind, the memory and spirit of your babies. Thank you for sharing their beautiful memories with me.
Today, I invite all of you reading this article to seek out your own way to embrace vulnerability and consciously create space in your lives and the lives of loved ones for grieving voices to be heard and aching hearts to be held – unconditionally, as they are, at any given moment. While there is nothing in this world that can be said or done to diminish the grief and sorrow mourning families carry in their hearts day after day, a warm and accepting presence, an open heart and words of validation offer invaluable support.
I would also like to invite you to partake in the International Wave of Light tonight. This candlelight vigil is held every year on October 15th in remembrance of the lives of all the beautiful babies held dear in our hearts. At 7 p.m. local time, families in each time zone light a candle to send a wave of light and love across the globe. I’m honored to share mine with you.
Leere Wiege at Die Beratungsstelle für natürliche Geburt und Eltern sein, e.V. Häberlstraße 17 (Deutsch)
Verwaiste Eltern München (Deutsch)
Breastfeeding support with Stillberaterin Melanie Buttenmüller (Deutsch)
Dein Sternenkind Photography (free of charge)
Emotionelle Erste Hilfe (Deutsch)
Hope’s Angel (Deutsch)
Grief Counselling in English
Further information provided by German Federal Centre for Health Education (Deutsch)
Carolyn Hecken is a mother to four energetic, inquisitive children. She holds a BA in Linguistics (University of Washington) and a MA in European Linguistics (University of Freiburg). Since June 2013 she has been supporting mothers and their families as a certified D.A.M.E. Doula and, more recently, as a Breastfeeding Counsellor, EISL (September 2017) and HypnoBirthing Childbirth Educator (June 2016).