October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, a month of remembrance that honors parents and families who have experienced miscarriage, stillbirth, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), and other types of infant death.
What is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month?
A month dedicated to education, advocacy, and remembrance around the subjects of pregnancy and infant loss, the purpose of this awareness month is twofold:
- Awareness: to increase visibility of these heartbreaking experiences that are more common among families than we’d often like to realize
- Remembrance: to honor grieving families and, especially, the children who are no longer here with us
It was officially designated in 1988 by US President Ronald Reagan. Reagan issued a proclamation, calling people to “observe this month with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities.”
Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness
Many of the programs and activities of which Reagan spoke are part of the “awareness” aspect of this important month.
In his official proclamation, President Reagan stated the following:
When a child loses his parent, they are called an orphan. When a spouse loses her or his partner, they are called a widow or widower. When parents lose their child, there isn’t a word to describe them.
This month recognizes the loss so many parents experience across the United States and around the world.
It is also meant to inform and provide resources for parents who have lost children due to miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, molar pregnancy, stillbirths, birth defects, SIDS, and other causes.U.S. President Ronald Reagan, 1988
In other words, the “awareness” element of this month is about advocacy. It’s about providing:
- resources to grieving families,
- information to others on how to support them,
- supporting research and development to reduce the number of lives lost
- preparing people who are pregnant or anticipate future pregnancies to prepare them for the difficult realities that can occur
We recommend the following articles to learn more about how to support grieving families:
- What to say to someone who had a miscarriage
- Providing miscarriage support
- Miscarriage gifts
- How to support someone after miscarriage
- Supporting a friend who had a miscarriage when you’re pregnant
If you’re experiencing grief yourself, we recommend these articles:
- Miscarriage support groups
- Coping with miscarriage grief
- Coping with infant loss
- How to prevent miscarriage (a hardcore reminder that THIS IS NOT YOUR FAULT!)
- Fathers dealing with miscarriage
For practical advice on dealing with miscarriage, we recommend the following articles:
Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance
Another essential aspect of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month is remembrance.
Consider these statistics:
- Roughly 1 in 4 pregnancies ends in miscarriage
- Approximately 24,000 babies are stillborn each year in the United States alone
- In 2017, there were about 3,600 sudden unexpected infant deaths (SUID) in the United States alone
These are not small statistics, and the numbers only represent one country on an annual basis.
Try to imagine the staggering number of families grieving these losses over time, worldwide.
By including elements of remembrance, the “ceremonies” Reagan called for in his initial proclamation, we help grieving families honor the lives of their babies.
Learn more about the benefits of grief rituals and miscarriage memorials.
International Wave of Light
The best known of these remembrance ceremonies is the International Wave of Light, an event that takes place at 7pm local time around the globe on October 15.
Here’s the idea.
At 7pm wherever you live, you light a candle in remembrance of a specific child, or of children in general, lost to pregnancy or infant loss. You leave the candle burning until 8pm, at which point, you blow out your candle, and people in the next time zone light their candles for an hour.
This begins in the earliest time zone in countries like Samoa, then passing to island nations like Fiji and the Aleutian Islands, across the globe for a full 24 hours.
As different time zones light and put out their candles, a symbolic wave of light goes up across the globe for 24 hours, honoring and remembering countless lives.
You can take part in the Wave of Light in the privacy of your own home and know you’re part of something much bigger.
If you’d like to join a larger gathering, join us for a virtual Wave of Light that will run across the United States for 4 hours of live streaming memorials.
What is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day?
Also called Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, October 15th is designated as a special day for memorials.
On this day, we remember the littles lives lost to pregnancy or infant loss, including miscarriage, stillbirth, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), sudden unexpected infant death (SUID), and any other infant death.
This day is set aside to promote awareness, support grieving families, and remember lives lost too soon.
These are the unfortunately common tragedies that affect families from all walks of life:
Miscarriage is the death of a baby while in utero, which ends on its own for various reasons. An estimated 1 in 4 pregnancies ends in miscarriage.
The most common cause of miscarriage is chromosomal abnormality (an estimated 50% of miscarriages are attributed to this cause). Other causes include uterine abnormalities, blood clotting disorders, and immunological disorders in the mother, often of which she is unaware.
There are also causes we just don’t understand.
According to my reproductive specialist, only 50% of women who suffer from recurrent miscarriage (the back-to-back loss of 3 or more pregnancies) will ever find a cause.
The good news, if we’re up for silver linings, is that most women who suffer from recurrent miscarriage can still go on to have a healthy pregnancy without medical intervention–if they’re willing to continue the crapshoot.
For miscarriage stories from women who have experienced different types of miscarriage, we recommend:
- Katy’s recurrent miscarriage story
- Beth’s ectopic pregnancy story
- Whitney’s experience with back-to-back miscarriages
- Arden’s misoprostol experience
- Katy’s blighted ovum story
- Natasha’s experience miscarrying twins
- Dawn’s miscarriage after an unplanned pregnancy
For miscarriage support, learn more about Mourning Retreat: A Journal for the Sisterhood of Pregnancy Loss and the private online community that comes with it.
2. Termination for Medical Reasons (TFMR)
TFMR is the acronym commonly used to describe families who elect to terminate a pregnancy for medical reasons.
TFMR occurs, according to Tommys.org, “When a baby is diagnosed with a life-limiting medical condition in the womb the parents are faced with the heartbreaking decision of whether to end the pregnancy. Having a termination for medical reasons can be a huge trauma.”
While TFMR is controversial because it is technically elective, families who experience TFMR experience huge trauma.
In most cases, they’ve spent many months believing they were going to have a healthy baby, only to be blindsided by news one day that their beloved child is no longer compatible with life.
We honor these families and their lost children during Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.
We recommend these stories from mothers who have been through this nightmare:
Stillbirth, euphemistically referred to as being “born sleeping,” occurs when a baby is born past 24 weeks gestation but it not alive at the time of its birth.
Common causes of stillbirth include:
- intrauterine growth restriction (when, for a number of reasons, the uterus cannot properly grow to accommodate the growing baby),
- heart defects,
- severe blood clotting disorders in the mother,
- and placental abnormalities, such as placental abruption, placenta previa, and pre-eclampsia).
Stillbirth is far more preventable than miscarriage, but certainly not entirely preventable.
Proper medical intervention can usually prevent stillbirth from causes like placenta previa and pre-eclampsia. Kick counting has also been proven to prevent stillbirth in many instances.
Still, in the United States alone, more than 25,000 babies are stillborn annually.
For gut-wrenching perspectives from mothers of stillborn babies, we recommend:
- Hannah’s story of losing her daughter, Senna Lynn
- Frankie’s story of losing her daughter Esme, and the book she wrote about it, on The Fertility Podcast
4. Infant Loss
The risk greatly decreases at 3 months. Many of these deaths are caused by suffocation, but they can also be caused by undiagnosed medical problems in an infant.
Infant death due to a diagnosed medical problem, such as a chromosomal heart abnormality, does not technically classify as SIDS, but Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day certainly honors those lives equally.
- Jamie’s SIDS story to learn how she’s built a new and better life in honor of her son, Jackson
- Kara’s story of losing her daughter, Addie, to infant sepsis
- Michelle’s story of losing her daughter Colette at 9 days old
Additional Support Resources
We welcome you to use this website and our Facebook page to help guide you through your losses; that is why we exist!
But we know that sometimes you need to reach out to multiple communities for information and support, and fortunately there are some really amazing organizations that exist for exactly this purpose.
Here are the organizations we’ve found most helpful for guidance during your loss journey:
- Tommy’s is an UK organization that supports families of infant loss through early miscarriage research. They also have a ton of well-researched and accessible information available on their website.
2. First Candle is focused specifically on ending infant death during sleep (SIDS and other sleep-related infant deaths). They are committed to offering grieving families support and educating families on the importance of safe sleep practices.
3. Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep is an organization that brings together volunteer photographers and parents of infants who were born sleeping or who passed after birth. Giving parents photographs that they might not have had otherwise, NILMDTS is an incredible organization that makes sure that all families have memories of their children to look back on.
4. Unite provides free peer-to-peer grief support for families who have experienced infant loss. They also offer literature and educational support and training to help bereaved parents get the support they need.
How are you planning to acknowledge Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month 2020? We’d love to hear from you!
Katy Huie Harrison, PhD, is an author, mom, recurrent miscarriage survivor, & owner of Undefining Motherhood. She lives in Atlanta with her husband (affectionately known on the internet as “Husband,”) son (Jack), and dog (Charlotte). She believes our society puts too many expectations on women that make womanhood and motherhood restrictive. Her goal is to shift the paradigm about what it means to be a woman and mother, giving all women a greater sense of agency over their own lives. You can find Katy and her work featured in places like CNN’s Headline News, Romper, Scary Mommy, Demeter Press’s Motherhood and Social Exclusion, & more.