You Are What You Speak: A Contemporary Take on Pregnancy & Infant Loss
By Skyler Grubbs & Emily Plahanski
As part of our healing, the best way we know how to honor our babies is by sharing. That’s why it’s so important for us to keep sharing our views through our newly altered lenses as bereaved parents. Part of this new outlook for us has revolved around the way we and others talk about pregnancy and infant loss.
Two years ago, we likely wouldn’t have been so passionate about changing the language around pregnancy. Were we naive? No more than the general population. In truth, we just weren’t informed and we didn’t have much experience in this realm of loss. But the reality is it’s time to change the way we all think and speak about pregnancy and infant loss.
Because what you say often reflects the way you think, our goal is to simply share what we’ve learned in hopes that it may offer a new outlook. In turn, we feel this might also contemporize the way pregnancy and infant loss are collectively discussed and approached. As a start, we jotted down some examples of common expressions that need a little updating. Below we’ve shared each phrases, the reason it’s outmoded, and a suggested alternative…
The Phrase: “We wanted to wait until it was safe to tell you… we’re pregnant!”
The Reason: The magical “safe zone” is a myth. It is a common misconception that you are “safe” once you exceed your first trimester. As a result, we have created a false sense of security that loss won’t occur after 12 weeks and that everything is secure once you’ve exceeded that mark. The fact is, 1 in 4 pregnancies end in a loss and in the U.S., 1 in 160 pregnancies ends after 20 weeks of gestation.
The Alternative: Let’s change our mentality and language around the concept of “safe”. As soon as life is created, life is fragile. In a second, life can change whether it’s at one month pregnant, six months pregnant, a year after birth or twenty years after birth! With this mentality, we treat life as precious at any milestone and we’re more aware that anything can happen at any time. We set a tone that does not implicitly exclude ourselves from the potential risks and we begin to appreciate the gift of a healthy and uneventful pregnancy so much more.
The Phrase: “At least you can have more children”
The Reason: First, it’s not safe to assume that someone can have more children or wants more children following a loss. Also, keep in mind that grieving, trying to find a new normal and eventually contemplating new chapters of life is a very difficult and lengthy process. Everyone heals at a different pace, so it may take time to even begin future family planning. Lastly, if someone is fortunate enough to conceive after experiencing a loss, it may not be the “rainbow” you’re imagining. Of course a new life is exciting, but in this case it also comes with mixed emotions, grief triggers, fear, and more. Depending on where mom and dad are in their grief, adding additional layers like another pregnancy may not have the healing effect you’re anticipating.
The Alternative: No matter what the future holds, it’s important to remember that the grieving parent wanted that child. They actually had a child and then it died. As a result, it may take more time than you think to integrate grief into a possible new journey. Stick with questions like “How are you doing?” and “How can I help you?” and simply acknowledge the loss they are going through. Allow the grieving parent, in their time, to include you in identifying ways to heal and to progress in their journey.
The Phrase: “Now that you’re pregnant, be sure to (insert unsolicited advice here)”
The Reason: For those who want to and/or are able to get pregnant after a loss, doing so can certainly be a mixed bag of emotions. So it’s natural for parents, friends and family to be uber protective and cautious. But over extending your advice to a parent who is already sensitive about their former pregnancy and anxious about the next can be triggering. In some cases, it may unintentionally send a message that you think it’s within their realm of control. It could also imply a lack of understanding and/or trust with the care taken during the pregnancy that resulted in a loss.
The Alternative: It may oddly put you at ease to know that often, there is no explicable reason why a loss has occurred. Sometimes it just happens. Let go of the need to control and allow the doctors to determine if a subsequent loss is more likely, what the protocol should be for treatment and what the parental guidelines are. As the caring family member or friend, your concerns ARE valid though. You could always ask what you could do to help provide support during the pregnancy. Or you could be clear that it would help ease your worries to know more about the risks and the medical plan. Finally, be careful not to isolate your concern to those in your life who have experienced a prenatal loss. Doing so puts bereaved parents into a category that should actually include everyone. Apply your awareness in the broader sense and remember that all pregnancies come with varying degree of risk.
These expressions and mentalities are all very common and 100% of the time are well intended. Even we, who have lost our babies, find ourselves thinking and saying these things from time to time. First and foremost, know that the support you lend is always appreciated even if it triggers a sensitivity here and there. There is no way you could ever know what is or isn’t sensitive to a grieving parent – it’s all relative! But to a bereaved parent or to a parent struggling with infertility, these sentiments and many others can have the opposite effect than intended. With the awareness and recent buzz generating around pregnancy and infant loss, it’s time we all change our mindsets and our language.
Skyler & Emily