Trigger warning: Miscarriage, Baby Loss
On the 25th of November, Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, opened up about her experience of baby loss in an article for the New York Times. In her emotive piece, she explains her harrowing experience, she describes “sitting in a hospital bed, watching my husband’s heartbreak as he tried to hold the shattered pieces of mine.” In this piece, Meghan bravely speaks out against the stigma of discussing baby loss, following a similar public statement by Chrissy Teigen in October, when she posted a series of Instagram pictures after her and her husband John Legend had lost their baby.
In light of the bravery of both of these women, and in an attempt to battle the stigma around baby loss, let’s open up the discussion and learn more about this harrowing experience that so many parents endure.
How common is baby loss?
Miscarriage is the most common reason for losing a baby during pregnancy. In one YouGov survey, 50 per cent of respondents said that they had been either personally affected by, or knew someone that had gone through, baby loss. Overall, the estimated miscarriage rate in women who knew they were pregnant is around 10 to 15 per cent. However, in many parts of the world, there is still a lot of stigma surrounding the loss of a baby, and often, records aren’t taken.
Every year, around two million babies are stillborn. As many countries don’t have a systematic way to record these deaths, the number could be even higher. There are also differences in the way we define baby loss around the world. Generally speaking, however, a miscarriage is considered to have occurred when a baby dies before 28 weeks of pregnancy.
Why is raising awareness so important?
Many women feel like they have to suffer in silence when they go through the trauma of a miscarriage. Baby loss is not often discussed, especially in the public sphere as it’s considered fundamentally private. As a direct result, women often feel incredibly isolated, and many go on to develop mental health issues such as PTSD. One woman, whose story was featured on Baby Loss Awareness Week’s ‘Out of Sight, Out of Mind’ video, said: “After three miscarriages and difficult pregnancy with live birth, I was diagnosed with PTSD but I was discharged…The GP said ‘You have your baby now so you’re not depressed!”
This story illustrates the sad reality that those suffering from PTSD after baby loss are all too frequently dismissed by medical professionals; their pain is often not taken seriously enough.
It is because of stories like this that talking about child loss is so crucial. After Chrissy Teigen’s raw and honest Instagram post, critics accused her of “oversharing”. This critique was even debated on Loose Women, which subsequently received 261 Ofcom complaints for putting her display of grief into question. However, others have commended Tiegen, calling her and John Legend “heroes” and describing the personal post that she shared as “a kind of self-sacrifice“.
It only takes a quick read of the comment section of the Instagram post to see the impact it has made. Despite some criticism, the majority of the comments express love and deep empathy. Many women in the comments section have used the platform to express their pain after going through baby loss, explaining how important it is for them to be able to talk about it openly.
Whatever your opinion about sharing on social media, raising awareness of baby loss around the world is of vital importance. As well as not feeling able to discuss their emotions openly, many parents don’t feel supported in the workplace, or even by health services. According to the charity, Sands, 50 per cent of bereaved parents said that they did not feel supported in the workplace. 60 per cent of bereaved parents also said that they couldn’t access the support they need on the NHS.
It is because of this that Baby Loss Awareness Month is so important. We need to keep having the tough conversations, whether that be on social media or to the people close to us, to tackle the stigma around baby loss and help parents everywhere access the support they need.
What more can be done to support grieving parents?
As well as speaking openly about baby loss and raising awareness, there are other ways to help any grieving parents in your life. Yes, the subject is extremely sensitive, so be tender in your approach and allow them to guide the discussion. Give them the space to tell you how they feel and what they need from you. There is nothing you can fix by trying to offer advice or explanations. Instead, keep it simple, listen with purpose, and express the fact that you are sorry and you are there for them.
It’s of great importance that you always show up for your loved ones and make sure they know how supported they are. Visit them if you can and don’t shy away from asking them how they are coping. If they don’t want to talk about it, they will tell you, but skirting around the subject is more likely to contribute to their feeling of isolation.
Of course, every case is completely individual and people will react, and process their grief, in their own ways. Listen, be attentive, and do what you can to ensure they are getting the support they need.
In her powerful piece for the New York Times, Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, said, “Losing a child means carrying an almost unbearable grief, experienced by many but talked about by few.” Spreading love and support is of vital importance. So, reach out to the people in your life and continue the conversation about baby loss. Together, we will work to battle the stigma and get parents the support they so crucially need.
Thanks to Lil-Lets for supporting the research used in this article.