By Hannah Romero
Staff Writer 

Hope and healing: bringing attention to pregnancy and infant loss awareness Month


October 21, 2021

Courtesy of Julie Chappell

A display made by Courtney Swanson and her family represents their living children and the babies they have lost to miscarriage. Courtney's husband Tim built the frame. They put the two living children's foot prints, names and birthdates as well as three hearts to represent the three miscarriages. The hearts are different sizes to represent the different sizes of babies they were in gestation. The tiny colored hearts in each one are the birthstone month colors of their due dates. Their due dates are at the top with their passing dates underneath. "It was important for us to have something tangible to remember them by that we could make together as a family," Swanson said.

October is a month of awareness for multiple causes, but one that is often overlooked is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. The tragedy of losing a baby affects one in four women and impacts families across the country, but remains an often undiscussed topic.

Courtney Swanson is one Green River resident wanting to change that fact in order to bring more understanding, as well as hope and healing to those who've been impacted by it.

President Ronald Reagan first declared October to be a month of awareness for pregnancy and infant loss awareness on Oct. 15, 1988. Oct. 15 is specifically recognized as a remembrance day when people are encouraged to light candles for babies who were lost. However, despite being around for over 30 years, Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month often doesn't receive the same proclamations, events, and displays that other causes do. 

"There's so much stigma around miscarriage," Swanson said.

She believes the lack of attention given to infant loss - which includes miscarriage, stillbirth, SIDS, and infant death from other factors - comes from societal taboos and fear. Swanson noted things are shifting culturally and the topic is becoming less stigmatized. However, it is still a difficult thing to discuss and be open about, she said, and many women are afraid - either of what to do if they lose a baby or, if they have experienced it, how to share that experience with others.

Swanson personally understands that difficulty and fear, having been through three miscarriages. Swanson noted it's still common for couples who get pregnant to not share their news until after the first trimester, once they believe they've reached a "safe zone."

"But when you enter the miscarriage world you realize there is no safe zone," Swanson said. This is why she and many others who've lost their babies want to encourage women to share their pregnancy from the beginning.

"Let other people celebrate that life with you," Swanson said. "And that way you have a support base no matter which way things go."

Swanson said she has been on "both sides" of the miscarriage experience, from feeling alone after not telling anyone about her first two miscarriages to feeling an "overwhelming amount of support" when she had a community to help her after her most recent loss. She hopes she can encourage others to either reach out for the support they need or offer support to someone who needs it.

"Just by design we weren't made to do life alone," Swanson said. "And 'alone' is the one word that I hear across the board."

Swanson explained that within the past year, she has "delved into the miscarriage world," finding healing and support after her own experiences. However, this also opened up the opportunity to offer support to others. Since she has become more open with sharing her own journey, she has interacted with more than 100 women who have reached out to her about their experiences with infant loss. Many of these women have shared how they felt alone because they never told anyone about their miscarriage, or they didn't realize how common it was, or they didn't know there were resources available, or they weren't sure how to talk to people about their experiences.

"I think there's just so many people out there like that, who just need a place to start," Swanson said.

One place to start is for those who've experienced pregnancy loss to be willing to share their stories, according to Swanson.

"I think people who have been through it, if they would be more willing to speak out, that would make a huge impact in our culture," Swanson said. She said that even sharing something small on social media - like posting "I'm 1 in 4" or changing your profile picture with a frame supporting pregnancy loss awareness - can help raise awareness and let people know what a common problem pregnancy loss is, which can help other women going through it realize they're not alone and give them someone they can reach out to who will understand.

Swanson also hopes women who have lost their baby will find sources of hope and communities to support them. For Swanson, her faith as a Christian has been her main source of hope. She believes comfort comes from Jesus Christ and hope in God doesn't disappoint. Swanson said that many times, suffering people blame God for their pain, but she believes God doesn't cause suffering, it is the result of living in a sin-cursed world, but God has dealt with that sin through Jesus and one day will make everything new.

Faith-based communities have also provided a main source of support for Swanson and others she knows. Swanson said someone in her family recently had a miscarriage, "and she said that the thing that brought so much healing to them in a way that they were surprised about was how much their church community stepped in and supported them."

As important as it is for women who have experienced pregnancy loss to be supported, it is necessary for the people around them to offer that support. Swanson pointed out the importance of being aware of what a mom is going through after a miscarriage.

"Physically and mentally it is absolutely exhausting," Swanson said. She explained that a mom is going through all the physical changes pregnancy and childbirth bring while also grieving the loss of a loved one.

Swanson discussed how important it is for people to offer specific, concrete help. Examples she gave included bringing over meals and offering to clean or do other chores or errands. She also said it can mean a lot to do something simple but thoughtful, like giving gifts like chocolate or a card with a heart-felt message. Swanson also said to offer help more than once, because even if the mom says no at first, she may need it later. 

Knowing what not to say and do is also important, according to Swanson. Don't offer cliches like saying everything will be alright, don't bring up topics like adoption or ask how many kids they want to have, and be aware of potential triggers, such as seeing ultrasound photos. Another important thing is to help the rest of the family as well, Swanson said.

"One thing we need to realize is that miscarriage and pregnancy loss is not a women's issue, it's a family issue," Swanson said. Dads are often grieving the loss of their baby while also trying to care for their family and keep things going, and if the family has other children they will have questions and need to know that they are supported too, Swanson said. Offering support that keeps the whole family in mind can be especially helpful.

Another important part of support is "holding space for people to grieve their own way," according to Swanson. Everyone grieves differently and each miscarriage is a different experience, so family and friends need to support those who've lost their baby in whatever way they need. This may mean talking through things or just sitting and being together, giving them time to themselves or making sure they're not alone - and knowing what will be helpful and how it may change at different times.

Grieving is also an ongoing process that will continue into the future. Showing extra care around holidays and anniversaries, such as the date of the baby's death or the original due date, can be helpful, Swanson said.

Although it can be difficult to know what to say or how to help someone, especially for people who haven't experienced pregnancy loss themselves, Swanson encourages everyone to find ways to help the people in their lives who have lost a baby.

One of the most important ways to offer support is just showing up and being there for them, which Swanson calls "the power of presence."

"When you're able to have that support of people that are just there for you, even though grief is messy, it's awkward, people on both ends don't always know how to react, just knowing that somebody else cares and knowing that they recognize your baby's life is so validating," Swanson said. She also noted how not showing up for someone is far more detrimental than coming and not doing everything perfectly.

Going forward, Swanson hopes that Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month can become a more recognized observance. She hopes to put together community events in the future for people to come together to share their stories, but in the meantime she encourages those who've experienced pregnancy loss and those who know them to come together, support one another and find healing and hope.


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