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Losing More Than Babies

Losing More Than Babies

There has been a surge of new organizations tackling the topic of pregnancy and infant

loss across the United States of America over the past 12 years. With an astonishing twenty-four

thousand to twenty-six thousand stillbirths, annually within the United States over the past few

years, it’s hard to believe this is still a very taboo issue. With new research developing, social

workers and other health care professionals are starting to understand the impact this tragedy has

on families, as they lose more than their babies, therefore developing programs or supporting

current resources to support their client’s individual needs. New York is among the leading

states, with over fourteen hundred stillbirths per year. Though an overpopulated city, you can

only find a handful of organizations that focus on these types of losses in New York City. Slowly

but steadily, more families affected by pregnancy and infant loss are forming their own

community initiatives or nonprofits to meet the needs of this underserved population. There are

currently close to fifty organizations that deal with this type of tragedy. For example, M.E.N.D –

Mommies Enduring Neonatal Death and The Baby Resource Center. There

services range from financial support for burials and cremations to custom clothing for infants

that are unable to fit premature babies. Physical and online support groups have also been an

essential way for families to receive information about what happens next or simply grieve

among a community of people who understand this pain.

Losing Relationships

Unfortunately, losing a child is not the only issue at hand. It’s hard for most families to

bounce back after losing a child. Many factors such as guilt, depression and low self-esteem,

mostly on the part of the mother, attribute to many families separating after the loss of a child.

According to an article written by Patricia Hill, she states that, “A child’s death augments how

grieving parents view the world, the family, and the self.” Studies have shown that married

couples’ risk of divorce can go up after the death of a child, and new findings suggest that

relationships may also become more fragile after a miscarriage or stillbirth. In a study of more

than 3,700 U.S. married or cohabitating couples who’d had at least one pregnancy, researchers

found that those who’d suffered a miscarriage or stillbirth were more likely to break up in

subsequent years than couples who had a baby. Specifically, couples who had a miscarriage (the

loss of a fetus before the 20th week of pregnancy) were 22 percent more likely than those who

had a live birth to separate during the 15-year study period. With stillbirth (loss of a fetus after

20 weeks but before birth), the risk was 40 percent greater. And while the increased risk

associated with miscarriage was seen within three years of the loss, the risk linked to stillbirth

persisted for nearly a decade. The researchers say their study, published in the journal Pediatrics,

is the first national study to show that couples who suffer a pregnancy loss are at increased risk

of a breakup. One way to attempt the prevention of divorce amongst this population is to keep

communication open. “Couples should be forthright about coping with the loss of a pregnancy”,

says Dr. David Keefe, the chair of obstetrics and gynecology at New York University’s Langone

Medical Center, in New York City. According to Keefe, the healing process beings by

acknowledging the pain and grief. “Grief is a very, very powerful force that needs to be reckoned

with," says Keefe, who has also had psychiatric training. "It needs to be managed, and the first

thing you do when you manage something is to identify it, then act on it. "Above all, acting on it

should involve talking to each other, but also to a doctor or nurse, a therapist, friends, family –

"everybody who will listen," says Keefe. "The best way to cope with grief is to speak it. If you

don’t put the grief out, it will break your heart." Crying helps too, he adds. "The tears wash the

grief out," he says. "Words are helpful but tears with words are even more helpful." Couples

should keep in mind that the way people grieve is affected by individual temperament and even

gender. Whereas women tend to display textbook symptoms such as sadness, crying, and

withdrawal, men may bury themselves in work, alcohol, or household tasks. Most importantly

these couples need to respect their differences and be patient with one another. Understanding

makes a difference and in these sensitive cases patience is key.

Losing Your Mind

When we think about Post Traumatic Stress, we often tend to think about veterans

who’ve come back from the war or victims who’ve survived violent crimes. One of the less

recognized forms of PTSD results from the trauma of losing a baby. While we understand the

devastation of such a loss, unless we’ve been through such a horrific incident, it’s hard to

understand the lasting effects that this can have on a person or family. Mental illness can be a

consequence of pregnancy loss. Even though women can develop long-term psychiatric

symptoms after a loss, acknowledging the potential of mental illness is not usually considered.

It can develop in women directly after the event or even years later. Some data suggest that men

and women can be affected up to 15 years after their loss.

Some risks for developing PTSD after miscarriage include extensive emotional pain and

limited positive grief support. Even if low levels of stress occur after the loss of a baby,

symptoms of PTSD including flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, dissociation and hyperarousal can

later develop. Clinical depression and anxiety are also associated with pregnancy and infant loss,

with doctors often prescribing sedatives. Intrusive thoughts can develop after the loss. Panic

disorder and obsessive thoughts may also develop as a response to a miscarriage. Men may

experience pain and psychological effects but react by creating compulsory behaviors such as

increasing consumption of alcohol. Because men can consider their role to be supportive, they

may not have their loss recognized. Although it’s recognized as a public health problem, studies

investigating the mental health status of women following a pregnancy or infant loss are still


Those who experience recurrent losses have a greater risk of developing PTSD than those

who have experienced a single loss. Knowing the cause of the death does not reduce the risk of

developing PTSD, however finding a meaning for the loss can reduce the risk. If memories of the

loss are considered intense, risk for PTSD is increased. There are concerns that PTSD in mothers

may have a negative impact on children born after the event. Though the development of PTSD

in women and families after the loss has been identified, the presence of PTSD in a woman who

is pregnant is detrimental. Women with PTSD are thought to be at a higher risk of pregnancy


Losing Perspective

Young girls are trained to play with baby dolls. Young boys are sometimes taught to play

house. From the cartoon classics displaying happily ever after stories to the movies watched as

adults, we are programmed to desire the dream, get married and have our own children.

However, no one ever prepares for the possibility of losing that baby. You hear stories and feel

bad when something like this happens. Many of truly don’t know what it is like to not only lose a

child, but to lose the child while pregnant. Speaking from experience, this is one of the most

devastating situations that a family could face. The contrary thinking is, there should be a time

period to move on, some families can have more children, some already have children and

percentage of loss is relatively low. Yet, there are major, commercially accepted campaigns for

diseases that have fewer annual losses than stillbirth. This social acceptance appears to be part of

the problem. The impact pregnancy and infant loss has is huge but with no awareness of the

ongoing struggles and ripple effect it has on a social economic level, little will be done. With

knowledge, the right people can start taking the right actions and getting those affected, the help

they need

Freelance Writer

I’m a freelance writer with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Boston University. My work has been featured in publications like the L.A. Times, U.S. News and World Report, Farther Finance, Teen Vogue, Grammarly, The Startup, Mashable, Insider, Forbes, Writer (formerly Qordoba), MarketWatch, CNBC, and USA Today, among others.