Pregnancy is supposed to be a joyful time. You’re planning to welcome a new life into the world and all that comes with it, like decorating the nursery or finding the right car seat and crib. Sadly, there are many women who don’t have the opportunity to use that new nursery or car seat because their sweet little one didn’t make it past birth. According to March of Dimes, for women who know they’re pregnant, about 10%–15% of pregnancies end in a miscarriage, and 1 in 100 pregnancies end in a stillbirth. Overall, 1 in 4 women will deal with some form of miscarriage or infant loss. To recognize this unique grief, President Ronald Regan declared October the month where society focuses on raising awareness of losing an infant to stillbirth, miscarriage, SIDS and other causes.
We spoke with two organizations in the DFW area that work to promote awareness of infant loss as well as promote healing for those going through this hard time.
One group we spoke to is M.E.N.D. (Mommies Enduring Neonatal Death). Their founder, Rebekah Mitchell, started the organization after losing a child herself in 1996. During her time of grieving, she realized that even though her family grieved with her and supported her and her husband, it just wasn’t enough. “[None] of them had ever experienced the loss of a baby,” Mitchell says. “Over time, I found I needed to connect with other moms who truly understood my sorrow. I realized if I felt like I was dying inside, despite the support I had around me, there must be countless women out there who had no support at all and were drowning in their grief.”
Upon finding other women who could share similar experiences, she formed M.E.N.D. “Even today, 24 years later, I sometimes need my M.E.N.D. family when certain life events trigger my grief,” Mitchell says. “Just being able to immediately connect with my loss friends who empathized with me [is] extremely helpful.”
Another organization, One Wing Foundation was started by Holly Aldredge and Katie Schlieve, who both lost their first children in their third trimester to stillbirth. The nonprofit primarily provides funds to other nonprofit organizations that serve the pregnancy and infant loss community because they found that funding was scarce. “There were many programs and resources offered through [different] organizations that could have been help to us had we known about them, but they didn’t have the marketing budget or didn’t have the capacity to offer their services more broadly,” Aldredge and Schlieve say. “We knew that was an area we could pool our strengths and rally a community to support.”
One Wing Foundation also provides a community for those families that are affected by loss through fundraising and an outreach initiative called Care Boxes, which contain items for comfort and remembrance and resources for parents navigating the loss of a baby through a miscarriage, stillbirth or infant death.
Support Groups & Celebrations
To connect with other women dealing with infant loss, M.E.N.D. offers a variety of monthly support groups, such as the Main Support group, which meets in Irving and is an open sharing forum for parents who have lost a baby to miscarriage, stillbirth or early infant death. There’s also Men of M.E.N.D., an online support group. “This is for daddies to talk to one another about their loss from a father’s perspective,” Mitchell says. Additionally, there’s another online support group for parents across the country, a group for parents who are pregnant or considering pregnancy following their loss, and more.
In addition to support groups, M.E.N.D. also holds three remembrance ceremonies each year including a Walk to Remember on the first Saturday in October and a Wave of Light Ceremony on Oct. 15. One Wing Foundation has a similar celebration on Oct. 15, but instead invites people to light a candle at 7pm for one hour in memory of the babies “held in their hearts.” They also have numerous remembrance walks throughout the year.
“For so long, the loss of a baby was swept under the rug,” Mitchell says. “Women were encouraged not to talk about it and move on. Get over it, and forget it ever happened.” Mitchell points out that just a generation ago, women who had late term stillbirths weren’t allowed to see or hold their baby, and sometimes were not even told if they had a boy or a girl. “It was as if something shameful and secretive had happened,” Mitchell says. “Even still, young moms are encouraged to not announce their pregnancy ‘in case something happens.’ Thus, pregnancy and infant loss often being referred to as the silent grief.”
“When we found ourselves new in our own losses, we felt incredibly alone,” Aldredge and Schlieve say. “Slowly, connections with others formed, and we felt almost apart of a secret network. Now in the four years since our loss, I know more families who have also experienced it than I can count. It is a completely isolating experience and one that is met with shame in the beginning, as if you failed, but it wasn’t your fault by any means.”
What To Say (And What Not To Say)
Considering the grief that these parents go through, friends and family members tend to have a hard time knowing what to do or say. Mitchell encourages friends and family to say something. “Always acknowledge the loss, even if it’s just a simple, ‘I’m so sorry,’” Mitchell says. “Allow the grieving parents to talk and talk and talk about it. Don’t try to shut them down or change the subject, [and] avoid telling them things like, ‘You’re young; You can have more;’ ‘You can try again soon;’ ‘At least you know you can get pregnant;’ ‘There must have been something wrong with the baby, so it was for the best.’” Further, Mitchell encourages friends and family to remember the little one on special holidays, such as Christmas, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day along with the date of the baby’s passing.
“It’s not about making sure others know it can happen, it’s just about remembering the life/lives created, the love there is for them and feeling supported in that,” Aldredge and Schlieve add. “Grief has no time limit. Grief is different for everyone. Please remember our baby with us—it’s okay to say their name; that’s a gift to hear.”
If infant loss is something you have dealt with and are looking for resources, be sure to visit M.E.N.D. and One Wing Foundation. If you’re a family member, friend, or just someone who wants to help and encourage those dealing with this type of loss, volunteers are always welcome to get involved with events and remembrance ceremonies. To learn more about volunteering at M.E.N.D., email Laura Bateman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Illustration by Ariana Leyva