It was back in 1988 that President Ronald Reagan declared October “National Pregnancy Infant Loss Awareness Month.” He reminded everyone that “when a child loses his parent, they are called an orphan, or when a spouse loses their partner, they are a widow or widower. But when a parent loses their child, there is not a word to describe them.”
Reagan went on to explain that this new special month was meant to provide resources and information for parents who have lost children due to miscarriages, stillbirths, SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), and other causes.
By 2002, a special day was designated as well. “National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day” is now marked annually on the 15th of October (go to www.October15th.com for more). Will County Health Department Program Manager Sylvia Muniz says concern for the long term mental health of grieving parents has certainly improved.
“When I was working in a hospital as a nurse early in my career, and someone suffered a miscarriage or a stillbirth, we would provide them with information about support groups, follow a certain protocol, create a memory box for them, and then we basically said ‘goodbye.’ But what happens after they get home, and then for the rest of their lives?”
Muniz says it is great to see so many hospitals today offering monthly bereavement support groups for free. And if Will County residents are looking for a more regional and diversified list of bereavement support, they can go to websites such as https://willcarryon.wordpress.com.
Muniz also emphasizes that it is not just the grieving parents that need information. “When we come across those who have lost a child; such as family, neighbors, or co-workers; we often don’t know how to deal with the issue or what to say. Sometimes all we have to do is just listen, once they are ready to talk about it.”(htthttps://www.funeralwise.com/grief/child/ps://www.funeralwise.com/grief/child/ is a website with advice on this topic.)
The Health Department’s Licensed Psychologist and Director of Clinical Training Dr. Rita Grey agreed that the first step in getting a grieving parent to seek treatment is to have a supportive family that is simply there for them, and offering understanding. This can be followed by participation in a support group. When the patient is ready, the final step can be treatment by a psychiatrist, along with medication if necessary.
Dr Gray says the step of getting into a support group, especially just going for the first time, is often the major key. “For most support groups, they aren’t going to make you talk. Their attitude is ‘we’re glad you’re here, please have some refreshments and sit down with us,’ and then they can just listen if they like, until they are ready to talk.”
And although sometimes accidents can happen despite parents taking every precaution possible, Muniz reminds us how important education is. The frequency of SIDS deaths, she points out, has dropped over the years. But some falsehoods on how to avoid it still exist. Muniz says some parents will say they feel safer placing their baby on his or her stomach in case they throw up while sleeping, but that is not so.
“While families might believe that the baby will choke while sleeping on his or her back, it is more likely to occur when sleeping on the belly because of the anatomy of the esophagus (food pipe) and trachea (windpipe),” Muniz explained. “Babies should be placed on their backs to sleep in their own cribs; free from blankets, toys, and bumpers; per guidelines of the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics).”
Finally, Dr. Gray says, do not forget the fathers when it comes to parents who have lost a child. She says it is wonderful that fathers these days seem to be more involved in their partners’ pregnancies than ever before. However, that also means that fathers suffer more hurt when there is a tragedy.
“Not only that,” Dr Gray mentioned, “but studies have shown that 10 percent of new fathers can suffer from post-partum depression due to their emotional involvement while the couple is expecting. After all, couples these days don’t necessarily say “she’s pregnant,” but “we’re pregnant.”
The Postpartum Support International Hotline is 1-800-944-4773.
For more on Will County Health Department programs, go to www.willcountyhealth.org.