October is typically associated with Dia de Muertos and Halloween but it is also a month that sheds light on a very hard, dark, and unspoken topic in our culture: pregnancy and infant loss. October 15th is Remembrance Day where grieving parents and family have a chance to honor their lost ones by lighting una velita in their memory. If you have experienced loss yourself, you probably know this date by heart. And if you haven’t experienced loss, then you may be asking why you should be aware of this matter? One in four pregnancies ends in a miscarriage so odds are that you know someone who has gone through it. And if that person is within our culture, it is very likely that the person you care about is grieving in silence.
Why is it so tabú to acknowledge and talk about a significant loss like losing a pregnancy or an infant? Some people think that by not speaking of it they are protecting the grieving parents, this idea of “out of sight, out of mind”. I like to think that unspoken grief never heals. When have you seen a tía not speaking about her bad experience or bad treatment from someone? Imagine if she or you don’t talk about what truly pains you. It will consume you; it is not a feeling you can just shake off and move on from.
In 2018 I fell pregnant after going through a laparoscopy to remove endometrial tissue two months prior. I found out I was pregnant while traveling in Japan. When I came back to Atlanta, Georgia, the pregnancy tests were not progressing as they should, and I ended up having a miscarriage at seven weeks. After two back to back failed intrauterine inseminations, and waiting for an IVF consult, I found out I was pregnant again. This time I was in Austin, Texas but I ended up miscarrying on my birthday. Two of my IVF transfers took, but I lost both pregnancies before the 7th week. My last loss was through surrogacy, we miscarried early on the process. all five losses were unfathomable, and my failed transfers where my embryos did not implant, were tough as well. It took time to heal and understand that it wasn’t my fault, and that I didn’t do anything wrong. But most importantly, it took time to comprehend that I wasn’t alone.
How can family and friends support someone who has lost a baby if they don’t know about it? After my first miscarriage I was devastated, I didn’t want to eat, fix myself up, go to work, and everything I usually did with ease was extremely hard and dissatisfying. Contrary to my mother’s advice of putting make up on and going back to work as soon as possible, I took my time and did not fix myself up just to make other people more comfortable. When I opened up to a co-worker, she hugged me and confessed she had one too, and that she was there if I needed to talk about it. Somehow, I felt less alone.
There is no right or wrong way to support someone grieving but everyone does feel supported in different ways. If you ever find yourself with an amiga or family member opening up about losing a pregnancy or a baby, try responding with “You don’t need to say anything you don’t want to, but if you do want to talk about it, I am here to listen and support you”. That’s it. That’s all you need to open with. Let them know you are there for them, don’t ignore them or their feelings.
I asked a few Latinx friends about their experience with pregnancy loss, on how friends and family supported them or not. One friend said their family did good by letting her process and listening to her when she was ready to bring up the subject. I have a friend who had a third trimester loss and says that when people talk about her child by their name it makes her feel seen. Here are some dos and don’t on how to have these conversations with compassion and support.
What NOT to say:
- “Mija, you are not the first or the last, and others have had it worse” or “Mija, at least it was early”.
It is not a competition, and stating a fact that provides no substance, does not help or provide support.
- “It wasn’t meant to be”, “it wasn’t your time”, “Your destiny is already in the cards”, “it’s all in Diosito’s timing” or “Diosito’s timing is perfect”.
I know how easy it is to try to bring comfort to someone through religion or platitudes, especially being Latinx where religion is such a huge part of our culture. However, that person is grieving, they cannot see or want to see the “higher purpose” of losing a desired pregnancy or child. And sometimes, timing just sucks.
- “At least you know you can get pregnant”.
Sometimes, getting pregnant is not the issue, it’s staying pregnant and losing a pregnancy automatically shadows your future experiences. You will be terrified of going to the bathroom and wiping, in case you find spotting, which could be very common in some pregnancies. There is something call “Scanxiety” which is getting extreme anxiety before an ultrasound because of negative experiences in the past.At the start of pandemic a pregnant person had to go to the ultrasound by themselves and this practice remains at some clinics. I had to experience this firsthand when I was told they couldn’t locate by baby and my pregnancy was non-viable. The next day I went to a boutique ultrasound clinic and my baby showed up on the ultrasound this time. But going through that alone was an experience I do not wish on anyone.
What you CAN say:
- “Lo siento amiga, I am here for you.”
- “How can I comfort you?”
- “Do you need anything?”
- “No estás sola, I am here.”
One thing to keep in mind is to make sure you don’t say anything that would suggest they’re at fault for the loss because, truth be told, that’s the first thing going through their mind. If there is an opportunity to remind her that she did nothing wrong, take it. Do not say things like “Why did it happen?”, “Did the doctors have an explanation?”, “What were you eating or doing?”, “Were you taking vitamins?” Don’t say anything that can potentially come out wrong, and sometimes saying nothing but being there is exactly what she needs.
How to honor a loss:
There is a Buddhist ritual, popular in Japan, to mourn miscarriages, infant deaths, and stillbirths known as Mizuko kuyō (“water child”). Being that my first pregnancy was in Japan and I had photographed these statues without knowing their meaning, and learning of them after my miscarriage, I was compelled to learn more. The ritual uses a Jizo statue made of stone, the guardian deity of children and travelers, and it’s a way to grieve the loss of children and unborn children. Jizo Bosatsu is the god believed to transport unborn children and children who had passed to the other world. When someone close to me has a miscarriage, I now gift them a Jizo statue. It brought me peace, and I hope It does the same for them. My best friend’s daughter picked up the statue I gifted her and held it so gently, it moved her and me when she sent me the picture. My niece is a rainbow baby, which is a baby who is born after a miscarriage (the storm). It reinforced my belief that there is something beyond our understanding about losing an unborn child, or someone your love. Regardless of my religious or personal belief, honoring this experience just feels right.
Additional ways to honor a loss:
- Gifting or buying a jewelry or art piece with the due date and birthstone
- Donating to a charity in the baby’s name
- Gifting a throw blanket, or a comfort piece, to feel like you’re sending a virtual hug
- If the baby was named, and the name comes up on a street sign, artwork, or mural, snap a picture and send it with a sweet message acknowledging their baby
For those of us who had the misfortune to carry this story, give yourself the permission to grieve and honor the loss of your biggest “what if”, your missing piece.
Share the load, share the grief — you are not alone.