First and second trimester loss is like walking through a minefield whilst being catastrophically injured.
Why a minefield?
Well you never know what support, or lack of support, will be offered to you. You have no idea whether those around you will say helpful things or hurtful things, so as you are walking on this uncharted and terrifying path you are constantly waiting for a bomb to be detonated.
Why does early loss bring with it these additional hurdles? I believe it is due to a few reasons.
1) In some people's eyes a baby isn't a baby until it is born, and an early loss is often considered cells rather than a life. So as a grieving parent you often feel the need to justify your right to grieve, and feel an almost primal need to scream from the roof tops that you lost a baby, and haven't just had a medical hiccup.
2) Often people aren't aware that you have been pregnant, and it is very hard to tell people you have lost a baby, when they didn't know you were expecting. (Thus why as a charity we encourage people to share the news they are pregnant as soon as they feel ready, and not wait for the '12 week rule'.)
3) I think as a nation we are now quite well read on loss, and this brings positive results (i.e. people are learning how to support those who have lost), but also negative results (i.e. people hear about the scale of loss, with 1 in 4 babies being lost by miscarriage, and it can make some people blasé about it, and almost have an attitude of 'well its common isn't it?' 'You should have expected it shouldn't you?'....All of which is wrong and unhelpful. I mean you wouldn't think of going up to someone who has cancer and saying 'well one in three people will have cancer, so I guess you are that unlucky one in your family', but yet people do say exactly this to people who lose babies.)
4) Most work places don't offer bereavement leave when you have lost a baby in early pregnancy. Sadly this is yet another message to people who are walking this path, that their loss is less significant than other types of loss. There aren't many types of bereavement where you have to literally fight for the right to mourn, baby loss is highly unique in that.
5) The response you get from medical personnel is haphazard. Sometimes it is amazing, often it is shocking. Some hospitals / surgeries / clinics will treat people like they have just had a bad cold, whilst others are wonderful and fully acknowledge a loss. But this inconsistency in care means whenever you have an interaction with medical staff you are on your guard, as you have no idea what to expect or demand.
6) As with any bereavement the shock and grieving process can be delayed. Whilst this 'works' for other types of loss, i.e. if you have lost your husband and 6 months later the weight of the loss hits you, people tend to appreciate that and will walk with the individual as they heal emotionally. When it comes to baby loss (esp. early loss) there often isn't acceptance of grief being delayed. Grief connected to losing a baby seems to have a time limit put on it, The standard amount of time people allow is around 4-6 weeks, after this period people assume you should have 'got over it', and be back to normal.
So what can we do about this?
Well the first thing to do is challenge it and address it. As a society we need to work together to deal with the stigmas and false expectations that are put on those who are grieving, and we need to ensure these issues are removed before the next generation start to have children.
So if you know someone who has lost a baby, how can you support them?
1) Think carefully about your responses, and ensure you don't treat their loss as a medical incident, treat it as the loss of a child, as that is what it is.
2) Avoid clichés, it is always better to stay silent than offer empty words.
3) Go to the http://www.sayinggoodbye.org website for lists of helpful ways to support and offer comfort.
Please take a look at this powerful short film: https://youtu.be/ayiQQ9DFqnA
Photos courtesy of Shutterstock