As a community who carries burdens already in service to our nation, grieving a miscarriage, pregnancy loss or infant death can feel absolutely overwhelming. Yet those who have walked through such a tragedy emerge unseen, wounded by words and unable to find support and resources in our communities.
I can think of no greater tragedy than losing a child. It’s incomprehensible. It’s unnatural to say goodbye to a life that should have outlived your very own. To add to our grief, some of the most hurtful moments we endure after losing our baby are the words people use to rationalize our heartbreak. Those words, while they may be well intentioned, usually make us feel isolated.
Isolation is the most dangerous side effect of loss and we all know miscarriage, stillbirth and infant death is a complicated grief that leaves people unable to comfort us. There’s so much education and information to help with the grief process out in the world, but somehow those resources don’t seem to help us feel included, seen, or surrounded. We might know how to cope with the waves of grief but we don’t know how to cope with the feeling of being alone.
In addition, there are little resources available in base communities to support bereaved parents. There’s no infant loss and miscarriage support group. There’s no hotline to call if you’ve gone through a miscarriage. There’s no meal trains or command support. There’s no bereaved parent leave when you have a miscarriage. Many military couples walk through their loss feeling alone, scared and unsure of how to cope with a new reality.
Creating resources may take time, and assimilating them into our base communities will take longer. There needs to be a better avenue and solution to offer support to parents walking through grief and loss. I believe a simple starting place is to raise awareness so we can rally around one another in community. Community always remedies isolation.
In order to do this, we need to first learn how to handle the grief of another. The most hurtful things people endure in their grief are well-meaning, but uncouth, statements.
Avoid saying things like:
“God has a plan.”
“Maybe the next baby will help you feel better.”
“At least you have another/other child(ren) already.”
“Maybe the baby would’ve had something wrong with it or suffered if it was born.”
Additionally, avoid asking women about their reproductive health. Saying things like “When are you going to have a baby?” can cause pain when someone has lost a baby silently.
What we need to hear in our pain and grief are statements like these:
“I’m here to listen.”
“I am here to say thank you for trusting me with stories of your precious one.”
“I’m here to journey through the ups and downs of this new reality with you.”
“I am not going to leave you alone in this.”
“I am here to mourn with you.”
“I am here to say it’s not your fault.”
“I am here to give you permission to sit with your darkness.”
I don’t know why our propensity to handle pain is to turn away- we turn away from each other, from the suffering of another, and we turn from our faith, even. But in doing this we rob the right and dignity to be acknowledged. Additionally, we leave people alone in their suffering. It’s hard to sit with pain. Because if I look at your pain, somehow that means I must acknowledge my own pain, loss and grief.
In order to not leave people alone, we need to sit with our own pain. We have to address and witness the own chaos and ache in our heart. We need to allow our own grief to find its way. Grief is a deep and powerful part of our humanness- not some ethereal dark place that holds us captive. Rather, working through grief can be our companion to bring us into the light. And slowly, surely, we emerge knowing that pain also pushes us forward into light. Grief has the power to push us toward community and togetherness.
So how do we remedy the isolating experience of infant loss and miscarriage in our military communities? We focus on what brings us together in our humanness.
Going through loss is a universal experience. We all walk the dark moments of grief, the heartache of not celebrating milestones, birthdays or having a lost loved one participate in our family memories. Remember your grief as a way to show empathy to others during their loss.
Longing for children is universal. It’s why we ask people questions about our families and reproductive health. It’s why people want to rub pregnant bellies. It’s why we bond over mommyhood. For those who’ve been the 1 in 4, these realities can be painful. Remember your own longings and use them as a way to show sensitivity instead of probing.
If you’ve been through miscarriage, stillbirth or loss, addressing your pain, putting words to your wonder, and asking questions is a path toward healing. If someone asks about your childbearing, use it as an opportunity to educate instead of letting their words wound. If you want to talk about your baby’s would-be-birthday, than do so. The only way to forge community is by addressing our own pain and then we can keep breathing and walking- together. Because if we ignore our own pain, we will ignore the pain of others. The people we share walls with in housing need our support in their pain. The people we work with need our support in their pain. 1 in 4 people you meet will need your support in their pain, because that’s how many pregnancies end in miscarriage, stillbirth or infant loss.
Let us remember that the darkness of grief isn’t a place to be scared of. It’s just a place where we learn to let the light in. So let’s shine light together as a community for the 25%. There are many ways to offer support, stand in solidarity and create safe places in our community for this population of unseen people. If you run a Family Readiness Group, chapel program, or MWR programming, then Plan a Wave of Light service each October during Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month or put together a support walk for families. As individuals in our communities, coping with our own grief will allow us to come alongside others in their moment of loss. Purpose yourself to meet and journey through grief with people. It can be as simple as sending a card, bringing a meal, vacuuming their floors, listening or crying together. We have amazing capacity to build camaraderie and community, so let’s allow the pain of miscarriage, stillbirth or infant loss to forge solidarity instead of isolating and separating us from one another. It’s time to find the 1 and 4 and say “I see you and I’m here with you.”
For information and support during miscarriage, stillbirth or pregnancy loss visit http://nationalshare.org
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Jessica Briggs passionately coaches and builds authentic community. Married since 2002 to her Soldier turned Chaplain, military life and marital challenges wrote their story of redemption and love. A Masters in Counseling prepared her to uniquely serve Army, Navy and Marine Corps communities in advocacy, shepherding, preaching, teaching, counseling, equipping and discipling. A Mom and home educator, she spends ordinary mornings sipping cold coffee. Find more from her at jessicabriggs.ink