Thursday, October 13, 2016

Saying Goodbye before You Have a Chance to Say Hello

Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness

By contributing writer Samantha Johnson

When I was a freshman in college, my job as the “Community Life Committee President,” was to provide our housing community with fun activities and coffee “support stations” during midterms and finals. I worked alongside a wonderful, kind and generous lady who lived with her husband in the married campus housing right across from my apartment. I still remember the day she told the staff she was expecting a baby. We were all so surprised and overjoyed for her. Then, what seemed like only a few days later, she shared the news that they suffered a miscarriage. I was in complete disbelief. I had no idea that one in four women experience miscarriage. I had no idea that one day, I would also experience the raw, indescribable pain of pregnancy loss.

October 15 is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day. It is meant to inform and provide resources for those who have lost a child due to miscarriage, eptopic pregnancy, molar pregnancy, stillbirths, birth defects, SIDS, and other causes.

  • An estimated 500,000 miscarriages happen each year;
  • 1 in every 148 babies are stillborn; and
  • 3 in every 1000 babies die shortly after birth.

Knowing the prevalence of pregnancy and infant loss does not lessen the pain, but navigating grief alongside others can be incredibly healing. There are a number of support groups you can join if this has been your experience.

Support groups for those who have experienced pregnancy or infant loss

  • AfterTalk is an online grief support site offering inspirational stories, poems and quotes, and forums on the grieving process.  The site offers grief advice by Dr. Neimeyer, an expert in grief and bereavement.

  • The On Coming Alive Project is a collection of true stories featuring men and women who are coping and “coming alive” after loss or other tragedies. Stories also include overcoming and living through abuse, depression, anxiety, rape, and other circumstances. They encourage journaling through grief and offer a Facebook support group.

  • MISS Foundation is an international community of compassion and hope for grieving families. MISS provides immediate and ongoing support to grieving families as well as training and referrals for certified Compassionate Bereavement Care Providers.

How you can support someone who has suffered loss

I remember feeling the most grief after my miscarriage when I would think of mine and my spouse’s parents. Even though I had lost the pregnancy at 8 weeks, we had already told them the news we were expecting. The thought that their hearts were also broken and that there was nothing they could say or do to help “fix” this was the most empty, devastating feeling. If you know someone who is going through loss, there really is nothing you can do to make it better, but there are a few things you can do to provide support.

1. Listen

It’s not always about what you can say to make the situation easier, but how well you listen. As difficult as it may be, that can be the most helpful thing you can offer. The loss of a child is incredibly shocking, and some cope by sorting through their feelings out loud.

"We quickly find there are no words to describe the experience of losing a child. For those who have not lost a child, no explanation will do. For those who have, no explanation is necessary" ~ Mary Lingle

2. Know What to Say: “Comfort IN, dump OUT”

When the opportunity comes to offer some comforting words, remember “Comfort IN, dump OUT.” In this visual, the parents are in the innermost circle, since the loss hits them the hardest. Next is their family, friends, acquaintances, etc. Let's say you are a friend. The news of the loss is completely devastating to you, and you need to talk about it. Be sure to do your “dumping” to someone further out in the circle than you are. Never say to the parents, “This hurts me so much.” Always say words that bring comfort to those who are hurting.

Trying to find a positive aspect in the situation can almost be as hurtful because it can make light of the situation. Never say, “At least you didn't tell everyone about the pregnancy,” or “At least it happened early,” or “At least you have other children.” Instead, you can say, “I'm so sorry.” “What is a good night for me to bring you some homemade dinner?” “I am here for you if you need to talk.”

3. Participate in Preserving the Child’s Memory

Many parents, especially mothers, also want the memory of their child to live on even if the child never met anyone on this earth. You can provide support by encouraging their efforts. Join them in a Walk to Remember, plant a tree in the child’s memory, create a memory box, and don’t be afraid to mention the child’s name in conversation. Acts like these can show you care and help the grieving parent to feel they are not alone.

Finding beauty in pain

Through the fiery trial of infant loss, beautiful refinement can occur as we seek help and support and embrace the process of grief.

Perhaps Elisabeth Kubler-Ross said it best:

‎"The most beautiful people are those who have known defeat, suffering, struggle, loss... and who have found their way out of the depths. These people have an appreciation, a sensitivity and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep, loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen"

Friends, family members, and parents can also rest in the hope that time can heal this pain and that hope can be restored to some extent. Since my miscarriage, I still have moments of grief. I will never forget January 8th, the day we were told our baby had no heartbeat. I will always wonder what life would have been like had the pregnancy lasted. Three years later, I gave birth to my beautiful rainbow baby. Although he could never replace the child I lost, he is a reminder that something beautiful can come after a terrible storm.

Informational Resources


Saturday, October 8, 2016

When Natural Disasters Strike, Breastfeeding Matters

Hurricane Katrina
Earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, fires. Recent years have seen their share of natural disasters and emergencies which will only continue to occur with the passing of time. Even now, a State of Emergency has been declared for Hurricane Matthew, and heightened seismic activity at the Salton Sea has prompted scientists to warn of the elevated risk for “The Big One” at San Andreas fault.
Disasters and emergencies, while incredibly devastating, invoke a sense of camaraderie as people from all walks of life and differing backgrounds join together to help; to donate. While the intention is good, the protocol of infant feeding during natural disasters in particular needs dire improvement. This problem springboards from the lack of education on the importance of breastfeeding as a whole.
Hurricane Katrina shelter
Residents wait in line at the Superdome for shelter
during Hurricane Katrina. Image source:
Major health and aid agencies have come to a general consensus on how infant feeding issues should be addressed during disasters. They agree that the use of formula should only occur when mothers have weaned and relactation is not possible, or when the baby has lost its mother and wet nursing is not an option. They agree that ongoing support and assistance is necessary in such a case to limit the risks associated with artificial feeding, and that the distribution of breastmilk substitutes should be tightly controlled, carefully monitored and only provided to babies with a clear need.  
UNICEF, WHO, and the International Red Cross are active in alerting non-government organizations of the need to support breastfeeding and to be extremely careful in the distribution of breastmilk substitutes. Despite their efforts, and despite these guidelines, infant formula and bottles continue to be distributed unnecessarily during disaster situations.
During emergency situations, the cleanest, safest food is human milk.
Myth: Mothers who are under stress cannot breastfeed.

Fact: Mothers will continue to lactate in times of stress but will need adequate support.

Myth: If a mother is malnourished, she either cannot breastfeed or the milk she produces is poor quality.

Fact: Malnourished mothers or mothers with illnesses CAN provide healthy and safe milk for their babies.

The Problem with Formula Donations During Emergencies

One of the biggest tragedies during Hurricane Katrina was that almost no breastfeeding mothers were found. One-third of Louisiana’s population was displaced, which was about 1,300,000 people, and more than 100,000 evacuees remained in shelters more than one month later.

The distribution of formula and bottles by aid workers during this time disregarded the importance of clean water and utensils to make feeding infants possible and safe, and the more time that passed, the higher the risks for infant mortality continued to climb.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, in any given emergency, clean drinking water and a sterile environment may be inaccessible. Even in a potentially less catastrophic emergency, such as being trapped in gridlock for several hours, access to water to make formula as well as the ability to clean and sterilize bottles or feeding utensils is not possible. Infants need to be fed every 2 to 3 hours. When disaster strikes, reality hits, and panic can ensue.

The WHO states that artificially fed babies have a 1300 percent increased risk of death from diarrhoeal disease as compared to babies that are breastfed. The WHO adds that babies who are artificially fed are inherently more vulnerable to disease because they do not receive the disease-fighting antibodies that are in breastmilk.

“In past emergencies, 12–75% of all babies have died, so any factor that increases disease transmission and reduces the ability of babies to withstand disease may well result in their death.” - World Health Organization

At the time of Hurricane Katrina, information was not readily available to support optimal infant nutrition; rescue workers were not trained in breastfeeding support and management. Overall, the distribution of formula discouraged breastfeeding, decreased mothers’ confidence, and increased the risk of infection, illness, and death.

The Clear Advantages of Breastfeeding During an Emergency

  • Provides comfort and relieves maternal anxiety
  • Protects against infectious diseases
  • Readily available
  • Nutritionally perfect
  • Perfect temperature
  • Fights Illness

The Disadvantages of Formula-Feeding During an Emergency

  • It may not be readily available
  • May become contaminated
  • Water mixed with powdered formula may be contaminated
  • There may be no means of refrigeration to preserve it
  • There may be no method to sterilize feeding utensils

While some strides have been made to educate about the importance of breastfeeding during disasters, the lack of normalcy is still present in our society and more efforts should be made to instill it in mothers, aid workers, and government agencies collectively. Milksharing or local donations of expressed milk should be a mainstream option to feed infants in dire cases.

Future natural disasters are inevitable and will continue to have a devastating effect on the economy and well-being of families. Protecting, promoting, and supporting breastfeeding during these natural disasters will help prevent long-term health and developmental problems that may occur as a result of alternative feeding methods. Encouraging breastfeeding will also lessen the economic blow, as the overall cost of the disaster is significantly reduced for both the families and societies affected. It is an investment that will pay for itself in more ways than one, several times over.

Contributing author: Samantha Johnson is a freelance writer, blogger, wife, and breastfeeding mom. Her Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism from California Baptist University has led to more than six years of full-time writing experience and countless exciting opportunities. Aside from writing, her passions include drawing, painting, iced coffee, reaching her goals, balancing life's priorities, and encouraging others. You can visit her blog at