Health & WellnessLifestyles

Pregnancy and infant loss awareness month often go overlooked and unacknowledged

Seeing their tiny, perfect little faces nestled somewhere they shouldn’t be – in the obituary pages – sends a poignant message: their life mattered, no matter how short.

Losing a child is perhaps a parent’s or parent-to-be’s worst nightmare. Although statistics are hard to come by, death notices provide a stark reminder that there are many Bahamian families with empty arms and hearts filled with grief for little ones gone to soon.

While October is known for many things, Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month is rarely among them. Every year, families experience a miscarriage, stillbirth or death of an infant. It’s a topic so emotionally difficult to discuss, that conversations go un-had as to how family, friends and the community at large can break the silence and help.

Obstetrician and gynecologist, Dr. Shamanique Bodie-Williams, knows all too well when a baby dies from a miscarriage, the patient’s hopes of being a parent dies, too.

“Whether it’s eight weeks or 35 weeks, it is painful. I cannot tell you how my heart sinks when I am tasked with having to break the bad news. It almost feels like a little part of me leaves with the patient. I can feel the grief. The unmet dreams and hopes that are wrapped up in that pregnancy … it is devastating,” said the Grand Bahama-based consulting physician who works in the public health system.

A miscarriage is a pregnancy loss that occurs prior to the 20-week mark. Approximately 10 to 25 percent of pregnancies may be lost in the first trimester through miscarriages linked to age, issues with the womb, infections, lifestyle habits such as alcohol and drugs, and unknown causes.

“Many times, we don’t know what led to the miscarriage. Some pregnancies may not implant in the uterus in a normal way or may not have sufficient hormonal support from the body. Some ladies may not even realize that they have miscarried. Others could have bleeding and cramping as the body attempts to empty the uterus. In these scenarios, the lack of heart tones on an ultrasound signifies a miscarriage has occurred,” said Bodie-Williams, who treats private patients at The Medical Pavilion in Freeport and at The Bahamas Women’s Wellness Centre in New Providence.

“Just because you have one miscarriage, it does not mean that you will have another one. Just because you have a successful pregnancy does not mean that you will not have a miscarriage. If you have more than three miscarriages in a row, then your risk of a subsequent miscarriage increases. It warrants a discussion with your healthcare provider.”

Understanding that mothers form a powerful bond with their child while in the womb, the doctor acknowledged that it’s necessary for bereaved parents to be able to talk openly about their loss.

“Patience, support and empathy is important,” she said. “Losing a child changes who you are forever.”

The doctor encourages loved ones not to push bereaved parents to “move on”, even in cases when they’ve had other children. Grief, she said, is personal and “doesn’t come with a timeframe”.

“The emotions that you experience when you have a miscarriage are different for everyone and they should be acknowledged and unpacked, so that you can heal emotionally. Meanwhile, friends and family should try to understand what it’s like to walk in the bereaved parents’ shoes. Don’t downplay their grief whether the tragedy occurred yesterday or years ago.”

On Friday, October 15, the International Wave of Light commemorated all those who experienced loss due to miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, stillbirth, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) or fetal loss. The event is held yearly on the day, which is International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. People across the globe light candles typically from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.

“We must be careful not to treat miscarriages as ‘no big deal’, particularly in cases where conception was difficult. In miscarriages, what’s been lost is the hopes and dreams the parents had for that child,” said Bodie-Williams.

“Some miscarriages you cannot prevent. However, I always recommend checking to make sure you are in optimal health before you conceive. See your gynecologist for a pre-conception visit, so you can optimize your body prior to your pregnancy.”

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