SAN DIEGO – The holiday season can be especially difficult for women and men who have lost an unborn child.
“Holiday time usually means family time,” said Michaelene Fredenburg, president and CEO of Life Perspectives, a San Diego-based nonprofit that specializes in reproductive grief care. (The organization has enjoyed a long relationship with the Diocese of San Diego, as well as other dioceses and faith groups across the country, and has provided training for local priests, deacons, youth ministers and parish staff.)
“To someone who’s suffered a pregnancy loss, they’re likely thinking of milestones – ‘This would have been my baby’s third Christmas,’ for example,” she said. “They also wonder if everyone else has forgotten about their pregnancy loss, since no one asks about it. And watching others happily celebrate the holidays with their babies and children can make it even more painful.”
Such pain is acutely felt by many: Fredenburg said that one out of every four pregnancies ends in miscarriage and another fourth ends in abortion.
“It is common, can be devastating, and is almost never talked about,” she said of the loss of pregnancy. “This means that 2 million people are impacted directly by reproductive loss each year, and many more when you consider extended friends and family.”
Though the manner in which a person processes reproductive grief is “as unique as fingerprints,” Fredenburg said, the common denominator is often a sense of isolation.
“The holidays just make these feelings … worse,” she said.
Fredenburg has some advice for those with love ones impacted by reproductive loss.
Often, she said, those who have lost a child to miscarriage or abortion are fearful that their child will be forgotten.
“Some people will tenaciously hang on to their grief or guilt as a means of remembrance,” she said. “All of us can offer them a gift of saying, ‘We will remember your child with you.’ Often it gives them permission to be able to let go of painful emotions and continue through the grieving process.”
Though reproductive loss is a common occurrence, that fact is not particularly helpful for a grieving person to hear, Fredenburg said.
“You wouldn’t want to hear that at a funeral,” she said. “So, similarly, it’s not appropriate to say to someone grieving a pregnancy loss.”
Fredenburg noted that “even caring people can accidentally say hurtful things” and that LifePerspectives.com has a section called “Helpful Toolkits,” which offers individualized “toolkits” not only for women who have experienced reproductive loss and for men affected by miscarriage, but also for friends and family, healthcare professionals, and faith-based leaders, who might struggle with how to provide support.
The “Friends & Family” toolkit includes links with titles like “Top 10 Terrific Things That Caring People Say and Do After Miscarriage” and “Top 10 Terrible Things That Caring People Say After Miscarriage.” An example of the former is “Would it help to talk about it? I don’t know what to say, but I am here to listen”; an example of the latter is “God wanted your child in heaven. Your child was too wonderful to be on earth with us. Your child is in a better place now.”
To those wrestling with reproductive grief this holiday season, Fredenburg offers the comforting reminder that they are not alone.
She urges those experiencing such grief to take advantage of the free resources available at LifePerspectives.com and especially to watch the two-minute video appropriately titled “You Are Not Alone,” accessible under the “Helpful Toolkits” tab.
Life Perspectives’ healing websites, MiscarriageHurts.com and AbortionChangesYou.com, also offer resources in both English and Spanish and provide opportunities to anonymously share one’s story of loss and to read other people’s stories.
“A word of warning: These stories can be very raw and very painful to read,” said Fredenburg. “If you are in a fragile or delicate state yourself, you should consider if you’re emotionally ready to hear the stories of others.”
As someone with personal experience of reproductive loss, Fredenburg said she was able to find “a place of wholeness and peace” with the support of others. She would like others to find it, too.
“I hope that you, too, especially during this holiday season, will find your path to peace.”