Writer: Tosheena Robinson BSc, MSc
Seeing their tiny, perfect little faces nestled somewhere they shouldn’t be – in the obituary pages – send a poignant message: their life mattered, no matter how short.
Losing a child is perhaps a parent’s or parent-to-be 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 Lost 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 unhad 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 can not 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-weekmark. Approximately 10-25 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 time 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 Dr Bodie-Williams who treats private patients at The Medical Pavilion in Freeport and at The Bahamas Women’s Wellness Centre in Nassau.
“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 you’re risk of a subsequent miscarriage increases. It warrants a discussion with your health care provider.”
Understanding that mothers form a powerful bond with their child while in the womb, Dr Bodie -Williams acknowledged that it’s necessary for bereaved parents to be able to talk openly about their loss. “Patience, support and empathy is important,” she noted. “Losing a child changes who you are forever.”
The doctor encouraged 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 will commemorate all those who experience loss due to miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, stillbirth, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) or fetal loss. The event is held yearly on October 15, which is International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. During this time, persons across the globe light candles typically from 7 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 Dr Bodie-Williams.
“Some miscarriages you can not prevent. However, I always recommend checking to make sure you are in optimal health before you conceive. See your gynaecologist for a preconception visit so you can optimize your body prior to your pregnancy.”