October 15th always takes me by surprise. As a recurrent miscarrier – 7 pregnancies, but only 1 live birth – I’m prepped for Mothers’ Day and all the feelings that can evoke. I’m used to putting on a brave face for pregnancy announcements and baby showers. But October 15th gets me every year.
You see, October is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, and the 15th is designated as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day – the day when you are supposed to light a candle at 7pm to help create a wave of light around the world. I love that this day exists. Oh, I don’t love the reason it exists, but I love that there is acknowledgement of the loss – the loss of hope; the loss of the future you envisioned; the loss of a child, whether or not you got to hold that child in your arms.
Yet, did I participate? When all of my lovely friends – my fierce mama tribe – were posting infographics like the brilliant one from Australia on Facebook and tweeting reminders to light a candle at 7pm, did I also post? Did I light my candle? No, I didn’t.
I’ve never been a good public griever. I don’t usually cry at funerals (though I bawl like a baby at weddings). I learned early not to calculate due dates until I was past the first trimester and grew more numb with each miscarriage, instead throwing myself into becoming pregnant again, parenting my daughter and, ultimately, the adoption of my son. The shame and secret nature of the loss became internalized – I wasn’t really infertile, as a colleague oh-so-helpfully pointed out, I was just subfertile. Acknowledging or memorializing my body’s failures seemed like a waste of time.
Infertility, which includes recurrent miscarriages, affects one in eight couples in the US. It’s a disease that affects women and men from all walks of life – rich/poor, young/middle-aged, all races and ethnicities – although, since treatment is rarely covered by insurance, we usually only hear about the experiences of relatively well-off women and their families. Those of us working in maternal and child health spend a lot of time thinking about how to help ensure all women and men are able to create and actualize their reproductive life plan, but what we usually focus on is preventing mistimed pregnancies through the provision of education and access to contraception. While that focus is important, I think that we must also become comfortable talking about infertility and how that affects reproductive life planning, helping people access the limited diagnosis and treatment resources available, and acknowledging people’s loss and helping them find support.
October 15th comes around again in 363 days. This time, I’ve got my candle ready.
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Erin McClain, MA, MPH, is a Program Coordinator for the Every Woman Southeast Coalition and a Research Associate with the Center for Maternal and Infant Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is a bio-mom, an adoptive mom, and an unofficial, self-proclaimed tour guide to the “Land of Infertility.”