Oct 23, 2023 - Health

Axios Finish Line: Shining a light on silent grief

Illustration of a woman casting two shadows, one shadow is of a pregnant woman and the other of a non-pregnant woman.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Disclaimer: This article covers pregnancy complications and loss.

1 in 4 women will experience pregnancy loss, and 2.6 million stillbirths happen each year, according to the World Health Organization.

  • Even given these staggering statistics, open discussion about the topic remains stigmatized, leaving mothers and families to grieve in silence or behind closed doors.

Zoom in: October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month — first recognized in 1988 by President Ronald Reagan to support bereaved parents and educate the public on maternal fetal health.

Case in point: Axios Finish Line reader and former head of communications at CNN Washington Lauren Pratapas had a miscarriage in April 2022 due to an undiagnosed complication called cervical incompetence.

  • Following her loss, Pratapas scoured the internet for answers and guidance, but was disheartened by the lack of personal accounts.
  • "I started Googling cervical incompetence, and while I found plenty of medical journals and statistics about it, there was nothing from another mom that I could relate to or that could tell me what to expect to happen next," she told Axios.

So earlier this month, she shared her story with People magazine to ensure that no other woman felt isolated and alone in her grief — and received notes from countless others who had gone through something similar.

The big picture: Maternity care in the United States is low compared to other developed countries, says Dr. Lauren Demosthenes, senior medical director of Babyscripts, a service specializing in prenatal and postpartum care.

  • Socioeconomic factors and lack of access to quality care have led to racial disparities in maternal and infant deaths.
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control, Black women are twice as likely to experience a stillbirth and have a 43% higher risk of miscarriage compared to white women.

Reality check: Awareness is critical for any progress to take place, says Demosthenes.

"I really want to focus on the need for conversation because so many stories are shared in a whisper," Pratapas told Axios.

  • "I hope that by sharing [publicly], we can help break down the walls and encourage more women to speak out about their experiences — and hopefully elicit some change or progress within the maternal fetal medicine field."

The bottom line: While there's never a perfect thing to say to someone who has experienced pregnancy or infant loss, it's important to let them know that they're not alone says Pratapas.

  • "Based on my experience, pain and grief is not linear, but consistent, simple check-ins from friends and loved ones can make a huge difference."

Additional resources and support can be found through the Star Legacy Foundation, National Maternal Mental Health Hotline and Postpartum Support International.

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