My mother gave me a special charm bracelet. Three solid hearts dangle from the links, and four empty hearts hang between them. Each heart represents a pregnancy: my three living babies and my four lost pregnancies, all laced together as one story.
I no longer wear it every day. When I have an active day planned and it might snag on things, it stays in the box. And this is how it has been with my grief for the two years since my last loss. It is no longer something I wear every day. But there was a time when I felt the great, aching grief of it every moment of every day. And few people understood.
October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, a time of remembrance that culminates with events around the country on October 15. It is a time to honor and share our losses, and hopefully find ways to commemorate the babies we miss so acutely. Some ideas for remembering our children are listed here.
It is also a chance to help friends, family, and the community at large understand what it means to grieve a child lost in pregnancy, at birth, or in early infancy. These kinds of losses are rarely talked about, and there are no established rituals for expressing our grief, so it is often misunderstood.
And so I say to all of the mothers and fathers grieving this month and every day, I understand your loss and you have every right to your grief because love shapes whatever form grief takes and for however long it holds that shape.
For me, this month is a chance to reassess the role grief plays in my life. Like the charms on my bracelet, my losses have been integrated into my life. But that transition can bring its own difficulty: moving into a time in your life when your sadness is no longer front and center can feel like you're neglecting the child you have lost.
Christiane Manzella, PhD, clinical director of the Seleni Institute, who specializes in grief counseling, finds that "some parents want permission to say 'I am done.'" Transitioning to another phase of grief when it feels right to you doesn't mean that you're forgetting your lost baby. Instead, "you're moving through grief, living a life that's full and rich and satisfying along with this sad reality," says Manzella.
That is where I am with my grief this year. On October 15, I will wear my bracelet. And I will light four special candles at our dinner table, one for each of those empty hearts on my charm bracelet. The candles will illuminate my living children's faces while we sit together. Then at bedtime, we will blow them out.
For those still deep in their grief and sadness, the day will be much harder. A few years ago, I could not have imagined being able to see children the same age as those I lost would have been and not feel freshly robbed, or that I could sometimes leave the bracelet behind. And that is why October 15 is crucial for all of us. No matter where we are on our journeys, on this day, we stand united in our love and grief.
For support for pregnancy and infant loss from experts and families who have experienced it, please visit our Miscarriage & Child Loss Advice & Support section.