October is also…
The month of October is a very busy time in the realm of awareness when it comes to breast cancer. The walks and pink ribbons pinned onto virtually every piece of cloth are a great way to remind women to go for screening. But they also normalize the condition and make women who have been affected feel like they are not alone. I myself don’t need my pink Kitchen Aid mixer to remind me that breast cancer exists, but I have to say that its presence on my counter makes whoever sees it realize that cancer is not a stigma and certainly not something to hide.
While breast cancer seems to get all of the attention during October, many people do not know that this is also SIDS, Pregnancy, and Infant Loss Awareness Month. One of the most common things we hear in our reproductive genetics clinic is women saying that they suffer in silence-whether it is having a sick baby, or dealing with infertility, or pregnancy loss. Most couples do not publicize their struggles, and instead live dual lives of dealing with them in private while trying to pretend that everything is ok. And all that acting is hard!
I read a really well-written excerpt called “The Cost of Appearances” by Arthur Frank. This book chapter is about being a patient, but I think its message can be applied to couples facing loss in the reproductive realm as well. Frank writes, “Two kinds of work are involved in being ill. One kind takes place when the ill person works with emotions…and tries to find coherence about what it means to be ill. The other kind is the work the ill person does to keep up an appearance.”
When people going through tough situations try to be cheerful and “ok”, it makes the people around them more comfortable, but it sucks up a lot of energy and it prevents loved ones from being able to provide comfort. Many people facing loss isolate themselves because they fear that nobody will understand what they are going through and might not know what to say.
This is a normal response, but it is not necessarily a helpful one for the mind. Reproductive loss is so common, but people just don’t realize it because it’s often kept a secret. About 15% of pregnancies end in fetal loss or stillbirth. That is a lot, but again, people don’t often share this kind of stuff. There are no colored ribbons plastered on people’s houses when it happens to them.
I am not advocating for people to announce to the world every struggle they have. The decision to share such things is a very personal one, and I can think of many good reasons not to. But, for those who are comfortable sharing, you will definitely be helping others who need someone to relate to.
There are many support groups out there for people who need to speak to and hear from others who have experienced similar things-and many of them offer the opportunity to make it anonymous. There are also many mental health specialists who work in the realm of bereavement.
Let’s try to remember that you don’t get extra points for being “ok,” and that your mental health and relationships with others will be better off if you deal with your emotions. There are so many people who are there to help.
Here are a couple of resources in the Orthodox community that I know about. I am sure there are plenty more in your area.
Nechama Comfort, a support group in northern NJ for families who have experienced infant or pregnancy loss
Knafayim, 718-871-8968, hosts support groups via anonymous conference calls
National Council of Women NY Pregnancy Loss Support Program, hosts support groups and counseling in the New York area
A Time, provides education and support for couples dealing with infertility
Bonei Olam, provides resources and means to help couples with assisted reproductive technologies.
Facebook-I have seen many groups that are closed to the public and are great forums to vent, ask for recommendations, and hear from others