116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The birth of a child is often the most exhilarating, exhausting, and awe-inspiring day in a parent’s life. The death of a child is the most devastating and life-shattering. Sometimes there are spaces between those days, where memories can be made, but often those days are limited or even one-in-the-same. There is no correlation between the length of time a child spends on earth and the amount of grief that a parent feels: the death of a child is the “ultimate tragedy.” It is the loss of a dreamed-for future and of the hope for new life. When a child dies the grief can be all-consuming. It impacts so many aspects of a parent’s life, including mood, relationships, spirituality/religious beliefs, and sense of self. Everything gets turned upside-down, and it stays that way until healing can begin.
Any desired pregnancy that ends before birth, including chemical or ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage, stillbirth, termination due to fetal anomaly/maternal complication, or losses that occur in infancy are challenging circumstances in that the grief is often “disenfranchised.” In 1989, bereavement expert Kenneth Doka coined the term disenfranchised grief to describe “a loss that's not openly acknowledged, socially mourned, or publicly supported.” It can be difficult to share pregnancy and infant loss due to the fear of burdening others, and it may seem to the mourning parent that nobody else will truly understand their deep and all-encompassing grief. Marking the loss of a child who did not live outside of the womb, or who only lived a short time, is also challenging because the rituals of mourning — memorial services, mementos of milestone events, shared stories — may not be possible. When brave parents share their losses, however, the grief surrounding pregnancy and infant loss becomes normalized and can be supported by others.
No Foot Too Small (NFTS) is an Iowa-based organization that is working hard to draw awareness to pregnancy loss and infant mortality (nofoottoosmall.org). Founded in 2013 by Robin and Ryan Boudreau following the loss of their son Beau, NFTS fundraises with a goal of building hospital birthing and bereavement suites where parents may grieve the loss of their baby in peace and privacy. NFTS also serves grieving families by offering numerous social and support events, where both tears and laughter mix, and sadness and hope are shared.
October is designated as National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, with Oct. 15 being the official Day of Remembrance. This year, on Oct. 15, NFTS is hosting “Wave of Light” events in Cedar Rapids, Des Moines, Sioux City, and Cedar Falls. These free events will provide the opportunity for families to come together to remember their babies who left this world too soon. Come join us as we light candles and “celebrate angels” (https://www.nofoottoosmall.org/events/).
Stacey Pawlak, Ph.D., is a psychologist at UIHC and specializing in perinatal mental health, with a focus on perinatal loss.