Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch.
My Theology 101 professor, Dr. John Boyle has a lecture that can be summarized by this, “when you name something you have power over it.” The power in a name, “it has the power to stop someone dead in their tracks across the quad.” Names matter and they have power.
One of the greatest lessons I learned is the importance of naming my grief. October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. Ronald Reagan designated it so in 1988. October 15 was Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.
There are three common types of grief involved in pregnancy and infant loss. These represent a common experience. Individual experiences will naturally differ.
The first is the loss of the dream or expectations. With a positive pregnancy test comes a vision of the future. A girl or a boy? Nursery decor may be picked out. Names were chosen. Plans made. This loss varies depending on how hoped for the pregnancy was.
The second is the loss of the particular child. It is this child whom the parents grieve, the child who can never be replaced because any other child is not this child. They may never have had the opportunity to see him or her, but the deep awareness between mother and child builds the connection. Here, she feels her arms or belly empty where it once felt full.
The third is the loss of security and fear for the future. What does this mean in relation to the woman’s ability to bear children, to bear healthy children? Could she have done anything differently? Will there be children in the future? Is this her lot in life? Scientific knowledge does not always assuage these fears.
For each other these, the power of the name can come and facilitate healing.
Identifying and naming what the dreams were, no matter how small or petty or cliche they might seem. I wanted to dress a little girl. I wanted my name carried forward with a boy. Giving voice to these hopes can help us identify those that might still be possible, or to find other ways to fulfill our dreams. No matter how unimportant they seem in the face of the other types of loss, they matter and should be named.
To give the child a name. Even when the situation is complicated, grief can be felt and to be able to identify the child you lost by name can help carve a place for that child in your memory and the memory of your family. It need not be announced publicly, but there is value in having to a name you can call this child when you allow yourself to say, “I wish you were here.”
Name the fear. I’m afraid I’ll never have children. I’m afraid I can’t carry a child. I’m afraid I’ll never be a mother or a father. Sometimes there are medical answers, in the case of late-term pregnancy or infant loss. There may be progesterone shots or folic acid supplements that will help in the future. Sometimes there are no answers. Sometimes, the answers are worse than we imagined. But we cannot learn to work out the problem, help prevent the problem, or accept the reality of things as they are if we do not first name those fears. “Let’s put away the ‘shoulds,’” my counselor said to me, “maybe the fact that this is on your mind tells you this is something you need to think about.”
If you are not the one who experienced the loss but want to reach out, I encourage you to be aware of these different types of loss involved in the grief. Phrases like, “you’re young, you’ll have more in the future,” might speak to the third type but insults the second.
The power of a name. For those on the outside of the experience, using the name reminds the person in grief you have not forgotten. It helps us to know, to contain in some small way the idea of the thing in our mind, and in this case, help us take a step in the path to healing.