When a woman loses a pregnancy, what happens?
From a medical standpoint, there aren’t a lot of physical differences between a woman who has had a stillbirth or miscarriage and a woman who has given birth — both may be given a pamphlet of symptoms about bleeding, complications to watch out for, and maybe a prescription for pain pills. But from an emotional and mental perspective, a woman recovering from a pregnancy loss needs a lot more help than a pamphlet and a pill.
Which is where a new history-making bill comes in.
After watching his daughter go through three heartbreaking late-term losses, Canadian Parliament member Mike Colle proposed Bill 141, the Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness, Research, and Care Act. The proposal is designed specifically to not only bring more awareness around pregnancy loss, but also train hospital and medical staff on how to best help women experiencing a loss from a stillbirth. It also provides funding for special programs within the hospital and community to serve mothers during and after a loss.
The bill, which is the first of its kind in North America, not only declared October 15 Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day in Canada, but it provided $665,000 in funding for PAIL, a counseling network for parents and healthcare staff. The bill has introduced initiatives such as pilot programs designed to help women experiencing pregnancy after a late-term loss with special considerations, such as more sensitive care and support. A woman who is pregnant after a loss, for example, may receive the same ultrasound technician who is familiar with her history for every visit or go through prenatal classes with other parents who have also had a loss.
The network started by helping 200 families in its first year, but quickly exploded. This year, it’s received 400 referral requests in the first few months alone.
“This is really about waking up the health care system, waking up society to the fact that this is a very significant gap in our healthcare system that I’ve never heard anyone talk about, certainly in my 21 years in government, it’s never been raised in any way, shape, or form,” Colle said in a statement to The Star.
Um, can I get an amen?
We need to follow Colle’s suit and bring some official resources about stillbirth and pregnancy after loss here in the U.S.
Shockingly, more babies are lost each year to stillbirth than SIDS — 10 times more babies, to be precise. Although stillbirth only affects one percent of all pregnancies, when you translate that percentage to numbers, it’s huge. Over 24,000 babies are born stillborn in the U.S. every year.
It doesn’t help that the definitions surrounding pregnancy loss can be tricky. The CDC notes that there is no “official” definition for when the loss of a fetus changes from a “miscarriage” to a “stillbirth,” although in general, most doctors characterize a miscarriage as a loss before 20 weeks and a stillbirth as a loss after 20 weeks. The confusion swirling around defining what a woman’s loss “officially” is only hurts women in the recovery process. If science doesn’t even know what she lost, she may feel confused by the extent of her grief.
When Jenifer Thie Eitniear delivered her deceased daughter (whom she later named Hope) alone at home in her bathroom, she was traumatized. The birth, which happened six months into her fifth pregnancy, was sudden and unexpected — without any indication that anything had been wrong.
After she began hemorrhaging, Eitniear went to the hospital. Having been through a horrific loss, an unexpected stillbirth, and a life-threatening complication herself, you would think that the hospital staff would have treated Eitniear with special care and consideration in a very difficult situation.
Instead, Eitniear was discharged within hours without any education, support, or resources to help her grieve, cope, and heal. She developed a pain pill addiction from the prescription she was given and it took years before she was able to piece her life back together.
“I will tell you, mentally and emotionally I had no business going home that night,” Eitnier told Babble earlier this month. Without any policies in place for miscarriages and stillbirths, women like Eitniear may get missed in the American healthcare system — and as her story illustrates, the lack of resources can have disastrous results.
While Eitnier’s story ultimately has a happy ending, with her finding peace through her journey and celebrating six years of sobriety, not all women will be so lucky. In the U.S., one in four women will experience a pregnancy loss, whether through miscarriage and stillbirth, leading us to wonder why on earth we don’t have more official standards and policies at hospitals and doctor’s offices to help them.
Hopefully, we can take some inspiration from the first pregnancy loss bill in the books, so we can stop wondering why women are left so alone after a loss — and start helping them, instead.