In October 1988 President Reagan declared October to be Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. Later on Robyn Bear, a woman who struggled through six miscarriages of her own, chose October 15th as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. These designations are important because it is estimated, according to HopeXchange, that at least 1 in 4 pregnancies end in loss prior to 20 weeks, which is the definition of a miscarriage. The statistic is likely even more staggering if we consider the pregnancies lost before women even know they’ve conceived.
Think about that for a minute. One in four.
These unfortunate statistics represent babies that were lost too early. They represent hopes that will live in the hearts of the mothers and fathers who lost them forever. It’s a heartache that has been around as long as people have been, yet the processing of this deep loss continues to grow and change as society does. Some of today’s mothers who’ve experienced these losses are remembering their lost babies in a very modern way – with tattoos. Two of those women shared their stories with me, to share with you.
Mary and Linsey have had different experiences, but both openly talk about what they went through in hopes that their stories speak to others and also in memory of their lost babies. In the end, even though what they went through was different, I felt they ended up in the same place. Before I get there, though, let me tell you the stories they told me…
Linsey and her husband had been trying to conceive for a year and were thrilled when it was confirmed that they succeeded. At ten weeks they went in together for their first ultrasound. After some strained conversation with the doctor, he told them that their baby died.
Linsey remembers so many minute details from that day – like the shoes she wore. And she remembers how awful things were in the weeks after that horrible news too.
“The hardest part for me was the massive betrayal I felt from my body – it still thought I was pregnant and held on for over a month until I took medication to convince it to let go. I had to go back to that same room three times to confirm that everything was complete. I had to sit in the waiting room with pregnant women, barely holding on, and I had to put everything on hold for over a week while I forced my body to realize that this baby was not coming. It was the worst.”
Linsey remembers holing up in her house, finding support on online forums, getting support from her husband, friends, and family. She knows there were less-than-helpful comments, but now, three years later, what sticks with her are the flowers, the cards, and the condolences. Linsey was especially touched by the friends that opened up and revealed their losses, sharing in her pain at such a personal level. She found hope in the accounts she read online and heard from others where the parents were able to mourn their losses and move beyond it, sometimes even conceiving again and successfully carrying these pregnancies.
I already mentioned that Linsey got a tattoo to remember her lost child – so did her husband, by the way – but she also took time while she was healing to knit a, “Very simple shawl using a mindful approach of knitting hope and love into every stitch. During my second pregnancy I slept with my shawl to remember.” Linsey wears the shawl sometimes, her own personal remembrance of both pregnancies.
Mary and her husband had one child and were in the midst of a military move when they miscarried with their second. They’d been traveling and were at Mary’s in-laws’ home when she started bleeding, then cramping. She remembers her husband holding her and letting her cry as she, “Let my little lost soul go.”
Mary was good with the quiet support she got, from her husband and their families and friends. She didn’t turn to support groups. “I was able to work through the process on my own, and that’s ok. It’s ok to be alright with a loss.” Being open about her experience has been a natural extension of how she talks about her family. She includes this lost baby when asked about her children and strongly feels, “My child deserves to be respected and remembered along with our babies that came home.”
Their memorial tattoos
Both Mary and Linsey are a few years past their miscarriages and had had time to find new normal in their lives. For both of them, this has included being open about their experiences verbally and with the tattoos they’ve gotten.
Linsey’s imagery includes words that spoke to her right after she miscarried and helped her move past the sorrow of losing her baby. “If love could have saved you, you would have lived forever.” She chose November’s flower, the chrysanthemum, to remember the month her lost child was due. A friend of hers (Erin from The Clinic Tattoo) helped with the design and gave her the art piece before Linsey even returned to work after her loss. She plans to get a similar image on her other arm with the flowers of her surviving children.
Mary’s tattoo doesn’t include anywords and it meant to include all her children in one image – it’s a work in progress. The first three dots are for the two sons they’ve brought home and one angel baby. She’s got two more little dots to add sometime, as her family continues to grow.
I, for one, love tattoos and love that both of these women chose to place such meaning into the art they had placed on their arms. But, I know that not everyone feels the same way, so I asked them if they’ve felt any resistance. I chuckled a little when I read their very similar answers.
Linsey said that she can’t recall anyone acting disapprovingly but it might be because she doesn’t pay attention to it. “Miscarriages and infant loss affect 1 in 4 women but are often kept in the dark. If I can be open about my loss maybe that will help someone else have hope, which was something I desperately needed 3 years ago. I still cry about that loss even though I have a toddler son now and that is okay.”
Likewise, Mary also suggested that she’s likely ignored hostility but also commented, “I don’t stand for disrespect of my children, living or lost, well.” She’s likely to react clearly and concisely in anyone suggests that her lost child ‘doesn’t matter’ or ‘wasn’t a baby, yet.’
Mary and Linsey both suffered an intimate loss and share their stories not only to help others but because their lost pregnancies matter. When I asked them what they might say to one of you, who might be facing this all-too-common pain, their answers spoke to that.
Linsey’s advice: “You are not alone and you are free to process your loss in whatever way works best for you – and that may change throughout the years.”
Mary’s advice: “Grieve, but don’t be lost. That child, no matter how quickly come and gone, has the ability to touch your life. Let them.”
Every experience is personal, as is every mother’s healing process. You might not choose a tattoo – or you might. What matters, though, is that you live your story, speak your truth in whatever way is right for you. I hope these stories speak to you, but please check out the following websites for more information to help you mourn your loss and feel the support of others.