Pregnancy and Infant Loss

Grieving woman
SolStock/iStock

Babies abound on social media. Proud expectant parents share sonograms with arrows orientating us to the tiny human pictured. Plans for this new life are already swirling in their parents’ minds. What will she or he bring to the world? How will the family be changed?

Then the unthinkable and unexpected happens The heartbeat is weak or undetectable at a routine checkup; spots of blood land Mom in the emergency room; the once-frequent baby kicks fade, or the doctor finds something devastating on a test.

Then comes the heartbreaking follow-up post on social media:

“JP and I sadly suffered another loss in our family. We were so excited I quickly became pregnant after my first miscarriage in May. I had an ultrasound on Tuesday and it was discovered that the baby didn't have a heartbeat. … There are so many questions, so much heartbreaking pain, so much physical pain, a lot of prayer is needed. We appreciate everyone who has been with us through this journey. …”

Every year, millions of expectant parents the world over face either miscarriage or a fatal prenatal diagnosis that results in the death of their child prior to, or just after birth. The problem cuts so deeply that in 1988, U.S. President Ronald Reagan designated the month of October as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. In 2002, Oct. 15 was established as a national day of remembrance.

Grieving parents have marked this time by lighting candles, releasing balloons, hugging their other children a little tighter and talking about little ones lost. Brian and Julie Neils know those feelings all too well.

One Couple’s Story

Julie and Brian were elated when, at 20 weeks along, they discovered that one baby was actually two. Though carrying twins, Julie’s pregnancy was pretty typical. But at 26 weeks, already in the hospital for preterm labor, an accident in the womb caused the death of their boy, Leyton, and threatened his twin sister, Lauren.

“Just the day before, the nurse pointed to the ultrasound screen and Leyton had raised his hand. The nurse said, ‘Look, he’s waving at you,’ ” Julie says. “I didn’t know it would be the last time I saw him alive.”

In those cold, late night hours, an ambulance rushed Julie to a different hospital with a special neonatal intensive care unit. For another month she carried both children.

“I made it to 31 weeks,” she says. “Those were very dark days.” The twins were delivered by emergency C-section, and Lauren was rushed to the NICU, where she’d remain for two more months.

The Neils were intentional about spending time with Leyton after the delivery. On the day after his birth, they released his body to the funeral home and turned their attention to Lauren, who was still clinging to life.

“We drove back and forth to the hospital, and in between held a service for Leyton,” Julie says. “We finally took Lauren home at Thanksgiving.

“I felt like two halves of myself were ripped end to end. We loved Lauren, yet walking through [Leyton’s] loss – his things, his clothes, his crib – was devastating. Little did we know that living without him would be far harder than we expected.”