In many Namibian cultures, reproduction is seen as a central aspect of women’s role and society expects that any women in their reproductive age should be able to give birth to a child. Moreover, women in some traditions and cultures are not woman enough if they are not able to bear children. There is indeed little or nothing in life which compares to the joy of bringing another human being into the world. However, while giving birth to a child can be jovial, some women’s pregnancies do not reach term and some other women lose their babies soon after delivery or days after birth.
The week of 9-15 October is observed annually in some countries as a baby loss awareness week. This week is observed to mark as a special opportunity to remember the lives of babies who are lost in pregnancy and the babies lost at or soon after birth. This year, the week is observed under the general theme “Isolation”. Indeed, the effect of social distancing as a preventative measure of Covid-19 has had some impact on access to care and support and it has also complicated grief and responses to pregnancy and baby loss, which results in some women and their families feeling isolated. It is documented that it is overwhelmingly distressing and confusing for many women to learn that they have lost their pregnancy or baby, or learning that they will lose a pregnancy or baby. In addition, it is also devastating for women and their families to lose a child during or after birth.
While pregnancy and baby loss is a devastating personal and family experience which can be heart-breaking and sometimes a challenging reality, there are some cultural norms which prevent women who have experienced a number of miscarriages not to open up. Whereas it is important to honour and value cultural beliefs, it is also essential for society to stand in solidarity and support women to break the silence and stigma and provide all the needed support to deal with the loss.
Research indicates that about 10-20 percent of pregnancies end in a miscarriage. Miscarriage is defined differently by many authors, however for the purpose of this opinion piece, miscarriage which is also known as early pregnancy loss, is defined as the death of a baby in the womb or uterus before 24 weeks of pregnancy.
Additionally, there are some women whose pregnancies end in stillbirths, and stillbirth is defined as a baby born with no signs of life at or after 28 weeks gestation or of pregnancy. Furthermore, some babies die as a result of neonatal death which is defined as the death of a live born infant, regardless of gestational age at birth, within the first 28 completed days of life. After stillbirth, most mothers thus start to look for answers to their questions on their baby’s death. However, in some instances, there are no causes of stillbirths found and this becomes hard for grieving parents because they want to understand the cause of death. While many miscarriages and stillbirths remain unexplained, there are a number of possible causes such as maternal infections and disorders, early placenta separation and or placenta abnormalities, birth defects, umbilical cord abnormalities and termination of pregnancy due to medical reasons.
In some countries, there are organisations and support groups where women and their families can register for support after pregnancy and baby loss because it can cause a vast range of responses such as intense grief to a practical shrug, from being silent to becoming open, and from sadness to acceptance. Indeed it is recommended that women and their families join to become members of support groups and organisations to avoid the feeling of isolation.
It is also significant that awareness is created to inform all women and their families who have been affected by pregnancy and baby loss to know that they are not alone and that they deserve to be supported. Society should support women to enable them to express themselves about miscarriage and expressing themselves through talking about their miscarriages to demonstrate that they have lost something very meaningful. Evidence indicates that in some instances, women who do not open up expose themselves to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorders which are mental health ailments. Therefore, women should be encouraged and supported to share their experiences because it is beneficial for their mental well-being. Pregnancy loss campaigns should be used to serve as instruments in changing public perspectives on issues and stigma around pregnancy and baby loss.
During this pregnancy and baby loss awareness week, we are encouraged to take a step to support and honour every little life lost. We should join many thousands of people around the world by lighting a candle or showing an image of a candle and send a wave of light into the world, as we remember and honour every little life lost too soon. We should continue to stand in solidarity with women who have suffered a pregnancy and baby loss and acknowledge the scale and impact of pregnancy and baby loss. To all women who have suffered a pregnancy or baby loss, know that you will never be alone. Love and light!