Pregnancy and infant loss: through the lens of a doctor’s practice

, , ,

By Beth Helgerson, M.D., OB/GYN


This is a tough subject. Losing a baby, losing a pregnancy – it’s life-changing. Even though it’s not always talked about, it’s very real and very painful to mothers and their families.

We’re in the midst of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, a fitting opportunity for me to express thoughts and emotions I’ve seen throughout my practice.

A mother and father holding the hat of a premature baby.There’s not always a reason

Early pregnancy loss is quite common, according to some sources. But we don’t always know when it happens because it might manifest as a late heavy cycle. We aren’t always aware of the reason for early loss, but it’s often due to abnormal chromosome numbers in the fetus.

Mid to late pregnancy loss is far less common. Again, we don’t always have answers. Causes could include abnormal chromosomes, prematurity, genetic/structural makeup, uterine or cervical issues, or poorly controlled medical illness in the mother.

Because we’re not always sure what causes pregnancy loss, it’s important to do everything you can to be healthy if you’re looking forward to motherhood. That might mean taking care of diabetes or hypertension, being in good shape, taking vitamins, maintaining a healthy weight – all before you get pregnant.

Strong support mends broken hearts

Grief is hard enough, but when I talk to women who lose a pregnancy, they share that they feel even worse based on what their friends and other people have said.

People mean well. They don’t mean to cause pain. But phrases such as, “You’ll have another baby” or “Thank goodness you have another baby at home,” contribute to grief. Almost every woman tells me a story of how she was made to feel worse because of well-meaning words, and that stays with her.

If you know someone who has had a pregnancy or infant loss, it’s OK not to say anything. You don’t have to offer advice in hopes of cheering her up. More often than not, it has the opposite effect. It’s OK to simply give her a hug.

If you have experienced a loss and have been hurt by someone’s words, know that there is a place that can help. You can find solace in a support group, where you’ll meet people who are dealing with their own losses. It will show you that you’re not alone, that somebody there has gone through this successfully and wants to help. Lots of candles on dark background

Children are always remembered

While it’s true that time helps with grief, a part of us never lets go of that grief. When I speak to elderly women and ask about their life history, they often want to discuss their own pregnancy and infant losses.

One woman in her 80s described it as always being painful, that it’s been painful for 60 years. Yet, she’s glad that it brings her pain. Not that she enjoys that pain, but it reminds her that her child is never forgotten.

Her sentiments struck me as beautiful and profound. It’s a viewpoint we don’t often hear, and I think it’s important. I’ve shared these thoughts with young women who are experiencing loss right now. While it might not bring them relief, it makes sense to them and, in a way, helps them feel connected to other mothers in their grief and remembrance.

TCHC offers two support groups that might help: Grief Support Group and Parents Who Have Lost a Child Support Group. For more information, call 218-631-5228 or click here.


Beth Helgerson Professional PhotoAbout the Author: Dr. Beth Helgerson specializes in general obstetrics and gynecology, offering women individualized care and surgical procedures. Dr. Helgerson enjoys spending her days off experimenting with new recipes or, even better, finding new restaurants to try. She and her husband have two grown daughters.

Deafening Silence: Living with the loss of a child.  

, , , , ,

By Guest Blogger: Ronda Tumberg

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “Silence is deafening.” I’ve been having a lot of that kind of silence here lately and I’m not even sure why.

I hear the silence.

This was taken of me the day of Radley's funeral.

This was taken of me the day of Radley’s funeral.

There’s no baby sleeping loudly like babies do. He’s not crying because he’s hungry or tired or fell trying to learn to walk or crawl or stand up. He’s not learning any new words, like Dada or Mama or whatever name he would have invented for the girls or his brother. He’s not valiantly trying to open the cupboards and throw pots and pans on the floor. He’s not sharing a room with his big brother and causing me anxiety because I’m across the house from him. He’s not going into his 12-month clothes. I don’t have to change his diapers. He’s not freaking me out by getting a cold or a fever. He’s not playing with the toilet paper or clogging the toilet with trucks. He’s not crying because he got stuck behind the couch for the eighty-third time today. He’s not opening the highboy to see how much fancy china he can smash. He’s not learning to love Brussels sprouts or ice cream or coffee. He’s not even grabbing my coffee cup and endangering his wellbeing for that matter. He’s not gagging over peas or pumpkin pie. He’s not laughing when you tickle him, because he’s not here. He’s not here making my loud house louder.

He’s in heaven and heaven is a wonderful place. But do you want know what I know? He’s not here and the silence is deafening.

He lived for 3½ days before we lost him last year on September 4th. The loss of him and his other siblings, a stillborn sister at 22 weeks, and two miscarriages at 13 and 6 weeks has fueled my burning desire to raise awareness on Pregnancy & Infant Loss, and how to properly relate to those who are valiantly slogging through it.


On Thursday, October 15th we come together for the “Wave of Light” where everyone is invited to light a candle at 7:00pm, in all times zones, all over the world, and keep it burning for at least an hour. This will create a continuous wave of light over the whole world for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. Back in 1988 Ronald Reagan proclaimed October to be National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. He said, “When a child loses his parent, they are called an orphan. When a spouse loses her or his partner, they are called a widow or widower. When parents lose their child, there isn’t a word to describe them. This month recognizes the loss so many parents experience across the United States and around the world.” 

If you know of someone who’s lost a child here is a list of 50 ideas that would be helpful:

  1. Ask to see pictures of my child.
  2. Remember that we ARE thinking about our child even if it doesn’t look like it. For example, talking or laughing about something else. It’s always right there below the surface.
  3. Acknowledge that my child existed. We feel honored that you remember that they lived. If we cry, it’s not because you reminded us, it’s because we’re so grateful that you remembered.
  4. Be willing to let us talk about our child without changing the subject or reacting with disgust.
  5. If there are other children, check to be sure that we have appropriate funeral clothes for them.
  6. If you don’t know, ask, “What was your child’s name? Would you tell me about them if you feel up to it?”
  7. Say, “I cannot possibly understand your grief, because every loss is different, but I am here for you” and mean it. Be there.
  8. Understand that my grief is different than anyone else’s.
  9. Say, “Please tell me about your loss if you are ready to discuss it.”
  10. Pray for us and let us know you are praying.
  11. Ask me about my child. Use their name when you ask. Statistic
  12. Let me cry.
  13. Hug me.
  14. Call me, text me, message me, and let me know you love me and that you still haven’t forgotten.
  15. Let me grieve.
  16. Ask, “What is your prevalent thought today about your dear child?” Use their name when you ask. Pick appropriate times to ask this, not just before an important event etc.
  17. Let me know I’m not alone.
  18. Just agree with us that it REALLY SUCKS.
  19. It’s okay to ask how our child passed, but expect a wild, widely varied set of reactions. Doing this may cause you the urge to hug your children.
  20. Ask when would be a good time to visit. Give a specific time that would work for you and ask if that day would work for us.
  21. Please acknowledge their birthday, the anniversary of their death, etc. Things to do include: send a card, send flowers, send a gift, call, text, send a plant, send a token with the child’s birthstone on it.
  22. The specific day of the week our child died on is a hard day for many, many months. This is also true for the date. For example, if our child died or was diagnosed with a terminal illness on October 26, the 26th is a trigger for us every month for a very long time.
  23.  Ask if there is anything special that reminds us of our child. For example, dragonflies, flowers, teddy bears, birds, colors, angels, hearts, etc. If there is, these things could be sent on the anniversary dates as a tangible reminder that our child isn’t forgotten. Write a reminder on your calendar or in your phone of these dates.
  24. If it was an early loss, ask if we named our child and then use it when talking to us about that child.
  25. Wash our car so we don’t drive in the funeral procession in a dirty car.
  26. Tell us if you see or hear something that reminds you of our child.
  27. Do something to honor our child…make a donation, plant a memorial tree, release balloons or paper lanterns, bring flowers or a token to the cemetery and then let us know that you did so.
  28. Share a personal story about our loved one.
  29. If it’s feasible and you’re close friends, think about providing a safe place for us to express our anger, wood to chop, old appliances to beat, punching bag to whale on, etc.
  30. If you visit the cemetery let us know.

    From my 2014 Wave of Light Ceremony in remembrance of my 4 children: Rodeo, Radley, Rayanna & Raina

    From my 2014 Wave of Light Ceremony in remembrance of my 4 children: Rodeo, Radley, Rayanna & Raina

  31. Make specific offers to help: “May I do your laundry?” “Can I go to the grocery store for you?” “May I clean house for you?” Sweep, vacuum, mop, scrub toilets, mow the lawn, do yard work, help with chores, care for animals, etc.
  32. Bring over toiletries, garbage bags, paper towels, toilet paper, paper plates, etc.
  33. Instead of asking the ever dreaded “How are you doing?” greet them with a formal greeting and say things like “I’m so glad to see you.” Or, “So good to see you. I’ve been praying for you.” Or,  I’ve been thinking about you.”
  34. Ask them if you can massage their shoulders, or buy them a massage.
  35. After several months it may be okay to offer to bring them out to lunch, bring them for a manicure or pedicure, etc. If they don’t accept that moment, let them know your offer is still open anytime. Ask again in a few more months.
  36. Offer to be a spokesperson for the grieving family. This person can coordinate meals for as long as needed. Check with the grieving family to see if they need anything. Do this for them indefinitely.
  37. Drop off freezer meals for them. This is especially helpful as the months pass.
  38. Include the dads in your remembering.
  39.  Offer to create a memorial garden for our child.
  40. Ask what we most appreciate or what we don’t like. Make it clear that you won’t be offended by their response if they don’t ‘need’ you at that time. They still appreciate the effort.
  41. Randomly send cards, letters, tokens or flowers for no reason, just to let them know you remember.
  42. Pray for us.
  43. Listen to me when I talk about my child. You don’t necessarily need to have something to say, just listen. That’s all I need.
  44. Call. If we aren’t up to talking or miss the call, leave a message. We are more likely to call back if you leave a message letting us know you care. Sometimes just hearing your voice in the message is all we need to feel better and not so alone.
  45. Show up at our house to just sit with us. Or clean. Or do with us whatever we may happen to be doing. If it’s an anniversary date it may be best to call ahead.
  46. Be available.
  47. Let me scream, cry, yell, rant, rave, swear, second guess all my decisions, and blame myself until I am spent. Then you can gently tell me it isn’t my fault and it never was. Don’t interrupt me to tell me that.
  48. Include ALL my children in the count when you talk about them.
  49. Grief is not just an emotional or mental thing. It is very physical. It causes real problems, insomnia, headaches, migraines, neck & shoulder problems, nausea, gut problems, body aches, chest pain, aching arms, and loss of appetite to name a few.
  50. Throw a life party for our child when it is an appropriate time. Ask when that time might be.
Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep photo by Heidi Shub Photography

Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep photo by Heidi Shub Photography

A  mother’s love doesn’t stop at a piece of granite in a cemetery or a jar of ashes on the mantel. It’s a love that goes into eternity. And never forget, people are always more important than your routine, your vitamins, your to do list, and the pickles you need to can. Always.

About our Guest Blogger: I’m the mom of eight kids, four that can run and four that can fly. I’ve been married to an awesome truck driver for almost ten years. We currently live in Bluffton where I homeschool two of the running kids and attempt to keep the other two from destroying the house. If you so desire, you can read more of my rambling, ranting, and rampages about life in general and what I think about child loss, at

Tri-County Health Care hosts a “Parents Who Have Lost a Child” support group to help those in the area affected by the loss of a child. They meet the second Monday of the month from 5:30 – 7 p.m. in the Wesley Conference Room at Tri-County Health Care. Click here to learn more…