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Pregnancy and Infant Loss: a French taboo

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October 15th, the French general indifference

Yesterday, on october 15th, was the International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness day.

And I’m so sorry to tell you that day was spent with the general indifference of Frenchmen. People were more interested by the Covid19 curfew. If this year, they have a relevant excuse, it was not the case for last year’s edition, or the year before that. And all this because Infant and Pregnancy loss is taboo, especially in France.

Is it because France is one of the worst european countries related to neonatal deaths and stillbirths ?

Maybe talking about death and Science being powerless is a forbidden topic to talk about?

Or is it just because it’s a disturbing matter our French society prefers to ignore?

While it is a hot topic in France

Once again, it is thanks to English-speaking countries, I realized how serious the issue is for my country.

After Chrissy Teigen’s miscarriage, John Legend’s wife, on October the 1st, I’ve been horrified by all the shameful commentaries I’ve read. Thousands of French web users shared their indignation to see pictures they considered choking. They even condemned the fact the parents gave a name to their stillborn son. Some commentators of a popular and demagogic French TV show were abusive on the subject, just to make the buzz. One of them, a woman, even saidPregnancy and Infant loss are the “ultimate taboo” which shouldn’t be broken”

What an incredible lack of humanity for one of the greatest pain in life ! 

My blog mission is to talk about kindness to share together a better place in this world. That’s the reason why I can’t avoid such a hot topic. 

What is the Pregnancy and Infant loss ?

According to the Centers for Disease control and prevention,

« Both miscarriage and stillbirth describe pregnancy loss, but they differ according to when the loss occurs. In the United States, a miscarriage is usually defined as loss of a baby before the 20th week of pregnancy, and a stillbirth is loss of a baby at 20 weeks of pregnancy and later.”

That broad definition includes miscarriage, therapeutic abortion and stillbirth. 

When you know that each year in France 20 000 women suffers from miscarriage, ie. from 10 to 15 % of pregnancies, we have no choice but to note this issue is neither rare nor marginal.

We all know in our acquaintances someone who is grieving. That’s why I can’t understand why pregnancy and infant loss is such a taboo in France.

deuil périnatal

Neonatal mortality and stillbirth in France

In their latest report from 2015 and published  in 2018, Euro-Peristat,  points out that 3 children per 1000 are stillborn, which makes France the 21th country out of the 28 Europeans countries in the rapport.

The figure of the infant dead within their 28 first days remains very high with 2,4 death pour 1000 births which makes France the 21th European country. The situation is particularly worrying but that’s not what covers my post. I’m not a medical expert and I can’t give my advice on the reason for such a dire situation. 

However, I can express my indignation at the consequences of this unbearable situation, especially for France in the 21th century. These consequences are human beings, grieving families, emotionally traumatised to come back at home without their baby and to grieve for a future that would never happen. 

The International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness day

journée mondiale de sensibilisation du deuil périnatal

Which of you saw yesterday these little pink and blue ribbons in our streets ? Who knew what this symbol means ? For my part, I didn’t.  

When I googled to write this post, I was flabbergasted from what I saw. I could find only a very few of French press articles and some posts written by associations. But no official websites. 

Not a .gouv website not a category in the French family or health institutions. Nothing. It is as if the subject doesn’t exist from an official perspective.  

A closer look made me find some medical columns from … Switzerland or Quebec. These are our Canadian cousins who created the words  « parange » (angel’s parent), « papange » (angel’s dad) and  « mamange » (angel’s mum). It is as if us, French people, couldn’t create some more human expressions than the technical words. 

vs Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month in the USA

In 1988, Ronald Reagan, while he was President of the United States, declared October as the Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month. In the USA, 1 in 4 pregnancies ends in loss. On the nationalshare.org a support and some actions are proposed in the states where the foundation works. 

Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month
© nationalshare.org

In the United Kingdom, it is a full week which is dedicated, supported by a national website and promoted by influencers and national celebrities. 

One month, a week vs a single hidden day in France. 

Where can we find some support in French ?

“The first francophone support group  nospetitsangesauparadis.com was created in 2001 by some Quebec “mamanges”. They were supported by the beautiful Luc Plamondon & Marie Denise Pelletier’s song, “Berceuse pour un Ange” ( Angel’s lullaby).

You can also find some information on the Quebec website parentsorphelins.org.

In France, the associations makes an amazing work. Most of them have been created by Mums or parents grieving their lost child to share their experience and feelings. 

I’ve found several associations such as Le Chemin des Etoiles or Agapa.

And there is some amazing bloggers like La Marmotteuse, instagramers as Ellie petite étoile, Korriganne.illustration, 9mois9jours or L’Etoile Leo. You can listen to podcasts , some doulas ‘ advice…

What can we do to help a grieving loved one ?

If you are lucky enough not to be concerned by this grief, your friends, colleagues or family members might be. I’ve witnessed this grief several times. 

Talk about it

The first thing not to do is thinking not talking about it is helpful. On the contrary, the topic is taboo as you are now very well aware and the pain of these parents is real. Offering them the opportunity to talk about it with you is the most loving gift you can make them. 

Accept to talk about it, to listen, even if you don’t know what to say. These parents are distressed, struggling with all the administrative formalities. For example, I’ve seen a manager reproaching a mother to be on maternity leave without a baby. I’ve also seen parents struggling to get their maternity bonus to pay for their little boy’s funerals while still receiving letters asking them to take the exams for the last term of the pregnancy ! 

The only thing you have to keep in mind is that you can be tactless, even without being malicious. Amongst the top of hurting words, please avoid “ you are young, you’ll have another kid”, “it happened to my grandmother, you’re not an exception”, are you sure you were well cared for?”, “That’s for the best, you wouldn’t have liked to have a disabled kid?”, “you already have 2 beautiful kids, enjoy it”. 

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Welcome the baby picture

If the mother offers to show you her baby picture and you feel you can bear it, please accept. This picture is the only physical thing that will remain of this baby and sharing it with you is an absolute trust mark. To reassure you, there are more and more specialized photographers who help parents to take these pictures at the hospital thanks to the Souvenange association. By reaching them when you know some parents are in need can be a strong proof of love. Their work is free and they are all professional photographers with the most beautiful mission :

« We don’t take death in picture but we make love immortal”. 

To go deep with some reading

The first I became aware of this topic was while reading YourZenMama book where Teresa Palmer and Sarah Wright Olsen talk about their pregnancy loss. That’s how I’ve come to realize we can talk about this in public, not only hushing with friends at a coffee.

And that’s reading yourzenmama blog articles for the International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month I’ve come to realize how the voice has been liberated overseas, unlike here, in France. 

I had a big Coup de cœur for the books  Born to Fly and Miles Apart.

All these books being in English, I recommend you if you rather like reading in French the amazing selection of Chemin des Etoiles . You’ll find there books, testimonies and children pictures books to talk about it with your kids. I’ve begun a reading list… 

How to break the taboo of pregnancy and infant loss ?

As for any defiant movement, I can only advise you this kind and pacifist activist process:

  • really LISTEN to those who know or have the information
  • LEARN from them and have your own opinion with solid arguments
  • to be able to SHARE 
  • and at last to ACT

And to act, why won’t you join the movement? 

The special day of awareness was yesterday but why won’t you wear the blue and pink ribbon all the month ? On Facebook, you can even add this ribbon on your profile picture! 

To act, you can also share some articles, support the associations or the blogs mentioned above and, when Covid19 will make it possible, you can join some walk or some balloon launch. 

The most important is you can act by talking about it openly and publicly. You can be outraged and react when some influencers or commentators say some abominations. 

To sum up, you can act by shutting down ignorance. Because finally, a taboo is a topic you fear because you don’t understand it and know nothing about.

deuil périnatal

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