Purple Hearts and Battle Scars

I met a nice woman recently while I was on vacation and we chatted about our lives. When I told her what I do for a living—working with people who are suffering from infertility and pregnancy loss—she told me declaratively that stillbirth doesn’t happen anymore. I corrected her and told her that grieving women and men show up all too regularly in my therapy practice. She was shocked. She said that she never hears about anyone having a stillborn baby.

Purple Hearts Rainbow Heart

Photo by Jiroe on Unsplash

That’s because people don’t talk about it.

And yet, almost 1 in every 160 pregnancies ends in stillbirth in the United States. That’s about 24,000 babies or 1% of all US pregnancies. In addition, about 1 in every 1,000 live births result in neonatal death–another 16,000 babies. And estimates of 15-20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage. As many as 1 in 4 pregnancies end in loss.

What do you do? Do you talk about your devastating loss with others or do you keep your head down, isolating yourself from others?

In the US military, wounded servicemen and women are given a purple heart, an honor indicating that they have been wounded in action. Are you hiding your battle scars when you deserve to wear a purple heart?

My beautiful loss mama friends, you have been wounded in action. Wounded in the worst, most painful way, but you are often encouraged to keep quiet about your loss. You have nothing to be ashamed of or to apologize for. Shallow Other Folks owe YOU an apology for their words and inaction.

In addition to the narrative of “stillbirth doesn’t happen anymore,” I have heard too many stories about people being ugly and cruel to loss moms on social media. I am not talking about alleged “helpers” who are doing their best to help but often miss the mark. (You can read my previous “5 Pregnancy Loss Helpers from Hell” blog post to learn more). This is a different kind of person. This is the person who questions why you would ever put a picture of your stillborn baby on social media or on your desk at work.

You and I know why you share your pictures.

This is your baby. Your precious baby who is yours. This picture is your only treasure of a cherished child and you want others to know your child. You are wearing your purple heart.

Unfortunately, many people only want to hear or see happy stories.

Sorry, Shallow Other Folks. Game over.

My beautiful loss mama friends, it’s time to find your inner activist on social media and in your lives. You have legitimate stories and you love your children. It’s time to share.

As often as you damn well want to.

This is your battle cry, to educate, shame others for their hatefulness, or fight back.

As one beautiful, suffering woman said to me, “I am advocating for other women. I am finding a purpose for my daughter’s death. I am tired of the ‘HUSH!’ message about stillbirth. If we could all tell our story, maybe there would be an impetus for doctors to find the reasons for stillbirth and to prevent this happening to anyone else.”

Amen, sister. I love you.

Are you ready to share your battle scars with dignity? Are you ready to wear your purple heart, to let others know that you have been deeply wounded and you won’t be hushed up or shamed ever again FOR BEING THE PARENT OF A BELOVED CHILD? Talking about your child is part of your healing. It honors your child and teaches others, be they Shallow Other Folks or physicians. Let your story matter and mean something, to you and others, as you heal and grieve. This battle scar is deep and part of your life. Let it help you to prepare for your rainbow baby. Let your battle cry speak up for women everywhere who are tired of being hushed in a thousand ways.

You are your baby’s voice. Let your battle scars remind you of your strength and persistence, over the course of what I hope will be a long, healthy, happy life. That you matter. Wear that purple heart for all to see. Let it be a ray of light in the world. You deserve all the compassion and honor it brings.

NOTE: The inspiration for this blog post comes from “Purple Hearts” by Jeremy Messersmith of Minneapolis on his latest album Late Stage Capitalism.

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About the Author:

Dr. Deborah Simmons
Deborah Simmons, PhD, LMFT, is a marriage and family therapist and co-owner of partners (in)fertility of Minneapolis, a holistic mental health center. She has been working in the area of infertility, pregnancy loss, and reproductive complications since 1997. She has been a member of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine since 1998. She is on the Medical Advisory Team of the Star Legacy Foundation for Stillbirth Awareness. Dr. Simmons has worked in a fertility center and in private practice. She is particularly interested in the topic of reproductive decision-making. She is trained in EMDR and hypnosis, both of which have been very helpful to patients undergoing or healing from medical procedures and pregnancy loss. She is active on social media on her blog, Facebook, and Twitter.

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