Pregnancy loss currently sits at 1 in 4 known pregnancies. Student learn about percentages from their early years of schooling, so any school kid knows 1 in 4 is a significant number. In terms of experiences that could develop in their future, it’s definitely up there as an experience they are likely to encounter.
Miscarriage, stillbirth, perinatal loss, newborn death – if these are words students are familiar with- a concept they have heard before- it could begin to broaden the conversation, empower by educating, and assisting the next generations to better support one another.
As with all discussions involving weighty subject matter, the key is age appropriateness.
Schools aim to provide students with academic intelligence, but we should also put a value on the need for the growth of emotional intelligence. This means giving growing minds access to information that could empower them as they mature, and information that can assist them when they begin their own families.
Talking about the good and bad consequences of pregnancies can give deeper understanding to the dynamics of pregnancies and families, and help lock in the early knowledge that there are multiple pregnancy outcomes that could happen. Including knowing that there is information on signs a pregnancy is in danger, current rates of pregnancy loss, and the physical and emotional outcomes of pregnancy loss.
So, why are we not teaching our students that not every pregnancy ends happily?
Life outside the classroom will be full of new challenges, and some of those may include facing life’s tougher outcomes. If we can begin to lift the veil on adverse pregnancy outcomes, we could begin to talk about perinatal loss in a way that could mean improved mental health outcomes for families later in life.
A common emotion expressed by bereaved parents is the feeling of isolation, that they have no body to talk to about this, they lacked information, and weren’t prepared for the experience or for the feelings of grief and loss that flooded after. So, could starting this conversation earlier, in high school health education programs for example, help the subject begin to shed the taboo it currently has?
Our daughters were in lower primary school when their sister died from stillbirth. They knew they had lost something, they knew it was sad to lose her but didn’t have the maturity to grasp the entirety of the situation. So, we did what we felt was right, we explained her death in a way they could understand and what we felt was age appropriate.
They were quite young, and this was reflected in their comprehension of what was going on at the time. As time has gone on, and they mature into upper primary they ask different questions, and these questions are to help their growing brains make some sense of big emotions, one piece at a time.
As they grow and mature, they are able to understand the big emotions involved and add those to their understanding of the experience and its impact of the family, they begin to match up new information with old knowledge. By conversing in this way with my own children, I can see for myself the way they now approach and handle other big emotions or experiences in their lives.
With 1 in 4 pregnancies ending in miscarriage and over 2,400 stillbirths and newborn deaths in Australia annually for 2017, there is little doubt that if these conversations were to be opened up in an educational setting, they would not be the only students in their respective grades to have personal or family experience of perinatal loss or newborn death.
It’s not about dwelling on the sadder outcomes, but providing school ages children with tools and conversations that can develop their emotional intelligence. Giving them some emotional framework to grab onto when, in the future, life’s experiences differ from expectation.
It may not help everyone, but by becoming open to the conversation earlier, by making it a part of a broader conversation, the shock that ripples through family and friends of those who experience loss could be better equipped to provide understanding. Meaning that person feels supported by those close to them, helping their mental health outcome and giving them more power and awareness to seek support if they need to.
One thing we adults need to do is give our kids some credit, they are far more resilient and adaptable than we think, and when complex issues are brought up, as long as discussions are age appropriate, topics are understood or at least filed away until they can understand it better.
Perhaps if the subject has been discussed with them as part of their wider education on sexual or mental health, they will be more likely to positively handle the subject in the future with friends, family or if they, unfortunately, end up being the one in four.