Sands are proud to have partnered with Leah Lewin for Black Maternal Health Week to help raise awareness of pregnancy and baby loss within Black communities and tackle the stigma and taboos that still exist. Having experienced multiple losses herself, she often tried to shy away from the topic of loss. Sadly, she wasn't offered any support at the time of her losses and had to seek help on her own to heal. Leah founded The Perinatal Specialist with a focused passion to support Black, marginalised and minoritised mothers and families.

Leah's blog explores the intergenerational impact of baby loss in Black communities. She explains why there is a need for tailored support that recognises cultural experiences and is sensitive to the bias and racism bereaved parents may have faced before, during and after maternity care.

The loss of a baby is a profound and deeply personal tragedy for any family. In Black communities, the experience of pregnancy and baby loss is layered with complex historical, social, and cultural factors that shape grief and support mechanisms across generations. Understanding these nuances is critical for developing compassionate, inclusive, and effective approaches to supporting bereaved families living through grief and loss.

Historically, Black communities have developed resilience through collective support and shared experiences of hardship, including baby loss. This resilience has often manifested in a strong sense of community, with extended families and community networks playing a significant role in providing emotional and practical support. However, these coping mechanisms can sometimes mask the individual grief that parents experience, leading to silent suffering. It has also transitioned into what can be seen as normalisation and desensitisation. This is due to the higher rates of mortality and morbidity and how the communities offering support view an appropriate response to their story, based on their own experiences and beliefs.

Religion also has a considerable influence on the response to trauma and grief with commonly used statements such as, “trust in the lord, he would not give you more than you can handle”, “they are in a better place”, and “it was not your time” being shared. Whilst these statements may be said with compassion, they can still create more invisible scars at a time when bereaved parents are most vulnerable and in need of comfort.

Generational differences in dealing with pregnancy and baby loss are also evident. Older generations may have been more inclined to "keep a stiff upper lip," or “not to talk your business to people” adhering to the belief that one should not openly display their grief. Privacy is deep routed in Black history as a form of protection for those that had been enslaved. This approach was also partly due to the necessity of dealing with multiple adversities, including racial discrimination and economic challenges, which left little room to publicly address personal tragedies.

In contrast, younger generations are increasingly seeking and advocating for spaces to openly discuss and process their grief as they rid themselves of the constraints of past ideologies. The rise of social media and online communities has provided new platforms for sharing stories and accessing support, which can be particularly empowering for marginalised and minoritised people and communities. 

Despite these shifts in modern thinking, taboos and stigmas surrounding pregnancy and baby loss persist. I have recently supported a family in Jamaica through a stillbirth and witnessed the nuanced reaction of the surrounding community as well as the larger national considerations. In some parts of the Black community, there remains a reluctance to discuss pregnancy and baby loss openly, stemming from deeply ingrained cultural beliefs and the fear of being judged or misunderstood. Mental health is still not as freely discussed or even understood, and this trickles down through generations as well. This silence can exacerbate the isolation and loneliness that bereaved parents feel, hindering their healing process.

Additionally, the stigma attached to mental health issues means that seeking professional support for grief is often underutilised or even unknown in some areas. During my own experiences of loss I struggled to seek help, not for a lack of need but simply because I didn't know where to turn, the support at that time wasn't readily available and living in an area where there were very few Black people, there was no representative care or support that I could see without having to do extensive research at a time where I was feeling immense physical and emotional pain. There is a critical need to normalise conversations around baby loss and mental health, emphasising that seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

To break these stigmas and support healing, it is essential to promote open and honest dialogue about baby loss within Black communities. LOUDLY. This can be achieved through community-led support groups, workshops, and events that provide safe spaces for sharing experiences and coping strategies with an intersectional lens that fully encompasses the Black individual and the various factors and disparities that can hinder healing from grief. Healthcare professionals and support organisations play a vital role in this process. Training that focuses on cultural competence, trauma-informed care, and the specific needs of Black families experiencing pregnancy or baby loss is crucial. Such training helps ensure that support is sensitive, inclusive, and effective. As part of removing the stigma, people must understand this is everybody's issue.

Talking about loss may seem counterproductive in the antenatal period or around conception, but if society is ill-equipped to understand potential risks or factors that may influence loss, trauma, grief, or recovery, can we really say that we are providing all the information and truly providing informed care?

One invaluable resource for those navigating the pain of pregnancy and baby loss, regardless of when it occurred, is Sands. Sands offers specialised support for bereaved families, including those whose loss occurred many years ago. Their services include a helpline, local and online support groups, Sands United football teams, and importantly tailored support for Black and South Asian communities, providing a lifeline for parents seeking understanding and solace.

Addressing pregnancy and baby loss in Black communities requires a multifaceted approach that respects cultural nuances, encourages open dialogue, and provides accessible support. By breaking down the taboos and stigmas, we can pave the way for healing and support that is truly inclusive and compassionate. As we work towards these goals, resources like Sands play a crucial role in offering hope and comfort to those in their most challenging moments.

Please know that you are not alone, and there are people who understand and whom you can speak to in confidence. 

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