A note from Katie at Mindr: Almost every mother I know either (a) knows someone who has had a miscarriage or (b) has undergone one herself, present company included. Much is the same with infertility, another emotionally distressing but often not-discussed issue many women face.
One would imagine that these shared experiences of grief and loss would compel us to connect with one another for support. Unfortunately, this is often not the case, and those of us who have experienced miscarriage, pregnancy loss or infertility feel alone in navigating through this challenging time.
After experiencing miscarriages themselves, Australia-based Samantha Payne and Gabbi Armstrong connected, identified the dearth of support for women – and men – who have faced this distress, and together founded the Pink Elephants Support Network. In recognition of National Infertility Awareness Week (April 21 - 27, 2019), we spoke with Samantha, Pink Elephant’s Co-Founder and Managing Director, about her path to cofounding Pink Elephants and its impact.
Tell us about the extraordinary Pink Elephants Support Network and your journey to founding it.
We founded Pink Elephants after experiencing our own journeys of loss and infertility. I had just had my second miscarriage. I was heartbroken, and no one seemed to understand. I was met with platitudes and well-meaning comments that were unintentionally hurtful. I found Gabbi via a Facebook post about miscarriage she had replied to, and it seemed she just ‘got it.’ I reached out, we had coffee, and there and then decided that a support network was needed.
That was over 3 years ago. We started by researching to ensure the need was what we thought it to be, and then started to create content for our website and resources while applying for charity status. We self-funded the first year and began to fundraise the second, and we still hold fundraisers to date as we find they are a beautiful way for the community we have supported to be able to give back to other women who go through miscarriage in the future. Like paying it forward.
We now have corporate partnerships with great companies looking to support their customers and their employees. This is a great avenue for us as it increases our reach in a relevant way in addition to providing revenue.
We are still very much a grassroots organization, where it is all hands on deck. Each of us often performs several roles in each day to ensure that we are efficient with our limited funds. This can be difficult and challenging as the demand for our service grows. However, we know we are creating a legacy, a support network that will go on past us and support thousands more couples each year.
How did you decide upon the beautiful and unique name “Pink Elephants”?
We considered a lot of names. But we then came across the following in a story online: “When a mother Elephant loses her baby the other elephants form a circle around her and each place their trunk on her, a silent unwavering circle of support.” This gave us goosebumps and we knew instantly that this was our vision for the support network we wanted to create.
Your organization addresses the common but still relatively “taboo” topic of miscarriage and pregnancy loss. How can we help facilitate the cultural shift necessary to ensure that women and their partners who have experienced miscarriage have a voice and can get the information, support and reassurance they need?
We need to open up the dialogue around early pregnancy loss, validate it as real grief, and emphasize that miscarriage matters.
A huge part of what we do is raise awareness that miscarriage has a real impact on the couple. According to the British Medical Psychiatry Journal, miscarriage can bring on a period of significant psychological distress. When support is not provided, symptoms of anxiety and/or depression can manifest. Couples have privatized and buried their grief for too long, leaving them to feel isolated and unsupported. By validating early pregnancy loss as true grief, we allow couples to openly seek support. We also educate friends and loved ones in how to support someone through this time of need, providing practical tips and things you can say to show your support. Research highlights that people often say nothing for fear of saying the wrong thing, which is a huge shame.
How do you manage the emotional toll of the work you and your organization are doing? What strategies do you utilize for self-care?
To be honest, we haven’t been great at this. Our drive to continue has come from the increasing number of messages we receive from women every day. These messages thank us for giving them a safe space to have their grief heard, allowing them to connect with others who have been through a similar type of loss, and giving them the knowledge that even one other woman felt the way they did. These messages have kept us going.
For me, creating Pink Elephants was cathartic. It was my way of grieving and processing my losses. In hindsight, I can see how it has triggered more anxiety. Reading stories of miscarriage when I was pregnant again was one of the most difficult things I have ever done.
We are getting better. As our organization grows, we can hopefully raise enough funds to hire staff this year to share the workload and the emotional toll. However, I can’t lie and say we have lots of strategies for self-care, as probably our biggest weakness is putting the needs of others before our own. No matter how hard this feels on some days, the grief and isolation I felt after the loss of my babies was far more painful.
The Pink Elephant Support Network provides critical support and resources for the partners of those who have experienced miscarriage, an often-overlooked group. What have you found to be most helpful for partners in managing their own grief while supporting their partner’s physical and mental health needs?
Most helpful for us has been learning and acknowledging that men generally grieve differently than women. They are more ‘transactional’ in their grieving, as they want to do and fix. However, this does not mean that they are not grieving. There is no right way to grieve.
Couples often struggle with open communication after early pregnancy loss and during infertility. We work closely with counsellors on strategies couples can use to keep talking and to ensure they feel heard by one another. Our Partner Brochure helps to explain to the partner of the woman who has lost the pregnancy what she may experience and what support she needs. This is one of our most downloaded resources.
What are your hopes for the Pink Elephants Support Network and its potential impact in the larger community?
We truly hope to achieve our mission that no couple faces the journey of early pregnancy loss alone. We always say that miscarriage is an individual journey but one that should not be walked alone. The wider we can reach, the more we can validate the impact of miscarriage, the more couples we can offer the support and empathy they deserve.