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The International Wave of Light Is for All of Our Babies Gone Too Soon

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On the eve of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, my social media feeds exploded with the news of the loss of Chrissy Teigen and John Legend’s baby, Jack. My heart cried for them before my tears poured, memories of my own losses flooding over me. Mourning dawned, then morning dawned. All of the baby loss groups I follow online awakened my feed with the news the next morning, October 1.

On October 25, 1988, President Ronald Reagan established the month of October as National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. On that day he said,

“When a child loses his parent, they are called an orphan. When a spouse loses her or his partner, they are called a widow or widower. When parents lose their child, there isn’t a word to describe them. This month recognizes the loss so many parents experience across the United States and around the world. It is also meant to inform and provide resources for parents who have lost children due to miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, molar pregnancy, stillbirths, birth defects, SIDS and other causes.

Now, Therefore, I, Ronald Reagan, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim the month of October as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. I call upon the people of the United States to observe this month with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities.”

Locations around the world were quick to adopt similar proclamations on their own or by a request that brought it to their attention. Achieving formal government recognition is often the first step in creating a foundation upon which to build awareness both locally and countrywide. Such proclamations can help reduce stigma on a subject considered taboo for public discussion. Reducing that stigma helps families of baby loss heal.

One recent country to recognize October as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, therein helping to reduce social stigma on the topic, is Jamaica. This is thanks to the efforts of Crystal-Gayle Williams, in memory of her baby, Damani. Her organization, 4Damani, is the Jamaican platform for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness. Grassroots efforts to achieve government recognition are happening in Kenya, where annual Wave of Light candle-lighting services are held on October 15, in various towns across the country. These efforts are led by Vivian Nashipae Gaiko and her group, Empower Mama Foundation, in memory of her baby, Princess Amani.

October 15 was established as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day in 2002, via House Resolutions after a petition by loss parents Robyn Bear, Lisa Brown and Tammy Novak. This date has also been adopted by -proclamations around the world from countries to major cities to small communities. One in four pregnancies end in loss without discrimination, across all demographics; parents of baby loss surround the globe. Education, awareness and remembrance activities occur globally throughout the month of October, with a heightened focus of activity on October 15, Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.

October 15, 2002, saw the formal establishment of Lights of Love — International Wave of Light, a Bear Care Campaign initiative, the Official Wave of Light Campaign of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month and October 15, Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, by Terra-Lynn Coggan, in memory of her nephew, Riley. The first official annual gathering of the International Wave of Light was held a year later in St. John, New Brunswick, Canada. The event featured hundreds of Pregnancy and Infant Loss (PAIL) families lighting candles at 7 p.m. local time, with others participating overseas. The International Wave of Light was born(e). Beginning at the International Date Line, PAIL families and friends are invited to unite in lighting candles for at least one hour at 7 p.m. local time. As candles are lit in subsequent time zones, a continuous Wave of Light ripples around the globe for 24 hours in memory of all babies gone too soon.

Image: The iconic sculpture of water kelpies in Grangemouth, Scotland.

Inspired by their American cohorts, a group of parents in the United Kingdom initiated the first Baby Loss Awareness Day on October 15, 2002. The following year, in 2003, the campaign was extended to a week of events preceding Awareness Day, established as Baby Loss Awareness Week, running annually from October 8-15. By 2004, the United Kingdom had joined the International Wave of Light. SANDS-UK, the stillbirth and neonatal charity, has played an integral role in promoting Baby Loss Awareness Week in the United Kingdom.

Global landmarks joined the International Wave of Light in 2014, adding pink and blue lights to the night sky. Purple lights are also used when a landmark can only illuminate one color, for unknown gender, or gender neutrality. The 2019 Wave of Light featured the illumination of 467 global landmarks! Extraordinary group and individual efforts are made annually for this to occur, from filling out illumination requests to installing lights on new landmarks to working with local business and government leaders.

Image: The Temple of Athena, a Greek architectural ruin circa 6th Century BCE, was bathed in pink and blue for the International Wave of Light in 2018.

With chapters across the United Kingdom, SANDS-UK has become adept in their efforts at illuminating landmarks, annually booking approximately half of the world’s total. They work with a vast network of other organizations across the UK to make this happen. The result is that their Lights of Love are able to shine from Edinburgh to London, from the Isle of Man to Gibraltar, in an extraordinary memorial display of color for all babies gone too soon.

The world’s second largest display of light will come from Australia thanks entirely to the efforts of one man, John De’Laney. His Herculean effort has resulted in recognitions of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Months and Remembrance Days in Country and State Parliaments, Proclamations, and, as of this writing, 131 locations across the country and New Zealand have been booked to illuminate on October 15, 2020. Every state capital in the country will feature an illumination, the first country to achieve this goal! This year, Mr. De’Laney’s bookings will comprise approximately 25% of the world’s illuminations for the International Wave of Light, representing the single largest individual contribution to the International Wave of Light in the world. Visit the Facebook page of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Australia so you do not miss this exquisite show of loving remembrance inspired by John and Kate De’Laney’s seven lost babies, who are so very proud of their father.

Image: Flinders St. Station in Melbourne, Australia, with its Indian-influenced architecture, illuminated in pink and blue for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, 2019.

In addition to the United Kingdom, Australia and countless known and unknown volunteers, many individuals and groups working hard on the Wave of Light are acknowledged (in no particular order):

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When I stood at the foot of the first landmark that I booked for illumination in memory of my eight babies, I was in awe. The Kinetic Light Installation at LAX Gateway — the “Pylons” at Los Angeles International Airport — is massive. Prior to viewing it from the ground, I acquired individual security clearance to take videos and images from a rooftop hotel conference room that had a 360ﹾ view. I was able to catch the Pylons when they turned on the lights at sunset. Then I moved on to the rooftop lounge of the hotel next door. I was so wrapped up in getting good videos and images, I had yet to actually take any time to truly absorb and feel the impact of the illumination. That would have to happen later. Back at street level, I took a walk to get the best angles. In doing so, I was standing on a small island in the middle of a major traffic intersection.

Image: The Kinetic Light Installation — the “Pylons” — at LAX, Los Angeles International Airport, illuminated for the Wave of Light, 2017.

Assuring myself I was safe and secure, I looked up to see the massive white letters — LAX — rising up in front of me. The Pylons of pink and blue lights towered all around me creating a forest of light. I caught my breath! Then I smiled. A heady mixture of joy, love and satisfaction washed through me. This soul-soothing elixir filled me with feelings of acceptance and peace I never experienced before in my dark journeys through repeated pregnancy loss and postpartum depression. The glowing lights around me brightened my soul as I released my breath. Then I took a deep breath, a breath of relief. Yes. Finally. Yes! This! This was the first time I had seen a physical representation that actually came close to the size of my love for my babies. These lights — these massive lights — were as big and bright and loud as my heart filled with love for my children. Everyone could see the size of the love shining from my heart!

There is no need to hide my love for my children. October 15 is our day for us to shout our love for our babies from the rooftops with our Lights of Love! My hope is that everyone who has been impacted by Pregnancy and Infant Loss has the experience of illuminating a landmark that holds personal importance. It is an incredibly healing experience. We are creating new memories with our babies, we are expressing our love in a healthy way, we are sharing our love with the global community, we are celebrating our babies’ lives, we are loving our babies the best way we know how… in lights as bright as the stars.

I officially joined the International Wave of Light Movement by creating The Echo Seven Project after illuminating LAX in 2017. My group is named after my seventh child, my daughter, Ophelia Echo (sounds like: “I feel you echo”). Her Hebrew name is Orly Eden. The name Ophelia means, “helper,” and her nickname, Orly, means “my light.” Ophelia’s light above me, Ophelia’s echo of love around me, is what motivates my work to help others with this movement of remembrance. The Echo Seven Project works to achieve proclamations and illumination bookings, and to help others do the same. I engage in global networking with our International Wave of Light partners, and provide auxiliary assistance to both established and grassroots movements in myriad global locales. Join us!

Image: On October 15 2019, the Crown Lights atop the US Bank Tower in downtown Los Angeles, California, illuminated pink and blue for the International Wave of Light on Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. Watching the live feed of Niagara Falls illuminating pink and blue on a cell phone. The live image on the phone is held up to the Crown Lights, showing two simultaneous illuminations coast-to-coast.

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How can you participate in Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month and the International Wave of Light?  

Light a special candle at 7 p.m. on October 15. Host a Zoom candle-lighting with family/friends. Say your baby’s/babies’ names. Make a special meal and/or dessert for the occasion. Create a memorial display in your home or garden, to host your candles. Partner in hosting a live memorial event online, or attend one. Attend a virtual baby name reading ceremony. Plan a special outing.

Illuminate your home with pink and blue spotlights. Replace your outside lights with pink and blue bulbs. Illuminate your home windows pink and blue with lights/colored paper. Decorate your home with pink and blue string lights. Display an awareness sticker/magnet on your car.

In this year when most in-person candle-lighting events have been cancelled, people can still travel to view an illuminated landmark (car travel is advised for best social distancing practices). Many families make annual trips to visit the illumination of Niagara Falls, with special thanks to the Niagara Falls Illumination Board. Additional thanks go to Massachusetts-based group, Angel Babies, which holds the honor of booking Niagara Falls this year. While there, visit the nearby illuminated Welland Canal Bridge #13. Don’t forget your camera! Last year, The Echo Seven Project watched Niagara Falls illuminate live on a phone beneath the illuminated Crown Lights at the OUE Skyspace atop the US Bank Tower in downtown Los Angeles! Share your photos of landmark illuminations and your personal candle-lighting with us at The Echo Seven Project and on social media using the hashtags below.

Image: With special thanks to the Niagara Falls Illumination Board, the Falls will illuminate pink and blue for 15 minutes on October 15, 2020, at 7 pm PST/10 pm EST, as part of the International Wave of Light on Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.

Staying home? Watch the illumination of Niagara Falls via the live webcam link. Project it onto a screen or watch it on your smart TV! Tune in a few minutes before 7 p.m. PST/10 p.m. EST on October 15, 2020. On the hour, the Falls will turn white, then the color columns of pink and blue will illuminate the basin one by one. Niagara Falls will be illuminated pink and blue for 15 minutes.

For images of illuminations around the globe, visit the groups mentioned in this article on social media. View and post on social media channels using the hashtags: #October15th #WaveofLight2020 #WOL2020 #BLAW2020 #BLAW #PAILAustralia #WaveofLight #WOL #LightsofLove #PregnancyandInfantLoss

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If you need psychosocial support in coping with your loss, there are countless global organizations ready to help as soon as you ask. We have been through the experience of Pregnancy and Infant Loss and we understand. Forever Footprints is the local organization that helped bring me back to life from the depths of postpartum depression after losing my twins at 19 weeks of pregnancy. Please seek help.

Originally published: October 12, 2020
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