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Social support is crucial for women who have experienced loss. Women who miscarry are often caught in “a private space of shame,” left alone to grieve because family and friends can’t comprehend their pain. “The cultural silence is profoundly real,” says Layne.

National Advocacy
Today, nearly two decades into her research, Layne’s focus has shifted. Not content with simply bringing the subject of pregnancy loss to light, she has become an active advocate for the reforms she detailed in her book.

“The same issues I discussed in my book — the lack of information, the lack of support for grieving women — are still issues women are facing every day,” she says. “And I realized that if I really wanted to see changes take place I couldn’t just sit around and wait for someone else to pick up where I left off.”

Layne has spent the last several years speaking out on the need for pregnancy loss healthcare policy reform and lecturing at universities, hospitals, and conferences across the country on society’s shortcomings when it comes to educating, caring for, and supporting women who have suffered losses.

Layne delivered one of those lectures at the University of Virginia’s medical school. One of the multiple replays of the talk on a regional television network was caught by Susan Kehoe, general manager and executive producer of George Mason University’s television station. Kehoe was so impressed she immediately contacted Layne and offered to tape and produce a series of television programs about the topic of pregnancy loss.

“When I suffered my loss, my doctor told me that I wasn’t alone, and that a number of my friends, family, and acquaintances had [probably] been through similar experiences but hadn’t talked about it. That stuck with me,” says Kehoe. “When I saw Linda’s talk on television I felt compelled to thank her for voicing the thoughts and concerns of so many women who’ve suffered miscarriages, and for giving others the freedom to share their experiences. I am pleased to have the opportunity to help her spread her message and to promote understanding and healing.”

Layne came up with a list of artists, midwives, novelists, doctors, nurses, lawyers, religious leaders, product designers, environmental activists, and advocates who all, in their own way, were using their expertise to encourage pregnancy loss reform.

From that list evolved a television program called Motherhood Lost: Conversations. The first episode, which premiered last year, already has received acclaim from the television and film community, garnering Layne a prestigious Gracie Award for “outstanding talk show,” a Silver Davey award, and a 2006 Bronze Telly Award.

Layne has committed to taping 10 episodes of the show, which will run on the George Mason University station and other educational channels. Each episode is officially premiered at a conference or event at which Layne is speaking. In October, which is nationally recognized as Pregnancy Loss Awareness month, the third episode was premiered at the National Perinatal Bereavement Conference in Chicago.

Layne has even bigger plans for the programs.

“I’d like to see the shows become educational resources on television, and available in public libraries, as well as medical school and nursing school libraries. And because I’m a university professor, I can envision their use in college classrooms and as resources for continuing education programs.” [See below.]

Lynn Paltrow, executive director of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women — a New York-based organization committed to protecting and advancing women’s reproductive rights by connecting local activism with national advocacy and policy work — praises Layne’s work, calling her “a great ally.”

“In the highly politicized world of reproductive health, the pain felt by so many women who’ve experienced a loss is too often ignored,” says Paltrow. “Linda’s work reminds us of the support and services that so many pregnant women are denied, and points toward significant ways that pregnancy and pregnancy loss healthcare can be improved and humanized.”

Layne sees indicators that society is moving toward a positive change in a variety of places, from the recently formed Pregnancy Loss and Infant Death Alliance support group issuing policy statements, to the allocation of $3 million by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for research surrounding the causes of stillbirths, to the designation of October as Pregnancy Loss Awareness Month.

“There’s a national movement finally happening,” she says. “We’re moving toward a new stage and becoming more proactive.”

Once a lone voice speaking out on what she found was a cultural taboo surrounding pregnancy loss, Layne today is finding more allies and greater hope for her efforts to bring about understanding and policy reform.

“Twenty years ago I was one of the first to advocate for pregnancy loss awareness and policy reform,” she says. “Now there are lots of people out there advocating, and I hope more will join me in this endeavor. Together, we can — and will — make things better.”

Real life in the Classroom
Layne is bringing her research on pregnancy loss to Rensselaer students by developing curricula in conjunction with several episodes of her television program and working with colleagues to pilot them in classes this year.

Steve Breyman, associate professor of science and technology studies (STS), plans to pilot the episode “Linking Environmental Protection and Pregnancy Loss Prevention: A Conversation with Lois Gibbs, Executive Director of the Center for Health, Environment, and Justice,” in his Environment and Society class.

Breyman praises Layne for putting pregnancy loss on the agendas of both the women’s movement and the environmental health movement, calling her work “truly inspiring.”

Layne is working with STS colleague Nancy Campbell to design a mock trial as the companion curriculum for the episode “Combating the Criminalization of Stillbirth and Miscarriage: A Conversation with Lynn Paltrow, Esq., Executive Director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women.” Four lawyers from the Capital Region have volunteered to come to campus and participate in the trial.

“Linda’s work is just the kind of publicly engaged scholarship that students benefit from seeing enacted. The mock trial will literally re-enact some of the hardest-held and most difficult positions involved in debates over reproductive rights,” says Campbell. “For students to come to terms with these requires deep thinking and knowledge of the politics of pregnancy, which involve the translation of deeply held values into public policy.”

Layne and Lois Peters, associate professor in the Lally School of Management and Technology, have recently decided to develop a companion curriculum for the episode “Preparing for Home Pregnancy Loss: A Conversation with Sandy Maclean of WomenCare.” The program will be shown as part of Peters’ entrepreneurship course this spring.

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