FORT IRWIN, Calif. – Capt. Tiffany Mendez, a registered nurse with Weed Army Community Hospital’s Medical-Surgical Ward and Post Anesthesia Care Unit, first spoke publicly about her experience with pregnancy loss as a guest speaker during the hospital’s Light the Night: Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance event last year.
This year, she coordinated and ran the event October 15, at Weed ACH, here.
The event last year gave Mendez a chance to address her grief that she had kept buried for many years and ended up being a healing experience, she said.
“Once I finally faced those emotions I started to think about all the other families that have suffered or will suffer from this type of loss, I come across many of them in my profession as a nurse,” she said. “I made it my mission to improve the support and education that we as healthcare givers can offer [because] there is always room to improve and it's never too late to start.”
During the event this year, guests heard from several speakers, including Mendez’s husband and Cpl. Vanessa Rodriguez, a practical nursing specialist with the Medical-Surgical Ward.
Similar to Mendez, Rodriguez experienced a miscarriage while she served overseas in Germany.
At 21 years old, Rodriguez was not sure she was ready for a baby, but quickly matured and began getting ready for the responsibility, she said.
However, just days before she planned to announce the pregnancy, she found out her baby no longer had a heartbeat.
“It completely wrecked my day and my life,” she said. “It was just me going through those emotions in the barracks trying not to wake up my roommate.”
Rodriguez said she turned to unhealthy coping mechanisms.
“I would say the most unhealthy [coping mechanism] was just pretending that it didn’t happen,” she said.
After noticing a change in Rodriguez’s personality and knowing what happened, Rodriguez’s supervisor reached out to the hospital chaplain to help support her.
At first, Rodriguez felt upset that anyone thought she needed help, but it turned out that was exactly what she needed, she said.
“I needed to talk about it and I needed to process how I felt and thankfully to that [noncommissioned officer] and that chaplain, I was able to start my healthy healing,” Rodriguez said.
Facing the grief alone is common in situations of pregnancy and infant loss, which makes the Light the Night event even more necessary, said Mendez.
“It is important to hold this event to provide awareness and support to those in the community who have been affected by this type of terrible loss because it is something many of us have been affected by either personally or by someone we know, but it is not a topic that is easily spoken about,” Mendez explained. “Family and friends may choose to avoid bringing it up to avoid causing more pain, which makes the grief that much harder to address by those of us that face it.”
Rodriguez chose to share her story as a way to open the door for other women who are grieving and unable to express it, she said.
“There are probably other [women] out there who are alone going through this, and they need to know they’re not alone,” Rodriguez said. “It’s clear that they have a family here with Weed Army Community Hospital, resources, and the community in general behind them and it’s important for them to know their feelings are valid.”
Mendez also said she hoped the event would express that the community is not alone.
“This event can be extremely emotional, it can bring up a lot of pent up feelings and memories, but the ultimate goal is to provide people with a message of hope, strength and support,” she said. “We want our community to know that we acknowledge their grief and they are not alone.”
The event concluded with a candle lighting ceremony in remembrance of those lost.
“October 15 also coincides with the International Wave of Light, which is a night where candles are lit in remembrance of pregnancy and infant loss around the world in each time zone at 7 p.m. local time, creating a literal wave of light that circumnavigates the globe,” Mendez explained.
Weed ACH behavioral health staff attended the event for increased emotional support, and Mendez said she hopes community members use the resources around them, to include future Light the Night events.
“Before coming to Fort Irwin, I had never participated in an event like this, but it is now an event I will seek out and support wherever I go after this,” Mendez said. “It's my hope that everyone else who attends would do the same.”