October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. There are photo projects on social media for bereaved parents. News stories profiling families who have endured unimaginable losses. Viral clips about parents who have bravely shared photos of their stillborn babies with the world. And there are balloon releases.
This is where two of my worlds collide. As an animal advocate and a bereaved parent, I cringe every time I see a balloon release advertised in one of my support groups. Releasing balloons—so-called “biodegradable,” Chinese lantern style, or otherwise—has devastating impacts on wildlife. An animal can starve to death when she eats the balloon and it blocks her digestive tract. Or she can become fatally entangled in the ribbons. Turtles with “bubble butt” float unnaturally and dangerously due to gas formed when balloons and other marine debris decompose in their systems.
There are alternatives to balloon releases, and I’ve seen responsible owners of some of the support groups promote those and try to educate members about the ugly side of balloons. Unfortunately, even when the education is gentle, some people feel attacked and the discussions can get brutal.
My hospital is having a balloon release next weekend. My heart sank when I got the postcard in the mail. For a long time I debated whether to broach the subject with them. But I had other issues to settle with them first. After much deliberation, I decided to skip the event and talk to them about balloons next year.
In the meantime, if you want to honor Luke Wyatt or any other child lost to stillbirth, miscarriage, or infant death, please don’t release a balloon. Instead, light a candle. Blow some bubbles. Plant a tree. Don’t pollute our already wasted earth even further. We only have one of it.