The type of trauma endured by Joann Cantrell is nothing new.
“People have been losing babies since Biblical times,” the Peters Township resident said. “They were told back in the day, forget about it. Don’t mention it. Don’t even tell people. And many of them never got to see their infants or hold their infants.”
Cantrell, who lost twin sons 30 years ago, provides an avenue for discussion with her book “Carried Within Me: Echoes of Infant Loss,” a collection of narratives from parents with similar experiences.
The book came out last year in advance of National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Month, as proclaimed in 1988 by President Ronald Reagan for each October. Cantrell held launch events at two bookstores, including Barnes & Noble at South Hills Village, at which more than 100 copies went to interested buyers.
“They said at Barnes & Noble that they’d never had such a response of selling out that many of a book by a local author, not a national bestseller,” she said.
“Carried Within Me” also was to be featured during an infant loss annual conference with 300 in attendance. But the event was canceled because of COVID-19.
With National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day scheduled for Oct. 15, Cantrell continues to promote awareness on behalf of grieving families.
“It’s something that never goes away their entire lives. A mother or father, they remember this,” she said. “The sentiment is the same, whether it happened five years ago or 50 years ago. And just knowing that someone else got through it is what helps the newly bereaved go through this.”
The idea for “Carried Within Me” began with the responses Cantrell received to an article on the subject that she wrote for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
“It resonated with so many people,” she recalled. “I heard so many different stories that I thought, I’m going to compile these narratives into a book.”
While she was working on it, Cantrell connected with Lauren McLean of Bethel Park, executive director of the Still Remembered Project, which provides bereaved parents and families Christian-based support and encouragement.
“She connected me with a lot of people to write stories about,” Cantrell said.
In the meantime, Cantrell was one of the first contributors to a Still Remembered Project initiative to provide burial garments to families.
“I had, at the time, a 35-year-old wedding dress that was not going anywhere, and I donated it,” she said. “And they made three ‘angel gowns’ out of it.”
Along with “Carried Within Me,” Cantrell has authored two other books, both part of Arcadia Publishing’s popular “Images of America” series. One details the Pittsburgh neighborhood where she grew up, Lawrenceville.
The other is “Legendary Locals of Pittsburgh,” which served as the pilot work in Arcadia’s growing line of similarly themed books.
“That celebrates the unsung heroes of the Pittsburgh area, people who really made a mark on the community but you don’t hear too much about,” Cantrell said, along with better-known personalities such as Fred Rogers and Dr. Jonas Salk.
With her latest book, she addresses a topic that is difficult for most people to speak about, including those who want to offer a degree of comfort but aren’t sure how.
“Sometimes, you don’t even have to have the right words to say,” Cantrell advised. “Just listen and acknowledge that, yes, you had this giant loss in your life.”
“Carried Within Me: Echoes of Infant Loss” is available through various booksellers, at stores and online.