Nearly one in four pregnancies ends in a loss. So, chances are, not only do you know one person who has suffered a pregnancy loss, but you probably know multiple people.
It can be difficult to know how to respond to a loved one, friend or co-worker who has lost a baby. It is equally difficult for grieving parents to know how to reach out for the support they need.
As we honour Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month in October, consider these meaningful ways you can provide support to a grieving parent.
Sometimes when we don’t know what to say, we don’t say anything. As a culture, we have a hard time with death, and it is especially difficult when it is the death of a baby. Our own discomfort can keep us silent, but that silence can be painful to parents who have lost a baby. They are left isolated and alone increasing the emotional suffering they are experiencing.
You don’t need to say something profound – keep it simple and have it come from your heart. “I am so sorry.” “I am here for you.” “I don’t know what to say but my heart aches for you.”
Although those simple statements cannot erase the pain, they provide reassurance that you see their pain and you are brave enough to be there with them in it.
Leave “At Least” Behind
Starting any comforting message with the phrase “at least” is a red flag that it is not particularly helpful.
This is a lesson from Brené Brown on the difference between sympathy and empathy.
Sympathy is feeling sorry for someone who is struggling. Although often well-intended, sympathy drives away connection because the support provider hesitates to feel the emotions with their distressed friend. By saying, “At least…” you unknowingly belittle and invalidate your friend’s feelings.
People say, “Well, at least you know you can get pregnant” or “At least the pregnancy wasn’t very far along” in response to miscarriage. These two sentiments inadvertently invalidate the parent’s pain of losing that child.
Validate Their Loss
Having others validate such a profound loss is important to supporting parents to grieve the loss of their baby. Every parent wants the same thing, to know that their baby mattered and to know that their experience of losing their baby is recognized for the tragic loss that it is.
Also, acknowledge hard days and lost milestones. As the months go by, parents will grieve all the moments missed with their baby. This is especially significant for parents who have lost their first child in pregnancy as they are not necessarily recognized as “parents” since they do not have a living child. Remember them on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.
Talk About Their Baby (and use his/her Name)
Don’t be afraid to talk about their baby. Refer to their baby by name. Yes, it may bring sadness or tears, but it is part of their grieving and healing process. Parents will feel comfort in knowing that others have not forgotten their baby.
Just Show Up
Even if you are not great with words of compassion – just being present is enough. Provide a hug. Touch their back when they are crying. Go for a walk together. Just be with them. Do not underestimate the power of your ability to provide comfort by simply being with them.
And keep reaching out – even if they don’t respond. It can be a simple text message that you are thinking of them, and you are there for them when they are ready.
Offer Tangible Help
Step in and take care of practical tasks. Many grieving parents will not have the capacity to respond to a general inquiry of what you can do to help. Instead, step in and offer to take the dog for a walk or throw in a load of laundry when you stop by. Pick up groceries that are easy to snack on such as cut-up fruits and veggies.
Basic functioning may be difficult, so think about any chore or task that needs attention and ask if they are okay for you to do that for them.
Participate in Pregnancy & Infant Loss Remembrance Day
October 15th is International Remembrance Day for families who have lost a baby. It is observed with a “wave of light” that goes around the world as bereaved families, in memory of their babies who’ve died, light candles from 7 pm to 8 pm.
Light a candle to honour your loved one and their baby.
Be Realistic – Recovery Can Take a Long Time
Grieving the loss of a baby is a journey, not a destination. They will never “get over” the loss of their baby. There will be a distinct divide between life before their loss and life after their loss. Accept that they will be forever changed. Accept that grief will be a significant part of their life for some time. Understand that the journey through grief is not linear and predictable; rather it is messy and complex.
Be patient. Keep an open heart and be willing to continue to walk alongside your loved ones as they grieve and find their way toward healing. Your friendship and emotional support provide an important anchor when they feel their world has completely unravelled.
If you need support as you support your loved one through their loss, our team of therapists can be there for you too. Call today to make an appointment.
A Quote We Love
“We remember: the babies born sleeping, those we carried but never held, those we held but could not take home, those who came home but could not stay.” — Unknown