How friends and family can help a loved one through miscarriage and stillbirth.
Often times it is impossible to know how to help a friend through miscarriage or stillbirth. Here are some practical tips for helping a friend through pregnancy loss.
Don’t be silent. Silence can be extremely painful. They will remember your silence. There is a difference between active silence and silence that is to ignore. Ignoring silence means avoidance, rejection, minimization, fear and silence because “this is so uncomfortable.” Families feel supported in silence when there is active listening, attentiveness and presence (a shoulder to lean on). Don’t just fill silence with jabber. It’s okay to just sit with the family in silence.
Always keep in mind that grief has no timeline. The family will never forget. Don’t put time limits on how long you think they should grieve. Some grieve for short periods of time (days to weeks) and others grieve for long periods of time (months to years). Even if they outwardly appear “normal” they may not be inside. Check in with them, “How are you feeling now that it’s 3 months after ________ (insert baby’s name) passed away?”
Don’t disappear because you think you will “make them cry,” or “make them remember.” They want to remember and they will cry anyway. They will find comfort in you remembering. You can ask nearly anyone who has experienced pregnancy loss how old their child would be now and they will know.
“The grief felt from losing a baby is not smaller because the baby is smaller. The empty place felt from a baby’s death is never going to be filled. It’s a pain that will never completely heal or be relieved by subsequent pregnancies.” – Melinda Olsen, Earth Mama Angel Baby
The list below gives you many ideas on what to say and how to help. Keep in mind there is no one right thing to say or do.
What to Say
“I don’t know what to say.”
“Who can I call for you?” (Be prepared to actually make those phone calls).
“Be patient with yourself. Grief has no timeline.”
“Don’t feel guilty because you laughed today.”
“Can I take your baby’s siblings to the park? I know you don’t feel like laughing or playing right now.”
“I am going to the store, can I bring anything back for you?”
“Talk to me. I am here to listen.”
“I am out running errands, is there anything you need?”
“How are you doing today?”
“You don’t have to answer the phone or call me back, I just wanted to check in on you.”
“How about I take your baby’s siblings to school, or grandma’s, or ____?”
“I would love to attend a support group with you or go to church with you.”
What Not to Say
“You can have another baby.”
“At least you know you can get pregnant.”
“It was God’s way of protecting you from ____.”
“It was God’s will.”
“Heaven needed another angel.”
“Your baby is better in Heaven.”
“Time heals all wounds.”
“I know just how you feel.” (Unless you have personally experienced pregnancy loss).
“It could have been worse.”
“Now you have an angel/saint in Heaven.”
“You should be over this by now! It’s been ____ weeks/months/years.”
“God never gives us more than we can handle.”
“What can I do for you?” Instead say, “Can I do ___ for you? Or “I am going to bring over a meal” not “Can I bring over a meal?”
Things You Can Do
- Listen – They may want to talk over and over again about the pregnancy and the death experience. Be the person they can go to and vent with and repeat their story. Most people want to stop listening after the 3rd or 4th time.
- Bring tissues.
- Give them a hug.
- Encourage the family to have pictures taken with their baby.
- Ask and hold the baby.
- Be their shoulder to cry on. If they don’t want to talk, they may just want someone to lean on while they cry. Let them cry. Crying is just one way to express grief.
- Cry with them. You don’t have to be stoic. Crying helps validate that this is a sad time and an experience worth grieving. They will not be angry with you for crying.
- Be there – For the birth that is. If you would have most likely been there for the birth anyway, be sure to let them know you would still like to be there to support them. At the very least, the family may prefer you wait in the waiting room (which can be typical at a live birth too).
- Call their baby by name – which may seem weird. Unless the family does not want you to call their baby by name, this is preferred.
- Mementos – Bring something for them to remember their baby by. For any birth, people give gifts. This is no different although the gifts might be slightly different. The family may want an outfit, so ask. Families are often encouraged to dress their baby just like they would at a live birth. A teddy bear that is at least 14 inches but less than 24 inches is best as well. Mom can hold the bear as she leaves the hospital. You can also find out the baby’s weight and make a bear of the same weight. Anything with the baby’s name or birthstone on it, such as jewelry, is also customary. Any of the traditional keepsakes will also work such as something to preserve a lock of hair, handprints/footprints, molds and books or special boxes to keep pictures in.
- Offer to make phone calls for them.
- Send a card. There is actually a line of cards for pregnancy and infant loss by Hallmark and other card makers.
- Be comfortable in their tears.
- Attend the funeral/memorial service.
- Send a daily message but do not expect a response. “How are you today?” “Thinking of you.” “Hope things are going okay.”
- Understand that the next year will be a “year of firsts.” Going into their home without their baby will be a “first,” returning to work will be a “first,” going to the same grocery store will be a “first,” and any holiday will be a “first” holiday without their baby. There will be many “firsts.”
- Remember the baby’s birthday/angel date/death date. Send a card, make a phone call, send a text. It can be as simple as “Remembering your baby’s (can insert baby’s name) birth today.”
- Remember the baby’s due date – If their baby died before their due date, this will be a particularly difficult day. Let them know you are thinking of them and you are there.
- Be supportive in the weeks and months to come.
- Attend memorial events – Be there for the funeral or any memorial events and find local walks and other annual remembrance events to help them share their baby.
- Set up a meal train/calendar of people who will bring them meals. Soups can be hearty and healthy. Bringing veggie trays, fruit trays, sandwich trays, or just setting out some healthy food can be extremely helpful. It is a reminder that the family needs to eat, which is often put on hold while mourning.
- Bring household items such as milk, eggs, butter, toilet paper, paper towels, paper plates, aluminum foil, toothpaste, etc.
- Mow the lawn, take out the trash, bring in the trash cans, etc.
- Pick up around the house (do laundry, mow the lawn, empty and load the dishwasher, make the beds, etc). Do not break down the baby’s nursery or remove any items for the baby.
Excerpted from It’s Not Just a Heavy Period; The Miscarriage Handbook