When someone you love has a miscarriage or stillbirth, you may feel helpless and uncertain about how to respond. And you might not get it right. If you’ve never experienced such a loss yourself, how can you know what your friend or family member needs at this unfortunate time? As someone who has been there, I do know how you can help. And I humbly offer these simple guidelines.
4 Things You Should NOT Do or Say After Pregnancy Loss
Don’t minimize their pain. You may be mourning the loss of the baby too, and it can be very tempting to try to ease the parents’ pain or console them with comments such as, “You can try again,” or “Be grateful for the kids you do have,” or “At least you know you can get pregnant.” But this only dismisses their pain and hurts them more by adding doubt that their grief is real.
Don’t push them. People often mistakenly urge grieving parents to “get out there” or “move on” by attending children’s birthday parties or baby showers, or even by trying to get pregnant again. Please understand that it’s ok if your friend never wants to attend another baby shower for the rest of her life. And keep in mind that if she chooses to move forward by trying to conceive, she probably will keep it to herself for a while. But for many women, that’s the last thing on their mind.
Keep theories to yourself. This is not the time (nor will there ever be a good time) to share your theories about the loss. The details are between the couple and their doctor, and hearing from others that “perhaps you exercised too much” or “maybe it was too soon after your last pregnancy” is extremely hurtful and guilt inducing.
Let the parents bring religion into it. Almost everyone who has experienced pregnancy loss hears the expression, “It’s part of God’s plan” at some point. This may be a comforting statement if it’s in line with a couple’s religious beliefs, but you can’t assume that’s the case. And being told that God wanted you to lose your child is a pretty heavy message to internalize. Better to let them bring up any kind of spiritual comfort or philosophy.
8 Things You Can Do for Grieving Parents
Deliver meals. Every parent who has been through a loss remembers these meals fondly. You can cook and deliver your own meals or arrange for delivery through a local service, such as San Francisco’s Home on the Range, or a national service like Magic Kitchen, which offers special bereavement meals.
Suggest specific ways you can help. “When you say, ‘Let me know if there’s anything I can do,’ it puts too much of the burden on the bereaved parent to figure out how to manage that,” says Alison Eddy, 34, of Orinda, California, who lost her baby George at 10 1/2 months. Instead, she suggests saying something like, “‘I’m free on Wednesday afternoon. Can I come over and do your laundry, cut your lawn, or watch your kids?'”
Just show up. When Sue Harris, 57, of Idaho Falls, Idaho, experienced her second miscarriage, she was deeply moved by a friend who came over unasked and cleaned all three of her bathrooms. “This friend really thought about it and knew how much clean bathrooms would lift my spirits,” says Harris. “When she arrived she said, ‘I’m not asking you if I’m allowed. I know where your bathrooms are’ and she went to work. It was a lovely, lovely thing.”
Include the father in your condolences. He’s often overlooked, even though he may be just as bereaved as the mother. Every person handles grief differently, but think of ways to talk and connect with the father about his equally devastating loss.
Use the baby’s name if he was given one. Do this whenever you ask directly about the child. One common mistake people make is thinking that discussing a miscarriage or lost child will somehow remind parents of their loss. Trust me, that loss is very present all the time, and knowing that others remember your child can bring comfort. If the baby was stillborn or lost in infancy, ask to see the pictures and talk with your friend or family member about her child.
Do good deeds. Many parents report that they appreciate when people give a donation in honor of their child. Noah’s Kindness Project is one example of an organization led by parents.
Commemorate anniversaries. It’s appropriate to send cards to recognize the day a premature child had originally been due, the day a family learned of a baby’s death, or the anniversary of the day of the miscarriage or stillbirth. Those are excellent times to check in with parents and invite them to talk if they want to. You can find these types of cards at the Etsy shop “A Loss Remembered.”
Share your story. Many parents report that it can be comforting to hear others open up about how they survived a loss. The more we open ourselves up, as an entire community, to the reality of loss, the better chance we have of helping families who experience it.
The Seleni Institute is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting the mental and emotional well-being of women and mothers. At their mental health and wellness center in Manhattan, Seleni provides support for issues surrounding pregnancy, the postpartum period, motherhood, infertility, miscarriage, and child loss through individual therapy, educational workshops, practical clinics, support groups, massage, acupuncture, and more. Seleni also offers online support, advice, and information from clinical experts, award-winning health journalists, bloggers, and women who share the everyday struggles of the path to parenthood.
This post originally ran on the Seleni Institute Website.