Almost five months ago now, I lost a baby at 21 weeks of pregnancy. In the time since, I’ve gone to therapy and support groups and talked with countless other women who’ve lost babies. One thing is in common – support is so key to getting through this. I’ve been already asked how to support someone going through a loss like this, so I put together some ideas for how to support someone you love who’s had the life-shattering, heartbreaking, inconceivable loss of their baby.
Things to say to someone who’s lost a baby:
“I’m so sorry this happened.”
“This is so horrible and hard and I’m sorry.”
“Your baby mattered.”
“The baby you lost was important to me, too.”
Don’t make this about saying the perfect thing. There is literally nothing you can say that will bring their baby back – so take that pressure of yourself and just show up. If you want to be supportive but you’re terrible at it, say so! My friend said, “I care about you and want to talk, but I’ll admit I often say the wrong thing so please forgive me.” Another told me she’d Googled what to talk to me about before we got together. I appreciated their honesty and it helped me accept any missteps much better.
Things to do for someone who’s lost a baby:
Send them packages – food and gift cards and books and candles and pampering things. I also got some jewelry that was so meaningful to me.
Bring them dinner – or send them dinner. In the immediate aftermath, just getting food seems a huge, impossible task. Make it a little easier for them by sending them a meal. If you live close, you can bring them dinner, but let them know you will just drop it off and don’t need to visit.
Let them know you are thinking about them. Texts and emailing and cards are all great options. A lot of people I talked to said they also couldn’t handle using the phone because talking about it was so hard. Don’t be discouraged if sometimes they respond and other times they don’t. They will feel cared for and remembered.
Write down their due date and follow up when it’s close – it means so much.
There were so many other kind gestures – I can’t even count them all. There was money to help with our medical bills (terrible in the wake of a having a baby who’s died), there were plants and trees planted in honor of our baby, there was an engraved brick at a park, there were flowers, there were offers of childcare and presents for our other kids – just so many kind, wonderful people who did so much to buoy us through such a difficult time.
Things you shouldn’t say to someone who’s lost a baby:
These are some things I personally find unhelpful, so I will write from that perspective and add disclaimer everyone is different. But this might help guide you as speak with them:
- Telling me it happened for a reason.
- Telling me that I’m young, I can have another baby. Losing 3 pregnancies does not make that seem like a very real possibility. And for some people, their baby required medical assistance and lots of money.
- Telling me how to grieve. Don’t correct someone, don’t tell them what they SHOULD be feeling, just listen and empathize.
- If it starts “At least…” just stop. There is no bright side or optimism needed when my baby has died. Now is the time for support and compassion.
- Telling me how you could never handle this. I don’t have any other choice. I am not strong, this is just something that happened to me. I have literally no option but to live through it. Saying you couldn’t handle it makes me feel like you’re just ogling my tragedy.
- Telling me how brave I am for sharing. That makes me feel like I should be ashamed or hide the loss of my baby. This is simply part of my life now.
- Telling me that you kind of suspected something bad would happen to my baby. No. Not helpful.
Telling me how ultrasounds are terrible and fear mongering and no one should get prenatal testing. That is a position of privilege to have. If you’ve had a complicated pregnancy or lost a baby, you might feel differently.
- Telling me about your friend who lost a baby at the same gestation and then had a healthy, living baby afterward! That’s nice for her, but right now I’m kind of focused on being sad about this one.
- Anything that seems to be prodding for reasons why this happened – it can be felt as blaming the mother or as someone who wants to make sure this could never happen to them. Both hurt so much.
Please note: emotions can be volatile.
Know that your friend (or sister or cousin or whoever) will try to give what you say the benefit of the doubt and assume you mean the best if you say something that hurts. If you’re reading this – you care enough to try to avoid saying hurtful things and that is HUGE.
Know that in the beginning, the grieving parent’s emotions might be ALL over the place. Some days, I couldn’t believe anyone would talk to me about anything OTHER than my baby having died “How can I think about that, my baby IS DEAD.” And other days, I was so frustrated by feeling defined by my loss. “I am more than this!”
There’s not always a lot of predictability as the person experiencing this swings, so as a supporter of the person, you can’t be expected to know how it will be received.
I don’t say this to be discouraging, just to say try to reach out and know that your support does mean a lot. Showing up means a lot. Being there means a lot. Even if we don’t always say so, it does. If you put your foot in your mouth – don’t beat yourself up. You are trying. You care.