Did you know that October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month? You might not because so often these things are not discussed. Miscarriage and stillbirth are sometimes considered taboo - topics that dare not be discussed. But each year, tens of thousands of families in the United States are affected by the loss of a baby.
When someone you love experiences a loss as tragic as the death of a child, it's hard to know what to say or how to help. Every situation and every family is different. So what can you do to help the grieving parents?
1. Hold Space
To hold space means to be there for someone - physically or emotionally. It's joining someone on their journey without judgement. It's being utterly present. It's not fixing something, it's just being.
Let them know they're not alone. Words are not required. Give a hug, hold a hand, or just sit with them in silence to let them know you are there for them and remember their baby. It may seem insignificant, but your actions will be remembered in the days and weeks to come.
2. Follow Their Lead
Every person grieves in their own unique way. The grief of two people over the same loss may look very different. They will be on a roller-coaster of emotions. As much as you want to be there for them, you should follow their lead. Don't push the parents to do things that may be too hard for them, such as family events or baby showers. It may take weeks or months before they are comfortable being around other babies - even those that they love.
3. Support the Father Mothers often receive the majority of the support and concern after a loss. But fathers experience their own grief that should be acknowledged. They are in a unique position of wanting to support the mother, to be strong for her, but also needing to grieve themselves. Be there for the father, listen to his experience, and acknowledge what he's going through. 4. Acknowledge the Whole Family The loss of a baby can be a life-changing event for other members of the family as well. Siblings, grandparents, etc. have prepared their hearts and lives for the baby, and the loss can be very traumatic. Young children may not entirely understand the situation. What it means to lose a baby. But they are very perceptive to the energy around them and will pick up on the grief of their parents. Allow children to acknowledge their feelings. If they're sad, let them be sad. And if they're not, that is OK too. Children often express their grief through play. They may play things out or they might ask questions. Be prepared to answer their questions honestly but age-appropriately. Grandparents and other family members are both trying to support the parents, and also mange their own grief. Remember them too.
5. Remember the Baby No parent wants to feel like their child is forgotten. Acknowledge the baby. Use his or her name on a regular basis. If you think about the baby, let the parents know. Remember that on holidays and anniversaries of the due date and birth date, parents will likely re-live their loss. Even months and years later. Acknowledge their grief. Remember the baby on those days, and tell the parents you're thinking about them. 6. Watch What You Say Avoid statements that minimize feelings or provide any judgement. Again, everyone grieves in a different way and it's important to remember that each person is on their own journey. Statements like "You can always have another baby..." or "At least you never really knew them..." minimize what the parents are going through. Saying "I understand" or "I know how you feel" takes away from their processing. Whether a baby was lost at in the first trimester, third trimester or at 6 weeks old, it's tragic. The parents are experiencing a senseless loss of a child with whom they had a special bond. If you don't know what to say, tell them that. Your honesty will be appreciated.
7. Offer Help Rather than saying, "Let me know if there's anything I can do?", offer specific help. This takes the responsibility of planning and making decisions off of the parents, at least for a little while. Offer to drop off a meal at a specific time. Offer to clean the house or do the dishes. Offer to take the other children to the playground so they can get out of the house for a bit. Your offers may go unacknowledged, but continue to offer your support. If you or someone you care about has lost a child to miscarriage, stillbirth, or any other cause during pregnancy or infancy, please know that you're not alone. Share your story, and take comfort in the stories of others.