Written by Andrea Maldonado, LPC
October was National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, and as October came and went my husband and I lit our candle to memorialize the losses that we have encountered in years past. Loss of any kind can be traumatic and difficult, but loss of a baby, well that is probably the biggest pain I have ever personally experienced. It wasn’t just my pain either, it was my husband's, and our family’s, who had already come to love the little lives that ended.
For me, I think one of the hardest parts of the experience was how isolating that kind of grief can be. I was lucky enough to have a few friends at the time who had experienced pregnancy loss, and were available for us, but the majority of my circle of friends and family had, surprisingly, little to no experience with the subject. I could feel that they wanted to be there to support my husband and I, but it’s difficult on the other side to know “the right thing” to say.
It is estimated that over 25% of pregnancies will end in either miscarriage or stillbirth, and infant mortality continues to be a very real tragedy across the globe. In light of these numbers, I felt it important to share some helpful insights on how you can support and talk to a loved one should they ever experience this devastating loss.
DON'T feel the need to minimize the pain.
It is common for those who want to offer to support to try to “find the bright side,” of things. But in reality, in the time immediately after losing a baby, it doesn’t feel like there is any bright side. After my second miscarriage, I had a close family member try to cheer me up by saying, “at least it happened early this time, so you weren’t as attached.”
I understood her desire to help me feel better, but mostly it just made me feel like she was on a different planet. If she thought I wasn’t attached to the pregnancy as soon as I saw the two little lines on the test, she was completely wrong. The pain is real, it is big, and at times it feels all encompassing. The magnitude of the pain can make others very uncomfortable. But just like any other pain, it will over time begin to subside, and in the early days it’s more helpful to just speak to the reality.
DO be empathic and understanding.
Be honest if you don’t know what it feels like to lose a baby, and then be ready to listen if your loved one wants to explain or express it. If they don’t, just be present and let them know you’re available. I wasn’t personally in a very talkative mood, but it was really nice when people reached out and let me know they cared and were ready to help in whatever way I needed, which brings me to my next point.
DON’T feel you can’t be supportive if you’ve never experienced a loss.
Death and grief are difficult for everyone, this is a global human truth. Just because you haven’t personally experienced miscarriage, stillbirth, or the death of an infant doesn’t mean you don’t understand grief, and it definitely doesn’t mean you can’t support someone close to you. The loss of a baby can feel extremely isolating, because many people will avoid discussing it for fear of making other’s uncomfortable. Your loved one is going through what is probably one of the most difficult experiences of their lives, don’t feel like you can’t be there for them just because it’s a loss you’re unfamiliar with.
DO make sure you are available.
Different people express and process grief in different ways. Some people want to talk about it, some people don’t. Be respectful either way, but make sure you are sending a clear message that you want to support your loved one. Sending flowers and cards is nice, and I know we appreciated the gestures, but what was really touching were the texts and phone calls we received from people who just wanted to check in with us consistently.
One of my best friends sent me a text every morning asking me not if, but what, I needed that day. Some days I told her I just needed to be alone in my bed, and she respected that. Other days I needed dinner, or help with dishes, or just someone to sit in my bed and watch trashy tv with me. Some days I just needed another human being to tell me what was going on in the outside world. When someone close to you has lost a baby, don’t wait for them to ask for what they need, there is always something, even if all they need is a reminder that you’re around and you’re ready to care for them.
DON’T feel like the loss is the only thing to talk about.
Like I said before, different people need different things at different stages of grief. If you’re loved one wants to talk about how they’re feeling for 3 hours, then make yourself comfy, hold their hand, and talk about those feelings. A lot of people, however, also want to talk about things that aren’t so painful. Sometimes it feels good to hear about mundane things like office drama, celebrity gossip, relationships, etc.
DO be respectful of what you’re loved one wants to talk about.
If you send a very clear message that you are ready for whatever your loved one needs, they will let you know what feels right that day. And when they ask you how work is going, how your relationship is going, what’s happening in the world outside their grief, it’s one way of letting you know that they need to focus on something other than their loss. So be ready to share what’s going on in your world too, and don’t think it’s rude or inconsiderate, especially if you are letting them guide the direction of conversation. Try not to create a dynamic where your loved one feels that they need to support you in some way, because that can feel overwhelming, but be ready to discuss things that aren’t related to grief.
At some point in this life, the majority of us will be touched by infancy loss, whether it is directly or indirectly. When someone close to you experiences this unique kind of grief the best thing you can do is be present and let them know you can handle whatever it is they need. Sometimes it’s a hug, sometimes it’s a smile, sometimes it’s a shot of tequila. While it may be confusing or uncomfortable for you, being supportive during this time is important, and it is so, so, so appreciated.
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