Losing a baby is unnatural, it's uncomfortable, it's heartbreaking, it's painful, it's messy, it's unimaginable. What can you possibly say or do for those who are going through this? Who are dealing with the loss of a child - no matter how early on in the pregnancy or that child's life? This honestly is the big question mark. It's hard for anyone to know what to do or say, especially since 99% of the time, babies represent something exciting and joyful, not something devastating and painful.
So yes, we are the elephant in every room; no one knows what to do or say. We know it; I know it.
Please know that (as the characters from the Na'vi tribe in Avatar say) I see you. I see you struggling to know what to say. I see you changing the subject because you don't know what to say. I see your look of horror when something accidentally slips out that you know is the wrong thing to say, but you can't take back. I see you so desperately looking for the words to say that will offer encouragement and empathy, but can't seem to find them.
I see you and I have so much grace for you.
Just know that I know your heart is with me and you hurt for me. Just know that I realize you have good intentions and are trying your best.
Just know that I honestly want nothing more than to put you at ease, but my heart is also oh so fragile. So, although I want to put you at ease, I am not able to do that very well right now.
Just know that I know in my heart that if you knew exactly what to say or do to take my pain away or make it better, you would.
Just know I have lots of grace for you, just as I have lots of grace for myself. Heck, I can't even do or say anything to myself to take the pain away or make it any better. So I get it.
Just know that I've also been in your shoes. I have been that friend who is trying to be there for someone who is going through a miscarriage having no experience with it myself. I tried my best at the time, but I had no idea what to say or do that would help. I just didn't really get it.
Given that I am now on this side of the fence and can sufficiently speak for both sides, I want to help bring about some insight to give you the tools to be able to talk to women who have lost a baby. Here are a few helpful tips for what to do and/or say for someone who have lost a baby:
Do acknowledge the elephant in the room. Acknowledge what happened. Because it did happen and it was big for us. Changing the subject, trying to pretend nothing is wrong, is even more hurtful to us than saying the 'wrong' thing.
Do ask us, "What can I do for you?" This gives us the opportunity to have a say and to give you ideas of what ways would be helpful for us; it gives you the opportunity to learn from us. Everyone going through loss deals with it differently. Although there are some similarities, we are unique individuals who have had a unique experience of loss and, you guess it, we have unique needs. Asking how you can help honours that.
Don't resort to comments of naive optimism. All of us grieving women know that this comes out of a heart of wanting to encourage, help, and try to fix it. But, unfortunately, it doesn't help. Right now, what we are going through sucks and we need someone to sit with us in our negativity, our earth shattering pain, and acknowledge that it does suck, that is is unimaginable.
Do validate, validate, validate, v a l i d a t e - validate. Honestly, if you ever don't know what to say just listen first, then validate. Even saying something as simple as, "I am so sorry. I can't imagine how you're feeling. What you're going through is so hard" goes such a long way. We need our feelings of suffering and hardship to be validated. Because it does suck and it is hard. And it's big for us. Sitting with us in our place of pain does more for us than scrambling for some way to fix it or say something positive to make us feel better.
Don't say "miscarriages are so common. So-and-so had one." This is painful. This is normalizing our immense pain and shrugging it off as prevalent.
If you don't know what to say? Simply say, "I don't know what to say. I am so sorry for your loss." Just saying you don't know what to say and being genuine makes a big difference to us.
Don't compare us to others and say things that infer that "so-and-so had it worse." Remember when we talked about validation? Well, yeah, this is the opposite. I get that you're trying to make our situation seem better by comparing it to a worse situation, but instead it comes across as, "Be thankful you're not going through what they're going through." Yes, someone will always have it worse. But we need our situations to be as big as it needs to be right now.
Do recognize your privilege. Are you pregnant? Have you had three full-term pregnancies? Do you have children? Do you have grandchildren? Did you just "get pregnant" first try without trying? We are so happy for you, honestly. Although seeing pregnant bellies and seeing babies in strollers is painful for us (because we long for it and it should be us) we are honestly happy that you were spared the hurt and pain that we are currently experiencing. We don't wish what we are going through on our worst enemy. But, just be extra sensitive towards us knowing you have what desperately want but don't have right now. Be careful with how you are talking to us about this privilege in your life. Some things might be best talk about with someone else who isn't going through what we are going through.
Don't assume that if we look like we are doing ok, we are ok. We are not magically ok even months down the road of losing our babies. Most of the time, we just plaster an "I'm ok" mask on as a survival technique. But, we will never be the same again. Still think of us and ask us how we are doing. Don't forget about us.
a) Do be very sensitive and intentional with how you go about announcing your pregnancy. Whenever possible, give us a heads up if you are trying to conceive so we can prepare ourselves for a potential pregnancy in the future. And please tell us somehow in advance that you are pregnant before announcing on social media - even if it's just a text message. Finding out you're pregnant through the grapevine or on social media is quite hurtful. But, be patient and gracious with our reaction. Know that, no matter how we react, we are happy for you. We are just sad for us; it causes another wave of grief to hit as it reminds us of what we've already lost. And, just be extra gracious with our lack of wanting to be involved in knowing anything about how your pregnancy is going. Wait for us to ask about it. If we feel like we can handle hearing about your pregnancy, we will ask. If not, talk about your pregnancy to someone else who is able to more easily share in that excitement with you.
Don't judge us right now. We need to have lots of grace from you too. We are hurting - a lot. Getting out of bed and surviving our days is hard enough, let alone interacting with people. If we come across as rude, abrupt, not talkative, distant, not caring, etc try to let it slide off your back and know that it's not you and it's not personal. It's just the weight of the world is on our shoulders right now.
Do write cards, send flowers, send meals, care packages, groceries, and anything that you can think of to express your support, even if it's just a package of popcorn and a stickie note. Reaching out like this is so meaningful and helpful for us in our time of need. It honestly means more than we will ever be able to express in a simple "Thank-you."
Don't forget about us even though months have passed and the initial shock of the loss is over for you. Although you might be over it because it's been "x" amount of days, months, years...just know it still feels like yesterday for us. And there are triggers that remind us of our loss every. single. day. Reach out to us, ask us how we are doing. And if you are aware of any milestone days (ie. date of birth, due date, first Christmas, gender reveal party dates, etc) reach-out to us especially on those days just because they are very hard and lonely. Grieving the loss of a baby is a long, complex, unpredictable, painful journey and the further it gets away from our loss, the lonelier it gets. It means so much to have people still think of us and our angel babies.
Do ask us about our babies often. Their lives may have been short, but they did happen and their impact on our hearts was immeasurably large. They're our children and we want to talk about them. And if we don't in that moment, we will tell you. But we will always be honoured
that you asked. We sometimes don't talk about them as much as we want to out of respect for your discomfort. So when you ask, it's honouring our babies that existed and will always be apart of us, even though they are not physically here. And often women who have lost babies will have a necklace or other piece of jewelry or a picture at their desk at work or home or something to represent their angel baby. Comment on those too because it's as if you're commenting on our babies even if you're just saying, "That's a beautiful necklace."
Of course this list is not exhaustive, but these are all things that I have learned. And just to be clear: there is no finger pointing intended at all in this post. I totally understand that talking to someone who has lost a baby is really hard. It's uncomfortable. It's sad. It's heartbreaking...Everyone is just trying the best they can to help and be supportive.
Society as a whole needs to change. Women who have lost babies need to be talked to and we need your support. We can't do it without an army of supportive people by our sides. So, society needs to embrace suffering, loss, and grief - not ignore it or run away from it because it's uncomfortable. We need to get comfortable talking about the uncomfortable because when we don't, those who are grieving and broken feel invisible and lonely. Avoiding talking about miscarriage and stillbirth just isolates those who are going through it.
I encourage you to use some of the suggestions in this post and reach out to those who have had loss. Walk with them in this, sit with them in their pain, hold them, and carry them when they can't walk. Let's embrace brokenness, pain, and the people experiencing immense suffering. Let's enter into conversations with them, talking about the uncomfortable.
Lots of grace to all of you as you navigate conversations with those who have lost a baby. Sending so much love!
A HUGE Thanks:
I just wanted to personally say a HUGE thank-you to all of my family, friends, coworkers, and acquaintances who have been there for me through my loss of Noah. For sending care packages, meals, cards, flowers, and for constantly remembering to text me and ask how I'm doing. For buying me Starbucks and dropping it off at my doorstep when I've had a bad day. For trying to find as many ways possible to help. For carrying me through my darkest days. I honestly do not know what I would have possibly done without you. I love you all! <3