by Siné Stabosz, Birth Center Mama
“When a child loses his parent, they are called an orphan. When a spouse loses her or his partner, they are called a widow or widower. When parents lose their child, there isn’t a word to describe them. This month recognizes the loss so many parents experience across the United States and around the world. It is also meant to inform and provide resources for parents who have lost children due to miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, molar pregnancy, stillbirths, birth defects, SIDS, and other causes.”—Ronald Reagan
October is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. As I was brainstorming and struggling over what to write about for this post I was talking to a dear friend about some of my ideas. I mentioned that because I am very open about my history of recurrent miscarriages that people often find me when one of their friends or family members experiences a loss; their questions for me are always something along the lines of, “What can I do? What can I say?” My friend so wisely recommended that I take the time to write my answers to those questions.
What can you do?
There are many things that you can do for someone experiencing loss. Think about the things that people did for you when you had a child or lost a close friend or relative. Most of those are things that can be easily translated to things you can do for someone experiencing the loss of their baby via miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant death.
Bring Them a Meal
When grieving, the last thing most people want to think about is how they are going to feed themselves. In the case that the woman had a physically traumatic loss and ended up losing a lot of blood, consider bringing iron-rich foods. Beef stew is a great option for those who eat meat.
Offer Practical Help
If the woman going through loss has other children offer to babysit, drop them to and from school or extracurricular activities, or hang out with them as a mother’s helper so your friend or relative can rest. If they have a dog, offer to take over walking duty. If you are visiting offer to throw in a load of laundry or do household chores.
Remember Important Dates
One common source of grief in the loss community is that nobody remembers our lost babies. Checking in on your loved one on loss dates, birthdays, and due dates can be a huge source of comfort. I have friends that more than 4 years later continue to let me know that they are praying for me every December 28th. Another good date to check in is Mother’s Day. Not good with dates? Put a reminder on your phone or calendar.
Send a Care Package
If you live far away or just need another way to show that you support your loved one, a care package is a great way. Things you may want to include in a care package include: good coffee or tea, a candle, something to read or watch, a favorite treat, or a gift card for take-out.
Not everyone has a memorial service for their baby, but if your loved one has planned a memorial please take the time to attend if you can.
What can I say?
First and foremost say, “I’m sorry for your loss”. After that, there are several things you can say and several things that you should most definitely avoid saying.
Affirm Their Need to Grieve
Many women in loss communities that I belong to have reported that people in their lives expect them to “just get over it already” when it comes to the loss of their baby. Please, don’t be that person. Let your loved one know that it is okay to grieve and not to be afraid to take their time to address their grief.
Sometimes it is best to say nothing and to just listen. Your friend may need a shoulder to cry on or someone to hold a punching bag while she vents her anger.
Don’t Stick Your Foot in Your Mouth
There are so many things that you really should not say to a grieving mother. Amongst those are:
“Everything happens for a reason.”
“At least you have other kids.”
“At least you know you can get pregnant”
“It was all a part of God’s plans”
“Maybe you aren’t meant to have kids right now.”
“You can always have another one.”