How to Support a Parent Who Has Experienced Pregnancy Loss
On paper, I am a mother to one four-year-old girl and a baby boy on the way.
In my heart, I am a mother of four.
My husband, Kevin, and I used to talk while we were dating about having four kids one day. While we quickly adjusted our expectations post-marriage, we always saw those four kids living on Earth with us. Never in our rosy-colored dreams did we think we’d have to suffer through recurrent pregnancy losses.
You never forget those babies you lost. It’s like there’s a constant hole in your stomach, only as time passes, you learn to live with that hole. I remember their birthdays. I remember the names I gave them—Theodore and Amos. I remember the days I felt them slip lifelessly from my body, born way too soon. I remember the grief. Oh, do I remember—and continue to feel—the grief.
Pregnancy loss is something that never, ever leaves you. It doesn’t matter if the loss happens at eight weeks or 15 weeks—that is your child, and with their death is a lifetime of missed moments and memories. You are their parent forever without the reward of watching them grow.
There’s a big chance you have someone in your circle who has suffered from pregnancy loss like I have. In honor of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, I want to share with you what’s supportive—and what’s not—to those who have lost their child:
Let go of your expectations.
Grief has no timetable. It has no method or logical next steps. It’s just there at all times in varying degrees of intensity depending on the day. Knowing that, release any preconceived ideas about how someone else’s journey through it is supposed to look—their sadness and the weight of their situation is custom made. Support their feelings through it all. Don’t expect them to “get over it” according to your timing. Be okay with them feeling sad. Be okay with their grief.
Be precise in your help.
Your friend or family member is overwhelmed in all the ways—physically, emotionally, and mentally, and they need help. The thing is, they likely can’t tell you what they need. Don’t let that stop you from offering help anyway. But don’t put the burden on them to tell you how you can help. Be resourceful: Get intel from their closest friends or family members to see what they need. Then, go back to your grieving friend and say, “I’m going to (insert helpful gesture here). What time today would be best to (insert reiterated gesture here)? Would that be helpful to you?”
Keep the platitudes to yourself.
Nothing was more infuriating or hurtful than hearing people try to neatly package my grief into something more palatable. I get it—it’s human nature. People usually try to make themselves and others feel better when they’re sad. But you know what’s crossing a line? When you say things that invalidate a person’s experience. Some of the top offending statements I’ve heard are:
“It is what it is.”
“It was all in God’s plan.”
“There was probably something wrong with your baby.”
“It was early, so it’s not as bad as it could be.”
Please don’t say these things. They won’t make the person feel any better, only worse. At best, you’ll say these things and feel slightly better yourself, but that isn’t serving the one who is hurting. It’s okay to say nothing. Silence doesn’t equate to a lack of support. Sometimes, being a silent presence is exactly what that person needs, I promise.
Don’t forget about them.
There will come a time when time does its thing and lessens the emotional load of the pregnancy loss to you. It doesn’t quite work that way for your family member or friend. Please continue to check on them and be intentionally helpful even months down the road. Let them know you are still thinking about them and the baby they lost. Put the baby’s birthday in your phone as a reminder to check in. If they’ve named their baby, call the baby by his or her name. It won’t hurt them for you to do that—actually, it’ll be a refreshing honor because there are likely people in their lives who aren’t saying anything for fear of saying the wrong thing. Speak up, and speak up often.