We are continuing the short series on Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month this October.
A few days ago, a friend and fellow Cautious Mom asked, ” For those us that haven’t experienced this kind of loss, what can we do or say to support those who have?”
A profoundly important, valid question, I thought it warranted an entry all its own.
Everyone struggles with the idea of what to say.
If you know someone who has been through this and need to know what to do or say, here are a few tips of what to do and say when you don’t know how to help;
First of all, each mother is different and approaches this issue, and her own grief, differently. Saying “I’m sorry” might feel like comfort to some while it feels like stepping on a stack of knives to others. The best advice I can give in this case is, tread carefully and always be genuine. If you don’t know what to say, then say that. Don’t try scrambling around for the right words that you think she may want to hear, just tell her “I wish I knew what to say, I don’t, but I’m here and I love you”. That will be good enough, I promise.
Offer to be there to listen. Make sure they know you genuinely want to know if they are ready to tell the story. Offer to be there while they silently grieve without requirement of speech.
It’s okay to tell her that you are sorry. Sorry for her grief, her pain, her loss, her feelings of helplessness, even sorry that you can’t fix it.
Make coffee. Empty the dish washer, the trash or dust her house. If you see a mess, clean it up. Do the work that takes physical exertion because that may be hard for her for a while and the pain in itself might make her feel worse because it is a reminder of the loss.
Ask if you can run any errands for her, ask her who you can call for her, who can you text for her, offer to communicate news to others on her behalf so she doesn’t have to do it.
Help her heal her body and mind.
Buy her healing soaps, salts or offer to help her with essential oils that will ease and heal her body. Look into spa treatments or maybe a meditation or yoga class that you could take together once she is up to it. Offer to brush her hair or paint her toes. Offer to draw a bath or a shower for her and put something special in there like flowers or something that smells nice to comfort her.
Help with the kids.
If she has other children, asking to take them away so she can rest might have the opposite reaction than you expect. She may feel a desperate need to keep them close in this time and may resent your desire to remove them from the picture, even if it is to help her. So, instead of offering to take them away, help her with them by playing with them, making sure they are given attention, have clean clothes on and are fed. Help by prepping their lunches for a few days or just spending time with them to let them know they matter, too.
If she needs the help, offer to meal prep or start a meal train with friends so she doesn’t have to focus on cooking for a few days.
Tell her she doesn’t have to hold back. If she needs to cry, scream, melt into the floor, she can do it and you will be there to help or even to leave her alone and field everyone else to keep them away so she can do what she needs to do.
Offer to keep her phone for her so she doesn’t have to get all the calls and texts that will come in.
Tell friends and family how to help her. Ask her what she needs them to know, or do and help delegate, but involve her as little as you can so she doesn’t have to deal with it.
Validate her pain. Tell her it’s okay to be as upset as she is. Let her do it for days and days if she needs to.
If her grief is bad, and I mean really bad, you may need to offer to help her talk to her doctor. She could have a hormone imbalance that creates excess fatigue, depression and it may take assistance to get her back to herself and balanced again.
Remind her that it wasn’t her fault. Remind her she’s a good person. Remind her that her past did not create this.
Tell her you’ve looked into support groups, offer to go with her if she wants to go.
Tell her she can cry as much as she needs to, that it doesn’t bore you to hear her talk about her grief. If she needs to call you at 3am because she can’t stop crying, make sure she knows she can call you.
Here are some tips of what not to do;
Don’t tell her “you can have another”. – children are not pets and a baby cannot be replaced like a dead goldfish.
Don’t say, “well at least you had it easy because so and so had this terrible thing happen and that was way worse”. No one wants to be told they should minimize their grief becuase it could be worse. That’s unfair and it will hurt her deeply. It will also prevent her from being able to heal through communication because it has invalidated her pain.
Don’t remove any baby items from her home or surroundings. Sometimes we feel like we should take away the reminders so she won’t have to think about it. Don’t do that. This is a part of the grief experience and removing items such as baby clothes, sonogram photos, nursery decorations, etc., must be done by her, when she is ready. She may even find them a comfort to her, so let her decide what to do with them and when. When she is ready, let her know you are there to help if she needs it.
Don’t shield her from other’s joy. Many think, “oh, Mary lost her baby so we shouldn’t tell her about our pregnancy”. I guarantee you she will be far more hurt by your secrecy than your news. But she also may find your news devastating to her which will make her feel guilty. Guilt on top of grief is awful. She will try to internalize it so you can’t see it. Just know that it’s probably there try your upmost to be respectful of her feelings. Basically, don’t rub it in. Ease her into the news gently, not with a surprise trip to the baby section of Ikea to buy all your own baby needs.
Don’t tell her it’s “God’s Will” or that all things happen for a reason. None of that is comforting.
Don’t tell her “it could be worse”. It’s not your place to quantify her loss and measure it against anything else.
Don’t say, “well, at least you can drink now”. I guarantee you that will not make her feel better.
Don’t hesitate to let her know if you had a similar experience, but be careful not to compare pain or make her feel that your pain is greater than hers. It may help her to hear your story, but it won’t help her if you say things like “at least with you” or, “it was worse for me because”. Just share the story, let her know you understand, that you are sisters in a shared kind of grief and that will help her.
Please don’t equate her child’s death to the passing of your pet. Yes, your pet’s passing was tragic. It’s not the same thing. No offense to your pet or your relationship with your animals, but it’s not the same.
Don’t tell her it’s time to get on with her life. She will grieve as much as she needs to in her own time.
If she miscarried, don’t tell her “at least you didn’t get to term” or anything else that may minimize her experience just because the baby had not yet been born.
Don’t tell her that her baby is an angel unless she has already said this herself.
Don’t tell her that the baby is in a better place. There is no better place for a baby than with its mother. She will resent this and it will break her heart for feeling inadequate and alone.
Last, remember there is no magic word or phrase that will heal her. Your presence and your support will help, but only she can do the healing, when she is ready.
I hope you found this helpful, if anyone else has other suggestions I did not touch on today, please log in and post them in the comments.