Ways to Support a Loved One, Friend or Co-worker After a Pregnancy or Newborn Loss
Someone close to you...has just lost a baby. You might not know what to say or what to do to help or comfort the parents or other family members. The following information offers suggestions on how you can help the family during this difficult time.
It helps parents to talk or cry about the pregnancy, birth or death and to know someone is listening to their feelings. It's okay, too, if you feel like sharing your feelings about the baby and crying. If faith is important to the parents, speaking to members of the clergy or a rabbi or friends from the congregation might help. Be a good listener.
Acknowledge the loss
Avoid pretending everything is okay with the parents when it is not. Sending a card, flowers, note, poem or donation in the baby's name or the family's name will show the parents you care.
Respect the parents' decisions
Allow the parents to make their own decisions regarding funeral arrangements, memorial services and naming the baby. Ask how you might help in carrying out their decisions but do not offer advice when it is not requested.
Avoid comparing their loss to other types of death
Although you may have experienced a great loss after the death of a parent, grandparent, friend or pet, do not compare it to a pregnancy or newborn loss. Comments like "I know exactly how you feel. When my father died..." are not helpful. Even if you, too, have experienced a pregnancy or newborn loss, be careful not to assume the grief you experienced is identical to this person's feelings.
Appreciate the importance of the baby or pregnancy
Avoid comments like: "You'll have other babies," "A miscarriage is nature's way of taking care of not-so-perfect babies," or "Be grateful for the healthy children you have." Although said with sometimes the best intentions, these types of comments are hurtful to the parents who wanted this particular baby to become part of their lives.
Remember, it is not your job as a loved one, friend or co-worker, to make the sadness go away.
Refer to the baby by name
If the parents have named the baby, one of the most important ways to honor the baby is by referring to the baby by name. A name gives the baby an identity within the family as well as with friends, neighbors and co-workers.
Help the family with daily activities
Sometimes the best help can be the simplest. Bring over a meal. Do the laundry. Offer to drive kids to school or activities. Offer to babysit. Pick up dry cleaning or groceries. Offer to make phone calls to friends, relatives and co-workers to tell them about the loss.
Parents are usually physically and emotionally exhausted over their loss and such help may be appreciated.
Be careful of questions you ask
Most parents, especially the mother, struggle with feelings of guilt after losing a baby. Don't compound those feelings with questions like: "Are you sure you got enough rest?" "Couldn't your doctor tell something was wrong?" "Do you think you might have exercised too much?"
Remember the father
So often after a pregnancy or newborn loss, people will ask how the mother is doing, forgetting that dad needs to know people care about his well being, too. When asking someone how the mother is doing after a loss, a simple question, "And how are you doing?" to the father will let him know you are acknowledging his feelings.
Remember children in the family
Don't forget that children grieve even though they may not show their grief as openly as adults. Children need to know they can talk about the loss and ask questions about what they don't understand.
Give parents time to grieve
There is no rigid time frame for grief. A loss can change a person forever. It can take some parents six months to a year before they adjust to "a new normal" in their lives. Be aware that parents won't necessarily grieve at the same time. Fathers usually report a lessening of grief much sooner than mothers. Be sensitive to the stress different styles of grieving can put on a relationship.
Direct parents to other help if needed
If you know of a pregnancy or newborn loss support group that meets locally or other parents who have suffered a similar loss and who would be willing to talk about it, let them know. Nothing helps parents more than knowing they are not alone, that others have suffered pregnancy losses and survived. Professional counseling or a therapist can also be helpful.
Treat celebrations sensitively
Holidays and family celebrations might not be happy occasions for parents who have lost a baby. Family gatherings can heighten the awareness that a baby who should be present is not. So, too, can seeing babies of family or friends, especially if they were born around the time the baby was due. After a loss, parents might not feel happy at events involving other children, such as birthday parties, baby showers, christenings and brisses. Let the parents participate in such events whatever way feels right and manageable to them.
Socialize with the parents when they are up to it
Ask them to a dinner, movie or over to play cards. They might decline the first couple of offers, but eventually they will want to socialize again and they will feel grateful for the invitation.
Keep in touch with the parents and family
Over the next several months after the loss, call or write to see how the parents are doing. On the anniversary of the baby's death or due date, send a card or note to let the parents know you are thinking of them. Nothing is more touching to the parents than knowing others remember the baby's anniversary dates. Nothing helps parents more than knowing they are not alone.
Encourage parents to let co-workers know what they need
Does the parent want the loss discussed by co-workers or does she or he want the work environment to be a place where the loss is not discussed? Some parents are happy to get back to an environment where they don't have to think about the loss all the time. Almost all parents, however, are intensely hurt and angry with co-workers who do not offer condolences or acknowledge the loss in some way. A phone call to the co-worker by someone close prior to his or her return to work may be helpful in determining the parent's wishes. Relaying those wishes to others at the office may make the transition from home to work much easier for the parent. If you are close to the co-worker who experienced a loss and he or she doesn't want the loss discussed at work, you might want to make yourself available to talk after work.
Memorialize the loss
If you would like to do something special for the parents and honor the memory of the baby, you can do something to show you are thinking of the baby. Plant a tree or garden. Hang a special ornament or light a candle for the baby during the holidays. Get involved as a family, neighborhood or company in the March of Dimes Walk, Special Olympics or some other worthwhile cause. Make a donation to a hospital or local pregnancy or newborn loss support group on the anniversary of the baby's death or due date.
For more in formation, call:
St. Joseph Mercy Hospital
Social Work Department
St. Joseph Mercy Livingston Hospital
Mother/Baby Nursing Station
This information was compiled from various sources, including:
"What Family and Friends Can do" by Sherokee Isle, and "A Silent Sorrow" by Kohn, Moffitt and Wilking