Friends & family can have a huge impact on a woman’s experience of loss. I have witnessed this phenomenon in my own life as a bereaved mother, as well in my work as a psychotherapist supporting other women and couples through life after infant loss.
This is the kind of experience that rocks us to the core. It changes our sense of safety and trust in ourselves as parents, in our relationships, our faith and in our ability to hope for our future. The heartbreak of losing a little one is one of the most painful experiences someone can go through in their lifetime. And this is true no matter how brief of time the parents got to have with them.
I asked grieving parents what they most wanted others to understand about baby loss. Here is what they had to say.
I know the magnitude of this experience isn’t lost on you. Hence, here you are taking time out of your own busy hectic life to search out the most effective ways to help your friend to survive this nightmare.
That is seriously impressive and powerful.
And I am grateful that you are here. You are helping me on my mission to make sure that grieving parents have the support they need and deserve to heal fully and to live and love again after loss.
Your friend is lucky to have you in her corner.
Now let’s get to work, shall we?
I’m going to going to equip you with some new ideas, tools & perspectives to be able to give your friend really practical, gentle & necessary support.
This is going to be truly helpful for her and really easy for you.
THE BEST FRIEND’S GUIDE TO BABY LOSS
Don’t try to be a Guru. Be a Sidekick.
To be able to help your friend through this, you first need to get really clear on what your role is. She doesn’t need you to be her Guru right now, the one with the great words of wisdom or the amazing inspirational insight that is going to shift the pain she’s in. The awful truth is, there is nothing you can say that is going to take away her agony or despair. So let go of any pressure or expectation you might be have for yourself that you’ve got to “make her feel better.”
The truth is there are no words in existence that will cause your friend to breath that deep sigh of relief, exhale all the hurt and suffering and take in those bits of peace and hope that you so desperately want to be able to offer her right now.
It just doesn’t work like that.
So let that pressure go.
Because here’s the key thing to note: When we try to “make it better” for someone, what we end up actually doing is taking all that pressure that we feel on our own shoulders and we drop it onto hers. It’s like saying, “here’s where you need to get to. You need to be focusing on the positive and feeling better. This is where you should be.” It’s added pressure. And she seriously doesn’t need anymore weight to carry right now. Right? I know you know this.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”Maya Angelou
It can be really hard to step out of the Guru expectation for ourselves because most of us have been trained to try to make things better for each other. That’s what good friends are suppose to be able to do for each other, right? We are suppose to cheer each other up, focus on the positive, don’t let each other get pulled down in the darkness. But it just doesn’t work like that with this kind of stuff. It’s just bigger than that.
We have to move from the goal of “trying to make it better for her” to just sitting down beside her in the misery of it all.
Herein lies one of the key reasons why the experience of losing of a baby is so isolating and lonely. Most people just can’t handle sitting with us in the darkness of it all, without trying to fix, change or move away from the awfulness. Understandably so. It’s terrifying and uncomfortable to feel like you are witnessing someone you care about disappear into the black abyss of heartbreak.
But this is what actually keeps her here. It’s what will keep her going.
Be strong enough to feel weak with her.
We all have this natural instinct to run in and save her from the fire. One of the ways we often do this for someone who is grieving is to say things like “you can try again” or “it’s just nature” or “they are in a better place.” We say these things to try to make someone feel better. However, these kind of well intended statements usually end up making the grieving person feel even more alone, misunderstood, and judged.
Attempting to Enlighten Her = Enraging Her
What do I say to someone after they’ve lost a baby?
When we say things like “you can try again,” or “it’s just nature,” we are trying to help someone reconnect to Life again. And of course you want that for her. But it just doesn’t work that way. Not right now. So the first step in supporting her is to let go of pressure you might be feeling that you should be able to take some of her pain away. The bottom line is, you can’t take this pain away for her.
Your job is to hold space for her.
Here’s what “holding space” means:
Holding space means letting someone be where they are, without trying to change it or fix. It means sitting with whatever is there, without judgement or thinking you know what she should do.
Try these words of comfort:
“I know I can’t fully imagine what this is like for you, but I’m here for you.”
“You don’t need to censor anything around me. I’m willing to hear anything that you need to get out.”
“I’m not expecting a response right now, I just wanted to text/call and let you know that I’m here and available if you want to chat.”
“Your baby will always be a part of you. Seriously. It’s called microchimerism. Your baby’s cells continue to exist in you and always will.”
Say her baby’s name. When you mention her baby, you are letting her know they are not forgotten- which is one of bereaved parent’s greatest fears.
Don’t try to “cheer her up.” Think of your role as offering ointment for 3rd degree burns- it doesn’t take the pain away, it just helps her heal better over time.
Let go of the pressure to find the right words. There is absolutely nothing you can say that is going to make your friend respond with –”You are right, I feel so much better. Let’s go for a mani-pedi.” Your presence is good enough.
Don’t be afraid of reminding her of her pain. It’s not like she ever forgets.
Continue to call or text even if you get no response. She’s reading your messages and appreciating the fact that you are reaching out to her. She likely just doesn’t have the energy or state of mind to be able to send anything back. So keep reaching out. Reassure her you’re not expecting a response.
Don’t make comparisons to your life. Do not say things like “I know how you feel” or “I understand. I was so upset when my grandma died.” Even if you have gone through the same thing, her experience may be different than yours and she needs space to process that.
Find low key ways of hanging out with her. She likely won’t want to hang out with large groups, or go to places where she would be around babies right now.
Do not EVER say the words “At least.” Anything that starts with the words at least is likely to be unintentionally hurtful because it sends the message that she is wrong to be grieving. As in:
“at least you know you can get pregnant….,”
“at least you have other children….”
“at least you weren’t further along….”
CARING IN ACTION
This would mean so much….
**Make a specific offer of support. People usually say something like “let me know if there is anything you need.” But here’s the problem with that- no one ever takes people up on these kind of vague, frustrating offers. When you are grieving, you don’t have the brain space to even think about what you need, much less having to write a super awkward text to ask for it.
Instead, just pick something to do and do it.
Here’s some ideas:
**Create a Circle of Care FB group to coordinate drop offs of groceries, meals, check ins and offers to come visit, etc.
**Drop off a care pack (like a journal and a few of her favourite things)
**Send her my Baby Loss Survival Guide, an at-home healing experience she can do at her own pace.
**Give her a memory gift or helpful book. Check out some of my favourite ways to help her keep her baby close that I’ve curated here
Really Important things she doesn’t even know she needs yet:
**Write the anniversary of her baby’s passing & due date on your calendar. Get in touch with her on this date next month (and in one year) to let her know you remembering her baby with her today. This is HUGE.
**Offer to delete her pregnancy apps on her phone so she won’t get a notification telling her how big her baby is supposed to be next week.
**Save her from the horror of finding baby formula samples on her front steps. Big companies like Nestle and Gerber often get a hold of her mailing address and send “congratulations!” sample packs, (like if she registered for baby gifts, purchased maternity clothes or opted in to any online promos.) Ask her if she would like you to deregister her from automatic mailing lists (that she probably doesn’t even know she has been added to)
In the US you can do by clicking here: DMAchoice.org
Please note: this will stop all mail solicitation, not just the baby-related stuff.
Other much appreciated gestures:
“Instead of asking me how they could help, I had a number of friends that just did (setting up meal train, bringing me groceries, checking in, offering to just come and cry with me). That was huge!- Katie
“I had a friend insist I let her take care of as much of the cremation arrangements as I felt comfortable. I couldn’t handle it and she lifted a huge weight. I’m SO THANKFUL for my amazing circle of support 💙”Katie
“Friends made meals and dropped off groceries the first couple of weeks. My good friend had a memory box sent over on Mother’s Day. Another friend had a lovely picture made of two “parent birds” in a tree with a little pink one flying away and my baby’s name and birthdate on it. It was hard accepting people’s help and kindness in those early days but I look back now 8 months later and really appreciate the support and loving gestures.”- Amber
“My friend set up a meal train and my sister in law collected money so we could take a trip.”-Angela
Questions or comments?
Feel free to reach out to me: