With this month being Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, I think it is important not only to raise awareness of the fact that one in four babies die before they are born but also to share ways we can support grieving parents through such a dark and heavy time. Showing up for them in whatever way you are able will be appreciated but here are some ways that will make the parents feel truly loved – written by a Loss Mom.
1. Be proactive about helping
It’s easy to say, “Let me know if you need anything.” and expect the bereaved to reach out when they are ready. You might think this is better, less pushy, and that it allows the parents to choose when you become involved. In reality, this is a difficult invitation to act on. Most of the time the grieving parents won’t remember you offered or they might feel you offered only to be polite. They might think the offer has expired or their needs are too big. Instead of leaving an open-ended offer of help, be direct and proactive when you offer. Offer this instead:
- I’d like to bring you dinner this week. Is Monday good for that? Would you like pasta or soup?
- I’m heading to the store soon. If you put together a list, I’ll get you what you need for the week.
- I’d love to take your older kids for ice cream this week. When are they available?
Grieving parents have so much going on in their hearts and their minds even if they don’t appear busy. Eliminate the guesswork and decision-making by offering direct help.
2. Tell her you’d love to hear about her baby
If you think a mother doesn’t want to talk about her baby, you are wrong. Every mother wants to share about her babies, living or dead. But sometimes grieving mothers don’t know how to bring up their babies or who is willing to listen. She needs to know you are a safe place. Let her know you are available to listen to her story with no pressure. She may not be ready to talk about it at the moment but the offer will go a long way even if she doesn’t take you up on it.
If she does choose to share, don’t try to help her find a silver lining, and don’t offer old, unhelpful tropes about better places and Higher Powers’ plans. Don’t respond with stories from others who might have had it worse. Just listen to what she is saying, watch the emotion she emits, and respond with genuine empathy for all she has lost.
3. Be there when she’s ready
In the early days or even weeks following the death of her baby, a mom might withdraw from you, from society, and from social interactions of any kind. While that might make it hard to feel like you are there for her, remember that this is not about what makes you feel helpful. This is about what she needs. Be there when she is ready whether it’s days, weeks, or even months later.
Continue to interact with her unless she expressly asks you to stop. Text her even though she doesn’t text back. Invite her to events even if she continually declines to attend. Ask if she’d like to get coffee regularly even if the answer is always ‘No’. Leaving these channels open lets her know that whenever (or if ever) she is ready to rejoin, you are there for her.
4. Check on her with no expectation
Grieving doesn’t have a timeline or an expiration date, especially grieving the death of your child. Do not assume that because it’s been months or even years that she is back to normal, has forgotten, or that her pain is gone. Hard dates will always be hard – birthdays, due dates, memorial days, awareness days – they all hit hard year after year. A simple, “I thought about you and Baby today” will let her know you care.
Continue to ask how she is doing and really care about the answer. Don’t ask hoping she responds positively. If she admits she is struggling or feeling the heaviness a little extra, don’t try to fix the situation. Just let her know she is on your heart and that feeling sad is still ok. When possible, refer to her baby by name if they have one. Every mother loves to hear that others remember their baby.
5. Send her a care package
A small gift or care package is a simple way to let a grieving parent know you are thinking of them. It does not have to be something ornate or expensive. Sometimes simple is better – her favorite snacks, some self-care products, a candle. Try to avoid flowers as flowers sit in a vase and wither away. She does not need or want to be surrounded by any more death while she is grieving the death of her baby.
There are many companies on the internet that offer care packages specifically to bereaved parents. Many of these companies offer small tokens such as jewelry that parents can wear in honor of their child. Having a physical thing to hold close can feel especially healing while you grieve.
Grieving the loss of a pregnancy, no matter how early, is grieving the loss of a whole life. Take care of the parents, the mother especially but also the father, in the same way that you would take care of someone who lost a parent or grandparent. Show up for them with empathy and love and let them know they are not carrying the weight of their loss alone.