Pregnancy or infant loss is one of the worst experiences a mother can go through. Death, combined with what is typically a positive, joyous occasion, propels a mother and father into a state of shock and despair while their friends and family often struggle to know what to do and what to say. There are few words; and even the words you do find never seem to be enough or appropriate.
This type of unexpected grief can be extremely isolating to the mother. The first year after pregnancy or infant loss is especially difficult. As a mother passes through all of the ‘dates’ and baby anniversaries that dreaded ‘year of firsts’ can be extraordinarily painful. It’s important to note that the average time of heavy grieving is between 18 to 24 months, and support from friends and family is especially important through the first year.
Here are some actions you can take to support your friend or loved one through their loss:
Months one to three
Visit, but not too often. If she says she does not want visitors, text, call, send cards. And if you are a close friend who knows her well, perhaps show up anyway to drop off some food or a gift of encouragement. I thought I wanted to be alone in my grief after I lost my two-day-old baby, but then found myself very lonely when people actually listened. When someone made the effort to reach out, I was always pleased to receive them. (This is not the case for everyone, so use your best judgment depending on how well you know the person.)
Take meals more than once. There are many days that will be overwhelming throughout the first few months and even perhaps the whole first year. Not having to worry about making dinner can be an immense relief. Sites such as Care Calendar, Meal Train or takethemameal.com are easy to access and have online calendars for simple meal coordination with other friends and families.
Talk about it with her and acknowledge the baby. Do not pretend like nothing happened. Be sure to ask what she is comfortable talking about. Some mothers prefer not to talk about it, yet others find such healing and comfort in saying their baby’s name. This baby is significant to the mother, and it is important to the mother that others recognize and remember the baby too. Even if only pregnant for a short time, mothers bond with their babies, and appreciate being recognized as a mother to that child. The baby was real.
Offer to help put away baby items. This is an extremely difficult task for a mother grieving the loss of her baby. You can volunteer to pack up clothing, toys or nursery items and remove them for her if your friend is not up to handling this chore. Or volunteer to help her if she needs some support while she is doing this task.
Months four to six
Continue some or all of the suggestions for months one to three, and also:
Help with childcare. If your friend has other children, take them for an afternoon, evening, weekend or whatever you can handle.
Send cards randomly. Not just once, but periodically. Especially around any significant dates that could trigger sadness like the due date, the anniversary of the death or the date when a diagnosis was received. Just when you think ‘she should be over it,’ send another card. The death of her baby is not something a mother moves on from easily.
Take her out. Any place. And if she says no to your invitations, keep inviting her. But don’t press it too hard. Eventually she will be ready. If she won’t go out, maybe she’ll be receptive to a girls’ night in.
Show her you also remember the baby. Bring trinkets with the baby’s name on it if she appreciates them. If you are unsure, make donations in the baby’s name to appropriate foundations. (Be sure to ask the parents if they have a preferred philanthropy.)
Encourage her to find a baby loss support group. Other mothers who have experienced the death of a baby can offer unique support. While you can listen to her all day, if you have never experienced this type of loss, it’s difficult to understand and certainly difficult to provide comfort. Your friend will benefit from being around mothers who ‘get it.’
Months six to 12
Continue some or all of the suggestions for months one to three and months four to six, and also:
Be patient. Those who have never experienced a loss may find it very difficult to understand how a mother can grieve and mourn for so long. However, six months is not a long time when you consider she was planning on raising this child for a lifetime. And this loss will stay with her… for a lifetime. She is not angling for attention. She is hurting. And sometimes year two is even more difficult.
If you attempt even a fraction of these steps, you are an outstanding friend and will make a big difference in supporting the grieving process of your friend. Of course, you can’t take your friend’s pain away. But you can do the next best thing: you can be there for her while she goes through it and hopefully ease her burden with your sturdy, non-judgmental presence.
Books on coping with the loss of a child
Sunshine After the Storm: A Survival Guide for the Grieving Mother by 30+ moms and dads who have suffered through the loss of a baby or child - sunshineafterstorm.us
Empty Arms: Coping with Miscarriage Stillbirth and Infant Death by Sherokee Ilse
Grieving Parents - Surviving Loss As A Couple by Nathalie Himmelrich
Alexa is the mother of four beautiful children, three on Earth and one in Heaven. She writes about parenting three children, finding joy after grief of the loss of one of her twins, bringing awareness to Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome (TTTS) and providing hope to other grieving parents.
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