How to Help a Friend Survive the First Year after Pregnancy or Infant Loss
Guest post by Kat Biggie
International Bereaved Mother’s Day was Sunday, May 5th. Every year this is a special day to honor those mothers who will not be able to celebrate the day with their child, but should still be recognized as a mother.
Watching a friend suffer the loss of a child or baby is one of the most difficult situations you may ever encounter in life. Loss and death combined with what is typically a positive, joyous occasion puts millions of women suffering through major loss at a major disadvantage, while their friends struggle to know what to do and 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 who has experienced the loss of a baby, exacerbated by friends and family who often do not know how to respond or react.
No mother wants to think that losing a baby can happen to her, and yet Hope Exchange cites two million pregnancy losses each year in the United States. The statistics provided for pregnancy loss by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) are also astonishing. The CDC also estimates an additional 25,000 infants die each year. Baby loss can happen to any mother at any time and the pain and grief can take a tremendous toll on the emotional and physical well being of the mother and her family.
We tend to follow every moment of a celebrity that is pregnant, but I was shocked when I saw the list of famous mamas who have suffered from miscarriage or infant loss. Celebrity Babies (People Magazine) provides a full list of celebrities who have miscarried or had a stillborn baby. This list includes Courtney Cox, Tori Amos, Audrey Hepburn, Pamela Anderson, Brooke Shields, Marilyn Monroe, Oprah Winfrey, and many, many more. Allison Rosen, an infertility therapist is quoted in the New York Times as saying:
“People don’t understand the deep connection to the unborn child, and they don’t understand it’s the death of what feels, to the potential parents, like a real person. The grief is so silent.”
Infant loss during the first year is especially difficult. The unexpected nature of the loss brings pain, and the pain becomes fresh again as she passes through all of the “markers” and baby anniversaries. Rather than feel helpless when a friend or family member loses a child and saying and doing nothing in response, here are some actions you can take to support your friend or loved one through their loss.
Visit often, but not too often. Even if she says she does not want visitors, show up anyway, even if to just drop off some food or a gift of encouragement. I thought I wanted to be alone in my grief after I lost my baby when she was only two days old, but was always relieved when I received visitors. Ignore protestations at least until you can assess how welcome you are, yourself.
Take meals. More than once. There are many days that will be overwhelming throughout the first few months and even perhaps into the second year. You can use sites such as Care Calendar, which is an easy to access, online calendar to coordinate with other friends and families to provide meals. Those who want to help can sign up online for the day they will bring a meal or visit to help spread it out.
Talk about it with her! Don’t pretend like nothing happened. Be sure to ask what she is comfortable talking about. Some loss 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. Read up on appropriate things to say or not to say after a loss of this nature. For some tips on things to say or not to say, read this: The Magic Words When Someone Loses a Baby. If all else fails, just let her know you are sorry for her loss and you are listening.
Make her laugh. This is important. Several days after my two-day-old daughter died, my sister and a friend came to visit one evening. My friend Debbie is a hoot. She had me laughing so hard and it felt really great. I really needed that. If you are not very comedic yourself, perhaps bring over a hilarious movie or find some funny YouTube clips.
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.
Continue some or all of the above 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. It’s quite possible, she will never be over her loss.
Take her out. Any place. And if she says no to your invitations, keep inviting her. Eventually she will be ready.
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 babies’ name to appropriate foundations.
Encourage her to find a baby loss support group. Perhaps even do the research for her. First Candle is one organization that provides support to grieving families of infant loss. While you can listen to her all day, if you have never experienced this type of loss, it’s difficult to understand. Your friend will benefit from being around mothers who “get her.”
Continue some or all of the above and also:
Help her get involved in Pregnancy and Infant Awareness Day. October 15th is International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day. Most major metropolitan areas have events planned, such as walks to remember. Visit October 15th to find out more.
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. But this loss stays with a mother 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 precence.