How to Help a Family Who Has Lost a Baby
Friends and family surrounding a family who has recently experienced a stillbirth often feel conflicted between wanting to help and not knowing how to help. Everyone will experience a significant loss at some time in their lives, but most people acknowledge that the loss of a child is a unique form of grief that leaves many well-meaning supporters uncomfortable. While every family and person is different and grieving is a very personal and individual process, we have found some common themes expressed by stillbirth families.
The First Few Days/Weeks
- Recognize that you can’t make this better. They know that and don’t expect you to have magic words that will “fix” everything. Just be there for them.
- Don’t forget the father. In the case of a stillbirth, the mother must also recover physically from the delivery. It can be easy to focus on her physical healing and forget that fathers hurt just as much. Also, fathers may feel pressure to be strong for the mother – help him to grieve as well.
- Allow them to spend as much time with their child as they’d like. They are creating a lifetime of memories in a few hours/days. Pictures, footprints, locks of hair, etc will all be treasured keepsakes if obtained during these precious moments. Encourage them to have the hospital contact Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep (or another photographer who offers these specialized services). This is a wonderful organization that provides professional photographers to come to the family for free and capture precious images of the baby and their time with their child.
- Memorials or tokens of remembrance are appropriate as in any loss.
- Offer to bring a meal, clean their home, care for older children, etc.
- Donations in memory of the child, dedication of a tree or star, jewelry with special meaning, Heavenly Christmas ornaments, garden stones with prayers, etc can all be physical momentos to validate the existence of the child and the grief of the family.
- Acknowledge that this baby is a loved member of this family.
- Siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins all have a sense of loss. If you are the friend of an extended family member, let them know that you understand they are in pain, too.
Months/Years After the Loss
- Mention their baby and use his/her name. Parents want the world to recognize that their child existed and is part of their family. Many have said that their biggest fear is that their child will be forgotten. Make sure they know you remember.
- Encourage the family to talk to someone to help them through their grief process. This can be in a support group, another stillbirth parent, psychologists, grief counselors, religious leaders, marriage counselors, doctors/nurses/social workers, etc. These individuals can be very helpful early as well – they may have knowledge of many options available to the family.
- Let the family know you remember their child on special dates: anticipated due date, anniversary of birth day, holidays, etc. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are especially painful.
- Allow them to grieve in their own way. Grief is a very personal process and the pace, order, timing, and duration of the stages of grief is unique to each individual. Do not judge things a family does as part of their grief. They should be encouraged to participate in activities or surround themselves with items/people that provide them with comfort.
- Remember them and their child in the months and years to come. It doesn’t matter how much time has passed – they still love and miss their child daily.
- Having subsequent children does not replace or take away the love for the child who has passed These parents have been forever changed by the experiences they have had – just as if their child had lived.
- Don’t expect them to be the same people they were before they became pregnant. Accept them for who they are now and love the new person who has to be the parent of an angel.
What Can I Say?
Less is more when it comes to “comforting” comments. Many well-meaning people have made comments with the intention of helping, but will unknowingly cause additional pain. If you aren’t sure what to say, simply a hug and “I’m so very sorry” will be very appropriate.
Below is a list of statements that can be hurtful to hear from friends who are trying to be supportive.
* You can have more children.
* God needed an angel.
* At least you didn’t know him/her.
* God only takes the best.
* God only takes those who have serious health issues.
* Let him/her rest in peace.
* It’s not healthy to hang on to him/her this long.
* You’ll get over this.
* God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.
* It would have been worse if it had happened after he/she was born.
* I know so many people who have lost babies.
* I know how you feel.
* You’ll be a parent someday.
* It wasn’t meant to be.
* At least he/she didn’t suffer.
* You’ll feel better once you get back to your normal life.
* It must be part of God’s plan.
*There must have been something wrong with the baby.
Most of all – remember that hugs and prayers go a long way.
If you know someone who has lost a child and you’re afraid to mention them because you think you’ll make them sad by reminding them the child died…they didn’t forget they died. You’re not reminding them. What you’re reminding them is that YOU remember they lived and that’s a GREAT, GREAT gift.
~ Elizabeth Edwards