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5 Ways to Support Grieving Parents After Pregnancy Loss
When a family experiences pregnancy or infant loss, their community is often unsure of how to support them through this shitstorm. Is it better to leave them alone and let them process? Lean in and help? Bring a casserole? There’s no doubt that the rippled pain of loss extends far beyond immediate family. Extending support beyond platitudes can be healing for everyone.
When we lost our son Elliot, born still at full term October of 2018, our community rallied behind us, supporting us through what I surely hope was the most difficult time our family will ever face. Our community supported us as if we’d brought home what we’d been waiting for: our beautiful newborn son. And it was exactly what we needed.
Chances are you know someone (beyond me) who has experienced loss and chances are you feel totally helpless in supporting them. I know that’s how I used to feel. I often opted for the “I just won’t say anything and give them space” because honestly it was more comfortable (for me!) But I guarantee your friend wants you there, in some capacity. If you find yourself unsure of how to support someone experiencing pregnancy loss, ask yourself how you’d support someone who just gave birth and needs time to heal, physically and emotionally.
Need a little more direction? Here are five ways to support grieving people after pregnancy loss.
Acknowledge the realness of their loss.
Their baby was real. It may have simply been an idea to the rest of the world, but my baby was REAL. My son Elliot had a personality, loved music, fluttered every time his big sister talked to him through my belly, and literally jumped when Shane would put his hand on my belly. I have two kids, I’m simply raising one and that’s how we prefer people talk about our family.
You can acknowledge this realness by simply saying “hey I was thinking about you and Elliot (or Cooper or Olivia or TJ)” Holidays and anniversaries are especially tricky times and something as simple as a quick text can mean so much. Please acknowledge that there is someone missing. Nothing hurts more than a loss being glossed over as if that little life didn’t count.
Make space by taking some responsibility off their plate.
Offer to help when you can and don’t wait for the grieving family to reach out for help. Cook a meal or help around the house. Meal trains can be incredibly helpful in coordinating drop-off, dates, and ensures the family doesn’t get 15 casseroles on Tuesday and nothing else for three weeks. If they have other kiddos, take them out for a playdate. Start a go-fund me, so they can take some needed time away from work without stressing about paying the bills. Maternity, parental leave or bereavement leave may no longer be an option.
All these things create space to grieve and to heal.
Listen, but don’t try to fix it.
Friend. You can’t fix the shitty situation and that is so hard. But you can listen, take out for coffee, provide distraction. Simply making your support known is invaluable. Ask if they want to talk about their loss (or if you know their baby’s name, use it!) or if they’d rather be distracted. Follow their lead. Some days they may want to laugh and some days they may want to cry and some days it may be both. Create and hold space for both.
Keep checking in.
It can be a simple text “thinking of you” “out at the grocery store, can I grab you a couple things?” “dropping off coffee.” There’s no right thing to say, but it is incredibly comforting to know your friends are still there. After the initial shitstorm of those first two months, keep checking in. Grief is not linear and loss is not something to “get over.” Holidays, anniversaries, and random reminders can send a sneaker wave of grief that knocks parents off their feet when their least expecting it. Send a text on Mother’s Day or thanksgiving or birthdays to let them know you’re thinking of them.
Empathize, but don’t make it about you.
This was the trickiest thing for us moving through loss. Some friends would want to talk to us about how sad and heartbroken they were and we so appreciated their empathy. But it became a fine line between empathy and having to hold space for others. Seeing people who hadn’t heard yet, was exhausting, because we’d explain the utter shitstorm we were going through and then console them as they processed the fuckeduptitude of the situation. You have every right to be sad and pissed, but don’t rely on the greiving person to hold that space for you. Say something along the lines of “this super fucking sucks, I’m so sorry. I’m here to support you” (and then actually do support them) and then go home and process how unfair the situation is with your partner, dog, cat, therapist, or neighbor.
If you or a loved one has experienced loss, what did you find to be most helpful? Share in the comments below.