This month is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month and we’ve been honoring it at The Birth Hour by sharing stories of loss. We shared Dr. Jessica Zucker’s miscarriage story and Jenna Edwards’ stillbirth story. I wanted to take a minute to share a bit about my experience with loss. I haven’t suffered a loss personally but I have had someone close to me (Jenna actually) suffer a loss and I was there by her side through the whole thing. Since the statistics show that 1 in 4 women will experience a pregnancy loss, I figure that like me, if you aren’t the 1 in 4, you likely know someone who is.
After the shock of seeing Jenna’s baby on the ultrasound screen with no heartbeat at 34 weeks, I was paralyzed and my eyes were opened to a whole different side of pregnancy and birth that includes anxiety, fear and sorrow. As the best friend of someone who had just lost her son, I didn’t know what to do or say to help. I wanted to make it all go away for her (and for myself to be totally frank). I suffered from flashbacks that I couldn’t share with anyone and fear of saying the wrong thing and making her grief worse.
What You Can Do as a Friend to Someone Who Experiences a Loss
I was basically learning how to be a supportive friend as I went along and our friendship is now stronger than ever. I figured I’d share some of the things that I learned and that Jenna had expressed to me were helpful with all of you.
- Talk about it. Losing a baby is extremely isolating and it’s easy to just tell yourself that the mom “needs space” but she is alone with her thoughts all the time and they aren’t usually good thoughts so just know that she’s already thinking about it 24/7 so talking about it with her, helps her not feel so alone.
- If she is pushing you away, don’t give up. I watched Jenna ignore many calls and texts in the first few days and weeks after her son died and I watched her friends take that as a sign that she didn’t want to hear from them. Grieving moms are likely reading every text and listening to every voicemail (sometimes over and over) and they need your support even if they don’t know how to respond. Remember that it’s not the mom’s job to make you feel better and she may feel like people are expecting her to respond with “it’s ok” or “i’m ok” but in her heart she knows she isn’t ok. Not yet anyways. So don’t give up.
- Say the baby’s name. If the parents named the baby, say the baby’s name. It helps validate that their child existed and that someone other than them are thinking about him/her. If you see their name somewhere or see something that reminds you of the parents or baby, take a picture and text it to them. Get her a gift like a necklace with the baby’s name or initials. She will treasure it forever.
- Acknowledge that she’s a mother. Even though her baby isn’t in her arms, she very much feels like a mom to this child and it helps (especially if the baby she lost was her only child) to acknowledge that she’s definitely in the “mom club” even if being a mother now, doesn’t look anything like she thought it would.
- Gifts. It’s likely that she doesn’t want flowers and she probably cries every time she sees a gift that was meant for the baby but there are things you can send. Here are some that I know have been helpful to Jenna and others.
- Earth Mama Angel Baby Healing Hearts Comfort Kit – this is an all natural gift set that’s meant to comfort the mother and honor the baby. It comes with a calming aromatherapy candle, an essential oil mist and forget-me-not seeds to plant in memory of the baby. My friend, Jenna, lit the candle every night and sprayed the mist on her pillow before listening to a meditation before bed. Often the nights are the hardest when the mom is lying alone with her thoughts so any comforting ritual she can do will be helpful.
- Pregnancy and Infant Loss cards – these are cards designed by Dr. Jessica Zucker that tell it like it is after a loss. If you don’t know what to say, you can buy one of these cards written by a mom who’s been there and simply write, “I love you” on the inside.
- Donate to a cause in her baby’s name. She may have already identified a cause or charity that supports grieving parents or you can find one on your own.
- Keepsakes. Etsy is a great place to find personalized items like necklaces, rings, posters, footprint items and so much more. The holidays were an especially hard time for Jenna and I found a Christmas stocking that I had personalized with her son’s initial and then friends and family wrote letters to go in the stocking that she and her husband read on Christmas morning.