If you find yourself reading this article, then let me start by saying I am so deeply sorry. I can only assume that you have found yourself grieving the loss of a child, whether it is your own or someone else’s and you are looking for support. I’ve got you.
When a person first sees those lines on a pregnancy test, their brain cogs start turning and immediately a book of the future is written. They start to visualise the day their child is born, the first snuggles, introduction to relatives, their first Christmas and birthday and so much more. When something unexpected happens in that book and you lose that child, the book is ripped in half and damaged beyond full repair.
It takes a bereaved parent a long time to even want to take a glance at that book that was once full of hopes and dreams. They may be too scared, too angry, or too overwhelmed to write anything from being so heart broken.
But in time, they will write again. It will never be the story it was supposed to be, but they will take a deep breath and pick that pen up again.
That’s where your support will be even more important and valued.
It can be impossible to know how to even start to support a bereaved parent, but I will do my best to help you to help others.
A bit of background
Let me start by telling you briefly about our story and the reason I find myself here writing for baby loss awareness week.
Myself and my partner heard those devastating words that no one ever wants to hear in October of 2019. We lost our darling daughter Robyn just one day before she was due, and the ground crumbled beneath us. We still struggle to navigate our grief daily and to function like we once did.
We changed forever that day and we continue to adapt and ride this rollercoaster of highs and lows.
I don’t claim to be anything other than just a real mum with a broken heart. I aim to use that broken heart to educate, support, and to hopefully relieve some pain for others.
Supporting bereaved parents
You may feel like you want to take every ounce of pain away from your friend/family who are going through this, and you may be feeling helpless. A feeling of helplessness is entirely normal, and I respect and applaud you for wanting to help so desperately. I want you to know that unfortunately, there is not a great deal that can take any pain away, but there are ways in which you can be there and provide support. Let’s start with a list of things that I would encourage you to avoid doing in the best interest of those going through loss.
Don’t look for positives
Sometimes, we desperately try to find a silver lining to any situation that life throws at us in order to fix it or cope with it. It is a very natural and impulsive response to hearing bad news. It’s almost our brain’s way of trying to find reasoning and acceptance for what has just happened to find some peace. From my experience, I felt like peers didn’t know what to say and therefore searched for reasons to try and make it ‘better’ and consequently ended up causing me upset.
Here are just a few examples of things that we heard when we lost our daughter.
“she’s in a better place”
“You can have another baby”
“She was too beautiful for earth”
“Everything happens for a reason”
I have been unlucky enough to experience both an early miscarriage as well as a stillbirth and that presented an entirely new variety of comments, such as:
“It’s not really a baby at this point”
“At least it happened early this time”
“It’s just like a heavy period”
Remember that book we talked about earlier? Everyone has one.
Try and think about the correct words to use and consider that not everyone finds comfort in the same things. if you simply can’t find the right words then simply say “I’m sorry for your loss” or “I’m here for you” -this is enough and means a lot.
Try not to avoid them
It takes a lot of courage for a bereaved parent to start going out into the world again. Sometimes it takes everything they have to even think about putting clothes on. If you see them out and about, don’t cross the street in fear of the heavy impending conversation.
I know this may be uncomfortable for you but try and find the strength to not treat them like strangers, because they need you now more than ever.
They may cry, but that’s okay and expected. YOU have not caused them this upset by talking to them- I promise you that.
Don’t compare experiences
Everyone’s loss is unique and comes with their own traumas and challenges.
Circumstances can be so varied, and no two losses are the same.
- Some people may find themselves unable to conceive easily and this may have been a long-awaited pregnancy.
- Some may have just been through their last round of IVF because they just can’t afford to do it again.
- Some may not have planned the pregnancy but have grown to love every single bit of it.
Regardless of the gestation of the child or the type of loss- the pain is very real.
Try not to underestimate their hurt, as their grief is entirely justified
You may be thinking now I know what to avoid… what do I actively try to do to support them?
If you feel like you can be brave and resilient enough to provide support, then offer it. A text, a call or a card saying they are in your thoughts is a bigger help than you would think.
If you do reach out, prepare yourself that they may not reply until they feel they have the strength to do so and that’s okay.
Do not take offence if you can help it, because I can guarantee they are just taking the day, minute by minute just to make it through until tomorrow.
Their world has been turned upside down and is now so much smaller and very challenging to learn to live with. Give it time. I promise you; it will be appreciated.
Speak their name
You may be scared to say their baby’s name in fear of upsetting them or causing them to think about them. But I assure you, they never leave our minds. Whenever someone brings up my child, or says her name, my heart beams a little. I feel comfort in knowing that she is not forgotten, and she is still very much a part of their lives too. If they feel comfortable sharing photos, or stories and this is something you feel comfortable with also, then ask to see their beautiful baby. Ask questions and hold them whilst they cry if that’s what they require.
I know that I personally found my daughter’s birth experience to be a shining light in a very dark situation and I wanted to talk about it when people gave me that opportunity.
On reflection, perhaps it made me feel more of a mum?
Remember their child on important milestones
One of the things that helped me the most and continues to help is when people remember my baby girl. When they include her name on cards, when they refer to her in conversation and when they reach out on very tough days such as: Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and birthdays.
From my experience, most people were incredibly supportive throughout the first weeks and months of our loss. Don’t get me wrong, some are still a huge support for us.
However, as unfortunate as it is, people’s worlds keep on spinning even when ours are standing still. We have just celebrated what would have been our daughter’s third birthday and sadly, fewer cards came through the door this year. Although we understand, we can’t say it doesn’t sting a little. If you take anything away from this writing, please let it be this piece of advice- be that friend whose support doesn’t diminish. Be that person who remembers milestones and reaches out just to check in. Keep their child alive in your hearts, as if they never left us.
This is an incredibly difficult journey, a bumpy ride to say the least. But with your support you can absolutely help them to feel a small amount of relief.
Be that friend we talked about; Remember you are awesome and appreciated.
Until we speak again, be brave, be consistent and be present.
Sending love to all the parents who have loved and lost, especially on baby loss awareness week.
For anyone who has experienced the loss of a baby, whether through miscarriage, stillbirth, neonatal death, or termination for medical reasons. Tommy’s offer support here.
Writer: Hattie Rydel
Instagram and Facebook: Hattienatalia