As we look around in the month of October, we see pink and pink ribbons everywhere – on TV commercials and the shows that we watch, all over merchandise at the stores, on clothing and coffee tumblers of the people we pass in public. Pink is everywhere, and for good reason. October is breast cancer awareness month, and 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with this awful disease.
But October is also pregnancy and infant loss awareness month, and the statistics of this are even more devastating. One in 4 women will suffer the loss of their pregnancy or infant. That is 1 in 4 women who will suffer a miscarriage, stillbirth, or death of their baby. 25 percent of women with babies they never met, never held, never brought home, or never got to watch grow up – it’s staggering.
I was 26 when I suffered my miscarriage. It was my first pregnancy, I was 12.5 weeks along, and the baby’s heart stopped beating. I was completely blindsided. I was one of the first of my friends to be in this stage of life, and I didn’t really know anyone who had been through what I was experiencing. Friends and family members were as supportive as they could be. That first week we had lots of flowers and sympathy cards sent our way. But as time wore on, the flowers and texts checking in stopped. Life had moved on for everyone but me.
The pain I was in, however, was still excruciating. So, I did what I tend to do when something hurts – I wrote about it. I do this as my own catharsis, but when I started putting these thoughts on social media, I was astonished at the number of women, and even men, who reached out to say they went through something similar. One thing seemed to be true for all of us who went through something like this – we felt alone and like we couldn’t talk about it. Over the years, I have also had a large amount of people reach out to me and say their loved one is going through something like this, what do they do and how do they help?
The fact is, it’s uncomfortable. It’s uncomfortable to talk about such heavy topics. But just because it’s uncomfortable does not mean we should not talk about it. In my opinion, it means we should talk about it even more. Because if someone is suffering and everyone else is too uncomfortable to talk about it, all of that pain and discomfort is left sitting inside the person suffering. That’s not healthy. It’s got to come out, so – let’s talk about it.
How do you support a loved one experiencing pregnancy or infant loss?
Talk about it
I cannot stress this enough. Talk about it. This is the probably the most important thing you can do to support a loved one going through pregnancy or infant loss.
I’ve heard time and again that people don’t want to bring it up because they don’t want to upset the person. I can almost guarantee you; the person is already thinking about it. The thoughts are permeating their every breath. In the off chance they are not thinking about it at the exact second you ask how they’re doing or checking in on them, they will still appreciate you making them feel seen and knowing you have not forgotten them, their baby, or their pain.
Another thing I’ve heard a lot of, is that people don’t want to say the wrong thing. So what do you say? “How are you?” “I’ve been thinking of you.” “I’m praying for you.” “I’m so sorry.” Or even, “There are no words.” These are all great examples, because you do not, I repeat, DO NOT, need to cheer them up. That is not your job, and it is not helpful. You just need to be supportive.
You could also ask them questions. Ask how they are healing after their pregnancy loss or ask them to share stories of their baby that passed. A good friend of mine lost her infant son, and I will always remember when she shared with me her fear that everyone will forget her son. Make sure they know you have not and will not forget.
Whatever you do, please, I’m begging, do not say things like “At least you know you can get pregnant.” “There will be other babies.” “They’re in a better place.” “It’s all a part of God’s plan.” You may be well intentioned with such platitudes, but they are not going to help the person you’re saying them to. In my experience, it hurts more than it helps. It feels dismissive to be on the receiving end of these statements.
Give them time
You cannot fix the person suffering. You cannot take their pain away. You can, however, just sit with them in their grief and pain let them feel what they need to feel.
There’s no set timeline on any of this and no two people will grieve or heal the same. So, even if you think they need to move on or see the “silver lining;” please remember it is not your loss, it is not your pain, and it is not up to you to decide when they should be “over it.”
Let your loved one process how they need to process, check in on them regularly, and let them take whatever time necessary to heal.
Keep checking in on them
Their pain will not be gone in a matter of days, weeks, or months. They will be hurting for a long time, even after the rest of the world has moved on.
So, keep checking in on them for months or even years afterward. Check in on them when birthdates and anniversaries approach. Dates like the anniversary of their miscarriage, their due date that never happened, the birthday of their baby, or the anniversary of their baby’s death can bring all their pain right back to the surface. Check on them in the days before and after these milestone dates.
Their pain will exist inside of them to some degree for the rest of their life. As a result, there truly is no “end date” to checking on them. No amount of time that has passed where they will not need your support in some way. Remember that, and remember them as the years go by.
In times of grief, we often ask “How can I help?” or “Let me know if you need anything.” We mean well, but there’s one problem – the person or people experiencing these losses often don’t know what they need. Their brains are shrouded in the fog of grief and they can’t see, let alone articulate, what would be helpful to them. It can also be hard to ask others for help.
So don’t make them ask, just show up for them.
Come over and sit on the couch and just be with them. Be with them without any expectations of being entertained or having conversation. Let them take the lead on this, but being physically present for them does so much and helps them feel less alone.
Some of us are not good at sitting still and need to do things, so do things for them. Think about their unique situation as well as what might be helpful to you during a loss, and then do that.
Do they have older children that need entertained? Create a care calendar to help them get through evenings and weekends and send it out to their friends and family. Send them a text that you’re bringing over a bag of crafts and activities for their older kids and then drop it at their door.
Is it fall and their leaves would need raked? Or the middle of summer and their lawn needs mowed and weeds need pulled? Tell them a time you’re coming to do it and then show up at that time and do it. Take as much off of their plates as possible to allow them the time they need to heal.
Speaking of plates, last but certainly not least –
Finding the time to grocery shop, cooking and cleaning up meals, and even remembering to eat can be extremely hard in times of loss. It all takes energy that their bodies don’t have to expend. So just feed them. You can ask if they have any allergies or dietary restrictions, or even if they have any favorite or least favorite meals. But after that, just bring food over at a time you know they will be home.
Casseroles and takeout are wonderful, but so are grief groceries. Grief groceries are items they can just grab and snack on or that require little to no effort to prepare. Items like frozen pizzas or lasagnas, ice cream, chips, cookies, cereal, or that gallon of milk they haven’t had the chance to go buy.
If you live too far away, send gift cards for takeout, or create a meal train signup and send it out to their loved ones who can bring food over.
The night of my miscarriage, one of my good friends dropped off a huge bag of takeout on my front step. It was enough to feed my husband and I for several days, and to this day, is one of the greatest acts of kindness someone has done for us. It has been over nine years now, and I still remember how loved and cared for I felt when she texted me that she just dropped food off. I never would have asked her to do that if she had simply said “Let me know if you need anything.”
There are so many ways to show up for our loved ones in their times of loss, and this list is certainly not all inclusive. I know there are lots of other ways to help out and support that I didn’t include, or haven’t even thought of. But, the most important thing is just showing up.