Thea struggle is part of the story.” – Unknown
You dream your whole life of becoming a parent. You find someone you care about and decide to take the leap of faith into parenthood. You are absolutely elated when that pregnancy test reads positive; every waking (and sleeping) moment thereafter revolves around all things baby–clothes, accessories, a darling nursery, baby names, baby snuggles… And then you are crushed with devastating news. Tens of thousands of families across the United States are shattered each year by the death of their baby, yet their grief–and the value of their babies’ lives–are rarely acknowledged. Bringing more light and awareness of pregnancy and infant loss will increase the likelihood that grieving families will receive the understanding and support they need, and will also aid in improved education and prevention efforts that could ultimately reduce the incidence of these tragedies.
Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month in October covers a wide array of tragedy: Death that has occurred through miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, molar pregnancy, stillbirth, neo-natal death, birth defects, sudden unexplained death of a child (SUDC), sleep-related deaths including Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), illness, accidents, and all other types of infant and early childhood death. It is likely that you, or someone close to you, have experienced one or multiple of these losses. Here are ways you can be there to support your family member or friend through their loss:
- Remember baby. Attend the funeral. Use the baby’s name in conversations. Talk about him/her with other family members–especially younger children who may not have been around when the loss occurred. Remember them in the months and years to come. Call, send a card, offer to spend time with them, or visit the cemetery on milestone days (the baby’s due date, holidays, mother’s day and father’s day, anniversary of the baby’s birth/death date. The pain does not end with the delivery or memorial services.
- Perform an Act of Kindness. There are ways you can turn loss into good. You can print off cards that say, “In memory of baby gone too soon” (full page printable cards here), and you can leave them as you serve other people or perform charitable acts. You can add the infant as a star on the Star Legacy Foundation website. You can consider donating funds or items to charitable organizations in the name of the baby/family. There truly is so much good that can be done in the wake of indescribable tragedy.
- BE THERE. I have close friends and family who have experienced gut-wrenching child loss, and I have picked their brains to offer some suggestions. Everyone appreciates a warm meal, food, treats, etc. (DoorDash Dash gift cards are awesome for future use when the initial wave of support subsides). A huge help is childcare–taking care of the other children so the parents can grieve without the added guilt of failing their living children. Additionally, you can assist with house/yard work; I can guarantee you that no one wants to mow their lawn or shovel their driveway when they are living their worst nightmare. You could consider giving a meaningful keepsake or memorial item–flowers, photos, framed quotes, watercolor images of their complete family (including the child that passed), trees/plants, figurines, jewelry, and books (The Land Called Grief is one of my favorite children’s books on loss) are examples of items that can be a source of comfort, support, and remembrance.
- Share your story. Regardless of age, ethnicity, education, or career, no person is exempt from struggles in life. Maybe YOU are the one coping with child loss. Not only can it be cathartic for you to share your experience, but there may be people who would benefit from hearing your story. Talk about what happened to you–maybe just one-on-one with someone facing something similar, or maybe you post something online. If you are willing to speak out during Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, you may be surprised to know that you are offering hope and support to someone else.
- Talk about it. If you are not ready to lay your entire vulnerable story out on Facebook for all of your “friends” to see, there are still things you can do and say to share a message of support for those struggling with infertility and child loss. You could, for instance, share an inspiring quote or story. You could also share a fact or a statistic relating to pregnancy and infant loss. Use the hashtag #NeverBeStill. The aim of this movement is to break the silence surrounding stillbirth and other pregnancy/infant loss by educating the public about ways to support bereaved families. Talking about it is how you can start.
- What to say/what not to say: If you do not know what to say, tell them that! The honesty that their situation cannot be easily fixed is validating and indicates you respect the family’s emotions. Many of their emotions may be difficult for you to understand; let them know you cannot imagine what they are feeling, but that you love them and support them. I typically do not share lists of what NOT to say or do, but I would like to share some statements to entirely refrain from with someone who has experienced any kind of child loss:
- It’s probably for the best
- God only takes the best
- It would have been worse if …
- Now you have an angel
- You’re young and can have more
- This is just like when ….
- This is how God takes care of his mistakes
- There must have been something wrong with the baby
- Your baby is lucky to be in heaven
- At least he/she didn’t suffer
- Once you can ____, it won’t seem so bad
- You’ll be a parent someday
- At least you didn’t know him/her
- Give them/yourself time to grieve. Grief is a long, complicated journey that will not happen overnight. It will take significant energy and time. The parents and their families are required to create a new normal after their world has crumbled around them. It is unthinkable. Their devastation affects every aspect and every moment of their lives, so be patient with them. They will learn to find hope and joy in life again, but it will not happen right away. Remember that everyone grieves in their own way; even if individuals are grieving the same baby or the same circumstances, their reactions may be very different. Be patient. Give them time.
As parents dreamt about this baby, they also dreamt about sharing special moments as a family. Their loss includes the loss of these dreams. Some parents may have had little or no time with the baby while he/she was alive outside of the womb. However, parental attachment can begin as early as the first positive pregnancy test and the loss can be felt as if the child had lived for much longer. Regardless of whether parents are dealing with losing the idea of a child, or a baby they have had and held and loved for a considerable time, they need support, love, and acknowledgement. Whether it was your loss, or a loved one’s loss, let’s remember these babies, perform acts of kindness for the families, be there for the parents, talk about child loss more, avoid saying hurtful things, and give the family time to grieve.
Melissa Cluff is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist based in North Texas, providing face-to-face and telehealth therapy options to clients in Texas.
- 100 Inspiring Infertility Quotes
- Cluff Counseling: THE MANY FACES OF GRIEF IN INFERTILITY
- Cluff Counseling: HOW CAN I HELP?: SUPPORTING THOSE FACING INFERTILITY
- Michigan.gov: October 2022: Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month
- Star Legacy Foundation: Awareness Month
- Star Legacy Foundation: HOW FAMILY AND FRIENDS CAN HELP
- Undefining Motherhood: 5 Ways to Show Support for Infertility Awareness Month 2022