This is for anyone who is supporting someone through a loss whether or not you have had a loss yourself...
This is a big topic among my coaching clients because they love their family or friends and truly want to be happy for them but they feel so much jealousy because they want their own baby, and guilty for not being able to share in their excitement. (oh, there's that guilt word again that baby loss mamas are so familiar with) We work on getting to the root of that jealousy and guilt to find out how to deal with it better. There is almost no one that will not face this situation at some point following their loss so creating a strategy of how you will handle it is really helpful. The statistics are that 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage as well as 1 in 100 stillbirths so I'm going to give you some ideas of how you can use your loss to help and encourage those you love through their hardest days.
It was 2 months after my twin girls were stillborn when my friend, Ashley announced her pregnancy (somewhat sheepishly) to me. She was naturally afraid of what I would say or how I react, but in my true form, I painted on the happiest face and gave her the biggest congratulations only halfway meaning it. Don't get me wrong-a mean girl I am not... but while she was rattling on about having to upgrade to a family car from her sporty 2-door and how she was buying things for her nursery I listened with excitement and jealousy while thinking "you better not get too ahead of yourself- you never know what can happen" in the back of my mind. See, people who have suffered the loss of a baby have a very guarded heart about these things and we know all too well that life can change in the blink of an eye, or a sonogram screen. I suppose it makes us cautious and maybe not the best cheerleader to have in your corner if you are a friend who is newly pregnant. It's hard to share in someone else's vision of a new bouncing baby or tell them that things are going to be alright, and you're sure nothing like what happened to you would ever happen to them when you have been completely blind-sighted.
Things went along pretty well for Ashley and I became more comfortable with the idea and the jealousy subsided. I knew she was cautious with me as she told me the details of her appointments and I was careful not to say anything that led her to think that I envisioned any other outcome except the one where she had her sweet baby in her arms. I was genuinely happy she brought me along in her journey and didn't exclude me from her happiness even though she was cautious to not trigger me.
She got to 16 weeks in her pregnancy then like so many of us heard the worst 4 words ever spoken: "there is no heartbeat". And did I ever feel guilty... It's not in my nature to say "I told you so" or "see- I was right" but there was such a mixed bag of emotions it was really hard for me to sit with them. I was heartbroken for her because I knew the pain of all the dreams that were lost at that moment and what lay ahead for her. Again, she timidly told me the news knowing I would understand but in fear that it would send me spiraling downward into grief again. But I knew this was my time like no other to show up for her and be sure that my baby's death was used for good. If there was anyone she needed right now it was me, and I made sure she knew she wasn't alone.
When the loss of a pregnancy or loss or stillbirth occurs to someone close to you you are in a unique position as the person who has walked this path already. You are able to swoop in with all the things you know would be helpful and say all the things you know they need to hear because you know better than anyone what it's like to walk in their shoes. But how do you do this without getting triggered yourself? That's the hard question. I still to this day, and its been 22 years since my babies loss, feel a pit in the bottom of my stomach that makes me feel for sure that it is my heart that fell down there in a lump, the minute I hear that someone close to me has lost their baby. That terrorizing feeling can come back to me in a second but then I know it's time for me to get to work. Whether you believe in God or have different faith that guides you I believe that God puts his worker bees on the ground for times like this and my loss was the training program for it. I know that I'm not alone in that- those of us who have suffered this will see to it that we help ease the suffering of others.
If you are in this situation, whether or not you have ever faced a baby loss yourself, here are some ideas that are helpful to anyone suffering a loss:
Don't say the things...
You know the things...and I doubt you would. If there's one gift I got out of the whole experience is that I hope I never uttered an insensitive word again to someone dealing with any kind of loss. Many friendships are forever changed after you experience your own loss so if you have gotten to this point with your friend there has already been lots of understanding and compassion between you.
Don't stay away. Don't stay silent in fear that you will trigger her. DO take care of yourself though and be sure you are in a space that allows you to support her, but there is something healing about it if you are able.
What should you say instead? Here are a few ideas:
I'm sorry. (period. You can add... that you're dealing with this if you feel you need to but it's not necessary)
I'm here to listen when you feel like talking
I want you to know I've been thinking about you
How is today going?
At any time these reach outs are appreciated. Whether it's been one day or one year, it's always a great time to reach out. And use the baby's name. It is more meaningful to say " I was thinking about you and _______today and I am wondering how you're doing?"
I found this great quote that says:
“If you know someone who has lost a child, and you’re afraid to mention them because you think you might make them sad by reminding them that they died — you’re not reminding them. They didn’t forget they died. What you’re reminding them of is that you remembered that they lived, and that is a great gift.”
Share your story
There is nothing more comforting than seeing that you are not alone on the loneliest journey on earth. It feels like a life raft being thrown at you right at the time you can't tread water anymore. Tell your story and all the feelings that came with it. Share photos of your baby and look at hers if you're able. Can you imagine sharing your photos with someone to who you didn't have to give a disclaimer first about how they look? Everyone is so happy to tell their birth stories (if you've ever been to a baby shower you know what I mean!) but almost no one shares their loss story. If you can, I promise it will be as comforting to you as it is to them. I have had a few experiences in the last few years where I have spent some time with some work colleagues where I was able to tell the whole story and every time I did, I am shocked that I was able to live through it all and still be standing, and they saw me for a much different person than who they thought I was. I promise it is an empowering experience and a blessing when you find others who are willing to listen with an open heart. I always think it's a similar feeling to the stories we may tell about things our other children have done or said and it feels like we are speaking their existence into the world. It's so healing for everyone and shares a part of who you authentically are.
Offer to Help
As you know it may be a while before they dare to walk the aisles of a grocery store or do a Costco Pickup. Can you send a text asking if they need something picked up? Or better yet just make some assumptions of things they may need and drop them off. Wouldn't it be nice to find a bag of female necessities at the door? Or some basics that are enough to throw a simple meal together? If they have other children offer to take them or come over so she can take a rest. I think the key is to just act. Do something without overthinking it. Everyone says "let me know what you need" or "what can I do"? But the truth is they have no idea. They are just trying to breathe so anything you can do will be appreciated.
Give a special gift
You know how meaningful it is to have someone remember your baby and a sweet memory gift would be the perfect thing to give to the newly grieving parents. What gifts, if any, did you receive that was thoughtful or meaningful? Maybe a special ornament or keepsake that they can look at to be reminded of how you supported them. A book that helped in your healing? My husband had an insurance agent we were working with at the time who made house visits and she came with a gift from her 9-year-old daughter that was 2 sparkling star candles and she wanted her to give them to us in remembrance of our 2 baby girls. That's parenting done right! I have them in a cabinet in my living room and think of the babies as well as that sweet little girl and her brave mama for telling our story and helping foster kindness is something I'm sure was very hard for her to understand.
Have Compassion for Yourself
You are likely to feel all kinds of emotions during this time and allow yourself to be OK with the guilt that may come up for any thoughts you had prior to their loss. It's normal and grief makes us do and think unpredictable things. This friend has just joined the worst club that no woman ever wishes to be in and you now possess a gift of understanding that only someone who has lived through this can have.
Jennifer Senn is a Pregnancy Loss Recovery Coach who helps women who are struggling after the loss of their baby heal and move forward so they can live a life full of possibility again. You can contact her at email@example.com and visit her website at jennifersenn.com