October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, and I am a part of this club no one ever wants to be a part of, and rarely talks about. Please note: if you have experienced pregnancy loss, this post may be triggering or painful for you. Please come back when you are ready.
My first miscarriage happened so early that I didn’t even know I was pregnant before I wasn’t. For that sweet baby, I grieved mostly alone. I felt so profoundly sad, but also like I didn’t deserve to be sad because the loss was so early. I didn’t share my feelings with many people, even my husband. After that, we were pregnant again and I was terrified the whole 9 months. He turned out perfectly healthy! When Hudson was one, I was pregnant with a baby girl, and I was 19 weeks when we found out we lost her. Jude’s 5th birthday is coming up this February, and I have been reflecting so much on her birth and the way that our friends and family walked through that loss so faithfully with us. You can read more about Jude’s birth on my personal blog. We now have 3.5 year old twins and feel like our family is complete (for now).
Did you know statistics show that 1 in 4 birthing people will experience pregnancy loss? One in four. That number is astounding to me. Over the years I have made connections with so many friends, family members, doula clients, and even strangers on the internet that have their own stories of loss. I have been honored to walk with some of those same people through pregnancy after loss as well. (Pregnancy after loss deserves its own entire post, so stay tuned!) This means that many of us, even if we don’t experience pregnancy loss ourselves, will have someone close to us go through it. I surveyed some friends and asked them to share the most (and least) helpful ways people supported them when they experienced their miscarriage or stillbirth.
Here’s 5 ways to help:
1. Talk less, listen more.
One of the biggest themes I noticed was that people were so appreciative of the friends that held space for them to be however they needed to be. When you’re grieving, sometimes you just need to know someone else is there, and you aren’t completely alone. Your friend might want to share about their experience and the baby they lost, or they might just want to talk about anything and everything but that. Your presence alone is so much more valuable than you realize! Some examples of things to say are: “I’m sorry.” “I am here for you.” “Tell me about them.” “How do you want to remember them?” “Can I do x, y, z for you?” “I don’t know what to say, but I’m with you.”
2. Get creative!
Your friend is in the process of changing in ways they don’t even understand themselves yet, but they are in most ways still the same person they have always been. When you’re thinking about how to comfort them, remember that thoughtfulness goes a long way! When I lost baby Jude, my sister-in-law, knowing my love of comfort food, literally had ice cream delivered to my porch. Another friend bought me a gorgeous coffee mug and a necklace to remember Jude. Even the simplest things mean a whole lot, because the pain feels a little more bearable when you can tangibly remember that you are seen, known, and loved.
3. Take the initiative to help.
Asking how you can help is always done with the best intentions, but chances are your friend doesn’t know the answer to that question. Their mind is a painful, jumbled mess and expecting them to tell you how to help them becomes just another added pressure. Look around, and just do helpful things! Clean, or hire a cleaning service for them. Organize a meal train. Cut their grass. Stock their fridge or pantry. Prepare freezer meals. Run a super cozy bath for them. Do their laundry. Run their errands. Respond to texts and calls for them. You can do this!
4. Remember their partner and kids!
First things first: partners are grieving, too. They also just lost a baby, and they often feel just as conflicted and confused about how to navigate this time. Be a listening ear, and take the pressure off of them wherever you can! Often, this falls into the category of taking over household duties and caring for the kids, so those are good places to start! Think of tangible ways to help, and ask them if they would like for you to take on those things.
Kids are so resilient, but no matter what their age, they are likely picking up that something is off with their parents. There are lots of ways you can help older children through this season. Take the kids out of the house for a while. It is refreshing for them, and allows the grieving parents to simply feel what they need to feel without the pressure of keeping it all together for their kids. Bring little gifts or busy bags for the kids so they have something new and fun to entertain themselves with! Choose their favorite meals so dinner is not a fight. And be available to listen and answer their questions if they are old enough to understand what is going on.
5. Be there for the long haul.
Last, but not least, remember that this is a lifetime loss. When the initial shock is over, the grief is likely to come in waves. Every year, on her birthday, I have a couple of friends that always text to let me know they’re thinking of me and remembering Jude that day. It is such a simple gesture, but it warms my heart so much! Say their baby’s name. Remember the baby’s due date, and reach out on that day. Recognize that there will be lots of firsts for the next year and those will likely bring on fresh waves of sadness and grief. Ask your friend how they would like to remember and celebrate their baby’s life, and participate in that with them, if they want!
5 Things to Avoid:
This is the suggestion that came up the most among my friends who have experienced loss. We all have painful memories of things people said with good intentions, but ended up stinging instead. The temptation, when we don’t have the right words to say, is to automatically fill the silence. Some examples are: “It just wasn’t meant to be.” “God has a better plan for you.” “At least you know you can get pregnant.” “You can always try again.” Though all of these things might be true, they certainly aren’t helpful, and they feel like rubbing salt in a very raw wound. Listening, asking questions, talking about other topics, or just being there with your friend will speak so many more volumes!
2. Unsolicited advice
Unless you’ve experienced pregnancy or infant loss yourself, please avoid giving advice! And even then, exercise restraint and caution. Continue caring for their physical needs while they are on this emotional journey.
3. Gifting books
I hesitated to add this one, because I do know there are extremely helpful books about grief, especially surrounding the loss of a child. But, what I can definitively say, is that your friend might not be ready for the books yet. So gift, but gift with caution and with absolutely zero expectation that they will read your book right away. And consider bringing a meal with the book, just to cover all the bases!
This goes along with number 1, but please don’t minimize their pain! Don’t tell them stories of people who have it worse off than them. Don’t start any sentences with, “at least.” Don’t tell them to move on. All feelings are valid, and the most helpful thing you can do for your friend right now is to validate those feelings.
5. Blindside with babies and pregnancy
For most people who have experienced pregnancy or infant loss, being around pregnant people and new babies right away can be really difficult. If you’re pregnant while your friend is experiencing a loss, they may need some space for a bit, but know that they still love you! If you are announcing a pregnancy, you might talk to your friend first, before announcing on social media, so they have time to prepare. Additionally, keep inviting them to baby showers, but let them know that the invite is coming, and that you understand if they aren’t ready to attend. Uncomplicated pregnancies and new babies are all around them, so give your friend lots of grace as they navigate grief and healing!
Each of my miscarriages completely rocked my world, but I can say that, without a doubt, having supportive friends and family around for the loss of Jude was so incredibly comforting. Even though it is hard and often awkward, show up for your friends that are grieving! Be there. Be consistent. Provide for their physical needs, and let them know they are not in this alone.
If you have experienced pregnancy or infant loss, we would love for you to share in the comments how friends and family have supported you! We see you, and we honor your babies gone too soon. You are not alone.