You have recently found out that a close friend or family member has lost a baby and you want to help and show her that you care. You can see her suffering and you want to bring some relief, but how can you support her without making things worse?
We would love to eliminate the suffering of our loved one, but unfortunately, that is impossible. What we can do, however, is walk through it with them and we can show them that we are there and that we care. Understanding something of the struggle they are going through is helpful too.
Below are some practical things that can be helpful to support a friend or family through pregnancy loss. Tailor them to your friend because you know her, and be sensitive to what she tells you. Know that she probably does not feel herself right now and may not be able to communicate her needs to you, because she doesn’t know them herself.
Here are 6 ways friends and family can help support a grieving mother:
1. Just connect.
Often it is not so much about the what, but the fact that the person reached out to connect and show they care. And more than once. Those friends who kept asking me ‘how are you doing today?’ and ‘can I bring you a meal today?’ more than once were the ones I knew really cared. It may have been a regular email or text message to reach out or a simple ‘I’m praying for you’ or ‘I’m here’, but those who reached out regularly and didn’t expect me to be fine within a day or two were the people I also felt able to talk to a little bit later in the grieving process.
2. Don’t ask for them to make unnecessary decisions.
Whilst there are some decisions that are important for a grieving mother to make, however hard they may be, some daily decisions can be incredibly overwhelming. It can be much easier for a grieving mother to accept help, say with a meal, if you say, ‘I would love to bring you a meal this week, if that’s okay? Would Monday or Tuesday night work best?’ rather than just saying: ‘when can I bring you a meal?’ Equally, rather than asking ‘what would you like me to bring?’ it can be more helpful to say: ‘can I bring you some chicken salad or a lasagna?’ Giving grieving families options can help them feel in control of small elements of their life without the decision-making process being overwhelming.
3. Be a listening ear.
You don’t need to understand pregnancy loss to be a listening ear. Even though I have been through 4 losses myself, when I recently accompanied a close friend through her miscarriage and medical procedure, I had long hours where I wanted to say something to make her feel better but I knew that I wasn’t able to do that. What I could do, however, was just be there, hold her hand and ask her: ‘how are you doing emotionally right now?’ or ‘tell me how you feeling right now’ at different points. She was then able to share her struggles and thoughts. Be ready to hear some things you didn’t expect and a strength of emotions – there is a great injustice that is felt after pregnancy loss and the feelings can be strong. The strength of emotions can often feel shocking to a grieving mother, let alone to you, but allowing her to express them often helps her to move through the emotions and come to terms with the loss.
4. Acknowledge the child is valuing the child.
You may have noticed that I have used the term ‘grieving mother’ in this article. Even if the child was the first child, the woman you are trying to support had become a mother. Society may not recognize her as such, but her heart had been made a mother and she has a child which she values. It is difficult to acknowledge a child that you have never seen but know that the grieving mother will not have just seen a lump of cells, but her child. No matter how early the baby was lost, she may have already placed a stroller or baby clothes in her Amazon cart or dreamed about whether the child would be a girl or a boy. I had one friend after my first loss who made a note of the date of my miscarriage and send me an email acknowledging and celebrating my child one year later. I had felt that I was unreasonable to acknowledge my loss at that time, but her email showed me that I shouldn’t have been ashamed of my loss, but that my child was valued and loved beyond my heart. Ways that you can acknowledge the child may be by giving a thoughtful gift or by doing something to honor and remember that child, like planting a tree, writing or sharing a song or poem with the mother.
5. You don’t have to have answers.
Don’t feel you have to say something to make the grieving mother feel better – it won’t work and may make them feel worse. Saying things like: ‘at least you know you can get pregnant’ or ‘at least you have other children’ or ‘don’t worry, your child is safe in heaven now’, are all things that grieving mothers often hear after pregnancy loss but which are painful not comforting because they carry a sense of ‘you shouldn’t be finding this loss so painful- get over it’. Instead, simply saying ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘how are you feeling today?’ or ‘I would love to take you out for coffee’ or ‘I would love to watch your children for you tomorrow afternoon’, are ways that you can show your love and support and recognize that it will take time for the grieving mother to heal. Grieving mothers need support – think of it as people coming alongside and holding them up – not people who tell them they can already walk alone already.
6. Tell them that what they are feeling is normal and it is usual to feel strongly about pregnancy loss and to feel unsettled.
It is normal for raw grief to take weeks and for strong feelings of grief to still be present at particular occasions even years after a loss. Having strong emotions, especially ones like anger and jealousy after pregnancy loss can be frightening and feel shameful to a grieving mother, but they are a normal part of grief. Rather than trying to counter or diminish the strong emotions a grieving mother feels, be a safe place for her to express those feelings. Sadness is only one part of pregnancy loss grief and many emotions are ‘normal’. Check out the article: ‘Why you need to know the emotions associated with pregnancy loss’ for more information on normal emotions.