October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.
One in four women have had a miscarriage. Tens of thousands of babies in America die within the first year of life.
Chances are, you know someone who has experienced this type of loss.
So what do you do?
How do you help a person who has lost a baby when you can’t even imagine what they are going through?
Here are 5 ways you can support a loved one after a miscarriage of loss of an infant:
- Speak from the heart.
- Be patient.
- Cry with them.
- Don't compare losses.
- Remember birthdays and anniversaries.
1. Speak from the heart.
Easier said than done, right?
But so often, I see people trying to rehearse what they will say to a friend or loved one after a miscarriage.
It’s almost like they want to “get it right” so that they can help their loved one “feel better”.
News flash: YOU WILL NOT MAKE THE FEEL BETTER.
Sorry, it just can’t be done by your words alone.
But if you speak from the heart, saying things like, “I wish I could help you feel better, but I know I can’t. I just want you to know that I love you.”
Or “I can’t imagine how much you are hurting. If you need a friend, I am here for you.”
Just acknowledging that you love and care for your friend, and that you are not going to try to make it better, can go so far after losing a baby.
2. Be patient.
When someone experiences this kind of loss, there is no timeline of when they will “move on”. And you shouldn’t expect one.
Being patient with a friend going through this loss means checking in with them every once in a while, just to let them know you are here for them to talk if they need you.
It also means being patient when you are with them. The emotions surrounding a miscarriage or the loss of an infant are confusing and even incapacitating at times.
If you ask them a question, be okay if they sit in silence for a bit to process through.
Or if you are talking and then there is a lull in the conversation, allow the silent space to be there for them without having an expectation on continued conversation.
Sometimes, the silent presence is healing in ways you could never understand. Be patient.
3. Cry with them.
Yes, you heard me right. CRY.
Cry with them. Let them know that their baby impacted more lives than just the immediate family.
Sometimes we are afraid that if we cry, the friend may feel the need to comfort us instead.
Now, I am not saying that you need to be inconsolable and need them to hold you. Find a different space for your own grief processing if you need it.
But with the friend who just loss a baby, sometimes they fear that no one else loved their child, and that the child’s existence had less meaning.
By showing your tears, you let them know you feel for them and for their baby, too.
4. Don't compare losses.
DON’T. YOU. DARE.
Saying, “I can understand, I remember when my grandpa died….” Or my favorite, “I was really upset after my dog died, he was like a child to me.”
The loss of a baby is incomprehensible, that is why there is no term for a parent who has lost a child.
Don’t try to relate. Just try to be present.
5. Remember birthdays and anniversaries.
One thing many parents fear is that their baby will be forgotten. Like their baby never existed.
This is an extremely lonely feeling.
And they can be even more overwhelming because the parent does not want to bring it up with other people. They fear making the other person uncomfortable.
And no one could relate, anyways.
If you remember the birthday of their child, or the anniversary of the death of the child, AND you are the first to reach out, it will do wonders to your loved one's soul.
Believe me, they have not forgotten their child. You will not remind them.
You will be encouraging to your friend if you bring it up first, because they will know that their baby made an impact on this world.
Now, don’t do this in an inappropriate place (like in the middle of a big crowd or right before an important meeting), but send them a photo of the candle you light on the baby’s birthday, letting them know you remembered and are wishing their little one a happy birthday in Heaven.
One important thing to remember is when to refer your friend to a professional. Immediately after a miscarriage or loss of an infant, it is highly recommended that your loved one is connected with a counselor or a bereavement group for parents who have lost children.
If after some time has passed, and your friend has experienced a major shift in their personality (extremely depressed, hopeless, inability to get back to themselves), look into local therapists and counselors who specialize in treating grief and loss, in particular traumatic grief. Giving a list to your friend can ease some of the uncertainty with trying to find one on their own.
Losing a baby, having a miscarriage, is excruciatingly painful to a parent. Doing it alone is even more overwhelming.
You being present, you being open, you being a friend, will make more of a difference than you could know.
Thank you for caring enough about your loved one to support them through this difficult time.
Take care, friends!
Alisha Sweyd, LMFT