Note: This post discusses stillbirth and infant loss, and may be difficult for some to read.
This year on June 6th, my family and I celebrated and remembered our stillborn son, Max, on what would have been his 7th birthday. My grief is more at a distance now and with being on the “other side,” I wanted to share some of the helpful ways we have been supported over the years regarding the loss of our son.
Many of us have experienced loss ourselves or know a friend who has. No matter what stage of pregnancy or life that loss occurs, there are certain things people often say, that while meant well, can come off as dismissive, unsupportive, or just downright insensitive.
I wanted to pass along some thoughts on phrases to avoid and ways you can help during times of loss.
What Not to Say
Here are a few phrases to avoid saying to people who have just experienced loss:
“At least you can try again.”
“It happened early so at least you didn’t feel too attached.”
“At least you have other children.”
“Everything happens for a reason.” — just don’t. Like, ever. This phrase is by far the worst of them all.
These phrases are hurtful and diminish the grief and loss we are experiencing. The best thing you can say to a grieving mother is, “I am so sorry for your loss.”
How to Help
1. First, don’t be afraid to acknowledge your friend or family member’s loss.
I don’t always recommend this in a large public setting, but as grieving mothers we are already sad, so acknowledging our baby is supportive and helpful. As mothers of loss we always worry other people will move on and forget. We will never be able to forget, so don’t be afraid to simply say, “I’m thinking of you and your baby.”
2. Put your thoughts into writing.
Never hesitate to send a text, a card, an email, or make a phone call. Even if it is days or years after a loss. You might not get a response right away (especially with a very recent loss), but your effort can go long way. It can offer comfort and support in a world that continues to turn despite our heartbreak.
3. Show up.
When we were in the hospital birthing our son, who we knew would pass away, our church family coordinated freezer meals. When we arrived home, our freezer was packed full.
Food is such a generous and needed gift for grieving families. I don’t remember the first month or so after Max’s birth, but I do remember not having to cook and that was such an incredible gift.
Other thoughts are to send flowers, help with cleaning or laundry (depending on how close your relationship is), and other typical ways you would support a family who just recently had a baby.
Just because we couldn’t bring our babies home, does not mean we can just snap back into our previous lives or routines. And help with the small things can make such a difference.
4. Gift giving.
Many of the most cherished pieces of my son are gifts that have been given in his memory. Christmas ornaments with his name, jewelry with his initials, and even donations made in his honor, are some of the greatest ways we can feel that we are honoring our babies. Holidays can be times where our grief feels the strongest, so gifts that can be enjoyed year after year with their memory help us push through.