Anyone who has attended the birth of a baby has witnessed the magic and joy a family experiences when they welcome their newborn into the world. Regardless of how the birth unfolds, there is almost always an overwhelming element of hope in the experience. For the overwhelming majority of births, this is the case, but sadly there are times the birth of a baby is not the beginning of a lifetime of memories, but the end of a dream. The women and families experiencing this loss have a significant need for support. Many of us recognize this need, but struggle with how to provide it. While none of us can change a tragic outcome, there are many ways for friends and family to extend support, compassion, and love to those who are suffering a pregnancy loss or stillbirth.
While the majority of pregnancies result in a happy, healthy baby, at least 10% will end in miscarriage (loss before 20 weeks gestation) and about 1 in 160 births will end in a stillbirth (loss after 20 weeks gestation). A woman will experience her loss differently, depending on many factors including: her initial feelings about the pregnancy, how attached she had become to her unborn baby, the cause of death (if known), religious or cultural beliefs and more. Knowing what parents need during this time can help us to care for them in ways that encourage healing.
Parents grieve in many ways, so it is important to pay attention, listen, and follow their lead. By acknowledging that our only job is to be a comforting presence, it allows us to be with them in their grief without trying to change it. Letting parents know that we are willing to listen if they need to talk, can be as comforting as simply sitting with them in their quite moments.
While medical care providers and trained counselors offer a variety of necessary services, it is the friends and family members that will have the most contact and opportunity to support women experiencing a loss.
Many of us struggle with how to support those experiencing deep grief and pain. We worry about saying or doing the wrong thing. It is true that nothing we can say or do will change this tragic outcome for parents, but there are many ways in which we can offer the love and support that will sustain them through their experience.
Here are some helpful tips for offering healing support:
Things That Help
Listen and be comfortable with sitting in silence with them. It is ok to cry with them.
Talk about their baby if they want to and use his/her name.
Hear their stories, feelings, and experiences without passing judgment or offering advice.
Ask about a memorial a service and attend if invited.
Offer help with siblings or other family members.
Remember and connect with them on special days (holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, etc).
Things to Avoid
Please do not offer platitudes and clichés or explanations. These may seem true to you, but they are not helpful to a grieving parent.
Do not avoid the parents because you don’t know what to say or do. Simply sharing that we don’t know what to say, but are “here” for them is enough.
Do not change the subject when they talk about their loss. Be willing to listen as much as they need to share.
Do not criticize the care they received or how they handled their situation.
Things You Can Say
I am here for you.
I am willing to listen.
Do you want to talk?
What can I do for you?
Resources for Parents, Friends, & Family Members:
www.stillbirthday.com- This is a website providing extensive information for pregnancy loss and stillbirth. Information and support is provided for women experiencing loss, as well as for friends and family members.
Forever Loved (Enloe Hospital)- Provides support for anyone who has experienced miscarriage, stillbirth or newborn loss. (530) 332-7610.
www.nowilaymedowntosleep.org- This is an organization that provides free professional remembrance photography to parents suffering the loss of a baby.
By Sara Gordon, Owner of The Nest, Chico, to contact Sara please go to: www.thenestchico.com