13 ways to comfort a parent when their baby dies

Unfortunately many of us have joined an unofficial sisterhood of brave, strong and courageous women who grieve babies they’ll never hold {or held only briefly} this side of heaven. And others, thankfully, haven’t and never will.

Whether you’ve suffered this grief or not, you likely know someone who has, and it seems daunting to know how to best respond to people in your life who are hurting and grieving such a loss. Often, as we’ve grieved the loss of three babies lost during pregnancy and been there to comfort those who also grieve, we’ve heard friends and family admit:

“I don’t know what to say.”

“I wish I could do something more.”

People want to be a supportive when a loved one loses a baby, but they feel so helpless. Perhaps you’ve been in those shoes. Here are some words of wisdom from women who have been comforted and been the comforter in the wake of miscarriage and baby loss.

1. You don’t know what to say; no one does. It’s OK. Just listen. Be present. Simply, I appreciated when my mother-in-law sat next to me on the couch and just let me word vomit everything I was thinking, poignant and raw and real. Krista, a friend who experienced loss, said, “The most important thing anyone did was letting me talk about it. It felt like something no one wanted to listen to other than a few people, and being given permission to cry, talk, yell really helped me feel like it was OK to grieve.”

2. Don’t pretend like the baby never existed and the loss never occurred. My friend Tina remembered feeling very alone. “Most people didn’t really acknowledge the loss, and that was hard. I had one person who really let me know she was praying for me and remembered my loss at special/hard times. When Mother’s Day came around she hugged me and whispered “Happy Mother’s Day” in my ear. That small act of kindness was exactly what I needed just then, because I felt like a mother even though most of the world didn’t see me as one yet.”

3. Call, message or text without expectation of reply but with the understanding that it means more than you know. I fondly recall a message from a friend who was thinking of us often and texted us before bed on the second night acknowledging the hardness of the night past the first shocking one.

4. Check in during the weeks following because the grief is still flooding, but most have stopped inquiring. The six-week point seems to be a hard one for many women I know personally. My friend Kaila gave birth to Sam, who passed away a little less than an hour after he was born, shared, “The biggest thing for me was a month or two months down the road when everyone seems to be forgetting except you, to receive a card/note/message saying we were still being thought of. I have every single card we were ever sent.”

5. Meet immediate needs. My friend Sarah recalls, “The BEST gift I received the day I came home from the hospital after a D&C was my dear friend Meg caring for my oldest so my husband could be by my side all day. She brought our son home, fed, bathed and got him in his jammies … all I had to do that night was hug and kiss him.”

6. After meeting immediate needs, realize your loved ones might need a night out as spouses to process after the initial grieving and goodbye period or may need extra help with kids during the following weeks so mom’s body can heal. My mother came to our home and stayed for four days, caring for our boys while John and I processed and grieved our baby Selah, who died while in my womb.

7. Pray specifically and let your loved one know you are praying.

8. Don’t pretend to know why this happened and offer explanation. It doesn’t matter why it happened. It hurts. It sucks. And the why doesn’t make that any better. Don’t use clichés to console: “in a better place,” “wouldn’t have been healthy here,” “you can always try again,” “must have been something wrong.” These phrases have never helped me or anyone I know who has suffered a loss. Instead just say, “I’m here for you.” Or ask, “Do you want to talk about what you’re feeling or thinking?”

9. Ask if it might be helpful to share your own experiences. My friend Rachel said, “I remember other women coming forward and sharing their stories with me and that helped to have someone who experienced it talk about it with me. I feel like no one talks about this part of having a baby so, I felt alone until I heard these other stories. We aren’t alone and we shouldn’t be scared to talk about it.”

10. Don’t try to lessen the grief of losing a child by saying that at least you have {insert number of other children} to enjoy. It may be true that they do have other children to enjoy and love but different children. Each one counts. Each one is worth grieving or celebrating. One doesn’t replace another.

11. Ask to come over instead of waiting for an invitation and state your intentions. Instead of “do you need me to do something?” say “I would like to come to listen/clean up/bring you a meal/watch your kids while you nap. What time is a good time?” It’s nice not to have to think of ways people can help when the brain is already so overloaded.

12. Close friends and family provide comfort by remembering the first anniversary of the baby’s death or the due date. Those dates suck for parents because they vividly remind parents of what’s missing. Offer to give them a date night or just send text. Near the one year-anniversary of Selah’s death and birth, one of my friends texted me and said simply, “Remembering Selah.”

13. Use the baby’s name when speaking about him or her. Their lives counted, however short, and their names are important. Kaila, mother to Sam {in heaven}, and Mira, said, “Genuinely asking questions about Sam was a great thing because I got to talk all about him like any other proud mama!”

Important to note, I’m only able to write this post because during our three miscarriages the people around us have shown up and loved us in incredible ways, which was truly a ray of light during some really torrid storms, and because of some beautiful-brave friends who grieved their own babies weighed in with some incredibly helpful thoughts.

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