Wednesday, July 22, 2009

What to Say When Someone Loses a Baby

Even if you have been spared the heartbreak of losing your baby, you know people who have lost theirs or will suffer such a loss in the future, and it's good to know what to say when it happens. People said some REALLY stupid things to me when I lost my babies. So, in the interest of helping you avoid being that really stupid person next time someone suffers a loss, here's my list of the Top Ten Really Stupid Things People Say When You've Lost Your Baby:

10) Don't tell me the story of how you (or someone you know) once had a miscarriage at 4 weeks along and how disappointing it was even though you didn't even know you were pregnant and in fact weren't even "trying" and immediately after that you got pregnant (with TWINS!) and everything was perfect and wonderful. I hate that story.

9) "It wasn't time." I've heard this one a lot. It's like saying there's some pre-destined date (set by God presumably) like ... June 2014. And if I even dare try to have a baby before then it will always end in disaster - because it wasn't time. God does not micromanage our lives in this way. This one is particularly annoying when you say it to someone whose biological clock is winding down fast due to age or health problems. Please ... think before you say something so stupid.

8) "God doesn't give us more than we can handle." Look around - LOTS of people have more than they can handle. If you're not one of them right now, be thankful and refrain from spouting useless platitudes.

I'm also not fond of "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger". Sometimes what doesn't kill you just makes you wish you were dead.

7) "Things happen for a reason" This one I find a little less annoying because it's true - things DO happen for a reason. In my view, the reasons or causes of tragedy (cancer, car accidents, whatever it may be) should be studied with the objective of finding the root cause so we can try to prevent them or minimize their damage. Of course, that's not what the well-meaning people who say this are driving at, but let's at least give them credit for not being flat-out wrong.

6) "At least you have other kids"   Any comment that is prefaced by the words "at least" or "just" is one that minimizes the situation.  To me, this particular comment is one of the worst. It implies that I'm not grateful for the children I have. Believe me, I am. I have never had the luxury of taking fertility or my children's lives for granted. Just because I have living children doesn't mean I don't miss my children who died. In fact, having living children means I know exactly what I'm missing out on.

5) "You have an angel waiting for you in heaven" I don't believe anyone can say this with certainty. I know I can't. I'm not aware of any religion or sect that has a clear doctrine on the status of miscarried/stillborn children, and even if there were it would make no difference unless that doctrine were actually true. There is definitely no clarity on this issue in my faith, which has made everything just that much harder for me.

4) "He/She's is in a better place" Lots of people like to say this, but it's really more appropriate for situations where the deceased was very elderly and/or in severe and prolonged pain without hope of recovery. And even in these situations I'm not sure if the bereaved family would appreciate this sentiment. I know people mean well when they say it, but is my family really such a horrible place for my baby to be? Yes, this world is an awful place - and that is why we need little children to brighten it up! Stop and think about how you would feel if your child or children were in "a better place".

3) "You're young, you can have another" This one is very upsetting to me. First of all, babies are individuals and cannot simply be replaced. Secondly, no one, no matter what their age or health status can be assured of having another one. And the very distressing fact is that women who lose babies are the ones most likely to lose MORE babies. You almost certainly don't know the whole story about the cause of the loss, the woman's age, fertility, or health. You should never say this to anyone.

2) "Just adopt" There's no "just" about adoption. It's a long, expensive, invasive process and there are many things to consider before "just" going down this road. More on this later...

1) "You're not going to try again, are you?" *sigh* Kind of makes me miss Stupid Comment #3. Don't think there's any hope for me? Keep it to yourself. I have all the discouragement and despair I need already.
Hope may not be warranted at this point

Whew...now that we have that cleared up, let's focus in on What to Do When Your Friend Loses a Baby:

1) Assume nothing. Listen and find out what the situation really is from your friend's perspective. Is she disappointed? Depressed? Devastated? Traumatized? Your perception is not necessarily reality. Find out what the loss means to your friend and act accordingly.

2) You can't go wrong in saying "I'm sorry for your loss".

3) Send a card or even flowers, and remember this is a loss for both parents.

4) If you say you're going to do something (call, visit, etc.) make sure to do it promptly.

5) Watch your language - For later losses where the gender is known, use "he" or "she" rather than calling the baby "it". If the baby was given a name try to remember it and use that.

6) Resist judging your friend's reaction to the loss and comparing it against what you imagine yours would be. You may think that after two weeks, or two months, or two years your friend should be "over it". You may think that their grief is out of proportion because the baby was so small. If so, you may be in danger of saying Something Really Stupid. Better go back and review above.

7) If you know the person well, consider finding a thoughtful gift so the parents can have something tangible in memory of their baby. Some ideas: a nice frame for footprints or pictures, a plant, a blanket, a parent/child figurine, a memory book, a necklace or bracelet, something you made yourself, or plant a tree in memory of the baby.

8) Please, please, please be a friend instead of just avoiding the person! Don't know what to say? Then say "I'm sorry, I don't know what to say."

9) Just listen. I know my story is not fun to hear, but it helps a lot if someone takes the time to really listen and care instead of just shutting me down with a comment that minimizes my pain or suggests there are easy answers.

10) Reach out to your friend at especially hard times such as the baby's due date, holidays, or the anniversary of the death. Call or send a card/email.

5 comments:

Lori said...

I guess I never looked at this because I sort of figured it would be similar to what I've often thought in my head (and maybe written!)...and it is...sadly, though, I have to say that it breaks my heart if some of these things have been said to you because even though I agree they shouldn't be, I've (so far) not had some of them said. Thank God.

I relate to *the story*. Quite a bit different than holding your dying son in your arms (John, not me) knowing he was perfectly healthy and beautiful and some FREAK thing (so they tell you) stole him. Very different.

Who are people to say it was or wasn't time? Last I checked, no way to know this either.

While I believe that God may not give me more than I can handle (or at the very least, is with me in all of it), it does NOT make me feel better. I don't want it!

How does telling me that things happen for a reason help me or comfort me? If one is going to tell me that, I feel like they are then obligated to tell me WHAT that reason is. And it better be good.

I don't like the angel in Heaven statement either. For me, in my faith and my theological beliefs (and they are mine, of course), God created angels and God created humans. Dying and going to Heaven does not turn one into an angel. Term of affection or endearment? Certainly. Actual entity in Heaven, not so sure of...as far as whether or not babies go to Heaven--you are right in that there are so many differing doctrines. I read "I'll Hold You In Heaven" and that was somewhat helpful but found "Safe in the Arms of God--Truth about Heaven when a child dies" more helpful...helpful in just giving me some scriptural references vice the stuff people want to say because they want to believe it.

And just adopt. Yeah, been there, tried that...failed and bought the very, very, very expensive dossier and heartache, thanks.

Good tips for lots of people to read and take to heart!

Sarah S said...

thank you so much for sharing this. I know people who have lost children and I am always afraid of saying the wrong thing.

One day she shared this with me:

"The mention of my child's name may bring tears to my eyes, but it never fails to bring music to my ears. Let me hear the beautiful music of her name. It soothes my broken heart and sings to my soul."

From then on I always tried to mention his name whenever I spoke of him.

Michelle said...

Thank you for sharing! It helps to know what encouraged you during your time of grief so that we can support others.

ariyah said...

Thank you for sharing this!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this enlightening information. I am psyching myself up to go and see a friend who has just lost her baby (not forgetting daddy) and I wanted to make sure I did not say the wrong thing, this has helped. God bless you and keep you and your family strong, after your loss, also.
Sam (UK)