One in four women has suffered a miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant loss. One in four.
And yet, as a culture and in our communities, we struggle to speak openly about this painful reality. Far too many women are forced to endure the most tragic and traumatic experience of their lives without the support they need and sympathy they deserve.
I know. I’ve been there. I am a loss mom. I am a mom of five, but three of my children died in utero. Three times I have been told, “There is no heartbeat,” and my world turned upside down. Three times I went through the pain of contractions without giving birth. Three times a date on the calendar that I had anticipated with joy became only a painful reminder that no baby was coming home.
My experience of motherhood has been marked by suffering, surrendering my will to God’s, and accepting that to be open to life I must be open to loss — and to welcoming children I will never get to hold or bring home. Losing a child brings a deep and lasting grief. But it is a grief that can be consoled.
It’s likely you know someone who has experienced the death of a child before or shortly after birth, and you might not know what you can say or do. But there are things you can do to help, and there are words you can say that will bring healing instead of more hurt.
Here are five ways to support a couple or family going through loss:
1. Acknowledge the Loss
The single most important thing you can do is acknowledge that they are grieving the loss of a child, and the loss of a future they imagined with that child. Even if they never saw or held their child, they still lost a baby, a person, and you should respond accordingly.
Be there. Listen. Talk about the loss, about the baby. If the parents named their child, call the child by name. The worst thing you can do is remain silent or avoid the subject, thinking it will cause more pain. Acknowledge the loss, even if all you can think of to say is “I am so sorry. I can’t imagine what you’re going through.” This gives the family the freedom to grieve as they need to, and shows that you recognize the reality of their loss and validity of their sorrow.
2. Continue to Acknowledge the Loss
The grief of losing a child never fully goes away. It may lessen or change over time, but it is always there.
Let your friend or family member know that you are thinking of their baby, in the weeks, months, and even years after the loss occurred. Remember important dates, such as the child’s due date and loss anniversary, and reach out to the family in an intentional way on those days. If the child was buried, visit the grave and send a picture to the parents to let them know you visited. Continue to reach out and offer love and support whenever and however you can.
Personally, I find it very comforting to know that I am not alone in my grief and that my babies are remembered. Even a simple text or card that says, “I know today is a hard day. I’m thinking of you and [baby’s name],” is incredibly meaningful.
It is also important to be sensitive and supportive through subsequent pregnancies (both yours and theirs). Seeing other women making pregnancy announcements, having baby showers, and giving birth can be traumatic following a loss. Be gentle when discussing your own pregnancy or baby with a loss family.
Similarly, pregnancy after a loss can be extremely emotional and full of anxiety, even well beyond the date of the previous loss. Ask how your loved one is feeling about being pregnant again. Never imply that a rainbow baby will somehow replace the one that died, and continue to talk about that child, even after the birth of subsequent children.
3. Find Practical and Concrete Ways to Be Helpful
Going through a miscarriage or stillbirth is physically as well as emotionally exhausting. A woman must go through the pain of contractions, the act of birthing, and/or undergo surgery, all of which require time to heal from physically, while dealing with the emotional and mental suffering of the loss. These families need concrete support during this time. Don’t wait for them to ask. Just do something to help. Here are a few ideas:
- Go grocery shopping for them or bring meals (or send gift cards/have meals delivered if you live out of town).
- Stop by and do dishes, laundry, cleaning, or other chores.
- Tell them you’ll be coming over to babysit or to take children to a nearby park. This is especially helpful as many loss parents could use some time away from their other children to grieve more openly or to rest.
Always check in before stopping by, and don’t stay long unless your friend or family member wants to talk. But these practical things can be a huge help in the days immediately following a loss.
4. Avoid Hurtful Comments or Unsolicited Advice
No grieving parent ever needs to hear comments such as:
- “At least you know you can get pregnant.”
- “At least you were only a few months along.”
- “There was probably something wrong with your baby, and it’s good he/she didn’t have to suffer.”
- “You’re young — you can have more kids.”
- “When are you going to try to have another baby?”
Be sensitive in your conversation. Don’t talk about another baby or pregnancy, unrelated problems in your own life, or other topics that might trigger grief unnecessarily. Avoid any comments that imply the loss is somehow the mother’s fault. Don’t offer advice regarding how to avoid having another loss in the future or an explanation as to why consecutive losses may have occurred. Comments like these may not be meant to be hurtful, but they minimize a family’s suffering and end up causing more pain.
If you don’t know what to say, that’s OK. Just acknowledging the loss, being there to help, and expressing sorrow at the situation is more than enough.
5. Send Mementos or Gifts
If you’re in a position to do so, send the family something to honor their baby and let them know you’re thinking about them. I have very few tangible items that belonged to each of my babies, so those I do have mean the world to me. Here are a few ideas:
- Prints with meaningful quotes
- Memorial figurines
- Christmas ornaments
- Give to a charity in the child’s name
- Have the child’s name added to memorial lists or remembrance books
Having keepsakes like these around my home brings immense comfort. Each time I look at them, I feel closer to my babies. But I especially appreciate these gifts because when I see them, I have the assurance that someone else remembers and acknowledges my losses too.
Each of these things can be a wonderful support to families enduring the terrible pain of losing a child. If you know families, like mine, who have lost multiple children, continue to be there for them through subsequent losses. These families need just as much help and support, if not more, when they experience repeated losses.
Loss families need to know that they are loved, that you are weeping with them, and that you will never forget the children they never got to raise.
If you have lost a child, we grieve with you. We pray for your healing, and we hope for a child to come home and fill your arms. Know that you are not alone. We recognize the depth of your pain and the magnitude of your loss.
If you have supported a loved one through the loss of a child, we are grateful for you. It means the world to those of us who have lost children to have you honor and acknowledge them, to give us time and space to grieve, and to share in our lifelong sorrow.