21 Jul Supporting a Friend Who’s Lost a Baby
There is almost no greater emotional devastation than the death of a baby. Whether it is a miscarriage, a stillbirth, or the result of a genetic disorder or medical complication, parents are left stunned and bereft. While far less common than they used to be, infant deaths occur in surprising numbers. According to the CDC:
- As many as 15% of known pregnancies end in miscarriage.
- 1% end in stillbirth
- And 5 out of every 1000 babies die before their first birthday
Our culture doesn’t do a very good job of honoring death and grief, so your mindful caring and consistent support provides a gentle light for grieving parents who are stranded in a dark place.
How To Help a Friend When a Baby Dies
Don’t let personal discomfort prevent you from being the friend you want to be. Parents who’ve experienced the loss of a baby or child often speak to the additional loss that occurs when close friends and family members “disappear,” due to their fear or unknowing of what to do.
Not knowing what to do is just fine. Your open heart and willingness to be there are the most important things you can offer.
1. Just be there. Period.
There are absolutely no words you can possibly say that will provide any comfort. A calm, quiet presence – expressing that you are here for them – is the most important thing you can do. This may mean you simply hold vigil with them as they cry or as they sit in their own baffled silence. You may even want to voice the idea that “there are no words I can offer…so I offer my unfailing support in their place.”
2. Resist the urge to express meaningless platitudes.
This continues what we started in #1. Silence is always better than saying something that shuts a grieving parent down. DO NOT SAY:
- Time heals everything.
- Everything happens for a reason.
- You can always have another child OR there are plenty of other children out there who need loving parents.
- Try to focus on the blessings in your life.
It is way too fresh to find any meaning in the death of a baby. As grief expert and author Megan Devine says in her book, It’s Okay That You’re Not Okay: “There is not a reason for everything. Not every loss can be transformed into something useful. Things happen that do not have a silver lining.”
This is a time to be present with what IS and not try to “fix” or “make it better.” That is futile and doing so will make your friends turn further into themselves and away from those trying to help.
3. Ask specifically what they need.
The needs of grieving parents are unique to their personalities, their family/friend dynamic, their beliefs (spiritual, religious, or lack thereof), and where they are in their own grieving process. Rather than telling them to reach out if they need anything (they won’t, they’re too deep in their sadness and anger), ask specifically: What can I do to support you right now?
The answer to that question will evolve over time but knowing you’re there to take up whatever needs to be done is a huge support. If they are numb or unable to think about daily tasks, ask specifically:
- Do you need help deciding or creating a ceremony to honor your loss?
- Can I take your child(ren) to school or pick them up?
- May I set up a carpool to help with your family’s extracurricular activities?
- Would you like me to fill-in-the-blank (do laundry, clean the house, do the dishes, shop for groceries?)
Setting up regular meal deliveries is always a help (especially if they have other children) because regardless of whether they want to eat or not, nourishment is essential.
4. Be present with your own feelings (and process them elsewhere).
Breaking down sobbing to the point your grieving friend must support you is NOT what we mean here. However, one of the reasons people struggle to support others in deep grief is because they have their own resolved issues around personal losses. Tearing up and sharing emotions from time to time is fine, but your #1 mission is to support your friend – not the other way around.
If you find yourself triggered by your friend’s miscarriage or the death of their baby, this is a good time to find a grief support group or connect with a therapist to help you process your emotions in a healthy and safe way.
5. Speak the baby’s name.
If your friends speak the baby’s name, ask if you can do the same. The absence of hearing a baby’s name or being able to hear others acknowledge the baby’s life makes it feel like others have forgotten or consider the loss less significant than that of a loved one who lived longer.
This process will continue forever. Ask any parent how old her miscarried or deceased baby would be now and they’ll tell you without hesitation. That spirit lives on, so be ready to talk about the love and loss months and even years down the road.
6. Connect with local support groups.
Miscarriage and the loss of an infant are specific types of loss. While general grief support is always helpful, most parents feel most supported when connecting with others who’ve experienced the same type of death. Look for miscarriage or infant death support groups in your area and offer what you’ve learned when the time feels right.
For most parents, this will be weeks or months after the actual death because they must work through their own feelings (not to mention general logistics of after death care, memorials, and daily life tasks) first. They may also feel more comfortable at first by sharing their story online.
7. Be patient.
Grief is not something you completely heal or “get over.” It is something you learn to carry with you. Deep and powerful feelings may arise at any time, and in seemingly incomprehensible ways. Be prepared to go the long haul with your friend. Five years or 10 years from now, s/he might have a really bad day and slip back into the grief abyss. Your ability to honor the previous 6 tips and stay strong is an invaluable gift.
As one of Dallas’s premier fertility centers, the Fertility Center of Dallas witnesses love, loss, and grief daily. We promise you have everything you need to support a friend who’s lost a baby, and we hold you and them in loving light.