Experiencing the loss of a baby is one of the worst things that can happen to a parent. You go from planning out an entire future around this tiny little wonder to feeling like the world has been pulled out from under you. When I lost my daughter to premature birth, I thought I would never be OK again. It was wholly unexpected, it was my first pregnancy, and the shock was as strong as the pain. Surviving the loss of my baby has been the single hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. Even now, nearly four years later, I still mourn, and still have incredibly difficult days, the type that render me unable to get out of bed.
But throughout this dark, sad time, I have been able to take comfort in the words of a few. Close friends and family who were there for me were kind enough to support me during that difficult time, and continue to do so on the days when it turns out that it might never not be entirely a not-difficult time. I’ve even gained an extensive network of other loss moms who frequently have words of wisdom for mothers who have lost their babies. Many of them had miscarriages. Some experienced preterm labor, like I did, while others had stillbirths, or other complications that resulted in pregnancy and infant loss.
While I don’t wish this type of pain on anyone, I know that many out there will inevitably suffer from some similar tragedy. Because of this, I am frequently outspoken about child loss. If you have a friend or family member currently experiencing such a difficult moment, these are some words you can use that they may find comforting:
1. “I’m So, So Sorry For Your Loss”
This one is simple enough, and yet you’d be surprised at how many people don’t even bother to say this. Whether the person who experienced loss is someone close to you or not, don’t be shy about sending a message via text, email, Instagram DM, anything. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate message, just an acknowledgement that you’re thinking of them could mean a lot.
2. “What Can I Do To Help?”
There are so many ways you can help someone who is grieving the loss of their baby. You can start a collection to help fund any expenses they incurred as a result of the loss, or give them gift cards for food delivery services (because no one who is grieving will want to whip up dinner every night). Ask them what chores need to get done around the house that you can help with, or if they need something picked up from outside the home. And even better than merely asking what they need (which forces them to do the mental work of taking stock of what they need, and prioritizing it, and asking for it, which is a lot), maybe think of a specific thing to offer to do or get or bring. That way, you reduce their answer to a simple "yes" or "no." If you want to feed them, but don’t want to bother them, you can drop off some food on their front porch. Or, if you’re driving by and notice their weeds are out of control, maybe you can take an hour out of your weekend and mow their lawn without even knocking on their door.
3. “Is There An Organization I Can Make A Donation To In Your Baby’s Name?”
Every year, I walk in honor of my deceased daughter in the March for Babies (part of the March of Dimes). Many who have lost their babies participate in similar events or are actively trying to raise funds for the causes which address the reason they lost their children. In lieu of (or in addition to) flowers, ask if there’s an organization they might wish for you to support in honor of their babies.
4. “I’m Here If You Ever Need To Talk”
Grieving parents are often in need of a friend to talk to, but we often feel isolated due to the circumstances of our grief. While many people grieve, say, the death of a grandparent or pet, it’s much less common to have many friends who share the experience of losing their babies. Still, we are often in need of a kind and attentive ear to simply listen to us sort through our pain. Reach out to your friend, and even if they don’t respond right away, keep checking in on them periodically to let them know you’re thinking of them.
5. “It’s OK To Be in This Much Pain”
Many grieving parents frequently need to have their pain acknowledged, and to be told that it isn’t strange or unusual for them to be in such pain. Let your loved one know that they are doing just fine feeling what they’re feeling.
6. And On That Same Note: “Everyone Grieves Differently”
Some parents may grieve more openly than others. Some might be quiet about it and not want to discuss the situation. If they’re feeling any sort of guilt over the way they’re grieving, let them know it’s OK to do it their own way. There is no right or wrong way to go about this, and there’s no way they can predict how they will react to their situation. They might end up surprising themselves if they don’t grieve the “textbook” way, which in turn might cause them to feel guilt. Remind them that whatever they are feeling is normal.
7. “Don’t Feel The Need To Hurry Up Your Grief”
Sometimes there will be people (read: jerks) who will tell you that you’ve grieved your dead child for long enough. But unless you’ve been there, you have no idea what it is like. Parents who have lost their babies grieve them for the rest of their lives. And while you should certainly seek outside help if you are in a dark place for very long, you should also never allow someone else to make it seem as though you should not grieve your child however you do. Each person will handle their situation differently: some might feel numb at first and feel overwhelming sadness weeks, maybe even months later; some may grieve immediately and strongly, and for others, their grief may be a long, slow burn. Be patient with them — it’s going to be a long and rocky road.
8. “If Someone Doesn’t Understand Your Pain, Tell Them To F*ck Off”
Grieving parents often end up finding out who their true friends are once they’ve lost their children. True friends will be kind and understanding; false friends will try to force you to grieve as they would, or won’t acknowledge your pain. It's perfectly understandable if you want to cut the latter out of your life.
9. “This Is Not Your Fault”
The best thing anyone ever told me after my daughter died was that it wasn’t my fault, and that I should ignore the guilt that consumed me. In those first few weeks, my mind constantly played tricks on me, trying to figure out how her death was somehow my fault. But it wasn’t. Let your loved one know that this was something out of their control, and be prepared to remind them of this again and again.
10. “You Are — And Will Always Be — A Mother”
Just because your child dies doesn’t mean you are suddenly no longer a mother. A person becomes a mother from the moment they decide they will raise a child, and love them, and continues to be one whether they’re able to hold their babies in their arms or not.
11. “Did You Know That Your Baby’s DNA Will Always Live Inside You?”
This point requires a bit more explanation, but basically, a portion of the fetal cells of any babies remain in the mother long after they’ve left her body, as explained on National Public Radio (NPR). This includes any and every pregnancy, whether it ended in miscarriage or resulted in a live and healthy birth. These cells often go on to help the mother by turning themselves into muscle cells to make the heart stronger, liver cells, or even become neurons. I’ve known many a loss mom who found great comfort in this knowledge, that a physical part of their baby lives within them forever.
12. “This Pain Will Never Go Away, But You’ll Get Better At Managing It”
This is the truest statement when it comes to loss. The first few months for me were agonizing. I felt like I could barely breathe. Over the past few years, though, I’ve gotten much better at compartmentalizing that pain so that I can go on living a more or less normal life. They may not believe you at first, but this is better than being told “you’ll get over it” or “you’ll move on” because those statements just aren’t true. It may take more time for some and less for others, and you’ll always have some rough days throughout, but while time does not heal these wounds, it does make dealing with the pain easier and sure does help you learn to cope.
13. “I Love You So Much”
People don’t tell each other enough how much they love them. Let your friend in mourning know that you care for them, that you care that they continue to be around, that you love them dearly, that you will continue to be there for them, even if they keep trying to push you away. It really does help.
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