Trigger Warning: Miscarriage, Infant Loss
Everybody has their “stuff” to deal with. People you know well, people you casually know, strangers all around you, they all are working through something difficult in their lives at one time or another. For some, that source of pain is the loss of a pregnancy or of an infant.
People who have experienced this type of loss don’t always share it, even with those close to them. When they do share their grief, they are sometimes met with responses that unintentionally add to their suffering.
Well-meaning people say hurtful things because they don’t know what else to say, or they think that rationalizing the loss will somehow lessen suffering (it can’t). Often, they are trying to minimize their own discomfort about the loss. And sometimes they ignore it, or avoid talking about it, which can be just as painful for the grieving person as saying the wrong thing.
If you are aware that someone you know has suffered a miscarriage, given birth to a stillborn baby, or lost an infant during or shortly after birth, avoid saying iterations of the following:
Any attempt to rationalize their loss is destructive. It ignores and minimizes their emotions, hopes and dreams for the pregnancy, and their very real attachment to their baby.
So what should you say to someone who has experienced a loss?
First of all, there are no perfect words. Nothing you say or do will take away their pain. This is hard for some people to accept, especially if you are a person who is a “doer” or a “fixer.”
Second, all your words need to do is convey love and connection. A simple phrase like, “I’m so sorry” is enough to let someone know you care. You could also say, “I feel so sad for your pain” or “I love you and am here for you.”
They will hear the same messages from different people and your words will not be unique. That is okay. Again, the point is not to take away their pain (you can’t). The point is to express to them that you care. Validate the emotions they feel, and don’t try to explain them away.
Third, take an action, even a small one. A hand-written card, or a call or text days, weeks, or even months after their loss can bring comfort. Remembering to reach out around the baby’s due date, or on the anniversary of the day the baby was born or died honors the fact that their baby was real not just to them, but to the rest of the world, too.
Don’t be afraid of reigniting their pain by reaching out weeks or months later. They haven’t forgotten, and those anniversary dates can be especially difficult.
If you are very close to the person, you might offer to accompany them to a medical procedure, or help them make funeral arrangements. (Don’t just show up at the hospital or at their home— be sure to make sure your presence is wanted at any particular time.) Don’t take offense if they refuse your offer; allow them the space to make their own decisions on the type of support they need.
Other ways to help: start a meal train for them, offer to help with older children or pets, or run requested errands. The website stillbirthday has a list of ways to provide support here: https://stillbirthday.wordpress.com/familyfriends/
Some other points to keep in mind:
October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. If you or someone you know needs support after a loss, please contact me for help in finding the resources you may need.
Labor is often compared to a marathon. Both are lengthy tests of physical and mental endurance, with a payoff at the end. There are, of course, major differences. Like that payoff— the sense of exhilaration you feel as you are handed a finisher medal infinitely pales in comparison to meeting your child, who you created, grew in your body, and will love until the end of time.
You also can’t just quit the race and try again next year. Your baby will be born someway, somehow, and no matter how your birth transpires, you will be an active participant. Your participation will continue for weeks, months, and years, as you grow into your role as parent to this child.
One of the problems with the marathon metaphor is that unlike a 26.2 mile race, there is no real end to birth. Yes, you pushed out your baby, and the ring of fire is no longer, or your surgeon has made the final stitch and you are wheeled out of the O.R. to recovery. But in reality, your baby’s arrival is not the end game.
There is the very real work of healing, and learning to breastfeed, and your hormones rebalancing, and your life looking like something very different than what it once was. Forever.
There’s this new little human being already growing and changing at every moment.
There is the eternal spring of elation, and surprise, and discovery that having kids opens to you.
There is the change in you, unrecognizable at first because all you see is the bags under your eyes from lack of sleep, or the engorgement of your breasts, or your unwashed hair. But it’s there— a confidence and knowing that snakes its way into your being, until one day you are flipping pancakes one-handed, with a toddler on your hip while you field a business call, and realize you are capable and strong and a mother.
Labor, birth, postpartum, parenthood— it’s messy and hard and joyful and gratifying and exhausting and every single emotion you've ever felt amplified. Before this experience, there is really nothing to compare it to, which is why we grasp for metaphors, like the marathon, to describe what cannot be fully understood until we experience it ourselves.
Birth is the beginning. You cross the finish line and never stop moving, you never stop learning and growing. You get to hold a little hand in your own and learn to walk together. That’s the real payoff.
I am a certified labor doula and professional postpartum doula serving clients in Boise, Eagle, Meridian, Nampa, and the Greater Treasure Valley.
Learn more about how I can help you prepare for your "marathon."
I've worked in the forest, in the lab, and in an office cubicle. My favorite and most passionate work has been alongside clients as they reach inside to find their innermost strength, and give birth to their babies. Each birth is an honor to witness.