October is Pregnancy Loss Awareness Month. Your newsfeed might be filled with Mothers and Fathers sharing that they have lost a child through a post, or by changing their Facebook profile picture or banner.
This type of movement for awareness is a powerful way to reduce stigma and raise awareness. It can also trigger hard emotions, both for those who have experienced loss (sometimes you just want Facebook to be a distraction, not a reminder) and for those who are learning of their friend’s and family member’s losses.
This post will explore helpful things to say to someone who has experienced pregnancy loss — so often we say nothing, because we struggle to find the words to say something.
The best approach for supporting someone through pregnancy/infant loss with your words is to be open and provide plenty of space for the grieved parent to speak, if they so choose.
Helpful responses to pregnancy loss or infant loss:
1. I am so sorry for your loss, I would love to hear about your baby, if you are able.
The standard “I am so sorry for your loss” is often the first thing we think to say.
This is a good thing to say —- and is made even better by following with a “I would love to hear about your baby, if you are able” This provides the parent with an opportunity to say more than “it’s ok” or just a simple “thank you” This opens the door for true sharing and connection, something that is often missing during a journey through loss and grief.
2. I would like to help. Can I <insert specific task>
Another standard response to loss is the phrase “I am here if you need anything.”
Have you ever been in a situation where you could use help, but you have absolutely no idea what might be helpful? Grief is all encompassing, and hinders our ability to think logically. Most likely thinking of something for someone else to do is too much work. A sincere, specific offer can be accepted or declined based on needs. Perhaps you could watch older children, cook a meal, clean the home, do some food shopping, weed the garden, or drop-off dry cleaning. If you offer and the family accepts, be sure to follow through.
3. I have also experienced loss. I know every situation is different, I am hear to listen. What are you feeling?
Families who have experienced loss have many commonalities. They also have many differences. Sharing that you have experienced a loss (if you are able) breaks the silence around loss and communicates that the family is not alone. Leaving space for differences in experiences respects the individual family’s journey and provides a space for story-sharing and healing.
4. What support systems do you have?
I see this question as a replacement for “Everything happens for a reason.”
Each family will draw on their own personal experiences, spiritual background and/or religious community. Each family will find their own way through grief, and part of the healing process is incorporating the loss into their life story and experience. Asking about support systems will open the conversation so the family can share what is working for them and where they might need extra assistance. Having support networks is important in the healing journey.
5. How is your partner/spouse?
A loss will effect the dynamics of a relationship. Societal pressure to continue on as usual can be strong. It is important to check-in about how the couple is doing as well as how the partner is doing. Males in particular are socialized to not show emotion. Support from other father’s who have been in a similar situation can help normalize intense feelings.
Points to remember:
1. Don’t assume. Pregnancy loss is a broad term and can describe a variety of experiences. Ask open-ended questions.
2. It is OK to not have answers. You are not expected to fix or solve anything. In fact, attempts to fix can create barriers to communication.
3. Be gentle with yourself — hearing about loss can be emotionally tiring. Take some time for self care, even if it is as simple as a quiet cup of coffee.
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