Thank you so much for caring enough for the bereaved parents to take the time to read this brochure. Your support and understanding is important and can make a difference as parents manage this difficult loss.
"Hearing other people use her name was so lovely - it meant that we were not the only ones who loved her." Maria
"An old friend called and told my husband he truly didn't know what to say, but when he heard our news it broke his heart. I loved that he told us how he felt." Anna
"Some friends bought flowers on James' anniversary - we thought everyone had forgotten him." Patrick
A tragic time
If you know parents who have experienced the death of their baby, you need to understand they will experience a wide range of emotions that may be frightening and confusing - to you and to them. They may feel lost, alone, isolated, angry, guilty, worthless, cheated. These emotions can be almost overwhelming but are a normal part of their grief journey.
Just being available for your friend or relative can make a huge difference. Listening to them without judgement, and with genuine care and concern can be exactly what is needed.
It will also help you to understand and support them over the next year or more as they go through their journey of grief. The behaviour and emotions they express may not always seem rational or logical to you, but will be make sense to them. It may seem that they have become different people, but be reassured that they are grieving in their own way.
What the parents are going through
Experiencing the death of a baby is the beginning of what can be a very lengthy grieving process. There are likely to be many ups and downs. At times it might feel like things are getting better only to have something trigger the pain all over again. Think about what it is like to burn your hand on a hot iron, for example. The initial pain is excruciating while you plunge your hand into cold water, blow on it and hold it upright. After a time a scab will start to form which can be easily irritated. If it is scratched it will bleed but will eventually form a scab again. After a time a scar will form and may not be easily visible but sometimes when it is cold or bumped it will hurt once again.
People grieve in different ways, you can't expect the parents to 'get over it' quickly because you think they should, or because someone else seemed to. It can take many months or years to come to terms with the death of their baby and this is perfectly okay.
Mothers and fathers
Men and women often grieve very differently, and many couples find this hard. In general, women will to talk about their baby a lot and may want to go over his or her birth and death repeatedly. Don't be concerned about what you may view as an obsession - this is simply one of the ways that women tend to grieve. Men, on the other hand, generally don't express as much emotion after the initial acute stage of grief has passed. This doesn't mean that they have forgotten about their baby or are behaving in a callous way - they may do physical things like gardening, car washing, or building things instead.
There is no such thing as 'a replacement baby' - having another baby will not take away the hurt. Families and friends sometimes expect that once the couple are pregnant again and have a healthy baby that all will be well. The reality is that the couple may feel a resurgence of the grief they originally felt. Don't dismiss their fears by telling them it will be fine this time or not to worry. Support them by listening to their feelings and talking about how they can lessen their anxiety. They have first hand experience of the fact that some babies die and they may be very anxious during their pregnancy and while their baby is young.
How you can help
- Be a shoulder to cry on in the weeks and months following their baby's death. Many parents need to revisit their baby's death many times, and it is important that they have someone who cares to talk to.
- Use their baby's name when talking with the parents. This shows that you see their baby as an individual and will honour the memory of their child.
- Offer to help with meals, babysitting and housework. Don't expect them to respond to a general offer like "let me know if you need anything". The parents may not initially accept your offer, so don't be offended and offer again at another time. If they do accept your offer of help, please don't take over.
- Be open in expressing your feelings about their baby. Parents need to know that the death of their baby has affected you also. As time passes, remember to keep asking them how they are.
- Accept their feelings regardless of whether or not they seem rational to you. Parents need to know that they have someone to talk to without having to rationalise their feelings or feeling they are being judged.
- Allow them to express their feelings of guilt, anger and blame. These feelings are often a normal part of grief and may be difficult to work through if others do not accept them.
- Realise that they may find it very difficult to be around new babies or pregnant women.
- Remember the father. He too is grieving, but is often overlooked. He may have difficulty expressing his emotions while he is trying to stay strong for his partner and family. Give him permission to grieve by asking him how he is going.
- Remember important days. Birthdays, anniversaries, Mothers' Day, Fathers' Day and Christmas are special times where the parents may need extra support and comfort. You could send a card, make a phone call, or donate to a charity in memory of their baby. The parents can be comforted in the knowledge that their baby lives on in the hearts of others.
- Offer to help with the care of their surviving children. They may find their grief exhausting and may not have much energy left for parenting. On the other hand, some parents find it very difficult to allow their children out of their sight and may be very fearful of their health and safety. You may be able to support them in other practical ways such as with meal preparation or housework. Simply offer, and let the parents tell you what might help.
Some things NOT to do
- Don't avoid them because you simply don't know what to say. Instead tell the parents that you don't know what to say. Often there is nothing to say and being there is what is important.
- Don't use clichés like "You can have another baby", "At least you already have children", "It's for the best", "Everything happens for a reason" or "It was God's will". These comments deny the life and individuality of their baby and can seem thoughtless and hurtful.
- Don't say "I know how you feel". Unless you also have lost a baby you will have no idea how they are feeling. Even if you have experienced a similar loss you still won't know exactly how they feel as every circumstance is different.
- Don't judge their feelings. Bereaved parents have enough to cope with without having to justify the way they are feeling and reacting. They need to know that you accept them just the way they are.
- Don't avoid the subject. They are already upset, so talking about their baby is unlikely to upset them more. Instead, you are allowing them to express their pain. Tears will probably be shed as their baby will be constantly on their mind, but it is okay for them to cry, and for you to cry with them.
- Don't offer to put away the baby's things. This is something most parents will want and need to do themselves when they feel ready. There is no rush to do this and it is part of saying goodbye.
Remember that these parents have been through a shattering and life-changing event. There is no set way to cope and there is no such thing as "normal" when it comes to the grief these parents are suffering. But, you can help.
Friends and family can be a tremendous help and comfort after the loss of a baby. If you have any other questions or concerns, please don't hesitate to contact us for advice.