October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month. Whether you know it or not, you know someone who is dealing with loss. The truth is, one in four pregnancies ends in loss. How can you be a supporter to a family who has been through such tragedy? Even if you’ve never walked through the valley, you can be there for someone else on their journey.
LISTEN. Don’t judge. Don’t feel like you have to answer. Just acknowledge what the person is saying. Be a shoulder to cry on. Grief doesn’t make sense. No one prepares us for it. By having someone to talk to, the grieved can sort out the onslaught of emotions that surface and start to make sense of them. Or at the least be relieved of the burden of carrying these deep inside. It will make them feel as if they are not on this journey alone.
ACT. They may have specific requests, depending on physical recovery needs. Oftentimes though, we don’t know how to ask for help, especially in crisis. When a loss occurs the world stops and we may lose sight of the everyday things that need done. For many, help with meals, dishes, sweeping, and laundry can be a huge service.
CARDS. Whether you are near or far, make a gesture to acknowledge the loss. Cards are treasured by the family as they are oftentimes the only keepsake a family may have of their little one they never got to know.
MEMORABILIA. The family will treasure any token of remembrance. Necklaces, charms, ornaments, figurines, garden stones. If they named the baby, items with the baby’s name are cherished. Some families enjoy blankets or stuffed animals made from their baby’s clothes.
CALL. You may not feel like you have anything helpful to say. See the above suggestions on listening. If they don’t answer, leave a message to let them know you’re thinking of them.
CHECK. Ask every so often how they’re doing. Grief changes over time. From the first days to a week, a month, and even months or years down the line. Grief never ends. The passage of time only lessens the pain little by little. By asking how the family is doing, you are acknowledging their loss after many have already forgotten.
PRAY. Pray for peace. Comfort. Physical healing. Hope. Strength. Let them know you are praying for them. There is power in prayer. Even when it seems our prayers haven’t been answered, the deliberate, persistent prayer is heard. God always answers, just not in the ways we expect.
Loss at various stages:
First trimester miscarriage – many times these go unspoken, but these are the most common. In our culture women are often cautioned not to share their joyous news until the second trimester when the risk of loss goes down. But just because a couple hasn’t shared their news with the world doesn’t make the loss any less painful. It only makes it more lonely. As soon as they received that positive pregnancy test, they were expectant parents. They had dreams and hopes for their child. They began to imagine who their baby would look like, what personality traits they would inherit, what their child would grow up to do and accomplish. When this baby is lost all those dreams of their future as a family vanish. Outsiders often diminish these losses with phrases like ‘at least it was early,’ but that is a huge disservice to the family in grief. This child was real and no less valued than a baby in arms would have been.
Second trimester loss – the couple may have just shared the news and received many congratulations. The bump is becoming noticeable to acquaintances at the grocery store and other frequently visited places. They may feel like this baby is a guarantee now that they have entered the second trimester and so they talk openly about the pregnancy and anticipated birth. They may have found out the gender and have names picked out. The woman was likely just getting used to the flutters of movement. And then everything changes. Medical intervention will likely take place. Before 20 weeks the loss is considered a miscarriage, after, a stillbirth. The physical healing will be different for each woman. The family will see the due date pass on their calendar knowing that they’ve missed out on their plans for that day. People may ask how the pregnancy is going, unaware of the painful reminder that the question presents.
Third trimester loss – This includes loss in childbirth, whether premature or full term. Instead of birth announcements there will be funeral arrangements. The physical reminders of this loss are great. The nursery may have been set up, or there may have been a few final touches left undone -a reminder of how close they were to meeting their baby. Some families like to keep the baby’s things in order for a while. Some need help from others to remove and return items. The woman will feel like she has just given birth, but will not have a baby to hold during the healing. Her milk will come in. And then it will dry up. If there are siblings they will deal with grief in their own age-appropriate way. This can be painful for the parents as children are oftentimes matter of fact and need hard facts and repetition to process something as illusive as death.
Infant death – The ways in which infant death occur are innumerable. From SIDS to accidental to medical complications. It is a new parent’s worst nightmare. They begin to see their baby’s personality. Their likes and dislikes. They enjoy the sweet baby coos and smiles. They watch as each day their baby gets stronger. And then something happens. Maybe it is sudden with no warning, or maybe a cascade of medical events happens. Either way, it is not how they imagined life with their baby. All their hopes and dreams, more defined now, end. Arrangements have to be made through the fog of grief. The family will go through the years with their baby’s birthday as a reminder. With all the missed milestones of a first Christmas, perhaps, family gatherings, going to school, etc. They will see babies who were born around the same time grow up, and remember what stage of life their own baby would be in.
Each of these losses are handled differently – by the family, by the medical community, and by outsiders. But each loss is significant and worthy of support. Each loss can shake a family to its core. Can test the strength of a marriage and of faith. We are not meant to travel these journeys alone. With the right support system the grieved can come out stronger than before. They will never ‘get over it,’ but they may find healing.
Remember that each person will have their own journey. Even husband and wife will grieve very differently. Men oftentimes want to fix a situation, and when they can’t, they busy themselves with the things they can do – house projects, cleaning, work. The woman is often left to recover physically, unable to distract herself from her thoughts as she would like.
If you have been through loss, remember that it is a different journey from your loved one’s. From conception to loss, everyone’s story is different. You may have some tidbits of wisdom from having traveled your own road, but do not judge others when they grieve differently than you. And always remember to listen.
On October 15 we will light a candle in remembrance of our baby that left us too soon. Join me at 7pm in lighting a candle for all the families who have experienced this great loss.
Have you been a supporter for loss? What did you do? Have you journeyed through loss? What was the most helpful thing someone did for you?