Today is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, a time to recognize the unique and tragic grief experienced by parents who have lost a child due to miscarriage, stillbirth or death during infancy. It is also a time to ask ourselves how we can support bereaved parents and work to prevent the causes of these losses.
Noah’s Children is our pediatric palliative and hospice program in Richmond, VA that provides services to children and families, including those who experience perinatal or infant loss due to life-limiting or life-threatening medical conditions. Our team at Noah’s Children is made up of professionals from various disciplines including nursing, social work, counseling and spiritual care, among others, who support families from time of diagnosis through birth and loss, whenever it occurs.
Nurse Jen Agee (pictured above, right), bereavement counselor Karen Bladergroen (pictured above, left) and nurse practitioner Carolyn Spilman (pictured above, middle), all with Noah’s Children, answer some of the most commonly asked questions about supporting women and other loved ones experiencing a perinatal or infant loss.
What are some things to say when talking with a loved one about their loss? And what should you not say?
“The most important thing to know is don’t be afraid to talk to the parent about their baby, because having family and friends not acknowledge the loss is more painful,” Jen shares.
She also suggests acknowledging the situation as appropriate, but also giving space for normalcy. This means to continue talking about things you would discuss with them prior to the pregnancy.
Supportive phrases you can say include “I’m thinking of you and I’m here to listen,” as well as “I care about you and what you are going through” or “you’ve been on my mind this week/today.” All of these phrases acknowledge the loss while giving space and opportunity for dialogue, if the parent feels ready to talk, but do not require a response.
Regarding what not to say, avoiding saying phrases starting with “at least…” or “I know someone who…” as these statements can invalidate what the parent is experiencing and their own unique grief. Additionally, comments such as “you’re such a strong person,” “everything happens for a reason” and “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle” may make a grieving parent feel as though they do not have permission to grieve. And finally, use “I’m sorry…” sparingly, as it puts the bereaved in a position to say, “it’s OK” and comfort you instead of being comforted by you.
What are some practical ways to support a family after hearing about their pregnancy loss or death of their infant?
We have all made the offer to “let me know if there is anything I can do to help” and truly mean it. However, how often do our friends or family take us up on this offer?
Instead, offer to do specific tasks. Bringing meals or set up a meal train plan. Pick up a load of laundry from their house and bring them back washed and folded. If the family has other children, off to take them to the park or out for a treat.
“This is a time to consider making use of your own unique talents and skills to offer support,” Carolyn says. “If you’re handy, do something on their to-do list for their house. If you have a green thumb, do some gardening or yard work. Groups of friends and family looking to provide support could consider putting together a gift card basket filled with cards to the parents’ favorite restaurants, stores or activities.”
What are some ways to acknowledge and remember this special kind of loss if you are a grieving parent?
Both Jen and Karen agree that each situation of loss is unique and each family is unique, making it difficult to suggest specific ways for parents to acknowledge and remember their child. However, families often find their own way to create meaning in their healing journey.
“Some families find attending in-person grief groups, which offer the opportunity to engage in conversation as a couple as well as with others who are also walking this journey, to be helpful,” Karen says.
Also, on the birth and/or loss anniversaries, parents and families often take time to remember their baby through activities, such as sharing stories, looking at photos, prayer, family meals and more.
What are some ways friends and family can acknowledge this special kind of loss and support the grieving family as time passes?
Many parents fear that their baby will be forgotten, so having loved ones remember and acknowledge the anniversary of the baby’s birth and/or loss is typically very appreciated.
Some examples of ways to do this include sending a card, note or “thinking of you today” text message, sending flowers, bringing dinner to the family on that day or donating to a charity in the baby’s honor. Carolyn highlights the importance of using their baby’s name in your message. Also, consider acknowledging the parents’ role as parents and the significance of the baby in their family. Jen also recommends reaching out on other important days during the year that may be harder than others, such as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.
If you or someone you know is looking for more resources, do some research on counseling centers and groups that may exist in your own community as perinatal and infant loss is more common than many realize. National organizations include HelloGrief and Compassionate Friends and Creative Heartwork.
Also, learn more about all the palliative and hospice care services we offer at Bon Secours.