It can be terribly uncomfortable, wanting to offer support to parents of a lost child, but not knowing the best way to do it. Sometimes very well meaning and loving expressions can actually be received as insulting and damaging. To prevent this, here is a helpful list of ideas for you to consider:
Helpful things you might know:
- Research proves that the level of grief a parent experiences is not conditional upon the age of the child. Meaning, younger children are “worth” just as much grief as older children.
- Men and women experience grief differently. Supportive efforts might be helpful for one parent more than the other. We have support for dads here, too.
- Grief can be ongoing, can seem unpredictable, and can take time. Parents remember their children for the rest of their lives.
- The parents at highest risk of complications in their emotional healing are those that show no signs of grief in the first two weeks following the death of their child.
- The actual loss is only the beginning of a journey of grief. The four most difficult times following a pregnancy loss are often: the return of the first menstrual cycle, the month in which the gender of the baby would have been discovered, the due date for the full term “happy” delivery, and the timeframe of the first anniversary of the loss (first stillbirthday). Holidays within the first year can also be painful, particularly Mother’s Day/Father’s Day (and/or Loss Mothers/Loss Fathers days), Thanksgiving and Christmas. It is extremely positive to remember these times and reach out to your loved ones during at least one of these, offering to share an afternoon together or just to let them know that you care.
- You may be grieving, too, and may benefit from utilizing long term support services
- If the couple has other children, there is information and support for older siblings.
- Honoring the privacy of the parents is important, but so is being able to communicate your own grief. For that reason, we have a section here where you can share your story (and read other stories), and it will be published in the category of “friends & family”. Your story can bless others in a similar situation, without overstepping the privacy that the parents may have requested. We ask that you do not use their real names in your story.
- Grandparents grieve too. AGAST is one organization for grandparent grief.
- Stillbirthday has helpful resources for grandparents, fathers, surviving and subsequent children:Emotional/Spiritual Support.
- Crisis Lines, Books, Websites (some by country) can be helpful for you to know for the parents.
Helpful things you might do:
- host a Celebrating Pregnancy blessingway (strongly recommended, even if this is done after the birth of the baby)
- buy a special gift acknowledging her loss (the comfort company has many ideas)
- buy a special gown (particularly from Bg&Co) for the mom to deliver her baby in
- bring a meal (or two) that is easy to prepare
- see what professionals and volunteers there may be to help your loved ones through the actual process (see how a doula can help)
- participate in any farewell celebration the family might be participating in
- buy a small or medium sized package of heavy maxi pads for the mom (pregnancy loss can mean a lot of bleeding)
- clean, tidy the home, do a load of laundry, bring in their mail, mow their lawn
- buy a teddy bear (particularly prior to or during the birth, if it will take place in a hospital, so that the mother won’t have to leave the place of her child’s birth empty-handed) – see our craft idea with teddy bears below
- attend any foll0w-up doctor’s visits with the mom
- talk about the baby by name
- send a card to the family at the first birthday or another holiday. Lost for Words is one card line specific to pregnancy and infant loss
- sign up for another grieving mother to send her hand written letters through the Joy Comes in the Morning project
- buy a helpful book for the parents (see our list of books)
- give the mother a gift card (not a huge amount, $20 would be great) to her favorite shop or a clothing store
- buy the mom a comfortably-fitting blouse that is non-maternity (especially if she was further along in pregnancy)
- consider the mom’s interpretation of your gestures
- visit the Farewell Celebrations page, as there are gift ideas there as well
Gift Ideas For the Dad:
- The jewelry links at our Farewell Celebrations section has jewelry ideas that can be converted to pendants, key chains, or “dog tag” style items, that can include either the name of the baby or the baby’s birth stone.
- He might decide on a special tattoo.
- Our Farewell Celebrations section has information on naming a star after your baby, and you could buy him a telescope as well.
- A special stone for the yard or as a keepsake in the house (see the Farewell Celebrations section for resources – see Treasure Beans or Living Rocks or Alphabet Pebbles).
- Baby Boards by Misty are durable and simple
- He may be uncomfortable with the idea of keeping a momento of the baby, but would like to honor his baby in some way. Go to our online shop, where you can access HeBrews Coffee. You can order a bag of coffee for him to enjoy, and add the “contribute to stillbirthday” option, which adds $1 to your order, to help pay for the cost of stillbirthday’s domain and business cards.
- Find out from the mother how much her baby weighs.
- Measure out that weight in rice. If you don’t have an ounce scale at home, bring your rice to the grocery store. Check in with a cashier or another employee first to be sure there isn’t any confusion about theft or anything like that.
- Measure out the weight in rice, using a small plastic baggie to hold the rice.
- Purchase a teddy bear. A Build-A-Bear would work very well.
- Carefully cut the back seam of the bear, remove a small amount of the stuffing, and place the baggie of rice into the bear. Sew up the seam.
- Now the mom has a bear that weighs as much as her baby.
Helpful things you might say:
- I’m sorry
- Your feelings are OK. (This might be followed with:) If your feelings get scary or dangerous, a counselor or pastor can help you navigate them. I can help you find one.
- I don’t know if she asks why it happened. Don’t guess or assume.
- I miss (name of baby) too or I wanted to know (name of baby) too. This should not be said in a way that suggests grief comparison or makes the parent feel guilty for “feeling too much”, but should be said in a loving way of sharing the grief together.
- Particularly for a baby that was just too young to be identifiable and was not buried, reminding the mother that the baby has already entered Heaven can comfort the negative feelings of not knowing where her baby’s physical body is.
If you have experienced a pregnancy loss yourself, prior to fairly recent years:
- In honor both of your own loss, and/or the recent loss that was experienced by your loved one, you may wish to join our mentorship program.
- Your perception of care for pregnancy loss may likely be very different than the care that is given today. You may recall any of the following in your own experience: not seeing your baby, not holding your baby, not naming your baby, not knowing where your baby was buried, not knowing if your baby was given his or her own grave. You may not have ever talked about your experience, although the pain and reality of the death of your baby is real. Please consider sharing your story with us. Your story will also be categorized in the “prior to 1990’s” section if applicable.
- MISS Foundation offers grief support for grandparents (“AGAST”).
- You may become jealous or confused at the care and attention that is given to mothers and families who experience loss today. There are positive, healthy ways to work through these feelings without projecting any negative feelings onto the couple as they endure their grief now. Please visit the long term support resources for ideas.
- You can contact your local Vital Statistics office for information on your stillbirth experience so that you may have some deeper healing and closure to your own experience.
If you are pregnant, while a loved one is experiencing loss:
- Consider sharing the news with your friend privately, and before you share the news with others. This allows her to process the information privately, and gives her control.
- Acknowledge the very real grief that your loved one is enduring, and recognize that she may have many mixed feelings about your pregnancy. She may likely be genuinely happy for you, but this joy will likely be mixed with jealousy and hurt, and at different times in your pregnancy these feelings may be magnified. Validate to your loved one what you expect from her feelings, and let her know that she can discuss these things, either with you or with other support such as a counselor or pastor. Refer her to the long term support resources section for more information.
- When planning your baby shower, discuss her invitation with her privately, preferably before the other invitations go out. Let your loved one know that she is invited and her presence will be meaningful to you, but that you acknowledge that it may be upsetting for her, and that you’d like to give her room to make her own choice regarding attending. She may like to give a gift separately instead of attending.
Things that would not be helpful to do:
- remove, pack up, or destroy items from the baby room without both parents’ permission
- petition the mother in any way to celebrate anybody else’s pregnancy or baby, until the mother initiates interest herself, or at least several weeks have passed
Things that would not be helpful to say:
- Giving any explanation whatsoever (medical or speculation) is generally not a good idea.
- Pointing out that the mother has more time to have children. Right now, she is grieving this child (and, conception may have taken longer than you know).
- Pointing out that the mother has more children – either older siblings or multiples of the baby who didn’t survive (unless her grief is becoming destructive, and more professional assistance is suggested to help).
- Promoting the idea that a twinless twin is a singleton, for example, or that two surviving babies from a set of triplets are instead twins (seeming or attempting to ignore the reality of all of the multiples in the pregnancy).
- Suggesting in any way that this is a positive or a good outcome.
- Pressuring the mother or the father to grieve differently than they are. Please see our resources on different grieving styles.
- Initiating or engaging in controversial discussions with either parent on topics such as elective abortion or some kinds of fetal research. This can serve to invalidate the grief the parent is experiencing – even regardless of their general or prior position on such topics. It may be wise to pick a different topic, or pick a different person to discuss it with.
- Attempting to participate in decisions such as telling the couple they should start trying to conceive immediately, or offering discouragement at the news of a subsequent pregnancy.
- Suggesting in any way that this outcome is the fault of the mother (or father), unless you are gently and compassionately offering support resources for an obviously risky situation that you know for certain occured during the pregnancy (ie drug abuse, domestic violence). Remember, offering general speculation is not a good idea.
- Telling the parents that the baby is anywhere but in Heaven is not only biblically incorrect but can be received offensively regardless of their faith. Allow the parent the right to explore answers of life after death without belittling them or minimizing the reality of the death of their baby. In addition, attention to where the baby is, is only part of the care that a mother needs. It is extremely important to remember that she is here – she is without her child – and she is hurting.