How to Support a Loved one Grieving Miscarriage, Stillbirth, and Pregnancy Loss
For those that understand pregnancy loss, no explanation is needed. For those that don’t, no explanation is possible. And we hope that by reading Release the Doves you will have a better understanding of what it is like to go through the heartache and tragedy that your loved one may be experiencing. We hope the open-ended questions give you an opportunity to ask and create space for their healing and guide your conversations. Here are some key take-aways to share.
How To Support Immediate Needs of a Loved One Right After Pregnancy Loss
- Familiarize yourself with their immediate needs. Acquaint yourself with our “Coping with Grief During Pregnancy Loss” page on what they need for themselves.
- Respect the Unique Journey. Everyone has a different grief process. Acknowledge this, make an open space for it, and if they are further along in their grief process, that is wonderful. Even if you have gone through pregnancy loss, their loss is unique to them.
- Walk along side them. Realize their grief will take a different shape, often from moment to moment. Some moments will be filled with anger, sorrow, numbness, and pain. Some will be filled with joy and peace. And sometimes, the loss is so great, that they cannot open their hearts to the grief yet. They need to protect their hearts until they are ready by not letting the pain in. It will happen, just give it space and time.
- Validate their loss. Many do not comprehend the loss of an unborn child to be so great. However, the difference of this loss is that when a loved one dies we can usually reminisce about the memories. A smile can break through the tears when we remember a shared delight or shared experience. It involves all our senses. We can see the person’s smile, hear their laugh, and even smell their sweet scent. We can feel their embrace and we can recall the emotions invoked by those special experiences. When we go through pregnancy loss, we don’t have memories to embrace. It is the loss of those very memories that invoke more of their grief. So, asking questions of the positive times of their pregnancy. Songs, poems, and readings that can help them connect positive memories with their child.
- There are no timelines for grief. It is not something you arrive at. It is a process and a journey that needs a slow and steady pace. Let them cry, weep, and mourn because tears are cleansing.
- Know everyone struggles with what to say. One of the most difficult things is to know what to say when someone goes through hardship. We struggle with wanting to fix it for them, help pull them out of the discomfort, and ease their pain with positive words. Many times this is also so we cannot have to endure the discomfort of the situation. It is ok to let the situation be uncomfortable. It is all part of the healing process. They may struggle with hearing “God only gives you as much as you can handle” or “At least you have one child.” If a comment is “at least” it may not be helpful for them in the moment. Just keep trying to validate their loss and that should help guide your words.
- Help them find rest. Help them to tune out all the negative self-talk in their minds. Help them to rest both their physical body and their soul and mind. Grief is a whole-body all-encompassing experience. This is especially important for their partner as well. The partner often will work tirelessly, suppress their emotions to give the grieving mother time and space to heal, but they need it too. And often will not express their needs as they are “labeled the supporter” and may feel selfish because they didn’t not physically need healing.
- Give them the space to be raw, to talk, just listen, and do not try to fix. They may seem strong, but they just want someone to take the weight and tell them everything will be ok. Many like to keep their thoughts and feelings inside, and research shows when we expressively talk about things, it is helpful in our management of grief and trauma. If they are not wanting to be vulnerable enough to verbally process, often expressive writing, which Release the Doves book does, creates the opportunity to do so without judgment of someone listening.
- Physical and emotional healing take time. With space they will both mend. At 8 weeks pregnant, we are hormonally 85 percent ready to give birth. This means with any loss, even early miscarriage, there is a crash of hormonal changes that also accompany their loss. Depending on their body, their body may also continue to try producing milk, which can be a grieving process for your loved one as well.
- Show up. Tell them how you will help. When going through loss empty offerings of “let me know if you need anything” or “I will be here if you want to talk” will often go untaken. Going through loss feels hard to burden those around them. They may often see you celebrating joyous moments, knowing you have good things in your life happening, and don’t want to lean. Learning to lean is a hard lesson in life, especially as women are taught to “be tough” and their supporting partners are trying to be “tough for them”. Check in their significant other. Bring food and drop it off. If they have other children, show up and take their other children to the park or zoo for a while. These places can be difficult to go to after loss. Drive them to an upcoming doctor appointment so they do not have to go it alone. Just bring over a special food or beverage and create a space for them to sit, talk, laugh, or just be together in silence reading books/watching a movie.
How To Continue to Show Support to a Loved One In Their Grief Journey after Pregnancy Loss
- And time is the wisest counselor of grief. Ask if they named their child. If they chose that was right for them, say their child’s name often. Most do not want their child to be forgotten, even in years to come. And while time may be the wisest counselor, time will also bring back waves of challenges in the grief process. Baby showers of others may continue to be hard for them. They will have barometers around them that remind them of their children (such as other children born around that time, places, events). And one of the hardest parts is not seeing them grow up at all. They will wonder how they would have played with their other children, and might wonder what they would look like now.
- Help them find identity outside of parenthood. From the moment we desire a baby, we wrap our identity around parenthood and around being mother or father. We are still parents, even after loss. But our identity is so much more than being a parent. Help us to see our identity in just being loved and that we are enough.
- Help them understand their child made them a parent and that won’t change. They will always be a mom or dad. Every life event changes us. What stresses us has the opportunity to bless us. Slowly, each day will change their hearts. Help them to see how it has shaped them positively.
- Be patient with their hesitancy to jump back in. That can include jumping back into social gatherings. Simple gatherings can include friends celebrating their pregnancy, children being doted over, and memories being made with children and families in simple spaces even such as parks, churches, work, and family gatherings. This is an ultimate reminder for them of the one thing they long for.
- Ask about each new chapter as they unfold. Ask if they want to share about their plans for conception. Ask if their body has returned to normal. Ask if their ready to try again. These can seem awkward at first, but remember, acquaintances that do not even know they went through loss may be asking these questions already.
- Embrace their weathered roots. It’s important to realize that this loss will change them. This loss will impact them because all children impact us, whether they are here or only in our hearts. We need to not wait for them to “return to their normal selves”, because every life experience molds and transforms us. Seek the beauty in their weathered roots and share with them how you see their child positively influenced their lives. This brings meaning to their child.
- Help them create memories. Traditions and rituals and meaningful experiences can create positive presence of their child even after they are gone. This may be lighting candles, visiting a special place, having a birthday party, writing love letters to their child each year. Help them find a creative outlet to embrace their child regularly.
- Know the sorrow behind the smile, love behind the anger, and the reason behind the silence. If you really walk deeply with your loved one, you will know when something is hard. Empathetically look at each surrounding experience and even a small gesture will help them to know they are understood and validated in their journey. A wink, a soft smile, and a kiss from across the room can fill the room with abounding love to help them navigate tough situations that spark memory of their loss.
How to Support a Loved One With Pregnancy After Loss
- And if they choose, or are able, to conceive again-be patient. Conception brings times like the tides of the sea. There may be a period with inspiration, hope, and excitement followed by disappoint and loss of dreams each month. Just give grace during these times.
- Have compassion when they express fear of the uncertainty. Loss takes away the bliss of future pregnancies. And it is the memories with a child and a growing family that is the largest loss. This will immediately question their ability of their own body to conceive, their own body to provide enough for their baby. This can bring shame and guilt, despite any wrongdoing of themselves, but none the less, they may choose a path of fear of this happening again.
- Pregnancy loss is most often out of our control. And the next pregnancy continues to be something we cannot control. Helping them choose love over fear for their next pregnancy, to create positive lasting memories of their 40 weeks of pregnancy will be a challenge. Checking in with them in their next pregnancy, not just during their current loss.
Should I Buy a Gift For Someone Going Through Loss After Stillbirth or Miscarriage?
When a child dies, there is not many memories or things to cling onto in their absence. Gifts can be a great tangible way to give them a connection to their child. And when grief strikes again with all of its rawness, remember it is because love is still there. Days that this may happen include Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Holidays, Infant Loss Awareness Month (October), Bereaved Parents Month (July), Bereaved Mother’s Day (week before Mother’s Day), their original due date and the day their baby left far too soon. This is often called their “still birthday” or “angel-versary”.
Some great gift ideas include:
- Wind chimes
- Tulip bulbs or other flowers that would return yearly
- A tree that they can watch grow like their child would have
- A rock or monument for their yard
- A journal
- Release the Doves book or other books that give them relatable connections to their loss
- Flowers on any of the above days that may be a challenge (especially their first angel-versary/stillbirthday)
- A charitable donation in their child’s honor
- A star for their child
- Christmas stocking with their child’s name embroidered on the front
- Angel tree topper
- A simple text, card, or call saying “I remembered.” (and say their child’s name if it was right for them.
Check out our Resource Page for direct links to great gift ideas.