I am contacted frequently with the question; my friend had a stillborn baby, what can I do? In addition, the biggest question I am asked is, what do I say or not say? You will find many websites that have great information on what to say and not say, but let me tell you from the personal and professional standpoint; DON’T BE SILENT!
Born in Silence was a series that ABC News featured which can be helpful in learning how families cope. In talking with families, they often mention family and friends who have seemed to disappear or blatantly ignore them. These friends and family members ignore them for many reasons but usually it’s because they don’t know what to say or do. They somehow think that being silent and giving the grieving family space is what is needed and that is far from the truth in most cases.
Some friends and family will even tell the grieving family to move on and forget about the baby or child they just lost even if the child had been born living. Society believes, for some unknown reason, that a baby isn’t worth grieving because “they weren’t here for very long” or “you didn’t know your baby.” I have blogged about the “loss of a possibility” before but let me tell you that we DO know our unborn babies. Their death means losing “what might have been.”
With Timmy, I felt him moving beginning around 12 weeks of pregnancy. By 20 weeks, he had a definite pattern to his movements and I could tell when he was sleeping. Soon, I would feel him hiccup and if I talked with him, he would respond. He would even respond to my husband and his brother as well as move around to certain sounds and music. And we have hopes and dreams for that child that were crushed by their death so there is a big reason to grieve their death—OKAY?!
I wouldn’t grieve more if my husband died because I knew him longer and I certainly wouldn’t grieve less if Timmy died now having only known him for the past 13 months (21 if you count his pregnancy). Grief is not measured by the amount of time a person is here or how long we have known them. There is just grief.
So, what can you—as a friend when you hear your friend’s baby died?
- Listen – They may want to talk over and over again about the pregnancy and the death experience. Be the person they can go to and vent with and repeat their story. Most people want to stop listening after the 3rd or 4th time.
- Bring Tissues
- Be their shoulder to cry on. If they don’t want to talk, they may just want someone to lean on while they cry. Let them cry. Crying is just one way to express grief.
- Cry with them. You don’t have to be stoic. Crying helps validate that this is a sad time and an experience worth grieving. They will not be angry with you for crying.
- Be there – For the birth that is. If you would have most likely been there for the birth anyway, be sure to let them know you would still like to be there to support them. At the very least, the family may prefer you wait in the waiting room (which can be typical at a “happy” birth too).
- Call their baby by name – which may seem weird. Unless the family does not want you to call their baby by name, this ispreferred.
- Mementos – Bring something for them to remember their baby by. For any birth, people give gifts. This is no different although the gifts might be slightly different. The family may want an outfit so ask. Families are often encouraged to dress their baby just like they would at a “happy” birth. A teddy bear that is at least 14in but less than 24in is best as well. Mom can hold the bear as she leaves the hospital. You can also find out the baby’s weight and make a bear of the same weight. Anything with the baby’s name or birthstone on it such as jewelry is also customary. Cards are also welcome and can be kept as a keepsake. Any of the traditional keepsakes will also work such as something to preserve a lock of hair and keep pictures in (which is also encouraged).
- Offer to make phone calls for them.
- Understand that the next year will be a “year of firsts.” Going into their home without their baby will be a “first,” returning to work will be a “first,” going to the same grocery store will be a “first,” and any holiday will be a “first” holiday without their baby. There will be many “firsts.”
- Due date – If their baby died before their due date, this will be a particularly difficult day. Let them know you are thinking of them and you are there.
- Attend memorial events – Be there for the funeral or any memorial events and find local walks and other annual remembrance events to help them share their baby.
- Bring them Grief Soup
- Pick up around the house (do laundry, mow the lawn, empty and load the dishwasher, make the beds, etc).
These are just a few ideas on how you can help your friend through a stillbirth. Other resources for you can be located here:
– Breaking the silence of First Trimester Miscarriage
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First published at allthatisseenandunseen.com