Pregnancy and infant loss can be a difficult topic, especially if you have never experienced it yourself. Here are four simple, practical suggestions from Marissa Peterson, a birth and bereavement doula, on how you can support a friend or loved one in such a difficult time.
1. Professional support
One of the very best things you can do is connect your friend or loved one to professional bereavement support. Bereavement doulas and mental health professionals with experience in this type of loss are a huge asset to a grieving family.
For a mental health provider, look for someone with a specialty in ‘maternal mental health’ or ‘grief and loss’.
In the Savannah area, we have myself (Marissa Peterson) and Tasha Mahnke as bereavement doulas, as well as Bridget Cross, Brandy Zinn, and Anne Lee for mental health professionals.
2. Practical help
Practical help is the most helpful after a loss, but is very hard for most people to ask for or accept. This is definitely a suggestion for those closest to the person experiencing the loss. Light cleaning, such as loading/unloading the dishwasher, taking the trash out, or doing a load of laundry can be a huge help as a family adjusts to their new normal. For families with children, coming to the home or taking the children out to entertain them can give grieving parents a much-needed break.
Another great, practical help is providing meals for a family. In my experience, this can become hectic and overwhelming, if not well-organized. Consider taking meals that can be frozen and used later to keep from inundating them with leftovers. I also highly recommend using a schedule such as www.takethemameal.com to organize needs and volunteers all in one place.
Be careful with your language around pregnancy and infant loss. Many of my clients have shared with me that “at least…” statements are the most painful things they were told after their loss. Examples: “At least it was early.” “At least you can have another!” Try to avoid offering a solution or ‘fix’ the situation as well.
So what can you say? The simplest thing to say is “I’m sorry.” These two little words have profound impact - they give a parent permission to grieve, as you have acknowledged that they have experienced loss that deserves to be honored. If you have experienced pregnancy or infant loss yourself, you may consider sharing suggestions that were helpful to you, but remember that everyone’s experience is different.
If the family shared their baby’s name with you, use it! Many avoid using babies’ names as they fear they will hurt the parents. Parents generally feel the opposite; that their baby existed and mattered to others.
If at all possible, acknowledge important dates such as the baby’s due date and birth date. A simple ‘thinking of you’ message or card is an invaluable gift to a grieving family. Etsy has many choices for cards and small gifts, you can find one of my favorites here.