What to say when someone loses a baby

what to say when someone loses a baby

Most people don’t know what to say when someone loses a baby and will probably say one of the many things that feels like the very wrong thing. They’ll be awkward and uncomfortable in the space of your pain.  They’ll want to help, but they won’t even know where to start.

Look if I’m being honest, I’ve lost three babies of my own and I still really have no clue how to help someone else through it.  I have suggestions of course, but everyone who experiences this is different. Something that I would have liked to hear, will be very different to what others want from their friends and family.

So of course my words below are simply my ideas for how you might go about supporting someone who has lost a baby. I think it’s important to remember that there really is no right thing to say, and that most people who do say something that feels hurtful and mean aren’t intentionally trying to hurt you.

I will try not to focus entirely on the negative. Though I think it’s also helpful to know what you should probably avoid saying because most Mums who’ve lost will cringe to hear.

BUT… please don’t let this make you too afraid to say or do anything. Saying the wrong awkward thing and being there is actually better than saying nothing at all and staying away entirely.

I think its probably best to approach the loss of a baby with the idea that there really there is nothing right to say. Nothing can fix this for them, and there is nothing you can do to make the pain of losing a baby go away.

What you can do there is be a good friend, partner, mother, sister, Aunty, (whatever your role may be).

You can show them that you care and love them and you understand how big this loss is to them.  They need to know this in the days and weeks after their loss, but also in the months and years after as well.

The way you support them will of course change, but never expect that the period of grief and talking about their baby has ended.  Just like living children, we continue to have a relationship with the babies we lose for the rest of our lives. They are always in our heart and on our minds.  It helps us to feel that connection when others recognise important dates and memories as well.

What to say when someone loses a baby

 

Acknowledge our loss

“I’m sorry for your loss”

“I can’t even begin to imagine how this feels, I’m sorry.”

“I’m thinking of you and sending love at this horrible time.”

We want you to acknowledge our baby and this loss.  We want to know that you know how bad this hurts. (Somehow it makes it all feel a little less hopeless if someone else understands.)  These words are helpful because they let us know that you care, without minimising our pain or trying to fix the unfixable.

 

Be helpful

“I’ve just dropped a casserole off on your front doorstep. I’ll check back in a couple of days to see if you want visitors”

“I’ve just dropped a care package off at your door – wine, chocolate, tissues, blanket, and a little something to remember your little one by. Please know I’m here whenever you need.”

While saying ‘let me know if there is anything I can do to help’ is good, just doing something is even better. Depending on your relationship you may want to also spend some time there with them as well. Or maybe just do a drop and run a few times until they’re ready to talk.  Don’t give up after the first few weeks. It can take many months before they’ll be ready to start venturing out socially again.

Other helpful things you could do:

  • Deliver a meal once a week for a few months to their home.
  • Invite them out to have a coffee or lunch.
  • Invite them to see a movie (no talking required and makes an excellent distraction.)
  • Drop off groceries or a fruit / vegetable box at their door.
  • Offer to watch their other children to give the couple time together.
  • Deliver dessert to their door.
  • Drop off a coffee on your way past.
  • Deliver a flowering plant (lasts longer than regular flowers).

 

Show you understand the depth of our loss

“Would you like help organising a ceremony to farewell your baby.”

If you’re very close to the parents or Mother who has lost this can be a lovely way to show that you understand how big this loss is to them.  Before 20 weeks, most couples won’t have a funeral for their baby but a beautiful ceremony or ritual can be an important step in letting go and can help the loss to feel a little bit more resolved.

 

Share your story

“I’ve been there too and it was the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced. I’m sorry this has happened to you. If you want I’m happy to listen whenever you need.”

“I’m so sorry. If you ever need a shoulder to cry on or feel the need to rage (I felt very angry after my losses) please know that I’m here.”

If you’ve been through this experience too, it can be helpful to share your story. Be careful not to make the sharing about your own grief though. Don’t try to impart too much wisdom though, especially if you lost many years ago and the pain has now faded somewhat for you.  Allow them to ask questions if they want to know more about your experience. Share that you’ve been through this as a way to let them know that you understand how painful this is and that you’re here for them if they need.

 

Give them time to grieve

“Would you like me to take your kids for a couple of hours today so you and (parter’s name) can have some time to yourself?”

“Would your two like to come have a playdate over at our place for a couple of hours this afternoon?”

While other children are often a great distraction from grief. (You literally have no choice but to keep on going when there are other little people to look after). Sometimes we need to fall apart in our grief in order to heal.  Offering grieving parents some time together by watching their kids for them is a really practical, helpful thing you can do.

 

Don’t put a time limit of grief

I just wanted to check in and see how you’re doing. Sometimes it feels like it gets harder rather than easier, doesn’t it?”

“How are you feeling today? Want to catch up? Anything I can do?”

Initially when you lose a baby the offers of support and love are plentiful. After a few weeks and months it all seems to go quiet. This can often be the hardest time. It feels like everyone else has forgotten your baby while you are still grieving hard.  Try to continue checking in and extending offers for social things even if at first all offers are turned down. It really does help just to know that others are still thinking of you.

 

What NOT to say when someone loses a baby

Anything that starts with ‘at least’

“At least you weren’t further along.” 

“Well at least you were only 6 (or any other numbers of) weeks” 

“At least it wasn’t one of your older children.” 

These sort of statements hurt to hear because it feels like you are minimising our grief. It makes us feel like you think we shouldn’t be feeling the immense pain that we’re currently feeling.  Try to avoid any statement that starts with “at least”.

At least … NOTHING! There is no comparison you can draw here that will magically make us feel better about losing our baby.

These statements don’t feel like they come from a place of empathy or compassion. They come from a place of trying to fix things, and while I’m sure you mean well, these words really hurt.  It isn’t anyones job to fix this, so please don’t try to.

 

Talk about another

“You’re still young you can have another.” 

“It just means there was something wrong with this baby, so it was a good thing they passed now. You’ll have another baby soon.”

“You’ll be super fertile now.”

“Well at least you know you can get pregnant”

Please don’t start talking about another baby or pregnancy when we’re in the midst of deep grief.  You would never say to someone who has lost their grandfather – ‘At least your other grandfather is still alive.’ This baby was just as real to us as someone who we’ve known for many years.  We’ve had a relationship with them from the moment we started thinking of conceiving them, perhaps even before that. Our body and life has changed for them and we’ve planned our entire future around their birth and life.  No other baby will ever be able to replace this one and while yes we may decide to start trying again soon, it will not be in order to replace the baby we lost. It will be to give him or her a sibling and to grow the family that we’ve always wanted.

 

Tell us we should be grateful for our other children

“At least you have two other healthy children to focus on at this time.”

Yes we may have other children, who are beautiful amazing gifts in their own right, but their presence doesn’t lesson the pain of losing another.  Sure, we can admit children make excellent distractions from grief and can help to pull us out of it at times. But please don’t suggest that having other children makes the pain of this any less.  Again, this pain is real and horrible and probably the worst thing we’ve ever been through. Don’t try to make it sound less than it is.

 

Just no.

“It was meant to be.”  

“Your baby is in a happier place now” 

“It was God’s plan.” 

“Time heals all wounds”

“Everything happens for a reason.”

Just no. Please don’t ever say this to grieving parents.  No one wants to hear this when they’ve just lost a baby. Over time, the pain changes. It becomes less unbearable, but it doesn’t ever go away. Perhaps they may eventually be able to reconcile their grief and even come to agree with some of these statements in their own time, but they certainly don’t want to hear them from anyone else.  When you’re in the sharp pain of the first few weeks after losing a baby these sorts of statements bring up immeasurable rage.  If you don’t want this anger directed at you, please don’t say stupid things like this.

 

Don’t tell us it’s not a big deal

“Yep I’ve been through that too.” 

“This happens to everyone it’s not a big deal” 

“Oh you’ll make another one.”

“Oh that happened to my sister’s friend’s Aunty. She ended up having a healthy baby the very next year.”

Right now, we feel like our whole world has come crashing down. We’re unsure how we’ll ever feel okay ever again.  Being told that our feelings are ‘not a big deal’ tells us one of two things. 1. You don’t get it and don’t understand this situation or 2. You don’t care enough about us to try to understand our feelings. Don’t try to minimise our pain with these statements, especially telling us about your friend of a friend of a friend who went through the same experience. Unless you are sharing the hurt on your own heart and what you went through, we don’t want to hear about other’s who’ve gone through this already.

 

Don’t blame us or our body

“It probably happened because you were doing too much.” 

“See I told you that you needed to look after yourself better.” 

“Your body just needed to practice.”

“Maybe it was because you did…”

We’re already blaming ourselves enough already, or at least questioning our every move trying to work out what we did wrong – we DON’T need you to reaffirm any of these fears for us. Stay away from any statements that sound like blame.  There is no place for it here.

What my readers have to say:

“Acknowledge the life lost, acknowledge the pain, be a shoulder to cry on without offering condolences and words of wisdom. Take care of them, let them sulk in bed, let them mourn and don’t make them feel like they should be over the grief. The worst thing is still grieving and feeling like the whole world has already moved on and forgotten.” – Amanda Pinter

My coworkers were some of the most supportive people after my miscarriage last year. They sent me chocolate covered strawberries, offered to bring me food, and took care of my fourth graders and made sure I didn’t make any plans for the days I took off. It was little things that made me feel supported like checking in during plannings. They never said anything cliche but just asked how I was feeling or if I needed a break. I think “time” is huge too and just acknowledgment of grief in general without saying the typical “it’ll happen when it’s meant to be” stuff. – Farren Francis

The best support I had besides my husband was a friend who had also experienced a loss. She would message and check in every couple of days just to ask how I was feeling and if there was anything I needed – Natalie Whalan

What was the most supportive thing someone has said to you after a loss? I wrote a book during the year I lost 3 babies. You might like to read about my healing journey here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.