The loss of a baby is a surprisingly common occurrence. In 2009, 26,531 infants died before age one, according to a National Vital Statistics Report. Even more losses occur before birth. The American Pregnancy Association states that as many as 25 percent of clinically recognized pregnancies may result in miscarriage, and another NVSR found that over a million pregnancies ended in fetal loss in 2005. If you know someone who has experienced one of these pregnancy or infant losses, you may want to be supportive but not know exactly what to say.
Losing a child is an intensely painful experience. A parent who has lost a baby may think about her baby all the time and is dealing with the loss of all the hopes and dreams she had for her child. One of the best ways you can be supportive is simply by letting her talk. Ask her how she is feeling or if she would like to talk. Listen, rather than trying to give advice. Continue to check in on her weeks and even months after the loss. Parents can grieve for a long time and find it comforting to know other people also remember their baby.
Parents who are deeply grieving their baby may have a hard time getting out of bed or taking care of basic daily routines. Ask, "Is there anything I can do to help?" Offer to pick up groceries, bring a meal, clean house or babysit older children. For close family members or friends, you can offer to field phone calls, if they don't feel like talking to anyone, or to help with funeral arrangements.
When parents lose a baby, they go through the stages of grief: denial that the baby is gone, self-blame, sadness and anger at doctors, fate or even the baby for dying. Sometimes a parent can feel guilty for his emotions or impatient with them. It can be helpful for you to point out that any emotions he experiences are okay and part of the normal grieving process. Encourage him to cry rather than keep the sadness bottled up. Let him know that he doesn't need to be "over" the loss in a few days, weeks or even months. Reassure him that momentary feelings of happiness don't mean he doesn't care about or has forgotten the baby.
Parents may find it comforting if you remember significant details about their baby. Refer to the baby by name, if the parents named their baby. Acknowledge important dates---such as the baby's birthday, the due date or the anniversary of the baby's death---with a card, phone call or flowers. Parents may feel others have forgotten their baby, but recognizing details like these demonstrates that you valued their baby's short life.
Many things people say in an attempt to be supportive can actually be quite hurtful. Don't say, "It was for the best," "Your baby is with Jesus now," or "You can just try again." Parents don't see the loss of their baby as a good thing, nor does the fact that they may be able to have another make up for the fact that, right now, they just want the baby they lost back. And while parents may have a strong faith, they would prefer to have their baby with them rather than with God. Avoid statements that diminish parents' feelings of sadness in an attempt to make them feel "better."
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; National Vital Statistics Reports: Deaths -- Preliminary Data for 2009; Kenneth D. Kochanek; March 2011
- American Pregnancy Association; Miscarriage; July 2007
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; National Vital Statistics Reports: Estimated Pregnancy Rates for the United States, 1990-2005 -- An Update; Stephanie J. Ventura; October 2009
- Healing Hearts: Baby Loss Comfort---What Do I Say?
- Healing Hearts: Baby Loss Comfort; What Do I Say? Expert Advice on Helping Friends and Family Cope With the Loss of a Baby; Belinda Miller
- American Pregnancy Association; After a Miscarriage: Surviving Emotionally; October 2008
- Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images
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