Comforting Those Who Have Lost a Baby During Pregnancy or Shortly Thereafter

[Spring/Summer, 2002]

by Dennise Krause

   Blessed are those that mourn; for they shall be comforted (RSV Mt:5:4). All too often couples experiencing pregnancy loss, especially an early loss, are left to mourn the loss of their baby alone and in silence. One in four pregnancies will end in miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy or stillbirth. Most people, however, are unaware of how this loss, the death of their baby, affects the parents and those close to them.

   Many family members and friends do not even know what to say. They use clichés such as, "You can have other children," or, "Good thing you didn’t lose the child after he/she was born," or "Good thing you weren’t pregnant for long." What most people don’t realize is that the mother and the father begin to bond with the baby from as early as conception. And it is important to know that it is a fundamental Christian belief that life begins at conception. God knows the name and age of each person from their mother’s womb, is what we pray during the Liturgy of St. Basil. Pregnancy loss is not about tissue, or fetuses, or any other medical term – a pregnancy loss is the death of a child, a human being.

   After giving birth to two beautiful children, my husband and I experienced the deaths of two babies during pregnancy. Our second baby died while we were attending St Vladimir’s Seminary. The support that we received from the community has aided in our healing. It is my hope and prayer that enough people will be educated so that no parent will have to grieve their loss alone.

   Below are some guidelines to help you support and comfort "those who mourn".

  • The first and likely the most important thing you can do is realize that a baby has died and this death is just as "real" as the death of an older child. The parents' grief and healing process will be painful and take time, lots of time. They may not be recovered or done "thinking about their baby" after a month or even a year. Realize that the parents are sad because they miss their baby, and that he or she can never be replaced by anyone else, including future children or children they may already have.

  • Let the parents know that they and their family and the baby are in your prayers. Call or send a sympathy card. You don't have to write a lot inside, a simple "You and your baby are in my thoughts and prayers" is enough.

  • What the parents need most now is a good listener and a shoulder, not a lecture or advice. Listen when they talk about the death of their baby. Don't be afraid, and try not to be uncomfortable when talking about the loss. Talk about the baby by name, if they have named the child. Ask what the baby looked like, if the parents saw the baby. Let them talk about the baby – most parents need and want to talk about their baby, their hopes and dreams for their lost child.

  • It is okay to admit that you don't know how they feel. A good thing to say is, "I can't imagine how you feel and I just wanted you to know that I am here for you and am very sorry."

  • Give a hug, this is a sign of love and concern. Even if this is all you do, it's a nonverbal way of saying "I'm sorry" or that "I'm praying for you."

  • Offer to baby-sit their other children, often there are follow-up doctor’s visits and the parents need a chance to be together as a "couple" as well.

  • Offer to bring over meals; often mothers have no "energy" to do even basic things.

  • Offer to go food shopping, help clean the house, do laundry. Anything that lightens the burden of daily chores that need to be done. This is especially helpful if the mother is still waiting to miscarry the baby. That process may take days and is physically and emotionally draining.

  • Be careful not to forget the father of the baby. Men's feelings are very often overlooked because they seem to cope more easily. The truth is that they are quite often just as devastated as their partner.

  • Try to remember the anniversary of the death and due date with a card, call, or visit. Anniversaries can trigger grief reactions as strong as when the loss first happened. Months down the road a simple "How have you been doing since you lost your baby?" can give much comfort.

  • Give special attention to the baby's brothers and sisters. They too are hurt and confused and in need of attention which their parents may not be able to give at this time.

  • If the children want to talk about the death, don’t be afraid to engage them in conversation. Children have a natural relationship to death; and they are open and direct with adults they are comfortable with. When children are allowed to share their dreams and thoughts openly, they are not usually impacted by death in a negative way.

  • If you are pregnant, it may be hard for the bereaved parents (especially the mother) to see or even talk to you. You will need to be very understanding and extra patient with them. They still love you and are happy for you, but it is just such a huge reminder of what they have lost. Some may not be able to talk to you right now. If this happens, please don't take it personally it is just that to avoid pregnant people at the moment may save your friend’s sanity. Your bereaved friends may even feel a little jealous of you (especially after your baby comes), and then feel angry at themselves for feeling that way because they don't really begrudge your happiness, it's just that they are mourning the loss of theirs.

  • Remember that any subsequent pregnancies can be a roller-coaster ride of joy, fear and bittersweet memories.

  • Remember also that mourning puts a tremendous strain on relationships between family and friends.

   Your help, comfort, and sensitive support can be very influential in how the parents cope with the death of their baby and how they recover. You are important; they need you now more than ever.

[Dennise is currently writing a book providing an Orthodox perspective, information, and guidelines for ministering to couples who have experienced the loss of a child during pregnancy, or shortly thereafter.]

 

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