After the loss of my daughter who was born sleeping at 32 weeks, others have asked me what they can do to support their loved ones who experience a similar loss.
My answer is simple; we must validate their loss. Of course, there are the practical ways to support such as meals and childcare. But if you’re asking what helped me emotionally, it was when I felt that my loss was validated.
Here are some ways to validate a loss:
1-Do not try to relate your story of loss with theirs.
When a mother has not asked, others may still tend to share their personal story of loss in an effort to relate or make a mother feel understood. However, this feels more like comparison at times and only leaves the mother feeling less validated; as if their story carries the same feelings and qualities as another.
My loss, my story, and my child cannot be compared to another. No two losses are the same nor is there ever a way to know the depth of pain each person experiences within their loss. My stillborn experience should not be made synonymous with that of a miscarriage, nor of a child loss after years of life.
Each loss deserves to stand alone and not be lumped into a big pile of “loss” in hopes of being relatable.
Therefore, saying “I can totally relate”, or “I completely understand” really should be avoided. Never trivialize what they went through with your own story. Instead, keep your focus on their loss.
With this point, I am speaking more specifically towards supporting an individual mother experiencing loss and the best ways to support her. I do, however wholeheartedly love and appreciate the awareness of infant loss within the month of October. I do believe by sharing stories and paying tribute we bring awareness to infant loss without it necessarily making our stories lose value. Despite the unique qualities to each story, there are still similarities and a bond that is formed with all who experience the loss of an infant.
2-Don’t shy away or avoid the topic.
Stillbirth or infant loss are not casual, carefree topics of conversation, however, it’s an important part of the grieving process for a mother to talk about her loss. When everyone avoids the uncomfortable and tough topic it can result in a sense of loneliness and isolation for the mother.
Don’t be afraid to ask your loved one if they would like to talk or process their grief with you. They may just want to be heard.
3-Say the child’s name.
It’s best to never refer to the child who died in impersonal ways. Instead, use the name of the child. You may feel uncomfortable, but the parents, especially over the long haul, like to know that their child has not been forgotten. We give value to the mother’s loss and to the life and legacy of the child by using their name. Shying away from the use of the child’s name or saying, “she lost a baby”, is hurtful.
After all, the Mother didn’t just lose a baby, she lost her son or daughter who was named and loved deeply.
4- Be mindful and thoughtful of milestones.
Especially during the first year after the loss of an infant, there are the “firsts” milestones that are a sensitive time for the parents. Planning events on this sensitive day and inviting the parents should be avoided. Remembering what would have been the child’s first birthday and sending a card or thoughtful text message helps the mother feel as though others value their child’s life. Also, be mindful of the fact that holidays and anniversaries carry a pain, especially the first year.
A mother simply wants others to validate their loss for the brutally hard, life altering loss that it is.
Nothing more, nothing less. In the end, a loss is just that…a life that is gone, a part of someone that is now missing and cannot be replaced during our lives on earth. A life starts at conception and a mother who loses a child at any point of pregnancy will need the support and grace to grieve the loss of that life. The life that was and no longer is.