When a family member or friend suffers the loss of their much loved baby, you may not always know what to say or do. You may be feeling helpless and powerless and quite distressed yourself.
Bears of Hope Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support provides a national support service for families who have experienced the loss of their baby. Bears of Hope embrace families during this time and ensure that they have the crucial information needed to guide them in saying hello and goodbye to their much loved baby.
How can you Provide Early Support?
To let grieving parents know you are there extends deeper than you know. Grieving parents find comfort in knowing that others are thinking of them and their baby. Some parents find it very difficult to call or ask for help during their grieving and may withdraw from contact. Reaching out with a simple message through a card, a text message or an email may be best when speaking in person or on the phone is too hard. The most important thing is to maintain contact without expectations of responses, so they feel supported and cared for.
You may be feeling quite anxious or scared about starting the first conversations with your relative or friend since their loss. It is understandable but please take the time to think about what you would like to say and how they may respond. Please don’t ignore parents because you feel they are shutting you out. This is a grief response and it is always better to attempt to offer simple messages of support. Be sensitive by not using unhelpful and likely hurtful cliches such as “It wasn’t meant to be”.
Listen without Judgement
A parent’s love for their baby cannot be measured by time. Just as a parent loves their eldest and youngest equally, a baby’s life is treasured no matter how brief it may have been. Parents need to feel they can speak freely about their precious baby without being judged, and they may need to revisit the death of their baby over and over again.
Speak of their Babies Name
Parents need to hear their baby’s name spoken. The acknowledgement that their baby existed, not just died, is very important, and using their baby’s name is like music to their ears. It is actually healing to hear their baby’s name spoken. Avoid calling the baby a “foetus” or “it” as this can be quite distressful.
He Lost His Baby Too
A dad tends to take on the strong stance to further protect his partner from suffering, but he is grieving the loss of his baby too. Dads can often be overlooked as they are appear to be ‘strong’ and ‘doing well’. It’s important to ask a father how he is feeling too. Include him in conversations, give him a much needed hug, and let him know you are there for support.
How can you Provide Ongoing Support?
Special Dates and Anniversaries
The first year can be a very difficult year for parents. They will experience many firsts without their baby. Parents never forget their baby and often there is a resurgence of grief during this time. Letting your friend know you are there and thinking of them on their baby’s birthday, not only for the first year but consecutive years, is very comforting to know that you have not forgotten either. A small gesture with a card, flowers, visit to the cemetery, or gift is truly appreciated more than words can say. The lead up to special dates can also be very difficult for parents.
There is no time limit to grieving your own child. It takes time to re-adjust to life again. A supportive friend will check in and see how they’re feeling, particularly after the first few months when reality is really sinking in and life for everybody else appears to have moved on. Don’t assume that parents forget about their loss. It only takes a quick phone call or visit to see how they are travelling and to show that you care. It’s also important to do this over an ongoing period to gauge if depression may be lingering.
A Subsequent Pregnancy
Falling pregnant again or having a healthy baby after their loss will never replace the pain and love that parents have for their previous baby. Another child does not mean that parents stop grieving or forget about their baby. Parents will often feel quite anxious with this new pregnancy as they have experienced firsthand that not all survive. Their grief may also intensify, especially nearing milestones of their prior loss. Family and friends can support them by continuing to be there and not dismiss their fears about their current pregnancy. Bringing home a healthy baby is a true miracle and bereaved parents understand this all too well.
Grief & Its Impact
Grief changes people. Some parents are not the same person as they were before they lost their baby and never will be. Please don’t expect that same person to come back or for them to get over their loss. Expecting them to move on within a certain time frame is unrealistic, unhelpful and inconsiderate. Many parents can be traumatized by their loss and lose all sense of what “normal” felt like. Parents can become disengaged from life, lose passion in their previous interests and struggle to find themselves again. Grief can put pressure on relationships, the ability to work, and the emotional capability of the individual. Parents will move beyond their sadness in their own time, developing new thoughts, beliefs, dreams and aspirations and all this is very normal.
Mental Illness is on the rise in Australia and depression is certainly something that is real but not well understood or recognized. The symptoms and their severity may be different for each person but parents who experience the loss of their own child are at risk for developing depression. If you feel your friend may be displaying symptoms of depression please encourage them to get help, or make an appointment for them to see their local doctor.
There are many different support services available for parents, family and friends. If you feel you or your friend may be in need of further support please refer to our website for Bears of Hope support groups and services.
Many parents find comfort in being surrounded by keepsakes of their baby, or just to have their baby acknowledged and honoured.
Cliches and Comments to Avoid
- “You will have another baby.”
– Remember that they loved and wanted THIS baby. “The baby would have been deformed anyway.”
- “It wasn’t meant to be.”
- “Sometimes these things happen for the best.”
- “At least you weren’t farther along.” “At least you can get pregnant.” “Everything will be fine next time.”
- “At least you have other children.” “Everything happens for a reason.”
For more information, please visit: http://www.bearsofhope.org.au
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