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. This is a very normal reaction to loss. Reassure them that you are there for them, with suggestions of how you can help rather than asking what they need. 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. Please be patient in understanding that parents are struggling with grief, and that a lack of response does not not mean your message isn’t appreciated…it most certainly is.
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”. It’s also wise to avoid informing parents of unnecessary outside news, such announcements about pregnancies or the birth of another baby. Some suggestions are contained in our help sheet ‘’Helpful questions & comments and those to avoid’.
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. Their feelings and behaviours may not always seem rational but know that this is very real for them. A lack of societal understanding of miscarriage often means that parents who experience it are expected to recover quickly. Try to avoid saying anything that minimises their loss, as well as giving advice or trying to fix it…you can’t. What is needed most is a caring friend who is an impartial listener and there to validate their emotions and feelings.
Listen unreservedly, acknowledge their feelings and allow for moments of silence and reflection.
Speak of their Baby’s 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.
Offer Practical Help
Offering practical support will greatly benefit parents, especially in the early weeks when feelings of shock and grief are so acute. Regular household help will ease the strain at this time. Options include cleaning, weekly cooked meals, buying groceries, garden maintenance, transporting kids, running errands and caring for a pet. It may be acting as a companion for exercise and getting out of the house or driving them to and from support sessions and appointments. Do not offer to pack their baby’s things away. Parent’s will do this and need to do this as a part of saying goodbye. Another way you can help is to assist with the various tasks involved in arranging the funeral service and assisting on the day of the ceremony.
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’. Outwardly they are simply getting on with the necessary tasks and appear more active than mothers, but this is a coping mechanism and doesn’t reflect a lack of emotion. 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.
To make an analogy, grief rolls in as a mammoth tidal wave when parents find out their baby has died. It is only as parents accept and progress through their grief, does that tidal wave begin to break down. Gradually, waves become longer and parents begin to weather some days better than others. Underneath however, is a current that can be changed very quickly and a large wave can break suddenly to bring on a bad day. When parents appear to be having a “good” day, this doesn’t mean their grief is over. Know that grief is unpredictable and personal, and you will need to draw on your strength and patience to ride these waves with your loved one.
Other Babies & Pregnancies
For many bereaved parents, it’s extremely painful to face a reminder of what they don’t have. Parents may not be capable of seeing or being around pregnant women and babies for some time. Realise that parents may distance themselves from friends or family members until they feel they are “ready” to do so. It can be difficult to accept, but please don’t take it personally if they avoid occasions such as baby showers and visits to families with newly born babies.
Many parents find comfort in receiving gifts and looking for keepsakes to have at home, to be surrounded by tangible belongings and reminders of their baby. There are a number of thoughtful items or ideas that you might wish to offer as a gift initially or down the track.
Support Groups and Services
There are many support choices available for parents, family and friends. If you feel you are in need of further support please refer to our Seek Support page. Here you will find the details for Bears of Hope counsellor support, grief wellness groups, grief workshops and online support groups, plus a range of other support organisations and services.