10 Ways to Support a Friend Coping With Pregnancy Loss

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, but you don’t have to remind the tens of thousands of families who have been touched by that grief; We already know.

supportIt was late in the first trimester of my third pregnancy. Having already gone through one miscarriage, I was cautiously optimistic about carrying this one to term. Even though everyone tells you not to, we were so excited at the concept of expanding our little family, we had already let the secret slip to immediate family and a few close friends. So, when I went to the bathroom and noticed tiny specks of bright red blood on the toilet paper, I shrugged it off. “Must have scratched myself,” I thought, though I really had no idea when, or if, that could have happened. The excuses kept coming with each passing day. I called my doctor, who told me there was likely “no reason to worry“, and that “minimal spotting was normal” at this point in my pregnancy. I walked around with a renewed sense of optimism.

Surely, this couldn’t happen to me twice, right? The universe couldn’t be so cruel. It was, after all…just a few small stains of bright red blood…until it wasn’t.

One day, I looked down to discover a much darker shade of red, coating the top layer of toilet paper. Horrified, I looked down to discover dark crimson drops, splashing through the surface, and swirling through the water in some sort of mesmerizing dance. No longer able to convince myself this was some simple scratch, my tears soon joined, diluting the drops of crimson in the bowl. In that moment, I knew. This miracle baby, conceived during a break between fertility treatments, was no more. My pregnancy was over. My world started crumbling to pieces all around me. 

The days that followed were a blur. I battled depression with every breath I took. I struggled to take care of myself, my husband, and my 18-month-old daughter; a child still too young to understand what just happened; a child I wanted to shelter from all this grief. For that matter, I wanted to shelter my friends and family from the depths of that grief too.

I put on a brave face for the world. I never asked for help, because I was embarrassed; embarrassed I couldn’t carry another baby to term, embarrassed by how quickly and easily the tears came even weeks later, embarrassed that I could hardly get out of bed, or take care of myself, embarrassed that I couldn’t just bounce back and be that smiley person everyone was counting on. I didn’t want to burden my friends and family with my grief, so I internalized it. In hindsight, I wish I would have let more people in.

I know I’m not alone in feeling that way. Miscarriage and child loss can be such a taboo topic. Many families {and I say families, because as my husband so tenderly reminded me, he lost a child too} aren’t comfortable opening up about their experiences, but their silence, MY silence perpetuates that stigma. It can be difficult to know how to help them along their grief journey, especially if they’re not comfortable opening up about it.  

So, If you know one of these strong-willed, stubborn parents, or perhaps one that’s just too reluctant to ask for help, here are 10 ways you can show your support and sympathy, and help them shoulder the burden of grief.

  1. Provide a Meal: Plenty of people host meal trains after the birth of a baby to help the parents transition, but the loss of an infant or pregnancy is the perfect time to hold one as well. As I mentioned, this takes a toll on an entire family, and that can make some daily tasks like preparing a meal or shoot, even remembering to eat a challenge. Throw other children and their grief into the mix, and it can make the thought of walking to the kitchen to pour a bowl of cereal seem more like the Boston Marathon. If you have a large friend group, you can each take turns tackling a different day. If not, you can spend your day making homemade granola and grandma’s infamous spaghetti, or you can pick up a pack of muffins at the grocery store and a hot and ready pizza on the way. Just be sure, whatever you drop off is in a container you’re not hoping to get back, so the parents don’t have a mound of dishes they have to arrange to return. **Helpful tip: You can google “meal train” for a list of websites that will help you organize one for free, that can be shared on social platforms as well.**
  2. Offer to Babysit: It can be hard for mom and dad to let their hair down and really navigate this journey if they’re trying to put on a brave face for the world, and their children. It can also be hard for parents to devote their attention to their other children, while still mourning the loss of their child.  Have a child in the same grade? Offer to have them over for a playdate or sleepover. Already familiar with the baby? See if you can’t take their child for a walk around the block, or to a local park, just to give mom and dad a little time to breathe. If the parents would rather keep their family close together, offer to bring over ice cream, or bubbles, or yard games and keep them entertained in the backyard for a bit. The adult alone time is great for some mental clarity, or eating the house’s whole candy stash without young, innocent eyes watching {been there, done that}.
  3. Write a Sympathy Note: The art of a good handwritten card, is not lost on me. We’re so technically savvy and fast-paced these days, we forget how big of an impact a simple card or letter can have, over the traditional text or e-mail. I had friends I hadn’t seen in years mail me cards when I was grieving, and I can’t tell you how much it helped. Some, even had their children scribble drawings inside — that was the best! It meant so much to know that I was thought of, in a way that just didn’t rely on thumbs alone.
  4. Ding-Dong, Dash!: Drop off a surprise gift to their home, just ring the doorbell and run! I can’t speak for every mourning parent, but I know it was hard for me to see people face to face when I was trying to cope.  A Ding-Dong, Dash eliminates all that! Leave a bottle of wine (or beer for dad!), some fresh-baked cookies, a pint of ice cream, or stickers/little gifts for the kids on their doorstep with a heartfelt note. I guarantee you it will be an instant mood booster.
  5. A Memorial Plant: Give them something they can nurture and watch grow as their grief evolves. If a memorial tree seems like too much of a project, try a pot of flowers for the baby’s birth month. It will serve as a visual reminder that the baby’s legacy and the memories will live on, as does the plant. The griever not a green thumb? Try a succulent, or even a Christmas cactus {it has the most beautiful blooms!}. 
  6. Make a Mini-Spa Kit: Mom’s heart has been through a lot, but so has her body. Treat her to a little pampering and alone time, by putting together a little spa kit. Throw in some bubble bath, a candle, lotion, bath bombs, aromatherapy, the sky is the limit. It’s important, that even in grief, mom is taking care of herself. This kit will definitely help with that.
  7. Lost in Literature: Pick up a stack of magazines, or a best-seller for mom and dad, and some activity books for the younger children. If you have a closer relationship with the family, you can dive into the world of grief books, journals, inspirational literature, etc. It can be a nice diversion to just mentally “get away”, even if you’re just mindlessly flipping through pages.
  8. Movie Night Kit: Pack everything they might need for a movie night in, and a chance to just unplug from the outside world. Pick a great movie { your Netflix password 😉 }, pop/adult beverages, movie theater candy, popcorn, etc. Time spent together, not exploring grief, is really important too; and, it’s hard to resist a little self-indulgence during this time when someone else did all the legwork and put a kit together.
  9. Acts of Service: Sometimes a helping hand is all you need. Mow the lawn, rake the leaves, shovel the driveway, offer to walk the kids home from the bus stop, or handle drop off/pick up from daycare. Every small gesture helps take a little more off the grieving parents’ plate and gives them more time to heal.
  10. A {Post-COVID} Hug: Sometimes, a simple hug is all you need. No words, no expectations, just a hug. A chance for the grieving parents to let it all out, cry with reckless abandon, scream if they have to, and just FEEL. There’s no better place to do that than wrapped up in the arms of someone who cares.