In 1988, President Ronald Reagan designated October as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month; since then, many families in countries world-wide acknowledge October 15 as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day with the lighting of a candle at 7 p.m.

pregnancy-infant-loss-remembrance-dayI am sad but honored to write today’s post in honor of many friends and acquaintances who have suffered the loss of a pregnancy or newborn. Over ten years ago, a high school classmate delivered stillborn babies and at the time, I didn’t realize how common this occurrence was. As I grew older and knew more women who became pregnant, I learned that a significant number of women lose their babies at various points during their pregnancy or that a seemingly healthy pregnancy can abruptly end at 32, or 36 or 41 weeks.

A friend lost a twin right before her due date. A friend of a friend, who has now become one of my friends, lost her baby boy the day after her baby shower. A college (and beyond) friend lost her baby girl after her due date, as she was preparing for an induction that week. Her husband’s cousin lost a full-term baby one year later. A high school friend delivered a still-born baby girl after finding out about a chromosomal abnormality. The sister-in-law of a friend lost her baby at full-term. Just this week, a former co-worker of mine found out she won’t be bringing home a baby brother for her two sons. In addition, many friends have experienced miscarriages early in their pregnancies, and I am sure there are more I do not know about.

The point is, each one of these women has suffered an unimaginable loss, one that most of us cannot understand nor fix. However, I know that the support of friends and family during this time and beyond have made life more bearable for all of these women. In conversations over the years, I know that my friends each deal with their loss in different ways, so I reached out to a few of these amazing women to get some ideas on how to best support those who have lost a baby.

  • Do reach out. Almost all of my friends acknowledged that there’s not a “right” thing to say and that’s ok! But not reaching out at all is hurtful and isolating. A quick text message, an email, a handwritten note, or a voicemail can mean the world to someone. A simple “thinking of you” message is enough.
  • Don’t expect a reply right away – or at all. These families are sad, shocked, and grieving. They are inundated with people wanting to help and this is not the time to be offended when your acknowledgment isn’t acknowledged! If your offer of help is not accepted, check back at a later time or offer words of love instead. Be supportive, but not intrusive.
  • Do share personal stories if you are comfortable – and they seem welcomed by the parents. It can be encouraging to know others have experienced similar losses. Put them in touch with other families or resources who may be able to offer support.
  • Don’t offer rehearsed, overly-positive affirmations of faith or say “time heals all wounds.” While these statements may come with good intentions, they do not offer any solace. One my friends was told that she would be a mother one day, as if the full-term pregnancy and stillbirth of her child did not make her a mother. Another friend who had a daughter, lost her second daughter and then had a son has been told, “Perfect – now you have one of each!” Her response? “Actually, I have two daughters and a son.”
  • Do ask about the father; dads are often forgotten about during grieving.
  • Don’t avoid the family because you don’t know what to say or do.
  • Do ask how you can show support if you are unsure. Do they need meals? Care for an older child? Is there a memorial service you can attend? Instead of sending flowers right away, see if there is a foundation or organization to which you can donate in memory of the baby. Perhaps you can just sit with the grieving parents, offer a hand to hold or cry with them. Some of the ways friends and family have shown support for my friends include sponsoring ducks in the KinderMourn Hope Floats Duck Race, planting trees, running half-marathons while wearing bandanas with the baby’s initials, displaying photos of the baby, releasing balloons, and donating books to a library.

One of the over-arching responses was to acknowledge the baby and acknowledge the loss. In the case of a miscarriage, if the mother has chosen to share the loss with you, she wants you to acknowledge it. Give a hug, send a card, check in a few weeks, months or years later. The loss doesn’t go away. Celebrate the baby’s birthday because you can be sure that the parents are!

Finally, one of my friends mentioned practicing pregnancy and baby sensitivity in general. We never know what someone else has experienced and it can be quite hurtful and/or uncomfortable to assume that it is a woman’s first pregnancy or that a family of four is complete.