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Guide: When someone you know loses their Baby

In Australia, 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage or stillbirth. That is a huge (and frightening) number of bereaved parents. There is no words to explain the loss of a child, regardless of age or how long they were in this world, the loss will still hurt and it will completely alter 'normalcy' for the parents. There is not a lot anyone can say or do that will make the grief go away. However, we understand that feeling of helplessness that you may have. The overwhelming desire to want to take away the pain of heart break the parents are going through, but really not having a clue what is going to help at this point. The below list has been compiled by a grieving mother in the hope that other grieving parents will feel as supported as she did.

 
 
  • Be there to support the family. Whether be in person, through phone, text or the mail, your presence, thoughts and prayers will be noticed and appreciated. You don't need to talk, in fact silence and just being available to listen without judgement is all we really need. If they are searching for answers, help find them (whether spiritually, through religion, or scientifically), there is nothing more comforting than someone else acknowledging the beliefs we have about our babies. 
  • Refer to their baby by name. Nothing upsets me more than someone (mostly medical staff) calling our baby a "foetus". Their baby died and no matter the age of the baby, they are a mother and father and that baby has a name.
  • Don't be afraid to talk about their baby. Whether it is 2 days, 3 weeks, 6 months of 8 years after the baby has passed, you are still allowed to mention them. It may make the parents upset, but hearing their name said by another person and the acknowledgement that the baby has not been forgotten is music to our ears. Just remember, even though our baby is in heaven, we are still mothers and fathers who are so proud of our child - help us celebrate our pride and joy.
  • Make sure the Dad is ok. Men grieve too, albeit differently, but they still grieve. Most men I spoke to whom are in this position return to normal routine ASAP. And that is ok. Usually at home they are trying to be strong and keep the household together while the mum can't bring herself to get out of bed. And that is OK. But you need to ensure he has opportunity to talk to others; find him a contact number for grieving dads, hang out with the kids or the mum for a bit so he can have a beer at the pub. And make sure you ask him if he is ok. He will say yes, but he won't be. 
  • Hold off on passing judgement. Everyone grieves differently and at that stage they don't need anyone judging their thoughts, or their actions. So long as they are being safe, support them in what ever they need to do to get through the day. If they don't want to talk, sit and cry with them, hug them- Whatever will help them.
  • Accept that they want to be alone.  If they don't want to see anyone (highly likely), give them space. If you want to take something to their house, leave it at their door. Don't expect to come in, they have more than likely let the house and themselves go and the last thing they want is to be making excuses or having to be good company.
  • Consider screening calls for them and keep family and friends updated on how they are doing. Having a central person to keep everyone updated would be very useful. Trust me, they will receive lots of messages and calls in the first few weeks from all sorts of people - friends, family, colleagues, medical staff, social workers and even strangers who hear the news. Making small talk is the last thing they want to do and most phone calls will end in awkward silence or the deafening noise of the mum sobbing and unable to say anything. If you call, be prepared for this. Please note, we know that you are just trying to help, and a phone call is definitely a nice gesture. Speak to people close to them and see whether a call is better, or a message.
  • It's ok to send flowers, but be aware they die. I was fine with this and loved the sentiment ( we had 11 bouquets all up!). Others may not like the idea that they die.  Consider sending bath bombs or a nice smelling candle to help the parents relax.
  • Try to give a gift that honours the memory of the baby . Some ideas are: a nice frame with baby's birth details inside, an engraved love heart necklace with baby's name, an engraved box for birth certificate, a crochet blanket with baby's name on it, a teddy to take to the hospital - the baby may be buried with it, or it may be nice for the mum to cuddle it as she leaves the hospital empty handed, a baby book so all birth info can be recorded nicely. A photo album, outfit for baby to be buried in, a plant that flowers on their birthday month, a 'first Christmas' bauble, a willow tree statue, etc.
  • Depending on when the baby dies, be sure to congratulate the parents on having a boy/girl. We received a "it's a boy" balloon and it was nice to have some positivity around the birth of our sleeping angel. We also had some friends congratulate us on delivering him and being proud parents. Whilst they may not notice that they are missing this being said, they will notice the difference when friends/family have babies.
  • Cook  and deliver meals that can be frozen- chances are the parents aren't going to be eating, they definitely won't feel like cooking
  • If going to visit or being nearby, stop off and get some groceries for them. They won't want to be going to the shops for eggs, milk, bread, coffee, etc., so consider doing that for them. If they have pets or other kids, also get some food for them - maybe a treat to keep them happy.
  • Offer to take other kids out for a while. They probably won't understand what is going on or why mum and dad are crying so much. This provides respite to both the child and parents
  • Be prepared to drop things off at the door and leave. Don't expect to be invited in or to see/talk to them. Don't make them feel guilty for it either.
  • Offer to clean their house, mow their lawns or take a load of washing with you. It is highly likely they will decline, but if you are at their house and you see dishes that need to be washed, just do it for them - don't mention it. They will be so grateful as they are mostly likely struggling to find energy to even get dressed. It wouldn't hurt to make them a cup of tea, too!
  • Help organise anything for the funeral. This could be a balloon or paper boat release, matching ribbons for everyone to wear, an outfit for the baby or even parents. You may burn the songs on to a CD for them, offer to drive them to and from the funeral, contribute money to pay for it (or to a charity in the baby's name),  make and print memory books for the service. 
  • Support the family to write their feelings down.  Writing a letter to the baby can be very useful in understanding all their emotions and getting it off their chest (not bottling it up!). They may choose to read part of the letter at the funeral. By the parents writing & recounting the events, they may also start healing as they no longer need to keep reliving the day out of fear they will forget something. They can just return to their journal.
  • Help find the parents a support group in their area. The hospitals social worker can probably help with this. alternatively, there are a lot of Facebook support groups.
  • Refer to relevant family members as 'grandparents', 'aunts' and 'uncles'  and ensure they have support too. They don't want to lose this baby from their family either and they definitely don't want to see their son/daughter/sister/brother  in this pain. Everyone will be hurting and feeling helpless. If you can help them with things on this list, I am sure they will appreciate it.
  • Remember the baby's birthday and Angelversary and help the parents celebrate it each year. Even if they don't want to celebrate it (most people do), a message of support is always comforting - especially when it lets them know their baby has not been forgotten.
  • Do what you can to help remember the baby also. We have had people light candles at church, build a garden at their house with a little rabbit statue in it, have something symbolic tattooed on them (it does not have to be drastic, but something sweet and small depending on your relationship with the parents).
  • Organise momentos to be taken at the hospital/funeral home - get foot/hand prints, photography by professionals, moulds of feet and hands, a blessing from a priest etc. The parents wont think to organise this stuff, but they will appreciate it when they have empty arms and broken hearts.
  • Don't expect to be shown a picture of the baby. Don't treat the photo as if it is anything other than a new born baby. Comment on facial features that are similar to the parents and how precious and peaceful the baby looks.
  • Don't say unhelpful things like "you can just have another" or "you'll get over this". We don't want to get over this, we want to "learn to cope better" and "find ways to remember him that will make you smile". Another thing that is nice to hear (for parents who are planning on trying for another baby) is talking about how their angel baby will help choose a perfect sibling (or rainbow baby) for them. Encourage the parents to ask their angel baby to send a sibling when they feel both the angel and parents are ready.
  • Don't tell them to get over it. No matter how long it has been, it will always hurt.
  • Always keep in mind the loss that has been experienced. In weeks and months down the track, ask the parents how they are going, and still be available to listen, and still do things in the list above.
  • Subtly protect them from pregnancy announcements, births of healthy babies, pregnant women etc. If you post a lot of photos about babies, have them minimised or limit who can see them. If an event is coming up and a pregnant lady will be there, warn them.  Everyone is triggered by different things and some people may be ok with these situations.
  • Go with the mum to future appointments at the hospital etc. or if she has to visit someone in the same hospital or a similar ward. You may not be needed if the husband is attending also.
  • Ask if they would like you to inform work. This is so they don't have to worry about people asking how the pregnancy is going. This is something they will be worried about if everyone knows they are pregnant.
  •  Support them to return baby items to the store if they wish.  Apparently, items can be returned outside of policy if the baby has died. 
  • If the baby is not eligible for birth certificate, help them get a recognition of life certificate from a charity listed within this post.
If you can think of more useful things, or you have given (or received) something very special to honour your baby, let us know! Follow the links to the Contact page.
 
  Image courtesy of Stuart Miles and freedigitalphotos.net