This week is Baby Loss Awareness Week, which aims to raise awareness of pregnancy and baby death in the UK, and this year the campaign is focussing on isolation. Rightly, it is pointing out that on top of the isolation many bereaved parents feel after a loss, the complications thrown at them by Covid-related restrictions have made things even worse. Often, a mother has been forced to go through one of the most devastating experiences of her life alone, while her partner is left waiting in a hospital carpark feeling desperate, distressed and incredibly helpless. When we grieve together, we share in our remembrance. This experience is difficult enough when there are precious little memories to hold – but going through this alone as a parent can only add to the isolation felt later.
Many bereaved parents have said that in the weeks and months after a loss, they have not necessarily been alone, but they have felt extremely lonely. Holding a grief that no-one else can share is an incredibly isolating experience, and is why bereaved parents often find comfort in talking to each other. Parents often say that unless you’ve been through it, you can’t understand the unique grief of the loss of a baby.
Although baby loss is a lot more prevalent than many of us realise, it isn’t an experience that all of us are familiar with and sometimes it can be difficult to know what to do or say when someone we love loses their baby in this way. Talking about death in the UK is hard, and talking about baby death is even harder. We know that we want to help – but struggle to find the right words.
So, what can you do?
“I’m so sorry, I don’t know what to say.”
Saying this is better than saying nothing at all. A bereaved parent will appreciate that it’s hard to know what to say – because really, there’s no fix. You can’t make them happier, or find a solution, because there isn’t one, but right now that’s OK. The vastness of what’s happened to them needn’t create a chasm between you so big that you can’t reach across and just be really honest – “I am so sorry, I don’t know what to say.” What you have done is acknowledge that the loss they have experienced has no words that can describe it.
“Would you like to talk about her?”
It is rare that a bereaved parent will be offended by this question. Most parents love to talk about their babies, and one of the brilliant things about Baby Loss Awareness Week is that it gives people the opportunity to say out loud that yes, I am a mum or a dad of a beautiful little boy or girl who had their whole lives ahead of them, and I am proud to be their parent. If it’s too raw and too much, they can always say no.
Use their name.
Do you know if your friend or family member named their baby? If you do, use their name. Acknowledgement of that baby being real, human and a person is so important, as many bereaved parents have spoken of experiencing a lack of understanding in this way. Your recognition and validation will go a long way.
Don’t ignore the partner.
The first question that partners get asked in a maternity unit is “how’s mum?” This is only the start of what becomes a cycle of people asking after her whilst completely ignoring the other parent, who is also grieving and trying to ‘be strong’ or ‘be a solid rock’ at the same time. At GriefChat, we often hear from partners who are only just reaching out for help sometimes years after the loss of a baby because they didn’t feel they could grieve properly at the time – and end feeling very isolated and left behind in their grief. So, ask them how they are coping. They are just as important, as is their grief.
Never say ‘at least’.
The death of a baby is one of the most life changing, destructive, earth shattering experiences you can ever go through. It is of little comfort that at least someone is still young, or can get pregnant again, or has other children already, or didn’t always want to be a parent, or that the baby was only 18 weeks old, or that God only takes the best babies… These are all things that bereaved parents are regularly told, and although it often comes from a good place they are rarely helpful, and often invalidate the bereaved parents’ feelings.
Help to remember.
Do you know a bereaved dad, or mum, or grandma, or brother? Help them to remember their baby this week. Get in touch, send a message, let them know that you are thinking of them and remembering their baby too. Social-distancing rules may mean you can’t see them in person, but they in no way mean you can’t still be there for them. Reach out today. It will be appreciated.
If you are dealing with grief or bereavement, GriefChat offers instant, free, professional support from qualified bereavement counsellors Monday – Friday 09:00 – 21:00, via online instant chat. Start the conversation at GriefChat.co.uk.