I know from my own experience how difficult losing a child can be. Therefore, I always want to help grieving parents when I can. After losing Preslee in an accidental drowning, I've come to learn that I'm not always confident about what to say to other parents who have lost their child in a different way.
A few months ago, I shared some earrings that I suggested to be a great gift for moms who have lost a stillborn child. Since then, I've noticed more and more people asking questions about how to better support parents who lose their child this way. Since October is Pregnancy and Infant loss awareness month, I thought it might be helpful to ask a mom who has been through it herself.
I turned to my friend Brooke, who lost her son Tommy. I'm grateful for her real and honest answers. I hope this helps you as much as it did me.
How to Help Support a Family Who Has Lost a Still Born Child
1. Is it okay to ask what your child's name is?
I get asked this question a lot and the answer is a resounding YES! I often don’t talk about my son in fear of making other people uncomfortable, when someone asks me about him or brings him up it helps me feel like it’s an okay topic to discuss. Parents who’ve lost a child love to talk about about their baby but often don’t because they don’t want to make others uncomfortable. When you discuss them and bring them up like you would a living child it opens the door for us to talk about our baby. I love saying my babies name, hearing his name, other people acknowledging him and his existence.
2. Is it okay to ask questions about the birth and your experience in the hospital?
Within reason, yes. When I delivered my son it was a sacred experience, there were things about that night that I’ll never freely discuss. However, like any birth experience it’s part of our story and his story. It’s ok to ask general questions ie, “Was the staff understanding and good to you?” “What was delivery like?” Questions you’d generally ask someone who has a living child. Some parents might be willing to open up and share more details, it’s important to read the conversation and make sure you aren’t prying into personal details.
Is it okay to ask questions about your child if you aren’t close with the parents?
Before you ask this question ask yourself why you’re asking it. Is because you want details or information? Or are you asking out of genuine love and compassion. Grief can be like a car wreck with a lot of rubbernecking. Make sure as you ask questions and seek information you’re doing it for the right reasons.
4. Someone mentioned they moved in after their neighbor had lost their stillborn child. They would like to acknowledge their child and situation, but aren’t quite sure how to. How would you recommend they go about doing this?
Just say something! When someone acknowledges my loss regardless of how well I know them or not it’s always very meaningful to me. It helps me feel like he’s real to someone other than just myself. Parent who have a stillborn's greatest fear is the world not knowing their child was here. When you bring them up and acknowledging their existence it reminds us our child is real and their life had meaning and impact. I know it might be uncomfortable to broach the topic, but you can say something as simple as “Hey, I know you had a baby that passed, I just want you to know I’m so sorry for your loss. Is there anything I can do for you?” Even better if you can say their baby’s name! If the parent feels comfortable they can share more information, if it’s not something they want to talk about they can just say “thank you” and move the conversation along.
5. What acts of service did people perform for you and your family that made a big difference in your life?
This is probably my most asked question! My first comment is just do something! Anything! If it’s meaningful to you it will be meaningful to them, maybe not for the same reasons, but because you took the time and effort to reach out.
It’s important to remember a mom grieving a stillborn is also recovering from child birth, it’s a lot physically to balance. Here are some of the things I found some practical and helpful:
- Find out what their kids favorite meals are. Kids often don’t like the meals that are being brought in. Run to the grocery store and grab some easy meals kids like! Noodles and spaghetti sauce, stuff for peanutbutter and jam sandwiches, tortilla shells and cheese anything that will make for an easy kid friendly meal. (This is always my number one suggestion!)
- Providing meals for the family. Wether it be a home cooked meal, a gift card, door dash, pizza, etc. Keeping everyone fed is helpful.
- Babysitting other kids in their own home. Losing a child rocks everyone’s world, kids included! Kids can pick up on the stress of the situation and passing them around to other people’s homes can be emotionally taxing for them. The parents will need help between hospital stays, mortuary visits, doctors appointments etc… to come to the parent and watch their children is helpful to both the parent and the kids.
- Grocery shopping. We came home from the hospital to a counter full of fresh produce, milk and eggs in our fridge, bread, and a freezer full of easy to cook meals. This was helpful for weeks and months to come.
- House cleaning. Paying for a professional to have their home cleaned.
6. What has been done for you that you appreciate on Tommy's birthday? I know it's also his death date as well, and it can be an extremely difficult day.
Anything that people do for my kids on Tommy's birthday is meaningful to me because it's a really hard day. It's his birthday so I want to make it a fun day for my kids to be able to celebrate him, but it's also hard because I'm also deeply grieving because it's his death date. I always appreciate when people do something that brings happiness to my kids on Tommy's birthday because it takes the pressure off me to make it a fun and exciting day for the family. A few ideas to do this are:
- Dropping a new game off for the kids.
- A new toy that my kids can play with.
- My sweet neighbor fills our yard with blue pinwheels from Amazon and then my kids take some out to the cemetery when we visit Tommy.
If they don't have children, I recommend doing something that will bring the parents joy and that will acknowledge their child's birthday.
7. How does someone support you and not annoy or overwhelm you? (This is a huge fear many have expressed)
The best was to support someone is just by loving them. We had a lot of visitors in the immediate days after losing our son, while it was much appreciated it would have been nice to have those visits spread out just a bit. Also, once the funeral was over it was painful to see life go back to normal for everyone, it would have been a really great time for some of those visits and gifts, because that’s when the hard part really starts. I would also mention don’t be afraid to reach out, but don’t be offended if you don’t hear back. Losing a child because survival mode, the most simple tasks become monumental, I often didn’t have the capacity to engage with people, but I was still so grateful for all the texts and phone calls.
Thank you Brooke for sharing such personal experiences.
Have you lost a still born child? If so, what have you appreciated from others? Please share with us below. We'd love to help as many people as we can.