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What To Say To a Woman Who Has Lost a Baby that will be helpful and what not to say.
They meant well, but it still hurt. I knew people were not trying to be hurtful. I knew they were trying to be helpful. The comments hurt anyway. I wasn’t offended. The comments hurt anyway. The comments also frustrated me. I wanted to emphatically explain (maybe shout, but let’s stick with explain) to them why their comments made no sense and were actually terrible things to say. I kept quiet. I had enough pain inside of me without pushing away people who were trying to help me.
When you lose a baby to miscarriage or stillbirth, the pain is all-consuming. And it is lonely. You are really the only one who knew you were pregnant on a real level. The baby inside you reminded you every day. The nausea reminded you every day. The massive changes your body went through reminded you every moment of every day. For everyone else, it was easy to forget the pregnancy.
There are certain things people commonly say to a grieving woman that are intended to be helpful, but really just bring more hurt because it highlights how alone you really are in your pain. You know just how much no one around you gets it.
The griever knows you mean well. The griever knows you are grasping at anything you can to try to help her feel okay. Here is the revelation we all need when approaching someone grieving. You can’t take the pain away. You can’t say anything to make that person feel like is all okay.
And you don’t need to.
You just need to love and support that person and let them know it is okay for them to be upset. It is okay to grieve. It is healthy to grieve. If you have a friend going through the pain of a miscarriage or stillbirth, just love and support that person. Don’t try to offer wisdom unless she asks for it.
The best two things to say to someone who has lost a baby are:
- I am so sorry.
- I will pray for you.
You could add in things like, “I am so sorry. That totally sucks.” If you can think of ways to help, you can do them. No matter the situation, whether it is the loss of a baby or for a friend who just brought home a baby, saying, “Let me know if I can do anything!” is nice, but it isn’t helpful. Instead, say, “I am going to bring you dinner. Does Monday work?” or “What time does Tommy get out of preschool? I am going to pick him up for you.” Think of something you can do and offer to do it.
I noticed when I lost my baby, the people who simply said, “I am so sorry. I will be praying for you” were consistently the ones who had lost babies themselves. The ones trying to make me feel better by telling me why it was okay or what I had good in my life were the ones who had never lost a child.
What Not to Say to Someone Who Has Had a Miscarriage or Stillbirth
When talking about what to say, I want to be sure to highlight some major things to not say. These things pretty consistently are said because people think they are being helpful. Each year in the United States alone, about 24,000 babies are still born. Each year. That means each year, there are 24,000 women grieving that loss. When you add in miscarriages (which some estimate to be half of all pregnancies) and other fatal endings to pregnancies, the chances are high you will have a friend or family member experience the loss of a baby. Here are some things to not say:
1-At least you have other children!
I think of all the things said to me, this one bothered me the most. This is the thing I desperately wanted to tell people was not helpful. I had Brayden when I lost Braxston. Yes, it was great to have a child. In many ways, having a child to take care of helped me to pick myself up and move forward. In other ways, having a child to take care of gave me a valid reason to bury my pain and ignore it.
Here is the problem with telling someone “at least you have a child!” Each child, including the one lost, is an individual. A pregnant mother knows that. While the lost baby isn’t so real to you since you weren’t carrying the baby, that baby is very real to the mother. If a mom of four lost one child when the child was 10, no one would say to her, “Well, at least you have three other children!” because it is obvious that the three other children don’t replace the one lost. Losing a child is losing that individual child. Having another doesn’t make you think, “Ah well. No biggie about that lost one.” Children aren’t socks. You can replace a sock that disappears into the dryer system with a new pair of socks and move on with your life. You can’t replace individual children. That exact child is gone.
2-At least you know you can get pregnant! You can get pregnant again!
All the reasons the comment above also apply here. Again, the mother just lost an individual and she knows it. There is also a new, cold fear settling into the mother. Will I ever be able to have a child again? Just because you got pregnant X number of times doesn’t mean it will happen again. For me, I had one successful pregnancy and one failed. Which was my norm? I had no idea. Even if my loss had been my fifth go, I would have wondered if having another child would ever even be possible.
3-Your baby is in Heaven now.
There can be a certain amount of comfort that can come with this, but there are some things to be aware of with this type of statement. A grieving mother starts to feel like she is unfaithful if she feels sad. You feel like your faith is weak and you are displaying that for the world to see. I shouldn’t feel sad! Heaven is great! I should feel happy! Heaven is better than here! Those are thoughts that run through the mother’s head. Then the mother feels guilt for feeling sad and also feels like she needs to bury her pain so people don’t judge her faith.
It is absolutely okay to grieve the loss of those we love. When Jesus went to Lazarus, to raise him from the dead, he wept first. “Mourning is one of the deepest expressions of pure love. It is a natural response in complete accord with divine commandments” (Russell M. Nelson).
When a mother is grieving, it is an expression of her pure love for that baby. Don’t try to talk her out of her grief.
4-Sometimes life is hard and it is supposed to be that way.
I know when you read that you will think, “Well, duh! That is a horrible thing to say to someone! No one would actually say that.” But they do! I had it said to me and I personally witnessed it said to a friend of mine when she lost her two month old to SIDS. This is the type of statement people say when they are desperately clawing for something to say to comfort people. That is why I said above, don’t try to make people feel better. You will likely say something that you just shouldn’t say and wouldn’t if you were thinking rationally.
5-Here is a story about someone who had or has it worse than you do.
People like to offer stories of their friends, sisters, sister-in-law who went through this very difficult like experience to try to make the grieving person feel grateful their challenge isn’t worse. That doesn’t help. It minimizes the very real pain they are experiencing. No, I didn’t just lose four of my children in a car accident like that poor woman, but that doesn’t mean my pain right now isn’t very real for me.
6-Inquiries of what happened to cause it.
Every single mother who has ever lost a baby has blamed herself for it. We all come to a conclusion for what caused the death of the baby. The reasons we come to are typically ridiculous because we typically did absolutely nothing to cause it. My own reason I landed on? I had driven the car while stressed. Other reasons I have heard? “I was cleaning.” “I got a cold.” These are legitimate, real reasons women decide caused their miscarriage or stillbirth and they blame themselves forever for it. It makes no rational sense, yet they believe it.
A grieving mother does not need anything else pushing the idea that she did something to cause the death of her baby. Even if you don’t mean it at all, the mother will blame herself more if it feels like others are suggesting she contributed to the loss. I was fortunate to have a doctor who quickly and immediately made sure I knew I did not cause it, but not all women have this.
I was the first of my close friends to ever lose a baby. I had these things said to me. I knew they came from a place of love. They still were not helpful. I found it interesting over the years the number of apologies I got from those friends as they moved through life and lost babies themselves. Years later I would get the random email apologizing to me for saying one of these 6 things I listed above. The friend just lost a baby herself and now realized how hard it was to hear those things. I think that highlights just how hard these things really are to hear. A woman, years later, would realize she had said the same things and apologize for saying them because she had experience in what it felt like to have them said.
I know lists of “what not to say” can be hard to read if you have said them before. I know they can bring about paranoia in people because they worry about ever saying anything to anyone because they worry about saying the wrong thing. I think it is important to get the message out there to people that, though well-intended, these statements aren’t actually helpful (and this is true for any tragedy…I have had friends go through cancer who have talked about the same types of things being hard to hear from people). If you have said these things from a place of love, your friend or loved one knows where it came from.
If you haven’t said them yet, don’t. Always remember to focus on “I am so sorry. That sucks. I am praying for you.” Love, support, help, and never try to fix.
Related Posts on Baby Loss:
- Baby Braxston
- Allow Grief to Be Felt
- Heartbreaking Sorrow Strengthens Us
- I Remember Him Still
- Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day
- Processing Pain of Child Loss
- Not Less Painful–Just Better At Handling It
- Stillbirth: Still Painful 9 Years Later
- Traditions for Lost Child’s Birthday