Last week I published a post 10 Things to Be Aware after Saying Goodbye’s post for Baby Loss Awareness Month. Knowledge is all very well, but for the baby loss community, they want to see people care too. As I’ve said countless times for the most part our experience has been hugely positive but we’ve had our moments. For instance I was asked soon after Aurelia’s diagnosis ‘When are you going to get IT sorted in hospital?’ That IT was my baby, and even if we had made the decision to terminate it would have been from a motivation to protect our baby from pain. She wasn’t an inconvenience to ‘fix’.
Many other parents are much less lucky. I don’t think people for the vast part are malicious when they upset people in these situations, I think most of it comes from lack of understanding or simply not knowing what to say or do. So, because most people want to show they care I’ve come up with a list of 10 things you could do to help the baby loss community. The first …. are some tips as to what to do/say with someone who has been through baby loss. The last …. are some things you can do on a more general basis.
#1 Sorry is the easiest word
I know Elton thinks it’s the hardest but when it comes to baby loss it’s the easiest. People (and I suspect the British in particular with our good old stiff upper lip) so want to make a sad conversation better by ending with a positive. The words ‘at least’ are often therefore used- at least you know you can have another one/at least you know they’re not suffering now/at least you’ve got another child. For parents who’ve lost earlier on I’ve heard often they just get stats thrown at them as to how common it is, or that it’s just ‘nature’s way of sorting things out’.You might think you’re helping by getting them to focus on the positive, perhaps you even think you’re helping them to not be too self-pitying but there’s no at least about it. They’ve lost a baby- a baby that can’t be replaced. There are no words of optimism that can make it better.
The other thing people often do is not saying anything at all which can be just as hurtful at times. But be assured all those parents want to hear is that you’re really sorry for their loss (and potentially a hug).
#2 Offer direct practical help
Lots of people said ‘let us know if we can do anything’ which we knew many of them meant. But again, call it being British, we found it really difficult to pick up the phone and ask people who’d offer generally to help.
What was super helpful were the people who offered to do something very particular (or who just turned up having done it). For instance some people offered to look after the dog, or some people turned up with shopping to fill our fridge with (very delicious and easy to cook) food*. We didn’t take them all up on it but it seemed easier to ask these people.
A few more ideas that you could offer to do;
- Do a bit of a cleaning
- Mow the lawn
- Drive them home from the hospital/to the hospital for follow up appointments
- Help with funeral practicalities
*I knew we were particularly loved when a veggie friend turned up with steak and chips for us!
#3 Don’t assume people want to keep themselves to themselves
Of course some people do, and we at times needed our space. However what got me through those first two weeks was a steady stream of visitors- whether it was friends, family or even midwifes. It added structure to the day, it gave me the chance to talk about what we’d been with externally and hence process it more, and meant I at least had to get dressed.
This is of course a personal preference, but just give the option to couples. Offer to come round if they’d like to see someone and tell them, if they’d like to see you, to tell you how long they’d like you to stay.
#4 Don’t assume you’ll know someone has lost a baby
I don’t want to make you nervous or scared to say things. I’ve never had a miscarriage but I have friends who have done. Their loss is often hidden from the outside world. People mean well but be careful about asking women about when are they going to start trying for a baby. For all you know they have been trying and have lost. I also think this is one of those topics if people want to share with you about it, they will. If they don’t, don’t ask however curious you are.
#5 Emotionally dump towards the edge of the circle
That sounds bizarre, I know, but there’s a concept called the dumping circle or the ring theory. Essentially the people who are going through a trauma, in this case the parents going through baby loss are at the centre of the circle. Then there is a circle around the parents of those closest to the parents and therefore next closest to the trauma- I suppose this might be grandparents, close siblings of the parents, best friends of the parents. And then there is a circle round these people who are more distant from the parents and therefore the trauma, and another circle and another. The idea is that you emotionally dump your upset/anger/any negative emotion to the circle around your circle, and you comfort those in circles within your circles. I.e. dump out and comfort in.
This goes for how you may feel about the baby loss, but also just about how life is in general. For instance, just after someone’s lost a baby, it’s perhaps not the time to tell them you’ve had the ‘worst week ever’ after something went wrong at work.
There’s an article which much better explains this whole concept here
#6 Give their baby status as a person
This is a really difficult one at times. One really common complaint from parents who lose their baby before 24 weeks is that there is no legal recognition of their baby i.e. there’s no death certificate. This might seem bizarre to some people that it matters so much but it often does to many parents. And I think, certainly in my case, it goes for how Aurelia is talked about- just people (if they know her name) referring to her by her name meant/means the world to me. It recognises her as a person who lived, even if it was for such a short time.
One of the most touching things anyone did for me during my pregnancy was when two friends came round for dinner after we’d had our diagnosis. When they left to go home, both patted my tummy and said ‘bye Aurelia’. A small action in some ways but one that will live with me forever.
#7 Give money
We’ve benefited from two charitable organisations that rely on donations in order to be able to work to the high standard they do.
The first was the Rowan Suite at Frimley Park. This was a suite that we had use of for nearly a week whilst I was being induced, giving birth and then as we spent time with Aurelia after. There was a clinical room for labour, a bathroom and an adjoining bedroom which meant Gerard didn’t ever have to leave me to get some rest, and meant we could sleep somewhere comfortable together and have family whilst we spent time with Aurelia. Whilst I’m in doubt this receives some NHS funding, many of the ‘extras’ that made all the difference (such as a cuddle cot which essentially kept Aurelia cool meaning she could be with us) had been bought with donations.
The second is the Mariposa Trust, and in particular their division called Saying Gooodbye UK which supports parents through pregnancy and baby loss. Much of their support has been through befriending me and just giving me a channel to talk. However they also put on amazing remembrance services for parents to attend, and of course have started a project in Aurelia’s name.
#8 Give time
Again whilst you might not have your own money to donate with, you could give up some time to raise money- perhaps sign up to run a marathon, or hold a coffee morning! Anything!
Also you could try and volunteer. Perhaps you could try and help out at one of Saying Goodbye’s Remembrance Services? Or you could contact your local hospital and offer to help with any gardening in a garden of remembrance they might have?
#9 Get political
If you watch the recent backbench debate held in Parliament (you can watch it here) you’ll see how many issues there are that you could write to your MP about to help either stop unnecessary baby losses, or improve care surrounding it. A couple of ideas might be petitioning your MP;
- About the fact your local labour ward doesn’t have a seperate suite for parents who’ve lost
- To push for 30 week scans for all pregnant women
- To ensure all midwives are trained in caring for bereaved women
- To ensure there is standard advice (that also treats the baby with dignity) as to what to do with the ‘foetus’ when a woman has had a miscarriage (this was mentioned by Fiona Bruce in Parliament and I’m afraid it’s quite hard to listen to what women are often currently advised.
If you’ve no idea how to write to your MP check out this link on the practical side of things.
#10 Get social
It being baby loss awareness month it’s the perfect time to help spread the word about baby loss. It’s still such a taboo to talk about and the only way we break taboos is to talk about it and get all the information, myths, stats, stories out there to show this is life for many, many people. So share this post, or share the countless articles that have appeared online over the last few weeks!
If you’ve any more thoughts on how people could show they care, do let me know!