Thoughts to Ponder on Loss

September 8, 2008 § 8 Comments

The following was posted on Baby Center, where I continue to be active on the forums. Some of you who have lost children will be able to relate (and nod over things our well-meaning loved ones have said to us) and for those of you who have not personally experienced this, it may be helpful advice for helping those of us who have to deal with our grief. Matt and I are grateful to our friends and family for their prayers, concern and comfort during our time of loss.



What we wish you knew about pregnancy loss:

A letter from women to their friends and family
by Elizabeth Soutter Schwarzer
I assert no copyright for the material. Please use it as you see fit to help women who have endured this terrible grief. Thank you.

Date: Sat, 23 Mar 2002

When women experience the loss of a child, one of the first things they discover they have in common is a list of things they wish no one had ever said to them. The lists tend to be remarkably similar. The comments are rarely malicious – just misguided attempts to soothe.

This list was compiled as a way of helping other people understand pregnancy loss. While generated by mothers for mothers, it may also apply similarly to the fathers who have endured this loss.
When trying to help a woman who has lost a baby, the best rule of thumb is a matter of manners: don’t offer your personal opinion of her life, her choices, her prospects for children. No woman is looking to poll her acquaintances for their opinions on why it happened or how she should cope.

Don’t say, “It’s God’s Will.” Even if we are members of the same congregation, unless you are a cleric and I am seeking your spiritual counseling, please don’t presume to tell me what God wants for me. Besides, many terrible things are God’s Will, that doesn’t make them less terrible.

Don’t say, “It was for the best— there was probably something wrong with your baby.” The fact that something was wrong with the baby is what is making me so sad. My poor baby never had a chance. Please don’t try to comfort me by pointing that out.

Don’t say, “You can always have another one.” This baby was never disposable. If had been given the choice between loosing this child or stabbing my eye out with a fork, I would have said, “Where’s the fork?” I would have died for this baby, just as you would die for your children.

Don’t say, “Be grateful for the children you have.” If your mother died in a terrible wreck and you grieved, would that make you less grateful to have your father?

Don’t say, “Thank God you lost the baby before you really loved it.” I loved my son or daughter. Whether I lost the baby after two weeks of pregnancy or just after birth, I loved him or her.

Don’t say, “Isn’t it time you got over this and moved on?” It’s not something I enjoy, being grief-stricken. I wish it had never happened. But it did and it’s a part of me forever. The grief will ease on its own timeline, not mine – or yours.

Don’t say, “Now you have an angel watching over you.” I didn’t want her to be my angel. I wanted her to bury me in my old age. [ETA— This one also offends my personal sensibilities. I hate when people refer to their departed children as angels. They are not, never were, and never will be angels. They are people and will remain so for all eternity. –DT]

Don’t say, “I understand how you feel.” Unless you’ve lost a child, you really don’t understand how I feel. And even if you have lost a child, everyone experiences grief differently.

Don’t tell me horror stories of your neighbor or cousin or mother who had it worse. The last thing I need to hear right now is that it is possible to have this happen six times, or that I could carry until two days before my due-date and labor 20 hours for a dead baby. These stories frighten and horrify me and leave me up at night weeping in despair. Even if they have a happy ending, do not share these stories with me.

Don’t pretend it didn’t happen and don’t change the subject when I bring it up. If I say, “Before the baby died…” or “when I was pregnant…” don’t get scared. If I’m talking about it, it means I want to. Let me. Pretending it didn’t happen will only make me feel utterly alone.

Don’t say, “It’s not your fault.” It may not have been my fault, but it was my responsibility and I failed. The fact that I never stood a chance of succeeding only makes me feel worse. This tiny little being depended upon me to bring him safely into the world and I couldn’t do it. I was supposed to care for him for a lifetime, but I couldn’t even give him a childhood. I am so angry at my body you just can’t imagine. [ETA— especially if I know a simple pill might have prevented it. –DT]

Don’t say, “Well, you weren’t too sure about this baby, anyway.” I already feel so guilty about ever having complained about morning sickness, or a child I wasn’t prepared for, or another mouth to feed that we couldn’t afford. I already fear that this baby died because I didn’t take the vitamins, or drank too much coffee, or had alcohol in the first few weeks when I didn’t know I was pregnant. I hate myself for any minute that I had reservations about this baby. Being unsure of my pregnancy isn’t the same as wanting my child to die – I never would have chosen for this to happen.

Do say, “I am so sorry.” That’s enough. You don’t need to be eloquent. Say it and mean it and it will matter.

Do say, “You’re going to be wonderful parents some day,” or “You’re wonderful parents and that baby was lucky to have you.” We both need to hear that.

Do say, “I have lighted a candle for your baby,” or “I have said a prayer for you/your family/your baby.”

Do send flowers or a kind note – every one I receive makes me feel as though my baby was loved. Don’t resent it if I don’t respond.

Don’t call more than once and don’t be angry if the machine is on and I don’t return your call. If we’re close friends and I am not responding to your attempts to help me, please don’t resent that, either. Help me by not needing anything from me for a while.

If you’re my boss or my co-worker:

Do recognize that I have suffered a death in my family – not a medical condition.

Do recognize that in addition to the physical after effects I may experience, I’m going to be grieving for quite some time. Please treat me as you would any person who has endured the tragic death of a loved one – I need time and space.

DO understand if I do not attend baby showers/christening/birthday parties etc. And DON’T ask why I can’t come.

Please don’t bring your baby or toddler into the workplace. If your niece is pregnant, or your daughter just had a baby, please don’t share that with me right now. It’s not that I can’t be happy for anyone else, it’s that every smiling, cooing baby, every glowing new mother makes me ache so deep in my heart I can barely stand it. I may look okay to you, but there’s a good chance that I’m still crying every day. It may be weeks before I can go a whole hour without thinking about it. You’ll know when I’m ready – I’ll be the one to say, “Did your daughter have her baby?” or, “How is that precious little boy of yours? I haven’t seen him around the office in a while.”

Above all, please remember that this is the worst thing that ever happened to me. The word “miscarriage” is small and easy. But my baby’s death is monolithic and awful. It’s going to take me a while to figure out how to live with it. Bear with me.


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§ 8 Responses to Thoughts to Ponder on Loss

  • frodo_esque says:

    Those are good things to keep in mind for any loss I’m sure– but particulrly with something as sensitive as the loss of a child.
    I would have some hesitation saying this one though: -Do say, “You’re going to be wonderful parents some day,” Does the couple really need a reminder that they would have been great parents? Some friends of mine had tremendous difficulty conceiving and when they finally triumphed, the loss at 5 months was crushing. I couldn’t imagine telling them that they would be wonderful parents as I knew that the chances of it happening again weren’t as strong as other parents. In addition– adoption isn’t that easy as well.
    Just throwing out some thoughts!

  • Thank you so much for this. It means a lot for me to read this.

  • DT says:

    Well, again, I didn’t write this. But knowing myself and folks who have gone through this, you don’t just “give up” on the idea of becoming a parent. Adoption may not be easy, but for couples determined to have children, love will find away.
    Also,it indicates hope for the future. Women who go through child loss don’t (and shouldn’t) just say, “well that didn’t work out. Oh well, I guess motherhood isn’t for me.” We should never despair or give up hope in any circumstances, and words to that end are always welcome.
    Of course, as with ANY of these statements, sensitivity, wisdom and common sense should weigh in on what you say to someone experiencing loss. The point of the post expresses something I found with my personal experience– people don’t know WHAT to say, and therefore end up saying some insensitive, hurtful and sometimes downright stupid things. Many of these things were said to me by my own mother and even my pastor! I sent them a copy. 😉 This is just a general guide for how to tread a little more sensitively. 🙂

  • frodo_esque says:

    After I made my post it occured to me that all responses can and should be catered to the individual’s sensitivities in mind, so your advice holds strong. =)
    I’m sorry for you loss.

  • DT says:

    *hugs* Thanks ‘esquey.

  • DT says:

    I’m glad it was meaningful for you!

  • starbiter says:

    I’m so sorry. *hugs* Still.
    And I wish someone would write something like this for people who wanted to have kids, but didn’t/couldn’t, for whatever reason.

  • lijuun says:

    Thank you for posting these. A lot of them seem pretty obvious to me (although I’ve heard them all said, which is terrible) but a couple of them were really good information to have (like, “It’s not your fault”) and I’ll definitely remember in the future in case I know someone else who this happens to.

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