This is one of my most popular posts on my personal blog No Holding Back. I continue to receive people to my blog who are searching things like “words when someone loses a baby.” It’s something we all struggle with. Even I, having lost a baby myself, find myself at a loss for words.
Sadly, there are no magic words that can take away the pain. But if you can find a way to let the mother know you are grieving with her and for her, and acknowledge her loss, you are already on the right track.
My first exposure with pregnancy loss occurred in April 2005. I had only been stationed in Germany for a few months at the time, but my husband and I had made friends quickly as you do in an overseas military post. The Lieutenant who had sponsored me for my move (we’ll call him Corey) and his German wife (let’s call her Anja) had really taken us under their wings. Anja was pregnant with their first baby. A girl. Although they had very little for the baby, Anja hesitated when the ladies in the unit offered to throw her a baby shower, because according to her, in German tradition it is bad luck to give a baby presents before it has arrived. But we insisted that everything would be fine, and Americans always have baby showers…
As my foreshadowing may have warned you, something went terribly wrong. Anja was a week past her due date. The doctor made the decision on Friday they would wait through the weekend and if she had not gone into labor by Monday, they would induce. At about midnight on Friday night/Saturday morning, Anja became worried that she had not felt the baby move in awhile.
On Monday morning when I arrived at my office, my boss was waiting for me. I could tell something was wrong, but my first thoughts turned to our Airmen who had recently deployed to Iraq. The Captain explained to me that Anja and Corey had gone into the hospital on Friday night, but when they arrived it was already too late. At some point that evening the cord wrapped around the baby’s neck. Anja delivered the sleeping baby early Saturday morning.
I was shocked and grief stricken. I did not have any children at the time, but we had been sharing Anja and Corey’s excitement for almost five months. This loss hurt all of us.
There was a funeral. The service was in German and I didn’t understand the spoken words, but I understood the message. The grief. The pain we all felt for this tiny being, who was taken for reasons none of us could understand or come to terms with, was more immense than I could imagine. To this day the memory of that tiny white casket is burned into my brain. I refused to have a casket for our Kathryn’s Memorial Service because I am still haunted by the memory of that casket.
After the service I will never forget how Anja stood there and hugged one person after another, how she comforted all of us as we grieved for her baby, how terrible I felt that I could not stop sobbing and the only words that I could manage to mutter out of my lips were “I’m just so sorry!”
What could I say? What would make it better? Anything?
There are no “magic words.”
Fast forward to December 2011 as we said goodbye to our sweet baby Kathryn. It was me standing there instead of Anja, watching my loved ones struggle to keep their composure and to try to find the right words, any words. And I felt for them. Unfortunately I now have the experience to know there are some words that are better than others.
It is okay to say you are sorry for their loss.
It is so important to let the parents know that you feel their loss and that you are there for them. It is definitely ok to let them know you want to listen if they want to talk.
Some things to avoid saying in this situation:
(**if anyone said any of these things to me and you are actually reading this, please know that I understand how hard it is to find the right words, and I know that you were only trying to help ease my pain.**)
1. “It’s all part of God’s plan.” Many people may believe this to be true, but not what I wanted to hear after losing my baby. And the idea that God would target people to lose babies or to go through the kind of Hell our family went through is just absurd to me.
2. “You can have another one.” Thankfully, no one said this to me, but I’ve heard several women say they heard this. Very VERY inappropriate!
3. “Everything happens for a reason.” Not what I wanted to hear. I did not… COULD NOT … understand why it happened and certainly was not in a place to think through the possible reasons behind it or what good may one day come from it.
4. “God only gives us what we can handle.” Nope. I’m not buying it. I’m pretty sure I went well past my threshold, but was thankfully saved by loving family and friends and my other three children. Now I will believe that God provided me with that support network, however, immediately after losing my baby I did not find this statement reassuring.
5. “The baby is in a better place.” Most mother’s think the best place for their newborn is in their loving arms. Although the sentiment behind this statement is understood, it’s best to just not say it.
I never expected anyone to have a magic word or statement that would fix everything or take the pain away. I knew there were no words. The greatest comfort to me was knowing that I’m loved and supported and that my family and friends were and are here for me.
There have been many times when I have felt awkwardness and silence in group settings as people try to avoid the subject. I understand, having been on the other side, that no one wants to upset me by saying or asking the wrong thing. But now I want to talk about and remember Kathryn. I want people to know about her and what happened to her. I want to know that other people loved her too. I want to know that it is okay for me to talk about her.
I know that not everyone wants to share that much, and it took me some time to get there. But don’t be afraid to ask a bereaved mother if she wants to talk about her loss. Worst case, she says no. Best case, you allow her to open her soul and honor her child.
Pregnancy and infant loss is something that is still so prevalent in our society. In the U.S. alone there is an estimated 900,000 to 1 million babies lost in miscarriage each year. Yet, even with these high numbers, many women feel so very isolated and alone, largely because the topic is not widely discussed. No one seems to be able to find the right words when someone they love experiences this trauma or know how to help someone who has gone through this; largely because each person grieves differently, responds differently, and has different needs.
But I still encourage you to try.
If you need a deeper understanding into the topic of words when someone loses a baby, I encourage you to read our book, Sunshine After the Storm: A Survival Guide for the Grieving Mother. It is also an excellent source of information for those trying to help a mother through this time.