October is miscarriage and infant loss awareness month. I do not quite know how I feel about awareness months. I think some of them help raise needed money for research and hopefully better medicine. I think some of them actually do shed light on things we were previously oblivious to. The thing about miscarriage and infant loss though is that there is no “research and cure” for it, and most people already know it happens, or even know someone who has been through it. Dedicating a month to it does not necessarily do anything for it except perhaps stir a lot more emotion for the families who have survived it. Maybe more people are sharing their own stories because of this month, and that’s good, they need to be told.
At my roots I’m a fixer, and if there is going to be a month dedicated to it, I want it to be productive. I do not know how to do that. What do you do when throwing money at it or doing walks in matching t-shirts and selling rubber bracelets does not bring babies back from death or prevent it from happening in the future?
I have a new friend who recently experienced the stillbirth of their son, and just sitting in the thick of how raw and earth-shattering that pain is reminds me that the only thing that can and needs to be done is circle around that sweet family and let them feel what they need to feel, because there is no campaign or 5K or colored ribbon that is going to take away that pain. Know what? That is perfectly ok. It is ok for people to hurt. It is ok for them to take all the time and feel all the feelings they need to without anyone rushing that along, regardless of how uncomfortable that may make the rest of us feel.
I guess what I have then is a list of do’s and don’ts. Maybe you have not walked with someone through miscarriage or infant loss, or maybe you have and you want to do it better next time. I hope that coming from the heart of a mama who has lost babies I had not met yet, as well as a baby who lived earth-side with us will help those of you looking outside in, wondering what to do.
DO acknowledge that it happened. You cannot just keep trying to carry on with business as usual and hope that your person will be over it soon enough. They lost a huge chunk of their heart; hopes, dreams, memories, and they need you to tell them that you realize they are going through that.
DON’T try to compare their loss to, well, anything else. Their loss and their grief is completely unique to them, and believe it or not, it does not help them feel better to hear about your friend’s mom’s sister who lost a baby and how they handled it. Let their story be /their/ story, and let them share it with you through their own lense, not the one you had ideas about before this.
DO make specific offers of help. Saying “call if you need anything,” will never actually result in a phone call. You need to take the wheel here. Tell them you are making them a meal and ask what night is best. Tell them you are heading to the grocery and ask what can you pick up for them. Go over and rake their leaves/cut their grass. Tell them you’d like to help with some housecleaning and give them a choice of days to choose from. It is very hard to ask for help. Period. You need to not offer it, but to actually just give it and help with the decision making.
DON’T rush them into the future. Never ask if they’ll try for another baby or if they’ve ever thought about adoption, or reassure them that at least they are young and can try again. I do not want to have to explain this one. Just don’t do it.
DO continue being supportive well into the weeks, months, years ahead, not just right now during the “crisis period.” This is a hurt that is always going to stay with them, and there will be triggers for the rest of time such as holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, random Mondays. Remind them throughout time that you remember and are thinking of their little one. Use their baby’s name; it means the world to hear it.
DON’T use platitudes like, “God just needed another angel,” “everything happens for a reason,” “you can always have another,” “now you have an angel looking after you,” or anything that begins with the words “at least…”.
DO say “I’m sorry,” “my presence is unconditional,” “do you need anything?” “[baby’s name] will be greatly missed,” “this was not your fault,” “just take the moments one at a time.”
It is ok to tell your person you are at a loss for words, and have no idea what they are going through. Assure them that you want to be there for them, and then follow through and show up. They will help you know what they need if your eyes are open and your heart is receptive.
Miscarriage and infant loss are sad and hard and uncomfortable, but if you can look past your own discomfort and come alongside a friend or a family member who is going through it, you will not only bless the socks off of them, you will learn a lot of good things about yourself as well.