Monday, March 9, 2015

5 things never to say to a woman whose baby has died

Tonight, I went to our local chapter of M.E.N.D -- a pregnancy loss support meeting. And you know what? People are saying the same old ignorant, hurtful things to women having a pregnancy loss as they did when I first had mine -- and probably have said since the dawn of time.

I know I can't prevent every single woman out there from having to hear these hurtful comments. But I sure can do my part to spread awareness.

So if you come across any woman who has lost a baby at ANY stage in pregnancy or following birth -- please do the universe a massive favor, and steer clear of saying any of these 5 things. (Or anything that even closely resembles them.)

#5 -- At least you were early.

Maybe you truly feel that you are doing this woman a favor to remind her that her body was unable to carry a baby past 12 weeks, or past her second trimester, or even to term.

But can I let you in on a little secret?

First, there is no "at least" with loss. None. So, umm. Stop saying that.

Second, from the moment that second line appeared, that mom had feelings about that baby. She not only had feelings, but something -- a very big something -- has changed in her life. Forever. No going back. No going back even with a loss. That baby changed everything for her. From the moment she knew it existed.

And losing that baby changed her forever too.

Life and death? It happened. So stop making it sound like it's no big deal.

And third -- sometimes an earlier loss is even HARDER to process. In part because of a lack of support due to their loss being so "early."

#4 -- I know exactly how you feel.

Actually, you don't.  Because I don't even know exactly how I feel.

One moment I think I'm OK. The next moment I'm balling my eyes out because of some silly little thing triggered my grief -- walking past the baby aisle, driving by the hospitals, eating something I last ate the day we lost the baby. And then 10 minutes later, something makes me smile. A sunset. A flower. A text from a friend.

I feel like a kaleidoscope of emotions -- always changing with each turn.

I really don't care if our losses were the same. So you had a miscarriage too? OK. Chances are, the way I felt about my baby differed from you. The way I feel about pregnancy probably differs. And the way I feel about our loss differs.

If you want to relate, if you want to empathize -- by all means do. Just don't tell me that you know exactly how I feel. Unless, you know -- you are God. (And God, if you are reading this, then please chime in.)

#3 -- You could always try again.


I get that if you have a flat tire on your car, it makes sense to go get another one. You lost your coat? Then go shopping for a new one. Outgrow your house? Hit up Zillow or Redfin.

But PEOPLE? People are not replaceable.

And last time I checked, a baby is a people.

So just don't. Ever.

If you ever do say this to a woman, chances are she is screaming in her head at you that she doesn't want another one -- she wants THIS ONE. And could you blame her? Chances are -- you want each of your children too.

(PS -- In saying she should try again, you are making some pretty big assumptions about her fertility. First, that she is capable of trying again. Second, that she wants to. Generally speaking, those are private topics that she should bring up with you if she wants to discuss them.)

#2 -- They are in a better place.

This is something you could probably legitimately say to someone who's had a grandparent die whose life at the end was one of excruciating pain. (Even then, maybe not the MOST supportive.)

But to a mom who has had a baby die?

Last I checked, a baby being born in this world were something to be celebrated. It is the natural order to be born, to live, and then a long long long time after a full life, to die and go to heaven. We all want babies to be born here first, before they die.

Maybe it's just selfish. But I don't want my babies in heaven. Not yet anyway. I want them here, with me, with their cute smiles, and their little piggy toes and their coos and yawns and cuteness. I want them to go through life -- the good and bad -- and fulfill a purpose. I want to meet their children and their children.

I want to live with my children before they die. I want to die first.

Maybe it's selfish. But it's true. I don't want them in a better place. I want them with me.

(PS. This is phrase is also cousin to "It's God's will." If you're curious, I'd steer clear of this one too.)

#1 -- Just be grateful for your living kids.

Can I ask a question? If your parents were in a car accident, and only your mom survived -- how would you feel about people who ignored the fact that your dad just died -- instead focused on how 'grateful' you should be feeling about your mom's survival?

I'm guessing you might feel a little invalidated -- a little miffed. I'm sure you ARE grateful your mom is alive. Maybe even more than you were before. But you just had a parent die. You also deserve to grieve.

In a pregnancy or infant loss, a family has gone through a tragedy. There were survivors. There were others who did not make it.

Moms, dads and kids -- they all deserve the right to grieve the ones that didn't make it.

In case you know have no idea what to say to someone who has lost a baby at any stage of life, I have a really easy suggestion.

A simple "I'm sorry for your loss" would suffice.

And then be available to listen, to grieve with them, and to offer any support you can by way of chocolate, food, time away, or clean dishes, or childcare. I promise a million times over, those acts of service will provide more comfort than any cliché ever could.


  1. That is the most dumbfounding part: that these same words keep being said loss after loss. And yet I've seen plenty of "what not to say" articles. So why isn't it sinking in?

  2. I totally agree Mel. There are millions of posts exactly like this one. And yet I still feel the need to write (again) because people STILL aren't getting the message.

    I got to thinking about it today. Why is it that we as a culture are primed to do all sorts of things just to be socially acceptable- -- we brush our teeth so no one has to smell our bad breath, we bathe, we say "hello" and "goodbye" at the appropriate times -- but never, never are we given a social primer on grief. This is so strange to me given that, oh, 100% of us will lose someone at some point. So why is it that we go around offending each other left and right in our grief, and it's socially acceptable to stay ignorant? Why hide in the sand like grief doesn't happen, but it does and we are hurting others with our words.

    Just needed to rant. I feel another post coming on . . . .

  3. I personally disagree on 2 of them ... I had a stillbirth and took great comfort in knowing he was in a better place. .. that God needed my baby more than me and that he was with God not in this terrible world. that's not to say I would want my living children there but that it did give me great comfort knowing my baby not even Born so without sin was with my God in heaven. I also didn't mind people having gone thru similar experiences saying they understood my pain. It was comforting to know I was not special. The pain of losing a child was not something set aside special just for me, but that other women knew that pain and I could cry with them and vent with them ... the women who experienced loss whether early or late stage were the people I needed to talk to when I lost my son. The other 2 I totally agree with. But for some knowing your not alone and that your baby is with God ... those can be very comforting feelings !!!

  4. Here's a question to ponder for your next post: is it better to say the wrong thing or to say nothing at all? I think sometimes those of us who have friends who are grieving are so afraid of saying something that will make it worse that we say nothing, and end up leaving our friends feeling lonelier than ever.

    This is not a critique on this post at all, you have really valid and challenging points here, I'm just really curious.

    1. Just say something genuine, not trite. Like the article said, just saying "I'm so sorry for your loss" is enough. Heck, just tell the truth and say, "I don't know what to say."