Navigating the loss of a loved one is never easy. Losing a child – during pregnancy or after birth – can be hard to comprehend, and even harder to know how to help the person suffering this loss.
As many as one in four women will experience pregnancy or infant loss. That means that among your friends and close family, it’s likely someone you know has been or will be affected by perinatal loss.
At Northeast Georgia Medical Center (NGMC), we offer a Bereavement and Family Support Program, which gives us the amazing opportunity to provide care alongside our families during the initial stages of their loss journey. While we can’t “fix” or “resolve” someone’s grief, we can focus on creating a safe space for parents to begin their healing process. By providing emotional and spiritual support in a compassionate environment, we hope to make a positive impact in their healing journey.
But those feelings of devastation, grief and even helplessness don’t just diminish over time. While the healing journey may get easier, the impact of their loss will always be present.
In honor of National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, Chaplain Karen Hoyt and I would like to share a few tips for providing support to a loved one experiencing perinatal loss. Together, we can help support these families as they continue to heal.
1. Follow their lead.
Everyone grieves differently. For some, it helps to talk about the loss and how they’re feeling. Others turn inward. Let your loved one decide what is best for them and make sure they know you’re available to support in whatever manner they need.
2. Start with “I’m here for you.”
If you’re unsure where to start, try simply acknowledging that you’re here for them. It can sound something like, “If you want to talk, I’m here. If you just want company, I’m here.” Let them know that you’re there for them in whatever form they need, when they’re ready.
3. Don’t minimize or compare.
Whether it occurred during the early stages of pregnancy, at term or after birth, a loss is a loss. Refrain from using “at least” statements or bringing yourself into the conversation in comparison. Keep the focus on your loved one by letting them know you see the hurt or sadness they’re experiencing.
4. Acknowledge the loss.
Don’t pretend like nothing happened. As author Elizabeth Edwards once said, “If you know someone who has lost a child, and you’re afraid to mention them because you think you might make them sad by reminding them that they died – you’re not reminding them. They didn’t forget they died. What you’re reminding them of is that you remembered that they lived, and that is a great gift.”
5. Offer to help in specific ways.
It’s common to ask how we can help when a loved one is experiencing hard times, but they may not know exactly what they need at the moment. Take a definitive approach by stating, “I’d like to help you by…” followed with a specific purpose or task, such as:
- Dropping food off at their house (text them ahead of time so they can expect it)
- Ordering, picking up and/or delivering groceries
- Cleaning or straightening their house
- Helping with yardwork
- Providing care for the other siblings so the parents can focus on healing
- Sending a gift card
6. Check in with them often.
Grief is not linear and doesn’t follow a specific schedule. There will be good days and bad days. Make sure you’re checking in with your loved one often and continue to do so as time passes – especially once things seem to get back to a “normal” schedule. It’s likely things will never quite feel “normal” again for them, and talking about it or acknowledging this reality may help.
A little extra love and kindness goes a long way – especially during difficult times. We hope these tips will empower you to provide your loved ones with the support and encouragement they need.
About NGMC’s Perinatal Support Services
NGMC’s Perinatal Support Services is here to care for families in all aspects – from blessings and baptisms to navigating hard medical decisions or the loss of a child. Our program provides emotional, spiritual and grief support to mothers and families experiencing the diagnosis of a life-limiting or fatal diagnosis for their baby, infant and child loss, NICU parents, patients with signs and symptoms of postpartum depression, and staff support for those who provide care to patients.
Learn more about our program and team, which includes a registered nurse and certified grief counselor and a board-certified chaplain and bereavement specialist, at www.nghs.com/perinatal-support-services.