When I lost the boys, I didn’t really know what to do. I didn’t understand anything that was happening to me (and still don’t most of the time). The doctors told me some stuff, my aunt (who lost a baby at 34 weeks) was a great comfort to me but mainly, I was left with the books I left the hospital with and the Internet. The books were not my cup of tea. They ranged from very religious to just very sad. I would get bogged down in how MUCH sadness there was and then I would lose hope for ever being happy again. Also, “general” books on grieving don’t do it for someone who has lost a child. It’s a different type of loss – as is a miscarriage. A miscarriage is not the same type of loss as for someone who has given birth to (and held) a baby who died. It’s not worse and it’s not better, it’s just different and the two shouldn’t be lumped together (which many support groups and counseling books do). It’s just not the same.
So, I was left with the Internet and in the selfish spirit of feeling better about what has happened to me – i.e. making this loss have some meaning – here are my suggestions if you or someone you love has lost their baby.
1. Don’t hide from her. That has been one of the most painful things – feeling lonely and abandoned. If you don’t know what to say, tell her that. Most of the time, I just want company. Being alone allows all of these negative thoughts to bounce around in my head and it’s hard to deal with.
2. Offer to make dinner, bring dinner, clean the house, answer emails, field phone calls, make a donation in the name of the baby, whatever but NO FLOWERS. You drop off flowers and leave and the flowers are there as a constant reminder of her loss. And then they die. If you need to give a living thing, stick with a plant that will survive for a while. I got a lovely Gardenia when I lost the second baby and even though it reminds me of what happened, the blooms are a pretty reminder.
3. Don’t say, “call me if you need me or you want to talk.” She won’t. I didn’t and I don’t. I can’t see past my pain long enough to pick up the phone and call someone (the exception is my best friend, Michelle and my cousin, Jen). I think about my boys from the minute I wake to the minute I go to bed. I have a one track mind but I also don’t want to burden other people with my grief. Unless you ask me, I will not talk about it. And don’t say, “how are you doing?” The answer will be “fine” every time. Say, “are you okay? How are you handling things? Do you want to talk about the baby?” She’ll tell you if she wants to talk but give her the option. My friend Frankie said, “I’m going to call you to check on you. If you want to answer and talk, that’s fine but I want you to know that I am here for you.” Best thing anyone could have said to me.
4. Help with practical things because in those first few days, I can tell you, I did not function. If she delivered the baby, her milk will come in. If this is her first baby, she won’t know what to do because chances are, she didn’t get that far in the “What to Expect When Expecting” book. Get her cabbage leaves, an ace bandage, ice pack and Tylenol. Just go to the store and get it for her. I HATED sending my husband out for that stuff (although he would never complain). Just save her the pain and take care of your fellow sister. Also, if you can, go get her something to wear that is not maternity clothes. My regular clothes didn’t fit but I felt like I was lying if I wore maternity clothes. Not rational but if you ask anybody in this situation and they will agree. I didn’t want to shop because there were babies everywhere…or if you do take her shopping, go somewhere with no baby department. My mother took me to Marshall’s and then stopped at the baby department and started to cry. Not a good day.
5. Do not send her pictures of your newborn baby – especially if the baby was born around the time her baby was supposed to be born. As much as I don’t want to admit it, I was angry and jealous and sad and pictures were painful to look at. If that makes me a bad person, well, so be it but it’s the truth. Send her an email announcement with no picture, she will be happy for you later. On that note, if you have a baby and you want to visit with someone who has recently lost their baby, leave the baby at home. It was a good 4 months before I saw two of my friends’ babies because they didn’t want to cause me pain. It’s easier once the baby is out of the newborn stage. You have to remember, the only image I have of my baby was as a tiny newborn and that is a very recent memory. I don’t want your baby but I don’t need to be reminded of the one I lost either.
6. Do not clean out the baby clothes or furniture for her unless she asks you to. I needed to go through everything and pack it away. It was closure for me. If you want to help her, that’s fine but don’t pack it up while she’s at the hospital. It will only make her feel like you are erasing the baby and what happened. Also, in my case, I already had a nursery for Baby B. Husbands, sisters, mothers, whoever….go into the nursery with her and ask her what she wants to do. I packed away the clothes but left the crib and changing table. I just shut the door and I don’t go in there. See, in my mind, I will need that crib sooner rather than later.
7. Acknowledge her due date. Ask her if she’s planning something and can you be a part of it. My biggest fear is that people will forget my boys. I have no birth certificates and I was only allowed a death certificate for Baby B. In my mind, the only people who know they existed are me and my husband. Also, think about Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. My friend Kelly sent me a lovely email on Mother’s Day saying that she was thinking about me and the boys. It was comforting.
8. If you get pregnant right after she loses her baby, don’t include her on that ecstatic email that you send out to everyone you have ever met. She will be happy for you but she will be sad for herself. I know it sounds selfish but you can’t understand this loss – I hope you never have to. Just wait to tell her unless you think someone else will say something and then call her personally and tell her. And don’t send her the ultrasound pictures. For most of us, that is how we found out our babies were dead. Try to imagine that for a minute and then multiply that pain times 10. That’s what we see when we look at an ultrasound picture.
9. Take her out when she is ready. If you take her for exercise, remember, just a little at first until the doctor okays her for more. Sign up for a yoga class or take her for a walk. If exercise is not your thing, take her for a pedicure, facial or a massage. I felt like crap, I looked like crap and I had no motivation to do anything about it. A good friend actually made an appointment for me to have acupuncture done and I so appreciated it. A trip to lunch or to get a pedicure may be the only reason she has to get up that morning. Believe me, I have been there. It’s very hard to get up in the morning and face the day when you’ve lost your baby(ies).
10. Finally but equally important, don’t forget the dad. Everyone has catered to me but several of my friends also called my husband separately. He lost something just as much as I did but now, in his mind, he needs to care for me to. I encouraged my husband to continue with his karate classes and not sit home with me. He needed an outlet separate and apart from me. His first reaction may be to not leave her alone so offer to take her for coffee or come over and sit and talk or go for a walk. I know hubby calls me on the way to his class and on the way home so he knows that I am okay.
I’m not an “expert,” only someone who has had the crappiest year EVER. In some ways, that may make me more of an expert than an “expert.” I’m sorry for you if you are reading this because you lost your baby. I wouldn’t wish this pain on anyone, not my worst enemy. If you want to talk, email me. I lost Baby B a mere 4 and 1/2 months ago and I still wake up crying. I can’t tell you when it will get better, I just can hope with you that it will.