Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Pregnancy Loss: What NOT to Say

I know I havent posted a blog in basically forever, but I have excuses for that. But alas, let's dive right into the subject of this post.

This is a post that has been on my heart for a very long time, and finally I got the chance to sit down and write it out. Please do yourself a favor and read it, and absorb it.

Unfortunately, pregnancy loss is a common occurance. Without looking up actual statistics, I remember reading that at least half of the women who have had pregnancies have experienced pregnancy loss, often very early on but it can even happen when a woman has gone beyond her due date. As I have grown up and reached my child bearing years, I have had many friends experience this tragic loss and regretfully I continue to run into people who have lost their babies to this day--and unfortunately I'm sure there will be more. The fact of the matter is that you, or someone close to you, has or will suffer this type of loss. Instead of avoiding your friends because you don't know what to say to them, let me help you understand where we are coming from a little better. This is not intended to scare anyone, as I know many people are able to have babies without experiencing loss at all and even the riskiest pregnancies can be successful and healthy. Some women may never experience such a loss.

My situation was unique in that I was carrying identical twin boys where we found out rather suddenly, with no inclination anything had been weong, that one of our sons was no longer with us. That day I went into preterm labor because my body knew what was best for Micah (my survivor). I was 30 weeks along, and although I knew there were risks with a twin pregnancy we had assumed we were safe now in the third trimester. Boy was I wrong!  Yet, now that it's been about 2.5 years since our loss of my sweet son and preterm survival of the other, I feel like I want to help my sisters in grief out and give a little insight about what it is like to lose a child through pregnancy loss and what you should and should not do or say to someone who has lost a baby.  I know everyone is different as is every unique situation but I think there are some universal truths on the subject.

What the mother goes through:

Hands down, the mother is the one who suffers the most with her loss. She is afterall the mother, the womb, the nurturer, and NO ONE else has been as close to the baby(ies) as she has been until now. Hormones have begun to alter her body, and it has started to change her. She is the only one who has to go through the pain (both physical and emotional) of the miscarriage or birth of her child. SHE is the one, the only one who can do this. Yes, dads, signigicant others, siblings and grandparents are also affected under the umbrella of pain and loss---but mom always bears the heaviest burden and the greatest sense of loss.

Some people assume that early losses are nothing to be upset about, however making this assumption is a great mistake! While the mother may have been expecting for only a few days to a few weeks, she has already begun to bond and plan for her little one. She has been daydreaming of names, eyeballing crib bedding, cooing a over stranger's babies, craving a bigger baby bump and wondering how it will feel when her baby kicks inside her. She may have already been experiencing morning sickness and other unpleasant symptoms that we moms-to-be bear all in the name of pregnancy & babies.  But now the most feared aspect of early pregnancy has become her reality--a miscarriage/no heartbeat on a monitor, and possible a D&C. Not only will her heart be crushed at the news, but so will her dreams. All those fantasies she dreamt of will not come to be. Now the crib bedding is a punch in the gut, a woman with a pregnant belly her painful envy. She never got that baby shower. Never got to feel those kicks. She may never even know if it was a boy or a girl.

Whether you know it or not, a good portion of these women that have an early miscarriage may not be experiencing their first m/c. Some may have had many before and now every pregnancy is anxiety ridden as they learn to be cautious and guarded, knowing the pain that may soon ensue. With every loss comes defeat, numbness, heartbreak, uncertainty, fear and pain. These women and Many others may have tried to get pregnant for a long time, even years with or without expensive fertility treatments, and probably tried everything they could to get this miracle, only to have it be taken away to soon.  Many of these women fear it was something they did, or worse, that they don't deserve a baby.  I would venture to guess that every mom who loses a baby feels guilty and at fault--when usually there is nothing they could have done to change it. I know I did, and sometimes I still do.

Late term pregnancy losses, too-premature births, and stillbirths definitely come with some added heartache. Not only do they experience the losses as previously mentioned, but by now many have felt like they were "safe" for making it out of the 1st trimester, and some even into the 3rd trimester, and more still even making beyond their expected due date. I know I felt safe, I was 30 weeks! These women have felt their babies move, even if just a little. They have watched their bellies grow and already collected baby items, even set up their nurseries. Many have picked out a name or at least have a few favorites. What was all day dreams and expections in the first trimester have now become a reality. As our bodies change we bond closely with our babies. And now---now we've been struck by a dagger of pain and in seemingly an instant our little one has passed on and we are left empty handed, and empty stomached. (I remember still having habit of watching out for my belly as I bent over a sink or a counter, so as not to hit my babies on it, only to be sharply reminded of my tragic experience in the days and weeks prior as I placed my hand on my flat and empty belly.) I have even known of women who find out their little one no longer has a heart beat and had to wait WEEKS to have a C Section or induced labor. Imagine walking around knowing your baby is gone but still there, and having to deal with all those "when are you due" "boy or girl?" questions by well intentioned passerbys. Talk about salt in the wound!  Now you look around your house and that carseat you bought on sale mocks you. The scrapbook of baby shower ideas brings you to longing sobs of what should have been.

Not surprisingly, pregnancy loss is a trying time in a mother's life. So many thoughts, emotions and physical implications affect a bereaved mother, even though---or I should say--ESPECIALLY because, she never got to hold her baby, feel her baby, see her baby smile or stare into her baby's birght eyes. She never got to try nursing, or swaddling. Will never see her baby roll or toddle Every milestone her baby misses will be coldly remembered by her mom. Time for her and baby was far too short and although she will heal and continue her life, she will NEVER forget her baby that she loved so very much. I believe they refer to these babies as angels because we always feel like they are with us and watching out for us, day in  and day out.

Truth is, if you have never experienced pregnancy loss you will never know what it's really like.

What you should and should not do or say to a mother who has recently lost a baby:

#1 DO NOT avoid her and/or the subject of her loss. I do understand that people don't want to bring it up because they don't want to cause more pain, but here's the truth: She is already thinking about it! Instead, your inclination towards avoidance has created an awkward and often painful rift in your relationship. I can't tell you how many times these women share stories of best friends, sisters, coworkers, brothers, and even mothers who have hurt them because of this. What you SHOULD do is bring it up and VALIDATE her pain. "I heard about your baby, I am so sorry for your loss, I can't imagine what you are going through."  Heck, even saying "I don't know what to say really,  I know you must be hurting but I'm not sure what I should do or say so I don't make it worse." is better than just thinking it to yourself, all the while your friend in her grief feels abandoned and even betrayed. Don't just fall off the map because you don't know what to do.

#2 DO NOT try to make her feel better by minimizing it. What I mean by this is don't say something like, "Well at least you still have your daughter..." Or "At least it happened early enough that you didn't get too attached." "It just wasn't God's timing." "It wasn't meant to be." "Maybe there was something wrong with the baby and that would have been too hard for you/thebaby."   Or in my case, "At least you still have one baby to take home."  PLEASE, if you feel yourself about to say something along these lines to your friend, go ahead and just insert foot into mouth. Minimizing their loss only makes them feel worse. Trust me, at some point mom will be able to feel better, but saying these things only make it obvious you don't know what it's like and makes her feel alone in her pain. Validation, again, is the best thing you can do.

#3 Along these lines, DO NOT try to comfort your friend by reminding her that she still has her living children (if any)! One life does not replace another, and while she is grateful for her children she already has, they also serve as a reminder to what she has lost. Their smiles, personalities, energy, looks, interactions...all of these things she sees and loves about her living children remind her of what she will miss out on. Trust me, she doesn't need you to reminder she already has children. She knows. She just lost one too.

#4 DO get her something, preferably something memorable. Flowers & cards are great go-tos, but if your relationship is closer than others, reach a little deeper. My friends got me a tree to plant instead of flowers that will die within days. They got me a rememberance necklace. If you are the crafty type, or have crafty friends, something from the heart for a keep sake box is a great idea. This is especially true for moms with late term losses because they will often have foot & handprints, going home outfits, hospital IDs & ultrasound/bereavement photos. Many of us had to make "arrangements" for our baby's remains and having somewhere to put everything in a cute and memorable way is great. My favorite gift to myself was a large Frog stuffed animal, the frog was an inside story with our son, and it gave me something to hug and hold on to when I was at my saddest. Think about "symbols" or inside ideas that relate to situation if you know the family well enough. You don't have to spend a lot of money but there is something about being swarmed by condolence gifts that make a mom feel like people really care, even if she's not up to visitors.

#5 DO NOT just offer to help in any way you can. If you really do want to help, you might have to force it. If the mom is anything like me, I knew I needed help but A) I wasn't about to pick up the phone and call someone for help and B) I didn't really know what I needed help for!  Decision making in times like this is very difficult, even for simple things. Making the family dinner is a common and useful way. Offer to grocery shop for them (I would go to the grocery store and just stare at things. I eventually set up an account with emeals to choose the ingredients and menu for me--it was so helpful that I ordered one for a friend who lost her daughter to SIDS and they loved it!) If she has kids, offer to take the kids to the park or a movie so she can stay home and cry or go out and get her nails done. Take her out shopping. For moms with later term loses, you may consider asking her if any of her baby items upset her to see them, and offer to put them in boxes whenever she is ready. Anything from cleaning her kitchen to taking her out for retail therapy---DO make sure that you help her, if you really mean it!

#6 DO expect her to have her ups and downs. We all have our triggers. Due dates, birthdays,anniversaries of loss, friends having babies (especially a baby due at the same time or with the same name), maybe even just finding an old ultrasound picture or a pregnancy test can set us back. Just be understanding. That's all you have to do. Unless you think your friend is sailing into a deep and dangerous depression, don't expect her to just outgrow it. If you are worried about her wellbeing DO tell someone.

#7 DO remind her that it's ok to cry and to laugh! After the initial shock of our loss wears of we can be devastated, angry, in denial, numb, and more. But we also need to laugh and we often feel guilty if we are "feeling better." Many of us feel as though we are doing a diservice to our babies, or worrying that they might feel forgotten or less loved if we begin to act and feel more normal---especially when we start to have fun again. Just remind her that her baby knows she loves them, and that it is perfectly ok and normal to return to a more 'normal' life.

#8 DO be considerate. This goes out especially to pregnant or new parent friends. Don't take it personal if your friend isn't up to a baby shower or not dying to go meet your new bundle of joy and hear you talk about how amazing it is. She's happy for you but sad for her! Having to face these things face on is painful and requires a lot of strength to get through. They bring reality upfront and very personal for her.  Some women are ok doing these things after their loss, but it is very situational. Do your friend a favor and offer them an easy out of these situations "I would love for you to come to my shower but I understand it might be hard for you, so if you rather not attend I completely understand." And if your friend just lost her baby, and you just found out you are expecting, pick your timing wisely about telling her and if I were you, I would keep the (understandable) gabbing about your pregnancy, baby names, nursery complaints and yes--even your pregnancy complaints to a minimum. If you don't know how much to talk about then ask--in person or an email ( I recommend email as she will feel safer telling you how she feels).

Grief is grief and everyone experiences it in their own way and on their own time. Every relationship is different as is every loss. Just do your best to keep these things in mind, especially #1 & #2! There is no easy fix, and time & faith are the biggest ally to healing.

And lastly, here is a special note to husbands & wives:

Husbands, please, please, PLEASE understand that your wife will grieve differently than you. And that is ok. The best thing you can do is to be supportive of her and to also be vulnerable to yourself and your wife by sharing your feelings and how much your baby is missed. Even if you can't tell her in words, write it down. All too often men find the pain of the loss is unbearable and therefore fight to hide their feelings away. They busy themselves, get angry, or act like nothing has happened so they can survive this pain. Losing a child is incredibly devastating but you will get through it together as long as you are understanding! Telling your wife to "just get over it" because she wants to talk about it or is still very upset when you don't feel like you want to think about it is just cruel, causing unnecessary damage to an already broken heart. Never berate her for feeling the way she feels or doing the things she does. Women need to go through our emotions deeply, and often, before we can come out on the otherside. Just give her lots of hugs, and it's ok to let her see you cry too, ya know.

Wives, do your best to understand how your husband handles his grief. He probably doesn't want to talk about it because it's too hurtful. Many men are not comfortable in their own emotions and don't know what to do, so they opt to find a way to move on. To many women, this looks like "he doesn't care as much as I do,"  "he moved on way too fast," and/or "he's insensitive to my feelings." While he should do his part to be compassionate towards you and not come off mean, you should also understand that he does not function the way we do. Instead of being offended that he wants to go to the baseball game, or needs to spend a few hours in the garage working on his car, let him do it willingly--knowing that you are helping him survive this too. If your husband doesn't want to talk about it, seek out some understanding friends who can lend an ear to your aching heart, whether it be in person or online. As a wife of seven years and having survived our own loss together I have learned that you cannot force your husband to fit into the role of your girlfriends--both are invaluable relationships in their own ways. Think about it, back in the "olden days"---I'm talking when we were living in tents and herded goats--the women lived together and helped each other while the men were out doing when men do. Having a healthy relationship with one or more close girlfriends to rely on actually helps your marriage be stronger. Trust me on this. And of course, for my fellow Believers, prayer and fellowship are irreplaceable.

Thank you for reading, and please help spread the word. If you have any do's and don'ts ideas you would like to share with me, please comment below and I may add it into the list (to your credit)!