Before reading this article, you may find it helpful to read “What bereaved parents want you to know (but may not say)” which has helpful information about bereaved parents in general. This article focuses on those who lost a baby to miscarriage or stillbirth, or shortly after birth.
This article addresses some issues which are specific to those who have lost a baby to miscarriage or stillbirth and those whose baby died shortly after birth, possibly due to premature birth or other health issues. Each baby is unique. Each loss is unique. Each person’s grief is unique. But all these parents have experienced a special kind of loss.
Many of these parents do not have pictures of their baby – she was born straight into the arms of Jesus before any pictures could be taken. Their baby may not have even had a name; they never knew its gender.
Others have pictures they do not share – their child was born “asleep” and the pictures are not sweet to anyone else but his parents.
Some have only a few pictures, and they would love for you to ooh and ahh over them!
Still others have a lock of hair, footprints, and a few precious tiny outfits that were never worn.
For some, their memories are of the excitement of finding out they were expecting, followed only by the grief of knowing loss.
Some have fond memories of feeling their little one kick and move…and then stillness. Just stillness. And then the pain of loss.
Some did not even know they were expecting until they learned there would be no sweet baby to hold this time.
For some, there were the joys of a full-term baby, only to learn that their baby will not go home and learn to crawl, walk, talk or ride a bike. Because she did not live past birth.
Some got to hold their child and enjoy her for but a few hours or days. She stayed in the hospital her entire life battling to just to breathe. And then they buried her.
However long their baby lived, that life is precious to its parents. They are grieving the loss of a child. Some parents have two or three or more babies in Heaven. Each was precious. Each is missed. Each parent grieves in his unique way. They need you to understand some things about their loss, their grief, and their healing. Although not all of these apply to every parent, it is helpful for you to understand them.
If you took time to listen – to really listen – without judgement or platitudes or advice, this is what bereaved parents of infants might say to you.
1. Though my child lived for a short time, she is real. She lived. She lives now in heaven. I am a parent. You may have a child who lives in Toledo; mine lives in Heaven.
2. Please do not tell me I will have other children. Only God knows if I will ever have another child. And by saying that, you have just brought up one of my biggest fears: that I will never have another child. In addition, you have minimized the value of this child! She is valuable to me and to her dad. And to God. And please don’t ask me if we plan to “try again”. I am still healing from this loss. When, and if, we decide to “try again”, it will be a private decision between us and God.
3. Please don’t tell me it was the will of God, or she’s in a better a place, or it was for the best. I know that the Lord gives and the Lord takes away. I know that Heaven is a beautiful place. I know that God knows what is best for me and for my child. But none of that helps me right now. And you saying it only hurts me. And it may just make me angry with you, adding to my burden because now I have to forgive you and deal with anger on top of my grief.
4. And please don’t tell me that God needed another angel in Heaven. Statements like this do not help me. The God I serve does not need anything. He is God all by Himself. He is kind and loving and gracious and compassionate and wise. He would not take my baby because He needed another angel. He created my child. He wove her together in my womb, and He knew every one of her days before one of them came to be. I don’t know why my child died. But I know that He created her and He loves her, and right now, that has to be enough.
5. If you must speak, tell me you are sorry for our pain and that you love us. Tell us that you will pray for us. And ask us what we need; ask how you can help us today.
6. I may not have pictures of him, but I knew him. I had dreams of what he would look like, how he would feel in my arms, and of caring for him. I talked to him and thought about him as he moved in my womb. I knew him — and I loved him. I still love him.
7. His daddy loves him, too. My husband is hurting. He had dreams of being a daddy to our son. Plus he has seen his wife go through a physically difficult event. He is hurting over the loss of our child, and he is hurting because he loves me and sees me hurting. I am hurting to see him hurting. We are both hurting. We need healing. Please pray for us both.
8. How we memorialize our baby and honor its life is our choice. Please don’t tell me it is foolish to spend all that money on burying my child. Or that I should have had a ceremony when we chose not too. This is our child, our grief, our decision. Our family is doing what we need to do to heal. If we invite you to a memorial, please come! We want you there to celebrate our child’s life and to mourn with us. If we have private ceremony, please do not be offended. We needed to be alone with her just one more time. If we do not have a service, that was our decision to make.
9. Our other children are hurting and need time to grieve. Please be considerate of what you say to them. If you would not say it to me, don’t say it to them. If you are not willing to ask me, don’t ask them. They were excited about the new baby. They may have questions – answer them if you must, but we prefer that you direct them to talk us about this loss. If our children are young, they may not understand much; please don’t try to explain things to them – that is our job. If our children are older, they understand more, and hurt more because they understand more.
10. I need time to heal physically. Even if I do not recognize it, my body needs time to heal. Not only have I been through a difficult physical event, I am exhausted from grief! I find it hard to clean, or cook or do laundry. I am tired. Please allow me to heal physically. Don’t expect me back at my volunteer position at church right away or out on the jogging track. Let me have time to heal.
11. Your offer of a meal is appreciated. But please don’t plan on staying and chatting when you drop off dinner next Tuesday. If I ask you in, please stay for just a little while. I am not up to chatting or putting on a happy face. Not yet. And don’t be offended if I don’t come to the door, I may be resting. Or crying. Other ways you could love us include cleaning, rides to doctor appointments, groceries and hand written cards. My family appreciates that you care enough to help us during our time of grief.
12. Please don’t tell me your horror miscarriage story! I am sorry that you, too, know the pain of loss. But your horror story does not help me. Maybe someday, when I have time to mourn my child and time for my heart to heal, we can find time to get together. It may be helpful to me to hear your story of loss and healing. But it will not be helpful for me to hear horror stories. Ever.
13. I am glad for you that you are having a baby. But your pregnancy reminds me of my loss. If I don’t come to your shower, please don’t take it personally. I am hurting still. I don’t want to cry and take away from your joy. I am so glad you invited me, but I need more time.
14. I rejoice with you in the birth of your happy, healthy baby. But my arms are empty. And holding your child only makes it worse. Please don’t offer for me to hold him in front of others. Could we find a time alone, in a safe place for me to meet your child? Some place where I can cry while rejoicing with you over how perfect his little toes are? I really am healing. I want to celebrate with you. I just can’t do it publicly, not yet anyway.
15. Each of us grieves in our own way. For some, this is a huge life-altering event. They may take a long to heal from their grief. Others heal more quickly. Please let me grieve my way, even if it is different than the way you grieved – even if it is different than you expected. Not all of these will apply to every bereaved parent. Ask me what I need. And know that I will heal. I will be happy again. Someday. With God’s help. Thank you for allowing us to grieve in the best way we know how. Thank you for loving us in our grief. Thank you for praying for us as we heal. Thank you for acknowledging that our baby lived and that we are grieving his death.
If you have experienced the death of a child may I introduce you to While We’re Waiting? They are a faith-based ministry to bereaved parents. You can find them on Facebook and at www.whilewerewaiting.org