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How to Support a Friend or Family Member Through Infant Loss

As October is Perinatal Loss Awareness month, we wanted to dedicate this week’s blog post to honouring this special type of loss.

Perinatal loss is an unimaginable situation that some families find themselves going through as they build their families. We, Loreli and Sara, are nurses who help families meet their babies – and that includes babies that are born still.

Whenever this happens, we are heartbroken alongside the families that we are working with. We are honored to share the small space of time that these parents have with their babies, and we try to support them in whatever way that we can to fit a lifetime of love and expectations into one day.

Honouring the parents who have walked through this journey has always been important to us. But, we will also share that we have experience with this loss much more intimately than we had ever imagined we would, when Sara and Sean lost their daughter, Joni, in 2020.

During that time, the support of Sara and Sean’s friends and family was invaluable, so if a google search of “how to help your friends going through a pregnancy loss” is what brought you to this post, we are so sorry that you are here, but just know that your friends or family are more grateful than they will ever be able to tell you. We have some suggestions to share with you to help support them:

· First, these are some things NOT to say: no one ever knows what to say in this situation, so just acknowledging that you possibly might say the wrong thing is ok. But some definite things to stay away from would be:

"At least you know you can get pregnant"

"You’ll have another baby some day," or

"I know EXACTLY how you feel"

Everyone’s loss is unique to them and comes with it’s own history. It’s so important to honour this baby for what they were – special and perfect in their own way.

· Ask what they need, but don’t say “let me know if you need anything.” They do need a LOT, but they may not want to trouble you or may not be able to think clearly to name what they need. They will need easy to heat up meals, groceries, gift cards for food, and childcare if they have other children.

· Support them to end lactation. After a pregnancy has progressed beyond 16-20 weeks, the body will make milk after a baby is born. It comes as a surprise to many, and it sucks. It’s a reminder of a baby lost, and it can also be physically painful. To supress lactation as quickly as possible, they will need to wear a snug sports bra, not remove any milk from their breasts, use ice or cold cabbage leaves in the bra, and take over the counter pain medication as needed to manage with the discomfort. Some parents will choose to pump and donate their milk in memory of their children, so if that is the case, be supportive of their choice and cheer them on.

· Be there to listen. Ask their birth story if they are willing to share. It was still a very important day in their life, and there may be some beautiful memories or mementos that they created. Ask to see pictures, or to hear about any time that they got to spend with their sweet baby. Don’t rely on them to start this conversation, as they might be worried about burdening you with their story. Let them know that you are open to listening to whatever they would like to share. Follow their lead, and try to use their baby’s name as often as you can. Ask them what they are doing, or did, to remember their baby.

· If they would not like to talk, support them to heal in other ways. Offer them a journal with some new pens or take them for a walk in nature.

· Distraction can be helpful at times, as well. Discuss your day, offer them an easy-to read book that they can lose themselves in, or gift a subscription to a streaming service that they don’t have with a few recommendations.

· Offer them some clothes. There’s an awful time when maternity clothes might be all that fit, but those clothes can be a painful reminder. Gift them some cozy jammies, or loose clothing in a size up from their regular size.

· Keep checking in. There comes a time when the loss doesn’t feel so acute to many, but your friend will still be grieving – and will be for probably much longer than they (or you) think. Check in with them from time to time, even just to send them a quick message to tell them that you are still thinking of them and their baby.

· If you are a parent yourself, just know that your parenthood may be hard for your friend to be around or hear about for a time. Sara still struggles to be close with people who had baby girls around the time that she was supposed to. It’s a constant reminder of what Joni would be up to if she were here today. Again, follow their lead here.

· Gift them something in honour of their baby. Suggestions include jewelry with their baby’s birth date or birth stone, artwork, or naming a star for them.

· Finally, and we know that you are here reading this blog, so this one shouldn’t be a surprise, but take their loss seriously. In the same vein of not saying that they can always get pregnant again, honoring this baby and loss as unique and important can mean the world to a grieving parent. Sitting with them and holding space with them, or sending them a text every so often on special dates like their due date, or a day like Perinatal Loss Day, can mean so much to a family that has lost a baby.

We are so sorry if the loss of your baby, or a friend or family member’s pregnancy loss has brought you to this page. We know that everyone’s pain is unique, and that the loss of a child is an unimaginable heartache that never goes away. We hope you find some peace and comfort in these suggestions, and we are always here to chat if needed.

Sending you all the love and light,

Loreli and Sara

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