by Julie Snyder
It's been over fifteen years, but if I shut my eyes I can see and feel that day like it was only yesterday. A group of us had gotten together for a potluck and fellowship. My best friend, Lola, was standing with her hands behind her on the counter. "I haven't felt the baby move since yesterday." Her belly looked the same -- well rounded as would be expected when the baby is due in a week. But her eyes had that blank, glazed expression of a badly wounded doe.
People tried to assure her that she'd simply missed the movement; that the baby was just sleeping; that activity level does lessen the last couple weeks. But she knew differently and she was right. Amanda Rose had died on June 17th, 39 weeks gestation. She was stillborn on June 19th.
What could I say? Could I share the pain? Was there anything I could do? I felt so helpless.
What You Should Know About Pregnancy Loss
Since Amanda died, I've experienced four pregnancy losses of my own. I'd like to share the insight that I've gleaned through these experiences and I hope these glimpses into loss will enable you to help your friend.
Losing a baby changes a woman's life. She is not going to "get over it". She's not going to get "back to normal". She is not going to come to accept this death. She's going to be a different person with new dreams, changed priorities, different values and beliefs. Listen to your friend's feelings. Allow her to talk about her loss, about her baby, about her dreams. As time passes, you may notice your friend is more compassionate, more sensitive and has a greater depth to face adversity. Take the time to get reacquainted with this new person. Support her as she journeys through the stages of grief.
What is grief? Grief is a work that must be done. It is a progression that can include denial, anger, sorrow, and conciliation. And often these different stages overlap. Grieving takes time. It takes energy. There are no short cuts. Don't assume that a few days or even a few months are all the time that is necessary. It does get easier with time, but she will never get over it.
Grief isn't all encompassing. Laughter and joy can occur in the presence of grief. It's okay. Encourage your friend to accept these emotions without guilt. But if she has a good day, don't assume that her grief is a thing of the past. If she has a bad day, don't assert that she needs to get over it. Grief has a time frame of its own. Each woman grieves differently. What worked for me may not help your friend at all. Just be supportive of her method of coping.
It is much different to grieve for a child that you have not had a chance to hold, to touch or to hear his or her voice than to grieve for someone that has actually been with you on earth. She may feel cheated for never having those opportunities.
Your friend may also lack support since her child wasn't a reality for most other people. Outsiders may not recognize the true depth of the bond that had developed between mother and child. She may find herself having to defend her grief at a time when she is lacking emotional energy. You can help by acknowledging her feelings.
What to Say
Say, "I am very sorry," and listen. Your friend might cry when you ask about her baby. And you may decide to spare her that pain. Don't! She needs to be able to talk and to cry. Talking and releasing emotions help to heal. It's okay to ask about the baby many times. The assurance that you have not forgotten about her little one tells her you care.
- Don't pretend the baby never existed.
- Don't explain all the reason this loss is for the best.
- Don't tell her she is young and can try again.
- Don't explain that it's a good thing she wasn't very far along (if this is the case).
Say, "I know you had dreams and hopes. I am sorry." This may have been a "just a pregnancy" to you. To your friend, it was a welcomed child. Perhaps she was a blue-eyed, curly-haired daughter who would play piano and be a doctor. Or maybe the baby would have been a tall, stocky, dark son who would share his father's love for woodworking. Listen when she needs to share. She loved this baby and she loved the dreams and hopes. Memories are not all sad; many are happy creations. It is healing to remember these.
- Don't compare the loss of a pet to the loss of her child.
- Don't be afraid to mention the baby.
- Don't tell her to quit obsessing about the baby.
- Don't think that another pregnancy will replace this baby.
Say, "What can I do to help you? Could I bring supper? Baby-sit?" While your friend might want to be left alone to absorb the loss, she may also have basic needs you can meet. Offer to help with specific items -- like meals, childcare, or shopping. She might not be able to come up with a concrete need by herself, but may be able to choose what she does need from a list. And don't forget a simple card or flowers. They can speak to the heart and remind her that you care even though you're not there in person.
- Don't insist she accept your help. Some women want to be alone.
- Don't worry if she seems isolated. Being alone and being quiet is okay if that is her choice.
- Don't be afraid to meet a need you see.
If You're Pregnant or Have a Baby
As strange as it sounds, you may feel guilty because your baby is alive and your friend's has died. You will need to discuss these feelings together. While staying away to spare her the constant reminder of her loss seems like a kind deed, it may not be. She has already lost her child. Does she also need to be deprived of support from her best friend?
- Don't ignore your feeling. Your friend will be glad you are sharing.
- Don't expect her to always welcome your pregnant image or your baby.
- Don't forget that a card or phone call can say, "I'm thinking of you."
Try to understand if it is difficult or awkward for her to be around you for a bit. Acceptance of your pregnancy or baby has to be at her pace. That may mean an emailed note just to say you are thinking of her, or a conversation shared over a split piece of hot fudge cake. The message is the same. You are there.
The Gift of Caring
The most important gift you can give right now is that of yourself -- your love and compassion for your friend. Follow her cues and just be you. A caring friend, willing to share the burden, will make the journey through grief easier.
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