How to Help a Mother After a Loss
There are a lot of things I have learned through my journey of being a mother of a stillborn baby and also as a baby loss doula for four years. Five years ago my daughter passed away at 25 weeks gestation, no rhyme or reason. Since that journey started I have done speaking engagements on one specific topic pertaining to this situation, How to Help a Mother after a Loss. There is no end to this for mothers like us. There is no ending period, we live with this every single day of our lives. I know it can be a hard and awkward situation. I also know that we can do better for these mothers.
So what can you do to help these mothers?
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There is a high chance she isn’t eating, doesn’t have the appetite. Can you blame her? Bring things she doesn’t have to cook, that she can graze on, that takes normal effort. Try and make sure it is healthy, because at a time like this health matters but it will probably be the last thing on her mind. Muffins, granola bars, salad, yogurt. When I visit a loss mum I always bring these spice muffins with me that can stay sealed or in the freezer.
Do a Chore.
Come and do a chore. Maybe she does want to talk, maybe not, but in my experience, this is a quiet time. Just show up (notice though) and do something, dishes, laundry, sweep, windows, whatever. Something little. Something helpful but she won’t have to think about. Any little bit helps.
Don’t Say These Phrases:
This list is never-ending. Every single time I do a talk this list gets longer, and longer. It started with just things that were said to me and then I heard things that were said to other mothers. These are huge ‘No Phrases’ and stay clear.
- God just needed another angel. (think about her feelings-why my baby?)
- At least we know you can get pregnant. (that isn’t enough for her, she wanted that baby)
- This doesn’t happen to healthy babies. (my baby was healthy until now, then what happened, that doesn’t make it better I still want my baby.)
- At least you have living children. (I loved this baby just as much as I love them when I was pregnant and now I get to explain to them over and over what happened)
- It gets better with time.
- At least it happened now and not when s/he was born.
- It wasn’t a real baby. (whatever the politics are, it sure was to her and she has the sonogram to prove it. Maybe she even held her baby.)
- You can still have your normal life. (you learn to function with this grief, it’s a new normal. Life never gets normal after this)
- Get over it/you’ll get over it. (again you won’t, you just learn to live with it)
- At least you won’t have the responsibilities of a child/another child.
- This happened for a reason. (what was the reason? Why my baby? How come?)
- Why are you having a funeral? It wasn’t a living baby. (she held that baby, she grew that baby. Don’t think for a minute that baby wasn’t real.)
There is a difference between a stillborn baby and a baby that was miscarried. Maybe not to you, but to that mother there sure is. I have had 12 miscarriages in my life and one stillborn daughter. There is a huge difference, emotionally and physically. Try your best not to switch the terms. I turned down a book deal because they called my daughter a miscarriage. I believe, and have seen first hand, that the grief is very different between the two.
Get Her in Nature
Not a crowded mall, not a place filled with children and babies. Nature. A hike, walk, trail, something. Get her outside. Science has proven over and over again that being outside helps depression. You don’t have to talk to her. Just your presence and effort means the world. She needs to leave the house, not to be in crowds, but she needs to get out.
Say Their Name.
This relates completely to when you have a stillborn baby. Unless they named their baby that was miscarried (I did this with my first miscarriage) then you won’t be able to apply this to that journey. Say the name of their baby. Don’t worry that if you do say it they will break down and start crying. Maybe they will, but that isn’t a bad thing. Say the name of their baby. Their baby was a baby, their baby was a part of their family. Now they are living without their baby here on Earth and the least you can do is say their name and acknowledge their life, dreams, loss, and hope. My baby is Maria-Lucille. She was beautiful and even three births since her (and one miscarriage) I still miss her, still wonder why the reason, still wonder a lot of things. I still say her name and I am not concerned if I make people feel uncomfortable when I say her name.
Do Not Babysit The Parents.
When I had my daughter and came home people tried to babysit me. I was not a fan as you can imagine. I have seen this happen to other mothers though and I really cannot understand why. There is a difference when you are trying to be there for someone and calling others taking shifts supervising someone. That isn’t helpful. There is also a fine line between being completely alone during this time and being overwhelmed. Space is a good thing during grief. Not complete loneliness, but taking shifts between work schedules isn’t as thoughtful as you may think. The mum figures out what is going on pretty quickly. Mothers who are coping with a loss need people present not people who feel obligated to take shifts and babysit.
Share Your Loss, Don’t Compare.
Studies have shown that 1 in 4 pregnancies end in a miscarriage and 1 in 200 pregnancies end in stillbirth. While the data may change (that is a totally different topic I address) the fact is it may have happened to you. You should speak about your loss, not hide it. Hiding is the reason so many mothers also feel like they need to hide their loss. Notice I said to share? Please, whatever you do do not compare your loss to others. Everyone grieves differently. Some women may be able to function differently when they have miscarried a baby or had a stillborn baby than others. We all function differently, we all grieve differently, but none of us ‘move on’ from it.
Remember Mother’s Day and the Baby’s Birthday
This is very important and it may be something else that pertains more to mothers of stillborn babies. Remember that these are mothers, they may just be different than me and you. Remember them on Mother’s Day. It can be something simple like sending them a keepsake bracelet, making a gift, putting flowers on the grave of their baby, lighting a candle in memory, or even making a donation to a charity. Same goes for the birthday of their baby. No one else may remember that day but bet your bottom dollar that mother will wake up and remember. I have a friend who remembered Maria-Lucille’s birthday and just sent a simple card with a handmade braided bracelet, it just said she loves me and remembers and will always be there for me. I bet that only took her twenty minutes to do, that includes braiding the thread, sealing the envelope, and driving to the post office to mail it. Yet it meant the whole world to me. Remember these mothers on Mother’s Day and remember the birthday of their babies, you could change their world.
I’d like to leave off with two poems from my book of poetry ‘Lost Poems of a Functioning Mother; the endless journey of babyloss’ that sums up the importance of remembering these mothers, that if nothing else you get from this post you understand this small message.
Ashley Mitchell is the author of ‘Lost Poems of a Functioning Mother; the endless journey of babyloss‘ a collection of poetry she compiled while coping with the loss of her daughter Maria-Lucille. She is a birth, postpartum, and loss doula as well as a lactation counselor. Ashley’s is a born and raised Mainer and has five living children. She has a Masters of Teaching Ministries, Bachelor of Career Counseling, and a Bachelor of Homeschooling Ministries. www.happyhomeschoolingmum.com Follow on twitter @MaineDoula