We want to give parents, friends, caregivers five things they can do or say (or not say) when someone they are close to experiences a loss. We are also planning to incorporate the ring theory circle of support model.
“We cannot step inside their shoes and feel what they are feeling, but we can become curious, enter into their story and honor their need to grieve as they choose.”
~Jane Heustis RN and Marcia Jenkins, RN
Pregnancy loss at any stage is devastating and isolating. It may feel impossible or overwhelming to think of ways you could support a loved one through a loss like this, but hang in there, you can help. Here are some things to know:
1. You can hold space. Create time and space for her to talk and feel her feelings with you. That will look different for each person who has a unique relationship with her. Asking if you can go for a walk together allows her time to talk to you if she feels like it. Give her the impression early on that you are a safe and willing person to talk to. Stay away from platitudes. There is nothing you can say that will take the pain away. After a miscarriage I heard a woman say “If one more person ‘at leasts’ me, I’m going to scream!” Meaning, don’t try to make good out of it by saying “At least you can try to have another baby” or “At least you weren’t that far along.” These statements are invalidating and not helpful and an empathetic response does not begin with the words “at least”. Listen well and let her know her feelings are valid. Repeat the words that hold the most emotion and say “Tell me more.”
2. Don’t express your expectations for her grief. From my experience helping women through infertility and pregnancy loss, no woman ever forgets being pregnant, no matter the outcome. The grief she experiences will come in waves, so reserve your judgement if she seems to be doing better one day and not on another day. Often the intensity of grief increases as the month of the due date approaches. Be sure to check in with her around that time. A simple text or phone call where you say “I realize it’s getting close to the baby’s due date and wanted to check in with you, do you want to talk?”
3. Help her find support. Loss is not something we just get over. We must go through it and learn to make sense of it. It helps to have various resources she can look to for this support. You could let her know of perinatal loss support groups in the area, counselors that specialize in pregnancy loss, suggest a private Facebook group, or connect her with someone else you know that’s been through it. Pregnancy loss is a unique kind of pain that can be reduced if we let others help us hold it. You may not be the one who can completely support her, but you can help her access what she needs.
4. Assist in creating ritual. Mourning is about moving a relationship that existed outside of us to the internal awareness. This is especially difficult when the relationship with the pregnancy was never external. Ritual or commemoration can help bring something tangible to an intangible loss. There are hundreds of ways to do this. I’ve known women to plant trees, buy statues, identify an object in nature that represents the essence of their child, get a tattoo, wear a certain color on a certain day, wear a piece of jewelry, etc. If they named the baby, most women appreciate it when friends and family refer to them by name.This pregnancy was a meaningful existence to the parents and it is important that they are encouraged to acknowledge the love and pain that has been imprinted on them forever.
5. You are involved in the circle of support for your loved one. Draw a circle with your loved one in the center. Then draw another circle around that one and that is the spouse or partner. Another circle is immediate family, then extended family and close friends, then colleagues and friends, etc. In the Ring Theory Circle of Support model, simply put, comfort flows in toward the loved one, and any of your own struggles are dumped outward. You don’t get to tell her spouse how hard it has been for you to have them lose this pregnancy. You can, however, tell someone who is further out on the circle.
If you are particularly close to the couple, make sure you’re getting your own support and replenishment as needed. Do what you need to do for yourself in order to be able to give in the way you want to.