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How to Support a Family Going Through Baby Loss

An amazingly strong and courageous women, who said goodbye to her daughter Caitlyn only 8 hours after she was born, shares some advice on how to support a family going through baby loss.

DO'S...

  • Help out with menial duties. One of my most memorable moments was when my sister-in-law cleaned out the cupboard under the sink. It was gross and I couldn't clean it before I gave birth as my belly was too big and it was uncomfortable on my hands and knees.
  • Share your stories, even your losses. It is morbidly comforting when you otherwise think you are the only one in the world suffering such pain.  However, if telling your story is too painful and you'll end up loosing it, wait a few weeks so you can cry together and not be the one needing the comfort (see Don'ts Tips)
  • Consider being a bouncer to fend off unwanted guests or answer the phone.
  • I had only a few short hours alone with Caitlyn lying in state due to the constant stream of visitors. I never got time to myself until 9pm the night before the funeral so I stayed up until 11pm talking to her. There was also half an hour before the funeral and that was it. All other times there were people in the house.  I would have liked some alone time.
  • The first few weeks can be filled with all sorts of people trying to do things. My fear was what would happen after the flowers died. And it was true. We had around 50 floral gifts, the house looked like one big bouquet!  It took an hour each day at least just to water and pick off the dead bits.  But after the flowers died so did the visitors.   It takes more than 2 weeks to grieve and much support is needed for months later.  You could consider sending a card or a hamper instead of flowers, and delay sending your floral bouquet for 1 - 2 months after, when all the other visitors are gone and the family still needs support.
  • With a constant stream of people in your home, gift baskets with things like tissues, bickies, toilet rolls...whatever you can think of, are also helpful.
  • Consider making a couple of meals, even if they can be frozen.  Nutritious food like vege soups is good. Even simple mac cheese. The last thing anyone wants to do is cook, or eat for that matter.
  • ALWAYS consider the mums health! Remember she's just given birth. She needs to recover. Watch out for her, ensure she rests and eats. Maybe consider a care package. You could include complain, vitamin pills, fruit, pads, Metamucil!   Also remember mums post labour hormones.
  • Remember the anniversaries and milestones - the first month, 6 months, year, mothers/fathers day, mother/fathers birthdays, Christmas. Only one friend dared mention Caitlyn at Christmas. And that's pretty amazing since we were given over 100 sympathy cards!  My friend gave me angel decorations for the tree and a book on angels which she's written.
  • In future, consider leaving baby gift buying until after the baby is born and everyone is happy and healthy.

If the family have another baby in future:

  • You can be positively supportive without offering false positives. Good to remember for following pregnancies. e.g. 'everything will be fine this time' is a false positive. This can become very annoying, nothing is certain. Try emphasising that you'll be there with them along the way, no matter what the outcome is.
  • Just because they have another baby it doesn't mean the pain of loosing their first baby goes away. Keep remembering your families and friends treasures. Try not to leave them off the baby count. e.g. grandparents saying they have 6 grandchildren when they actually have 7, just one is in heaven.
  • Find out all the real facts before you make any decisions. Just think, if this happened to you, would you be happy with all the decisions you made? Find out the real risks, talk to people on both sides of the fence, read birth stories - forget the one sided things you're told in birthing classes which glorify birth. Mmake the decision carefully.

DONT'S

  • Don't turn up hours after the incident, no matter how good friend you are.   Unless you are a parent, brother or sister. Give immediate family space to come to terms with whats happened.
  • Always call before visiting in the first couple of weeks
  • Don't bring babys or children when visiting
  • If you don't know the family very well, resist the temptation to visit in the first few days. Leave it for a couple of weeks. For example, I had people I'd never met on my door step the day after it happened...parents of my husband's distant friends. He wasn't home. It was extremely awkward playing hostess.
  • Don't expect tea, coffee and bickies. Even if you're offered, say no.  Even if you're offered by a support person - they are probably close family and trying to do their own grieving too, and probably worn out for that matter from all the tea serving. Give them all a break and jump in. Or better still, bring bickies when you come round and offer to make the tea yourself for everyone. AND, put the dishes away/clean up!!
  • If you know the parents well by all means visit in the early days, but DON'T bring friends. I also had friends bring someone I'd never met come round to see Caitlyn lying in state. It was a blur at the time and when they asked I was a bit confused but in hind sight it was such an invasion and still makes me mad!
  • If you are to visit, sharing tears is essential. However, get a grip before you go over as you really need to be the one doing the comforting. I had countless people grieving on my shoulder. While I was comforted in a way and honored by sharing the emotions it did get too much. An endless stream of people crying on my shoulder needing to me comforted by me. I would go to the door with my box of tissues and follow everyone around with them, offering them cups of tea etc and telling them it was OK and I understood. While I appreciated the emotion remember you are ideally going there to be the comforter not to be comforted. Having said that, tears all round is essential and the more emotion the better.
  • Avoid saying comments like:
    • You need to move on
    • When are you going to start trying again? Or, Are you trying yet?
    • Anything starting with "just". e.g. just chill, just be happy, just think of the good times, just have another baby
    • Anything relating to weight loss - eg. of course you're not breast feeding or picking up toys so that's why you haven't lost weight, you'll loose it when you're ready etc.
    • Don't worry, you'll have another one.
  • Don't bring crying babies to the funeral. If possible, avoid bringing children too.
  • Don't say, if there's anything you need let me know. Think of something appropriate and do it.
  • Don't say "if you need someone to talk to let me know...I'm here for you". Instead, call up regularly, check in. You have to prompt the action before waiting to be asked.  Just pop around for a cup of tea, bring a muffin over, make an excuse to come around and just check in.
  • Don't cross the road to avoid talking to someone who has lost a baby.  Those in such positions are very sensitive and will notice. If you think you feel awkward and don't know what to say be sure it's nothing like the emotions going through them. Get a spine, walk right up and give them a hug or some kind supportive words...e.g. I'm guttered for you, I'm thinking of you.
  • Don't feel guilty for having your own children. I never once felt resentful towards my friends and families children. Their lives are completely different to mine and there life has nothing to do with loosing my baby.
  • You may think it's helpful to emphasise how lucky you feel to have your own children and how you've been giving them so many cuddles because you've been taking them for granted...how precious they are to you in light of whats happened. That's nice but it does tend to feel like you're rubbing it in a bit. We don't want to hear about how happy and full your life is right at that moment.
  • If you are pregnant or have new babies, and aren't talking with very close family and friends (eg. workplace scenario), don't gloat, don't talk about yourself all the time, be considerate of people you don't know that well, don't feel like the world needs a running commentary of your life and how great it is, the gory details of your birth story, or how unbelievably difficult those first days are and how you'd like to just put them back. By all means share but be humble. You may be talking to someone who can't conceive or has had a miscarriage (remember some women never let on they've lost a baby). This goes for many of life's situations, not just baby business.
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