A couple of weeks ago, a teacher at my child's school lost her baby 37 weeks into her pregnancy. The details are unbearably sad, but it isn't my story to tell. I will say that I have not been able to get this woman and her devastating loss out of my head. I know her heartbreak first hand. I delivered our second baby, Emma, at 18 weeks when my cervix opened prematurely. She was born alive, but with undeveloped lungs she died within a couple of minutes. Though I can't go to a complete stranger and offer support during her personal nightmare, I thought I could at least share some of what I learned from our tragedy here, starting with what not to say.
What not to say when someone loses a baby
- You can have more children
I know it seems logical to encourage a devastated mother that she will have another chance to have a baby, but it is the last thing a grieving mom wants to hear. Right now, she doesn't want another baby; she wants THAT baby. Trust me, she could go on to have 12 more children, develop a pill that magically prevents pregnancy loss, win the Nobel Prize for medicine and she will still miss her baby every day of her life. She may not have gotten to know this baby's personality, but she did develop an attachment. She had chosen a name, prepared the nursery, and selected a tiny wardrobe. She had hopes and dreams for this child. The baby she is mourning cannot be replaced. A mother's love is forever; it can't be transferred to another child.
- God always has a plan
Unless you have a copy of the plan signed by God and a clear understanding of why the plan is necessary, please don't say this. A mother lost in grief cannot conceive of a plan that would require her baby to die. The corollary, "Everything happens for a reason" should also be saved for another occasion.
- Time heals all wounds
Suggesting that this particular wound will be healed is a bad idea because it isn't true. This wound will always be sensitive. Losing a child is something a mother never gets over. She will find a way to move on, but that isn't the same thing as "getting over" the loss. This wound becomes a part of her, changing who she is forever. She will survive, move on and one day even be happy again; but she is forever changed.
What to do instead
The truth is, you don't have to say anything at all. Just show up. Prepare a meal, do a load of laundry, or make sure the cable bill gets paid. Show up prepared to talk, to listen or just take up space in the room. Offer sympathy and compassion and wait to see what the family needs. Be the friend who shows up knowing that nothing you say will make her feel better right now. Be the friend who shows up anyway. That is what she needs.
There aren't many people who would peak into our house, see the chaos created by our four children and think for a moment that someone is missing. When I am asked how many children we have, I say "four", but my heart screams "five". As grateful as I am for our family, everyday I am aware that we are missing Emma. Sometimes, I watch our children playing or fighting and wonder how Emma would have fit into the group. Would she be a peace-maker or an instigator? Would she be a girly-girl like Maggie or a jeans and t-shirt girl like me? At least once a day, I see her perfect face (a miniture replica of Caleb's) and her tiny little arms and legs flailing around as she fought for air. I reach for the pendant with her birthstone that I wear around my neck and hope she knows that I love her. I hope she knows that her life was fleeting, but her memory is not.