What To Do When Your Friend Loses A Baby
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Posted By: Lindsay Ostrom, Author, PinchOfYum.com on Jun 23, 2017

What To Do When Your Friend Loses A Baby
 
Lindsay is a former teacher turned popular food blogger at Pinch of Yum. She and her husband, Bjork, welcomed and lost their son, Afton, earlier this year. A version of this post originally appeared here.

I am probably the friend who you're tiptoeing around. I might be the friend who has become a major social weirdo and cancels plans last-minute. I am the friend who you're not sure about inviting to a baby shower. I'm the friend who might have unfollowed you on social media when you announced that you were pregnant (read: I did. I definitely did. I just need to be sad right now.). I can't relate to your normal-mom conversations about late-night feedings and nap schedules and which is the best jogging stroller. The truth is, I have experienced motherhood in a unique and powerful way, but I feel left out and confused about my identity as a mom.

On January 1st, 2017, in Room 44 of the NICU at Children's Hospital, I became this friend. I held my first and only son Afton as he died in my arms. He was just one day old.

It was every bit as painful as it sounds. For those first few days after his completely unexpected premature birth and death, I was sinking, slowly sinking, and eventually I crash-landed right there on the bottom of the ocean. No light, no air - just hard, jagged rocks and one thousand pounds keeping me pinned to the bottom. As time has gone on, I have vacillated back and forth from the top of the water where I find myself for just a minute, feeling the sun and breathing in the air and noticing the color of the water and sky, to finding the weight of loss pulling me back down to the lifeless bottom again.

In sharing his birth story, many-many-many people have reached out with "me too's." The obvious ones are from women who have experienced similarly life-altering losses, whether through miscarriage, stillbirth, SIDS, or premature infant loss, like my son Afton.

But you know who else has come forward? THE FRIENDS. The friends have come forward saying, "my friend, too." And then the question that follows closely behind is: "What can I do for her? What can I do for my cousin, my sister, my friend who has lost her baby?"

Make no mistake here - the only reason I can write this post is because my real life family and friends have given me so many examples of how to do this well. I owe this post to them. They have, in the most real way, answered the question of What To Do When Your Friend Loses a Baby.

1. Above all else: Acknowledge. Saying something is better than saying nothing.

If you don't read or remember anything else in this post, remember this: please, please, please acknowledge the loss, the grief, and the fact that your friend is now living without an actual part of her heart. It is deeply painful to make small talk about the weather when my whole world has fallen apart. Please acknowledge this pain. It doesn't have to be major. These statements all acknowledge the pain AND they leave the option to either continue to talk more about it or to be done talking about it, which is going to be different depending on the person and the circumstances. Also, if you think it's too late, that too much time has gone by, think again. Statements like this are incredibly meaningful at any point in a loss journey.

YOU COULD SAY:

I just want you to know I've been thinking about you so much over the last few weeks.
 
You've been on my heart. I just want to acknowledge that it's probably really difficult for you to be here today.
 
I just want you to know that I'm really sorry I didn't reach out right away when you lost ____. I was intimidated by not saying the right thing, but I should have said something. I am so sorry for your loss.

2. Say her baby's name.

"I am so sorry for your loss." is really meaningful. But "I am so sorry about the loss of your sweet baby boy, Afton. Will you tell me about him?" is much more meaningful. Because for me, the death of my baby is not a generic loss. It is the loss of a specific person who had a specific future. And when you speak about him as a person - not just a pregnancy or a baby, but a person with a name - that validates my grief.

Elizabeth Edwards says: "if you know someone who has lost a child, and you're afraid to mention them because you think you might make them sad by reminding them that they died you're not reminding them. they didn't forget they died. what you're reminding them of is that you remembered that they lived, and that is a great gift."

YOU COULD SAY:

I'm thinking about you and missing ____ with you today.
 
_____ is still so precious to us. We love her.
 
I know I never got to meet ____, but feel like I know him because I know you.

3. Ask to see pictures of her baby.

Many loss moms, especially those whose babies were premature or stillborn, have pictures of their baby but fear that people might not like looking at them. The baby might have discolored skin. Their lips might be blue. They might have a physical deformity or their eyes might still be closed tight. It is hard to look at pictures of babies who aren't "normal." But do you know what your friend thinks? She thinks this is the most beautiful baby in the world. And you'd be giving her a profound gift by telling her that you think her baby is beautiful, too.

YOU COULD SAY:

Do you have any pictures of _____? I would love to see him.
 
Oh my gosh, look at her adorable nose! Do you think that's mom's nose or dad's nose?
 
What a beautiful baby. I'm so honored that you would share those pictures with me.

4. Offer specific help.

Grief is exhausting and many parents facing loss just do not have the mental strength to even think about what they might need, so if you can help put the pieces together for them, you are lifting a huge burden.

YOU COULD SAY:

I would love to deliver some groceries for you this week. What day works best to drop them off?
 
I'm going to make a Target run and I'd like to drop some stuff off for you later today. I'll just leave it outside the front door.
 
What do you need for ___'s funeral? Let me run some errands for you.

5. Honor her baby publicly.

After we announced his birth and passing, a few of our friends honored Afton publicly on Facebook and Instagram by writing about him or sharing our pictures and our posts about him. It's so simple, but just knowing that others cared enough to share something with their own family and friends really meant a lot to me. It showed that they were impacted by our son in a deep and profound way.

YOU COULD SAY:

This week we're heartbroken about the loss of our friends' baby, ______. We will always remember her.
 
Today, as I'm spending time with my family, I'm remembering my friend and her baby _____. She has shown me what it means to really love my kids.
 
It was a beautiful day to remember a beautiful baby. I was so honored to attend ______'s funeral. We will miss him forever.

6. Send her a text.

Texts are the best, easiest, cheapest, fastest way to participate in supporting your friend. Has it been one week? Has it been one year? Doesn't matter. Just text her right now. In my opinion, text messages are better than cards because a) why is the post office always 100 miles away, b) you can send them every day! and c) my personal favorite - your friend can text back. She might not, because sometimes in grief you are overwhelmed with everything, including sending a text message. But she might be lonely, and a text might give her a mid-day lifeline in case she wants to talk.

YOU COULD SAY:

Hey! Thinking about you today. How has this week been?
 
Saw this sunset/flower/sign/animal tonight and it reminded me of ______. Missing him tonight. (these reminded-me-of texts are my all-time favorite and I will never get sick of them.)
 
Hey, I'm guessing this has been a tough week. Do you want to grab coffee tomorrow?

7. Write something to her baby.

Cards written to your friend are great, but cards written to my baby are rare, intimate, and incredibly special. It is powerful and moving to see and hear other people love your baby even in their absence.

YOU COULD SAY:

Dear ____, I have known your mom and dad for a long time and they've never been as happy as they were to welcome you into their family...
 
Dear ____, we will miss you everyday and we will always think of you every time we...
 
Dear ____, today is your birthday! We are celebrating that you would have been __ years old today. We wonder what you would have been like, and we love you...

8. Make it personal and specific.

I'm not really going to try to explain this one but I am going to give you a bunch of real-life examples of things people have said to me, unprompted, that have made me feel like our friends and family really know how to love Afton well. I cannot even begin to describe to you how much these words mean to me.

WHAT YOU COULD DO/SAY:

If there is a time of year that is significant, maybe there is something you could do or recognize that is specific to that season. One of our friends bought us a Lenten Rose plant which blooms in the winter, between the time Afton was born and his due date (December - April). It was such a thoughtful gesture that was so personal to us and our story.

Many loss parents associate some kind of symbol with their baby. For us, it's snow, and the moon, and what we call "after light" which is the time between afternoon and evening. When you see a symbol, take a picture and send it to your friend and tell them that you're reminded of their baby. I would always love to get a text from someone saying that something, somewhere reminded them of Afton.

Put their picture up on your fridge or somewhere in your home. At one of our friend's houses, we noticed that they had the program from Afton's funeral hanging up with their other Christmas cards. Those little things mean a lot.

Tell them what you think of when you hear the baby's name. We don't get to see Afton grow up and live into his own identity, so having others to help us build an identity for him is so incredibly precious. You could say, "Here's what I think of when I think of ____."

9. Supply the weird post-birth stuff.

Hey, guess what? Your friend lost her baby AND she also probably just gave birth or went through some kind of excruciating physical experience. So along with the overwhelming grief, she's dealing with all the same boatload of weird stuff that women deal with after birth, and she probably is not able to think about self-care right now. This was one of the single most helpful things that anyone did for me.

Some of the best gifts (yes, I'm calling these gems GIFTS) that I got from friends after we lost Afton were medical and very weird and now I'm going to write them on the internet:

  • c-section underwear (you're welcome)
  • high-waisted soft pants - like, 80 pairs of soft pants (if debating on the size, larger = better.)
  • magnesium chewy gummies to help with sleep
  • eye mask, also for sleep
  • essential oils for relaxing, sleep, etc.
  • girl-type products
  • digestive-type products
  • tummy wrap to wear under clothes
  • c-section scar treatment strips

10. Make returns for her.

Just a few days before Afton was born, I had ordered a bunch of new maternity workout-wear. And I had been so excited about it. Of course, the package arrived to our house just a few days after we came home from the hospital. I wasn't pregnant anymore. I didn't have a baby. It was painful to look at it laying there on my desk. Like a ghost of my life from before. A friend came over and saw the unopened package and said: here, let me return that for you.

Whether it's new maternity clothes that won't get worn or baby products that won't get used, your friend might have some brand-new, returnable stuff laying around that you can just swoop in and return for her. Super, super helpful.

Just be wise - make sure that she wants it returned. Sometimes, even though the items might never get worn or used, they have emotional value to us loss moms. For example, Bjork and I have some baby clothes and toys that could easily be returned, but we will always want to keep them because they were Afton's clothes and toys - a few of this only earthly possessions. So just make sure to be sensitive and pay attention to her cues.

YOU COULD SAY:

Is there anything you want me to pick up or return for you when I go to the mall this week?
 
Do you think you'll keep ___'s things in a special place?
 
Are there any things you want me to return for you?

11. Help her socially.

One of my most-dreaded things after losing Afton was making small talk in social settings. When strangers (or not) would go on and on about their favorite salad dressings or the latest movies or their new clearance sandals, I was beyond done. I had some epic mean-girl thoughts, such as: my son just died. stop talking about your pointless shoes already.

If you are in a social situation with your friend, you can support her in a big, big way by being aware of how social dynamics might be affecting her. If you can stick close to her, change subjects when needed, and be a little extra talkative and friendly to others so she doesn't have to, it gives her that space to just sit back and be socially awkward. And she needs that space.

YOU COULD:

Invite her to a coffee date rather than a big dinner party.
 
Be gracious when she needs to cancel plans and stay home.
 
Stand next to her at a social gathering and steer the conversation to safety.

12. Grieve with her on important days.

There are important days in the calendar now that your friend will never, ever forget. The day my baby was born. The day that he died. The day she was due, the day of the scan, the day there was no heartbeat. Mother's Day. Father's Day. Christmas.

Loss moms feel the pain of loss every day, but these specific days are especially painful. Be intentional about reaching out to your friend on these days and even in the days leading up to the day, because sometimes the anticipation is worse. Set a recurring reminder in your calendar and have it end: never. Because even 20 years from now, Afton's birthday will still be his birthday, and I will still want people to remember him.

YOU COULD SAY:

Thinking of ____ on his birthday. I know today is a hard day and I am remembering ____ with you.
 
I'm guessing this holiday season is a hard one since it's your first without _____. I'm thinking of you.
 
Hey, with Mother's Day coming up, I would love to get together and celebrate you and ____. Are you free tomorrow?

I would love to hear from you in the comments on this post - what has helped you or your friends through the loss of a baby?

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