by Angie Lemont Bresnahan, HRH Mom and Volunteer
I gave birth at 28 weeks on February 20th to our son Beren Bazin, weighing 2 lbs. 9 oz., and our daughter Adalyn Elaine, weighing 2 lbs. 11 oz. They were the most beautiful people TJ and I had ever seen. They were the tiny, precious gifts I’d dreamed of for so many years. Adalyn had a few complications at birth but Beren was doing great and as strong and healthy as you can hope for with a premature birth. So you can imagine our shock and heartbreak when we lost our son just five days after he was born. It took a month to learn the cause of his death; an autopsy revealed he had an undetectable infection around his heart. We treasure the few days we had to hold Beren and show him how much we love him, and we think about him and miss him constantly.
I have always been open about my journey to Motherhood. From infertility to grief. I believe that sharing my story can help others. Trying to find the right words to say to grieving parents can feel impossible. They have just lost their baby. No words you can speak will make the pain go away, but the right words can bring comfort. As a mother that has lost a child, I have heard it all. The truth is no one knows what to say to a grieving mother because everyone deals with grief differently. I hope in reading this, it helps you feel more comfortable about what to say to someone that is grieving the loss of a child.
Platitudes. Don’t use them. Even though your words come from the best of intentions. What you think are the right words, can hurt the most.
“I know how you feel. I lost my Grandfather.”
Comparing stories causes more harm than good. Every story is different and grief is different for everyone. Never tell a bereaved parent you know how they feel. The truth is nobody knows how anyone feels. Everyone grieves differently.
We can’t control feelings. No one can. It’s how you feel. Trust me, nobody wants to feel this way. We have become a different person. We will always be a grieving mother. We just get better at not showing our feelings. Please be patient with us. We have to find a way to exist in a world without our future dreams and plans for our lost child. The sad truth is we will never be “over it”. Those words should never be spoken in this kind of situation. We will never get over losing our child. We will heal, but the scar will always remain.
“At least it happened early and you didn’t know your baby.”
A mother becomes a mother the moment she finds out she is pregnant. She dreams of birthdays, holidays, and watching her baby grow. No matter how far along she is, she is still a mother. We carried our baby in our womb. Now that we can’t carry them in our arms, we carry them in our hearts. When a child dies all those dreams turn into wonder. A life of wonder. We wonder about our baby instead of watching them grow up. What would the baby have enjoyed? What kind of person would my baby have become? Holidays will be difficult. Keep them in mind during these times. Send a card on Mother’s Day, say something comforting on Christmas, the child’s birthday, or the anniversary of the child’s death. Not just the first year but every year. Put a reminder in your phone and let them know you are thinking of them. Random times as well. The mother will think of her child every day of every year. It’s nice to know others are thinking of them and us as well.
“The baby is in a better place.”
To a mother, there is no better place for her baby than in her arms. Period.
“You can always try again for another baby. Be thankful for the children you have. You can always adopt.”
In some cases, these might be true. But no baby will ever replace this baby. Another 50 babies won’t be able to replace the one who has gone. There will always be a hole that will never be filled. We are so blessed to have Adalyn. She is her own person and a part of her is missing as well. They can not be compared as they are two different babies.
A grieving Mother will never move on. In time, it will become more bearable. It will have less impact on her daily routine. She will never be herself again. She will find a new normal. She will have to learn to live in a world where her baby doesn’t. Just give her time. Let her know she can take as much time as she needs. The grief surrounding the loss of a first-degree relative has been shown to decline slowly over the first 12 months post-loss. However, the “normal” grieving process surrounding pregnancy loss does not decline until after two years, with one in-depth study finding 59% of parents were still struggling with grief symptoms at a high rate of occurrence after those first two years. Other grief specialists estimate the average grieving process for pregnancy/infant loss to decline after 4 years have passed. It has been 2 years and 9 months since Beren died and it still affects me every day. Sometimes grief is delayed. Mothers can be busy making funeral arrangements and hosting family and friends that have come from out of town. People often distract themselves with tasks to keep their minds busy. Then after people have left town, stopped calling and coming by, that’s when it can hit them like a ton of bricks. When the loneliness will set in. They may feel like the world has moved on and forgotten about their loss. Remember they deal with this every day. Not just the first few weeks, months and year after it happened.
“You need to get out of the house.”
It may be a while until she is ready to attend a gathering. Let her know it’s ok to not attend another’s baby shower, child’s birthday or family event. Keep inviting her. She may not go but doesn’t want to feel like she is not wanted. She will when she is ready. So try not to be offended.
“This was God’s plan.”
It might have been God’s plan but it wasn’t theirs. Religious beliefs might be unclear, uprooted or challenged during this time. Try not to push faith on them. Ask if they want to talk about religion or pray with you before assuming.
What you can do is…
Affirm the baby.
Ask the Mother is she wants to talk about her baby. I love talking about my son. How cute his little toes were. How hairy he was. The noises he made while lying on my chest. Use the baby’s name. I love hearing Beren’s name. Saying his name means you remember. We do not want our children to be forgotten. Just having someone listen to me talk about him is helpful for me. By talking about the baby directly you can help the mother acknowledge the baby and help them express their feelings.
If you can’t find the words to say, just sit and hold their hand. “I’m sorry I don’t know what to say to you. But I am here to hold your hand and listen”. It’s ok to cry with us as well. We know you love us and our loss may be hurting you too. Tears are not a sign of weakness. Our bodies are designed to cry when we are in pain.
To a Mother, there is no reason ever explained why she can’t have her baby. Mothers may feel guilty or wonder if their bodies failed them. The word “why” will be used often. Why did this happen to me? Did I do something wrong? I am Beren’s Mother. I was supposed to protect him. That was my job as his mother. Don’t try to offer an answer. Tell them you miss them too. And that they are still good Mothers.
It’s never too late to reach out.
No matter how long it has been since the death of a child, it’s never too late to reach out with condolence. The power of social media can help in this aspect. I remember getting a Facebook message from a woman I went to high school with. I live in Florida and she is still in Maine where I grew up. She wrote to me and simply said she was sorry for our loss and she was thinking of me and my family. That meant so much to me. I hadn’t seen her in over 19 years.
Ask them if there is anything you can do. They might not know what they need but still, ask. Offer to help out with chores. Mowing the lawn, picking up dry cleaning or grocery shopping. Never just stop by unexpected, always ask first. It may take some time before they want to have company.
My wonderful friends had a bench placed in memory of Beren. It is a place I can go to and feel close to him. I love when I hear that my friends have taken their kids there. Beren’s grandparents also had a tree planted for Adalyn. Offer to plant some flowers or a tree in memory of their baby.
To grieve is to love. Loving someone that is not here is so hard. I can’t show Beren how much I love him.
The list above is not exhaustive nor is it right for everyone. Traumatic grief is complicated and different for every person. If you’re not sure you’re doing the right thing then just ask them. They might not know what they need. They’re still your loved one, they’re just really hurting right now and might be acting a little differently. Tell them, “This must be so hard for you. Please let me know how I can help.” Above all, show your love. Show up. Say something even if it is just an “I’m sorry”. Do something. Listen. Be there to hold our hands. In the journey of grief, there is no destination. It is long, sad, and lonely. Tell them “you don’t have to go through this alone”.
Please, above all, say something.
Angie has worked closely with High Risk Hope to implement our Bereavement Program. We have begun offering this program at St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital. Our Bereavement Box is available in our online store.