Guest Post: Advice on supporting a friend after baby loss.
This is a blog post I asked my new friend, Priyanka from @thelilyflower_ if she would happily share with my audience. Her inspirational instagram account grabbed me by the heart and when a dear friend lost her son, Toby, Priyanka shared with me the best way to support and respect my friend during this unimaginable.
What to say to someone who has lost a baby.
I was 37 weeks into a healthy and routine pregnancy, when doctors discovered my baby had a catastrophic brain condition known as Miller Dieker syndrome. It was the worst day of my life.
I’d done all the routine tests, the 12 week blood tests! I’d passed everything with flying colors. I had a private OB, I’d eaten organic food, taken my prenatal vitamins. It was incomprehensible that this could happen to us. I wasn’t the sort of person that ‘this happened too’. Yet it did.
My husband and I were told our baby would die, but no one could tell us when it would happen. We were given wild estimates, ranging between 2 and 15 years. In the end, the doctors were all wrong. My baby girl, my sweet Lily, died when she was just 10 months and 15 days old.
When Lily was born, life changed forever. I changed forever. I became a mother, I became a special needs mother, and when Lily died I became a baby loss mother. All in the space of one year.
To say it was intense – well, let’s just say there will never be words to express how hard it was, it still is, living without her. It’s the kind of thing that makes your heart feel like it’s being squeezed, permanently. Over time, I have learnt to make room for the grief. It sits alongside the love and I have become a much better person. I like this new me better.
After Lily died, I realized that there are not a lot of resources out there. So wanting to do something to help, we (hubby and I) set up the Lily Calvert Foundation to support other families of little ones with terminal illnesses. And I started writing my heart out about baby loss, pregnancy loss, infertility, and my experience on Insta @thelilyflower_
It will be 3 years this July since Lily died. The day after her funeral, I was stunned to discover her final gift to us – a healthy little brother who is now two years old.
It has become part of my life mission to help provide support to those experiencing baby loss. But also importantly –help friends and family who so desperately want to comfort a loved one, but are at a loss for what to say or do.
Late one night I got to talking to Jess about this. She had a dear friend experiencing a baby loss and wanted to know how to help.
As a friend, it can seem impossibly hard to know what to do or say. But when you break it down – it’s a few key things: acknowledge the loss, be present and don’t try to fix it.
Here are my tips to help a grieving friend – and avoid freaking out about saying or doing the wrong thing!
- Acknowledge the loss. No matter how long ago or how recent, always acknowledge the loss. It becomes the elephant in the room otherwise. If you know someone who has a baby that has died, whether it be a miscarriage, still birth, infant loss or older child, reach out to them this Mother’s day. Send them a Mother’s Day message if their baby isn’t here and especially if they have no other children. It can be as simple as ‘thinking of you Mama and your Angel on Mother’s Day’. I can promise you, she will be thrilled that you remembered her child.
- Don’t try and fix it or make it ‘meaningful’. It can’t be fixed and telling her to look on the bright side only diminishes the gravity of the loss. As a friend, this can be the hardest lesson to learn. It’s our human instinct to try to fix things. But stop! Don’t do it! Repeat after me: ‘Sympathy not suggestions’. This is the time to just agree. Say this is so unfair, it’s the worst thing ever to happen. Sit with your friend in their grief.
- If she has given birth – remember she is a new mother too. Despite her loss and how it occurred, she is a new mamma and she has a right to celebrate it. Acknowledge her motherhood and let her talk about her birth story too.
- Buy a keepsake or something personalized. Could be a Birth Poster of babies measurements, engraved jewellery, a candle, you could register a star, commission a sketch, or plant ‘forget –me-not’ seeds. Or just make up a care package full of treats and pampering things for her and leave it on the doorstep. Food and alcohol never go astray. I hate sympathy fruit baskets though – who wants a basket of fruit in grief? Send alcohol, chocolate and cheese with a nice candle and some bath soak!
- Don’t expect to be hosted. Bring your own coffee and food if you hang out with her. A word of caution for the practical friend – don’t tidy up without express permission. There could be some things of babies that she deliberately hasn’t cleaned up. I still have Lily’s last water bottle, tucked away with her things. Don’t think I could ever empty it.
And finally, be her wing woman, protect her when you are out together, from prying questions from others, and check on her regularly in the days, months and years ahead. She won’t ever be the same person again, but that’s ok. Stick with her and you might just like this wiser, deeper person even more.