This Is What You Can Do When Someone Loses a Baby

by Carly Sheaffer
Originally Published: 
Yellow-and-white baby shoes placed on the fence of the baby's crib

We lost a baby boy about a year ago.

I was a little over 5 months pregnant. At our 20-week ultrasound, we expected to find another little girl. Instead, we learned he was a little boy, and he had a rare complication that gave him a zero percent chance of survival. Zero percent. Nothing prepares you for losing a baby. Even if you know the tiny little one inside your belly won’t make it, your heart simply cannot prepare for the jagged, aching pain that seers through your entire body.

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I remember our neighbor asked us if we were having some kind of party when he saw a lot of cars in our driveway. I had to explain over the fence that our little boy had died, and we were gathering for him. He shook his head sadly, told me they had a stillbirth years ago as well, and said, “Back in our day, we got maybe a phone call. This is amazing to have all these people supporting you.”

He’s right. While 1 in 4 women suffer from a miscarriage or infant loss, our society is only just now starting to talk about what that’s like. Women have only recently begun to share their losses, share their little ones’ names, share their stories. Some do this publicly, others with their innermost circle. No matter the setting, as we try to make the topic less taboo, sometimes it’s hard to know how to respond.

So many times, people tell me, “I’m sorry. I just didn’t know what to say when it happened.” I found the mere acknowledgement that this sucks beyond words was usually comforting. However, it can be difficult for friends and families to navigate the supporting role when someone has lost a baby. For those looking for some ideas or perspective, here are some places to start when a loved one loses a baby:

Call the baby by his or her name. It’s one of the few things we have of this child; hearing the name is almost a continual confirmation of our baby’s existence.

Give them something in memory of their little one. A tree, a plant, a painting, jewelry with the birthstone or initial, a wind chime, a candle, an ornament — it doesn’t have to be much at all. But giving something provides a tangible way to remember when there is a physical emptiness we feel, in our bellies, our arms, our homes.

Let them know when their baby comes to mind. One friend messaged me that on a beautiful day, she and her kids planted wildflowers in memory of our son as they were thinking of us. As parents, knowing we aren’t the only one treasuring our babies makes their life feel bigger; seeing the ripple effect of their spirit soothes and heals raw places in the heart.

Bring a meal, or even a gift card for take-out. Often the physical healing from miscarriage or stillbirth can keep a grieving mama bedridden, and regardless, planning a menu is often literally the last thing on the mind.

Avoid clichés like, “Everything happens for a reason.” No reason feels valid enough to have taken our baby. Keep it real. Keep it honest. Some of the most helpful conversations went like this: “This is so sad. This sucks.”

“I know.” “I wish this wasn’t happening.” “Me too.”

Remember the dads. They’ve lost too. Their heart has a hole in it as well. I remember when we had to say goodbye to our baby, watching through my own heartbreak as the tears from my husband’s face fell down to the blanket our son was wrapped in. Both parents’ hearts split wide open. Don’t forget the dads.

Ask questions. One friend asked me how much our son weighed; another asked what labor was like, if it was different. Sharing the details of his story makes him feel real and loved as his own little person. It makes his story unique.

Cry with us. Feel the feels together.

Be aware. Nothing is worse than someone saying they hate being pregnant when we’d give anything to have a healthy baby hurting our back, making us pee 500 times in the night, kicking our insides. Of course, you are legit uncomfortable 9 months pregnant; of course, your baby not sleeping through the night is exhausting. Moms and dads who have recently lost are just probably not your audience for such conversations.

Don’t change the subject awkwardly. The dreaded question “How many kids do you have?” often results in either guilt for “not counting” the loss, or a 60-second spiel in which we include the baby but have to basically comfort the listener about the fact that our baby died. “We have two girls; we lost a little boy last year too. It was heartbreaking, but we are okay and thankful for our family and village and the time we had with him.” Folks’ responses have been so healing after this. Some just say they are sorry; some ask if they can give a hug; some share their own story of grief, which often leads to a special bond. Merely letting the conversation include our little one without a huge gap or change in subject as if we shouldn’t have brought it up is helpful. As parents, we talk about our kids all the time. How could we not include these babies as well?

If appropriate, include siblings. Friends included our daughters in the showering of love, sometimes with crafts or ways to remember their little brother. Another brought our oldest a “grief kit” with coloring books, journals, and other therapeutic play toys that she frankly loved getting to process with.

Remind the parents to be kind and gentle with themselves. Advice to move on does not help.

Check in. Weeks later. Months later. Years later. Asking what they need to cope. Asking what they are feeling. Asking if they want to talk or be distracted. Asking if they need help with anything. Check in.

Let them know the baby’s impact on your life. Let them know you are holding their baby in your heart. Knowing their little one mattered not only to you, but also to others is both beautiful and healing.

The most heartbreaking stories are ones in which a grieving parent felt alone. When our world comes crumbling down, it’s often the people around us who help pick up the bricks, and piece by piece, gently put our hearts back together. It won’t be the same, and we won’t want it to be, but by including rituals, reminders, and signs of love for these babies within that rebuilding, we begin to feel whole again. I’ve said and heard and seen so many times that those we can’t hold in our arms, we hold in our hearts. Some days, knowing others are tenderly holding our baby’s memory can make all the difference to remind us that their footprint may have been tiny, but boy, was it mighty.

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