This summer, I (Rachel) had the privilege of co-authoring an article with doula and fellow bereaved mom Sarah Mcilwham for the Ottawa-based magazine From Belly to Baby. We shared some ideas about how to support friends and family members through pregnancy or infant loss. Rob and I are so blessed to have thoughtful friends who purchased a tree in memory of Aaron through the City of Ottawa Commemorative tree program. Aaron’s tree is planted in a park close to our home and we visit it often. Gabriel always waves at the tree when we drive past the park and it has become part of our routine to visit the tree. Sarah and I have included some ideas in the article below for ways that you can support a friend or family member who has or will experience pregnancy or infant loss.
Providing Support After Pregnancy or Infant Loss
Although the majority of pregnancies end with the birth of a healthy baby, it is estimated that one in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage (loss up to 20 weeks of pregnancy), and approximately 7 in every 1,000 pregnancies end in stillbirth (loss after 20 weeks of pregnancy). With this level of frequency, it is very likely that either you or someone close to you have experienced this traumatic event in their lives. Other families and individuals experience the devastating loss of a newborn or infant. These types of losses are shocking, and are rarely openly discussed in today’s society, which can leave those who want to support their family member, friend, colleague, etc. feeling a bit lost and unsure how they can best support their loved ones.
Simply being present for someone, to quietly witness their grief, can be so important for the person who has experienced the loss. They will encounter so many people who will feel the need to say something, anything in an effort to help the grieving parent to feel better. In many cases, it is most helpful to listen, witness and acknowledge their grief, and let them know that they have a safe place to express all their emotions and feelings. In the first couple of weeks and months, they may feel supported by their community, but it is also important to be there in the many months and years to follow.
The intensity of their grief will lessen in time, but the grief and love they feel for their child will never leave them. Walking with someone beside them in their grief can be a very valuable part of their healing journey. In addition to being there to witness someone in their grief, many people will want to provide support in a more practical and tangible way. Here are some practical ways to support someone who has experienced a pregnancy or infant loss, in the immediate time after their loss, and in the months and years to follow. These ideas will help the individual or family during their struggle to stay afloat when it feels like the waves of grief keep crashing down.
Bring a Bite to Eat. People often say “If you need anything, just ask.” Chances are that they will not ask. Bring over dinner, mow their lawn or clean their house. Do whatever it takes to make the daily grind more manageable. If you aren’t a cook, give a gift card to a restaurant like The Red Apron, which offers a home cooked meal with delivery in the Ottawa area. Quite often, people receive meals immediately after the loss but support is also needed after they return to the daily grind.
Say Their Name. The baby they lost is a person no matter how early the loss. Honour their baby. Some people just do not know how to act or what to say in these types of situations. Talking about the loss of their baby acknowledges the life that was gone to soon.
Remember the Milestones. Acknowledge tough days. Days like Mother’s Day/Father’s Day; diagnosis dates; due dates; the actual day the baby was born; their baby’s would-be birthday; all of these dates are hard. A small gesture of a card, phone call, or even a text, will go a long way to let them know that their baby is not forgotten and that you are thinking of them.
Send a Care Package. Hamilton-based Tenth Moon Mothercare has created a Mama’s Heart care package to help soothe the hearts of women who experience pregnancy or infant loss. A portion of proceeds from the sale of this package support the Pregnancy and Infant Loss (PAIL) network. Cornerstone Wesleyan Church in North Gower has a faith-based Hope Box program in Ottawa/Gatineau for individuals and families who have lost a baby through any type of pregnancy or infant loss. The purchase of this box includes a charitable receipt.
Give them Information on Support Groups. Talking with other parents who have experienced a similar type of loss can be an important part of healing for the family. There are many support groups for individuals or families experiencing pregnancy and infant loss in the Ottawa / Gatineau area. Roger Neilson House offers a Perinatal Loss Support Group for individuals and families who have lost a baby over 20 weeks gestation as well as a group for siblings and grandparents. The Ottawa chapter of Bereaved Families of Ontario offers a monthly Support and Share night for any pregnancy or infant loss (first Tuesday evening of every month). Empty Arms, Open Heart is a support group for any pregnancy and perinatal loss that meets monthly (second Thursday of each month). The Center for Family Intervention Studies and Research (CÉRIF) offers a free French support group meeting for parents who have experienced a perinatal loss and they also offer a pregnancy after loss group in French at the Université du Québec en Outaouais. There is an infertility support group the last Saturday of every month at the Ottawa Fertility Centre. MotherWit Doula Care Ottawa also offers a monthly (3rd Friday evening of each month) pregnancy and infant loss support group.
Make a Donation in memory of their baby to an organization that supports bereaved families and individuals. Roger Neilson House, Bereaved Families of Ottawa and the Pregnancy and Infant Loss Network all provide services for families and individuals who have experienced this type of loss.
Help plan a memorial to remember their baby. There are several things you can do including planting a commemorative tree or garden, organizing a birthday celebration at a park, etc. The City of Ottawa Commemorative Tree Program people who wish to have a tree planted in a City park in remembrance or to commemorate a loved one who has passed away.
Walk to remember their baby during Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month in October. On October 14th, 2017, Aaron’s Butterfly Run Ottawa/Gatineau will be taking place to support families and individuals who have experienced pregnancy and infant loss. The run is being coordinated by a small group of volunteers who have personally experienced the pain of pregnancy and infant loss. The 2017 run is being organized in honour of baby Aaron, a patient of the Perinatal Hospice at Roger Neilson House who spent 100 precious minutes with his family after birth. Butterfly Wings for children are for sale as a fundraiser for the run at The Three Sisters Bakeshop (2211 Arch Street). More information on the run can be found at www.butterflyrunottawa.ca.
The support of friends and family can help to alleviate some of the feelings of isolation that often accompany a pregnancy or infant loss. Of course, no matter how much you want to, you can’t take your friend’s pain away. This loss will stay with them forever. However, you can do the next best thing: you can be there for them while they navigate their journey through grief and can provide support when they need it most.