People experience a lot of difficulty around how to talk to
a person who has lost a baby. I use the word person here, because fathers
experience the pain of miscarriage or stillbirth as well as mothers.
In my experience there are people who ignore the lost baby.
This was demonstrated strongly recently when I saw a friend who had experienced
a miscarriage. I told her I was sorry about the miscarriage and I was so sad
for that little life lost. Before she could respond to me, one of the other
people present cut in and shut down the conversation. A short while later the
other person took me to one side and told me I was uncaring and insensitive for
mentioning the miscarriage. I was shocked. Later I asked my friend if I had
hurt her with my words. Her response was that it meant a lot to her to have her
miscarriage acknowledged. To have someone acknowledge her pain. To have someone
acknowledge the existence of that precious little baby. What had hurt her was
the person who shut the conversation down.
People refuse to talk about the death of a baby for many
One is that they feel uncomfortable talking about it. In our
society death is hidden away in hospitals and rarely discussed. Death of a baby
is even more uncomfortable. Many minimise what a couple who have experienced
miscarriage are going through. After all, the baby wasn’t a person yet, was it!
As the mother of four children I felt each one of those babies was a person, my
child, from the moment I knew I was pregnant. To lose one of those precious
little lives at any time in the pregnancy was a terrifying thought. As a nurse
I nursed many women who had lost their baby before or at full term. It doesn’t
matter when it happens, it is devastating.
Another reason people won’t talk about the death of a baby
is a misguided belief that “one doesn’t talk about such things”. I remember
when my mother died and I had to see my friends again. My friends were all
saying sorry. That was hard to be reminded of her death, but it was comforting
to know they cared and acknowledged her life. One friend avoided the subject.
That really hurt. I felt as though my pain was not valid. Imagine how a woman
who has lost her baby feels if that is how she is treated? It is hard enough to
lose a baby early in pregnancy when people may not even know you are pregnant.
But to have that precious life ignored and minimised by not talking about it is
even harder. Some women want it kept quiet, and that must be respected, but
other women want the comfort, support and validation from other people that
this little life mattered, their hurt matters and they don’t have to grieve
I was once in a position where a woman I saw occasionally
was pregnant. I saw her just before the baby was born then didn’t see her for
some months. When I next saw her, I congratulated her on the birth of her baby,
which I knew by then would have been born. She told me her baby had died
shortly after birth. I was mortified. No one spoke about her or her baby so I
didn’t know her baby had died. I apologised for the hurt my words caused and
told her how sorry I was. She talked for some time about how hard it was and
then said she was glad we had talked because not many people wanted to know how
she was feeling and the lack of discussion about what had happened to her was
like some shameful secret. She was grateful that at least one person was
prepared to speak openly about her baby and express compassion for her as she
After the death of a baby so many people offer platitudes
like “it was for the best” or “you can have another one”. They are not
comforting. They hurt and minimise what the parent is experiencing. Those
platitudes are offered all the way along pregnancy from the first trimester
miscarriage to the still born baby. All hurt terribly.
I have always considered myself blessed because I had four
healthy pregnancies with four live births. I have never had to experience the
devastation of miscarriage or stillbirth. But that blessing has always made me
so aware of how devastating the death of one of those babies would have been. I
am sure I am not alone in caring deeply for other women whose pregnancies end
in miscarriage or stillbirth. It is also important to consider the needs of the
father as well. He is also grieving. So many men are told to support their
partner, as if they have no feelings about this. But they hurt too.
If you care, then you can best support the mother and father
in the death of their baby by saying how sorry you are and being willing to
listen if they want to talk. Acknowledge the baby. If it was given a name, then
use it. You don’t have to solve anything. There is no need for platitudes. You
just need to listen and care. That is what a grieving parent needs and wants.