Pregnancy & Birth

What to say to someone who has had a stillbirth and how you can continue to support them

Because the worst thing you can do is say nothing.

The death of a baby before birth can be just as painful as losing a child of any other age. Parents are left feeling devastated and it can be difficult to know how to cope. Feelings of intense grief, anger and guilt are all common.
In New Zealand, one in every 200 pregnancies ends in a stillbirth.
Here, UK midwife Sophie King shares advice on how you can help support someone experiencing the tragedy of stillbirth.

Start the conversation - and then listen

Women who have had a stillbirth often say the best support was someone who was just there for them and listened. Someone who cared and asked questions about how they can support.
The death of a child is heartbreaking and it will be difficult to know what to say. Your gut instinct may be telling you to give the parents space until they are ready to talk, but if everyone does that they may have no one to talk to.
Don't assume the parents are dealing with their grief together. One may want to talk and the other might not be able to yet, so they may need support in different ways.
If you don't know where to start, try saying something along the lines of: "I'm not sure what to say and I'm worried about saying the wrong thing. Please tell me if I say something offensive or wrong."
It really is far worse if you don't say anything at all.

Offer practical support

Remember that the mother will have been through a delivery, probably a natural birth. Ask her how it was and remember she will be recovering physically from the birth as well as being in an emotional spin after the trauma of losing her child. She may not be able to lift heavy things, she may have stitches and be sore.
Just as you would if the baby had lived, bring round pre-cooked food for the freezer and look after housework, take other siblings to school and walk the dog.
Ask what practical support the parents need. Ask whether they would like you to stay, and if you do, keep checking you are not over-staying. Be prepared to change plans quickly and leave the couple if they need time alone together.
Remember, in the first few weeks when they should be enjoying a steady stream of well-wishers and flower deliveries, stillborn parents will be making funeral arrangements.

Visit the baby if they ask you to - and comment on him or her as if she was living

In the very early hours and days after a stillbirth, the parents may want you to come and meet the baby. This may be the first time you have seen a baby who is stillborn, and it may be quite a shocking and distressing experience.
Try not to make excuses. Would you have dropped everything to come to see the new baby if he or she had lived? Remember, the parents only have their baby for a short, precious amount of time, and that time needs to create a life-time of memories.
Whether you are able to visit or not, ask questions about the baby. Ask to see photos if the parents have some, and do not be afraid to use the baby's name. Hearing their baby's name spoken aloud by other people is one of the most important things to parents of stillborn babies.
Just as you would if the baby had lived, comment about how curly his eye-lashes are, or how long her legs are, or how cute their nose is. These 'normal' comments about their baby will be so precious to the parents.

Do not behave as if the loss never happened

This can especially be the case for parents when they return to work after stillbirth. Colleagues can feel it is 'none of their business' and not acknowledge the baby and the loss.
When the parents are home, don't expect them to 'just get on with it'. Keep checking in and messaging even if you get no response. Try to say more than just, "I'm thinking of you," which feels too impersonal. For many parents, stillbirth is a huge source of guilt and shame - help them to feel that they are still worthy of your company and you are there for them.
Time lessens but it never fully heals. Acknowledge the baby in the months and years that follow, remember important dates and include them in family occasions and celebrations.
Equally as important, acknowledge the person has become a parent and that they deserve that title. An empty-armed parent is arguably the hardest parenting of all.
Via Closer