It is likely the bereaved parents will be in a state of deep shock and grief following the loss of their baby. Here are five simple ways you can offer support.
1. Take your cues from the bereaved parent. Many parents are longing to share their experience of losing their baby, and although this might be uncomfortable for you, if that’s what they are indicating, try not to avoid them; take the time to listen to their story and share their experience. When you are talking about their baby, don’t be afraid to use his or her name, if you know it; doing so is likely to honour their child and acknowledge the deep loss they feel. On the other hand, if your family member wants to be alone, let them take that time to grieve, without judgment. If they don’t want to share information, don’t press them and don’t be offended by any need they have to be private. And recognise they may feel private one day, and like sharing the next. Their cues may change and their experience of grief will not necessarily be consistent.
2. Stay in touch. Don’t avoid your family member because you don’t know what to say, or because they haven’t been in touch with you. Don’t assume because they haven’t responded to a message that they don’t need you. Keep, gently, supporting them. Regularly let them know you are there, although they need only respond when they are ready. When you are in touch, don’t be afraid of talking about their loss, letting them know their baby is loved and missed by you too. Doing so will honour them, their loss and the life of their precious, missing child.
3. Don’t have any expectations. Whether that is of their mood, or their response to an offer of help, or anything else. Certainly don’t expect them to support you through your grief at their loss. And tell them that you don’t have any expectations too; let them know you are there for them.
4. Offer practical support. This is particularly important in the early days after the loss of a baby, when bereaved parents will probably find it very difficult to do everyday things like shopping, cooking, looking after other children or animals, or cleaning the house. If they need to go into hospital to deliver their stillborn baby at short notice, help with childcare and care for pets will be particularly important to them. Unless your family member has indicated they need complete privacy, making yourself available to help with other day to day things is likely to be really welcome; drop food off (and this can even be done long distance, with a ready made meal delivery – research options in their area) and offer to help with other practical jobs that might need doing around the house.
5. Remember milestones. Special days, like due dates, birthdays, Christmas Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and even times when a stillborn baby might have started nursery, or school, are all likely to be very difficult for a bereaved parent. In addition, the birth of other children in the family may also act as a reminder for them of their deep and enduring loss. It will be helpful if you can be aware of the timing of these sorts of milestones and acknowledge how difficult they might be for the bereaved parents. Don’t be afraid to let them know you are thinking of them and that you are remembering their baby, and offer support.