What Hurts, What Helps

Last week a friend of mine posted a list of things to say and not say to someone who is grieving after the loss of their child.  It is so thorough and well written that I wanted to share:

What You Should and Shouldn’t Say to Someone Who Has Lost a Baby (via Naturally Knocked Up)

From someone who ‘dealt with’ her miscarriage with a lot of anger, I can personally attest to the fact that very little of what people say actually helped, but there were things people did that I really appreciated: the sympathy cards, the flowers I found on my desk the day I returned to work, the beautiful necklace that my sister in law sent me that had our baby’s due date birthstone.  As a rule of thumb, I discovered that things said to make me feel better were more often interpreted as minimizing (ignoring) my grief whereas things done to recognize our baby and the grief that accompanied our loss were greatly appreciated.

In addition to her list, I was surprised how angry it made me when I would hear people say that “I lost my baby”. I laid into my mother once (sorry, mom!) because she had referred to me as having lost my baby. I was so mad because I did not LOSE my baby, my baby was TAKEN from me (I told you I had a lot of anger). I know this is a commonly used phrase that is meant to be descriptive of an event, not a cause for said event. Still, it cut deeply. It made me feel like I had done something wrong. How could I LOSE my baby? Let’s try placing blame on someone who had control over the ‘location’ of my baby…and thus my downhill spiral (just to specify, I do not mean the phrase caused the spiral, I’m referring to where my mind was at that time in order to illuminate the cause of my downhill spiral).

I also want to emphasize one of the things this list that truly did help long-term. During the deepest part of my valley, not only did I no longer have any words to say to God, I was convinced He wasn’t listening to me anyway.  Even on my way up, my first ‘prayers’ were “I’m still mad and not talking to you.” While this doesn’t seem like much, I was just glad the communication lines were open again. It was during this time that I coveted the prayers of friends and family. Even though I didn’t have any words for God (and figured he wasn’t listening to me anyway), I knew I was still being lifted up before Him.

And last, I cannot leave this post without adding a section for husbands. Yes, we know husbands are grieving, too. Yes, we want them to talk with us and share their feelings. Yes, we want to know that we are not alone in our grief – our husband has endured infertility just as long as we have, they have suffered miscarriage at the same time, they are the closest thing we have to someone who really understands our path and how it affects our grieving process. That said, we know that husbands grieve differently and they are desperate to ‘fix’ the problem.  So, how can they accomplish this without minimizing our grief as we mentioned previously?

Here are some things I think husbands can do to help:

Allow me to cry – even if you don’t cry with me, please just hold me when I do. Don’t say anything, don’t try to change the subject or make me laugh…at least not at first.

Drag my sorry butt out of bed – when we came home from our ultrasound appointment after learning that our precious baby no longer had a heartbeat, I went straight to my bed and wept…uncontrollably. I have no idea what my husband was doing during this time – probably calling our parents (another gesture that I needed). He finally came into our bedroom and said we needed to go sit outside. I refused – my world had stopped along with my baby’s heartbeat. He literally dragged me out of bed, down the stairs, and to the porch outside where he had some chairs set up. He did NOT demand for me to stop grieving, but rather snapped me out of a moment of absolute agony. I needed that at that time.

Don’t rush me through my grief – I remember telling my husband that I knew I could choose at any time to be done with my pity party / temper tantrum. He smiled and said “great, choose that right now.” To his dismay, I said no – I needed to go through this or I was afraid I would come out on the other side not ever having fully learned what I needed to learn. I didn’t want to skip over or ignore my grief only to find years later that I still had unresolved issues. I needed him to give me permission and time to go through this, and he did – out loud. He told me that no matter how long it took, he was with me. He audibly told me that he would always be with me no matter how hard I fell, no matter how long it took to recover.

Pray with me – my husband was the only person I actually wanted to pray with me and not just secretly/silently pray for me. As I have already said, I had no words for God and I felt like He didn’t listen to me anyway. I am so thankful for a Godly husband who would let me ‘tag along’ with his prayers. I have always known that as long as I stay close to my husband, who I knew was close to God, that no matter how far I got felt from God, I was never out of His reach.

Keep asking me if I want to pray as part of our prayers together, but don’t push me – my husband and I have made a habit of praying together before bed. If you are not in this habit, get in the habit. Yes, it’s uncomfortable if you’re not used to it…it’s even more uncomfortable when each spouse doesn’t have an independent prayer life outside of praying together. In my case, however, not having an independent prayer life did not mean that at some point I didn’t want to return to that sweet relationship with God that I once enjoyed. Keep encouraging me to get there, but if I say ‘no’ then leave it alone…or wait and return to it later. It’s ok in a day or so to ask if I want to talk about my feelings regarding prayer. It is not ok to ask me 3 times in a row if I’m sure I don’t want to pray out loud with you instead of just listening to you pray.

Play interference for me – know that from here on out that you will be getting the mail and promptly throwing away anything baby related prior to it entering the house.  Please make those hard phone calls that I cannot bring myself to endure. Feel free to let appropriate people know how I’m doing so they stop asking me and I can stop repeating myself.

Tell people if I need something that I won’t ask for – a few days after I had the D&C, my husband had to leave for a retreat with church. That night I woke up when the physical pain of the miscarriage hit me like it never had before. I was bleeding, the cramps were unbearable, and I was all alone. In tears I called my poor husband who was hours away and had no way of getting back. He was completely helpless and I was beside myself. I hadn’t wanted him to come back, I just didn’t want to be alone, so I called him. He then called my parents (40 minutes away) and asked them to come up and be with me. I NEVER would have asked them to do this, especially at 3 am. I really needed them, though, and they came bearing food (I was starving and there was no food in the house) and vicodin.

Related – if I’m not getting out, ask my friends to invite me to do things. They may need prompting because they don’t know what is appropriate, but I really need this sense of normalcy.

Related – if someone tells you that they’d love to meet/talk/counsel with me about our loss, please do everything you can to encourage me to go and make that happen. I need it, but won’t pursue it without prompting.

Look for signs of things that have caused me to remember our loss – squeeze my hand after you hear someone say something hurtful and see me choking back tears (although preferably out of view of said person), look me in the eyes on difficult days and tell me that you remember our loss too, cast a loving glance my way whenever something reminds you of our loss because chances are I was reminded as well. Always notice if I’m holding/carrying/wearing a keepsake related to our loss (eg my necklace). Even if all you say is “I miss him/her, too”, it helps to know you notice because it’s not coincidence that I have it close to me at that time.

Recognize when something is really important to me – Mother’s Day, the worst day ever for infertiles and those who have suffered the loss of a child (born or unborn on earth). The morning of the first Mother’s Day after our loss had been particularly rough for me as we got ready for church. I didn’t want to get up, I didn’t want to get ready, I was dragging my feet and they felt like they weighed 1000 pounds. We were running late when we finally got in the car. We got about 5 minutes from our house when I gasped…I had forgotten my necklace (the one I mentioned that came from my sister in law that had our baby’s due date birthstone). I knew we couldn’t turn around and fought the tears. How had I forgotten something so important? When I explained my unexpected discovery to my husband he asked if I wanted to turn around. I said no, knowing it would just make us more late…but of course I then started to cry. This was all he needed to know how much I needed him to turn around so I could have my necklace, the only representation I had of my only child.

Please watch my other blog (www.prayingformiracles.wordpress.com) regarding a post in the next day or so about a husband’s leadership.

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4 Responses to What Hurts, What Helps

  1. Donielle says:

    I too hate the phrase “lost a baby”. I didn’t LOSE my baby. I know right where he is, it’s not where I want him, but I didn’t lose him.

    • akarel says:

      I’m so glad I’m not the only one who hates that phrase. Even though my head says “it’s just something people say” I would totally come unglued inside when I heard it. I think I completely caught my mother off guard when I laid into her about it.

  2. Diane says:

    I have always hated that phrase as well. I knew where they were, but too, I felt they were taken from me. It took me quite a long time before I was able to even be happy for other mothers who had given birth, or to sit in church for a baby dedication. For several years Mothers Day was a dreaded holiday. Thank God for His healing….

  3. Cindy Pick says:

    I read your stories and I feel the pain that only mothers with empty arms have felt. I didn’t even know if I qualified as a mother when I had no babies to offer proof of the title. I don’t talk about them. Somewhere in unfinished baby books are ultrasound pictures and dreams I forfeited. It’s been 6 years and I still can’t discuss the experience. I wouldn’t know how. In silence, I read your stories, and I feel your pain. And I’m thankful that you understand. We will probably never speak of these things when we run into each other. But I’ll look at you and you’ll look at me and we’ll know that we are not alone in this. Of course, we never were.

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