Telling Family and Friends about the Loss of Your Baby:There is so much to look forward to during pregnancy: hearing the baby’s heartbeat for the first time, watching your belly round into a bump, and feeling those tiny kicks. For some parents-to-be, there is a special kind of excitement that goes along with telling family and friends that they are expecting. Some expectant parents might post the news on social media after the first pregnancy test, and others might wait until the 12-week mark to share. However, there are times when, devastatingly, a baby passes away before birth. This can happen due to miscarriage, stillbirth, or even having to make the choice to end the pregnancy due to medical reasons. When this happens, parents experience a host of overwhelming feelings, as well as some painful questions. One of the most frequent is, How do I tell my friends and family that my baby has died? Here area few tips to help you navigate this very difficult process:
- Remember that you don’t owe anybody an explanation immediately. So often, women who have lost a pregnancy feel pressured to tell their loved ones the news in the early aftermath of the loss. This may be because they feel a sense of responsibility to break the news to family and friends who were looking forward to the new arrival, or because they don’t want to face questions about how the pregnancy is progressing. There is no right or wrong time to break the news, but know that you are not obligated to tell your supporters about your pregnancy loss right away. This is your news and your grief to experience above all others. In the early days of your loss, it’s important to lean on the people closest to you who can support you and not demand anything of you. One bereaved mother told me that she felt responsible for supporting her own mother, her baby’s grandmother, after telling her about the baby’s death. She said, “I didn’t have time to grieve for myself and my baby, because my mom was so heartbroken about losing her first grandchild. It made me feel resentful of my mom and then guilty about that resentment”. Secondary feelings of guilt and resentment are common, as you might feel responsible for not only the loss of your baby but the pain this will cause others in your life. Remember, your baby’s death is not your fault, and you are not accountable for the grief of others. This loss is first and foremost your own, and it is perfectly acceptable for you to focus on your own sadness before feeling like you must tell others and abide with theirs.
- Delegate the task, and other baby-related tasks, to others. Hopefully there are a few close friends or family that you feel comfortable sharing your loss with. They might ask, “How can I help?”. You may wish to give them permission to share the sad news with others in your networks, using wording that you have already vetted with them. For example, one bereaved mother was particularly close with a cousin who shared the news via email with family. She wrote a brief letter explaining that “Martha” (pseudonym) had lost her pregnancy due to a tragic cord accident, and was requesting that nobody contact her in the immediate aftermath of this loss. The cousin asked that any communication or expressions of sympathy with Martha be directed to the cousin herself as a conduit to Martha. This provided Martha with the necessary space she needed to grieve. Martha also delegated the task of canceling her baby registry to her cousin, and had her brother contact the daycare she had planned to send her child to. Martha’s cousin kept a list of tasks that needed to be completed that Martha felt too overwhelmed to take care of, and this helped her focus on grieving. The cousin even created a meal schedule for friends and family to drop prepared food at Martha’s house at a designated time.
- You don’t have to do it in-person. It may be hard to say the words, “my baby has died” out loud. Writing the story of your baby’s loss may help with the gradual process of facing the pain of this reality. If you feel comfortable, you might consider creating a brief memorial message about your baby and sending it via email or letter to friends and family. I know one mother who did not break the news of her stillbirth to her friends on social media for a few months, but then started receiving questions around the time her baby was to be born from well-wishers asking for pictures. This mother decided to sign up for a 5k walk in her baby’s honor, and posted about it on Facebook, explaining that she had experienced a stillbirth and was collecting donations for her walk to give to an organization that supported grieving mothers. Shortly thereafter, she posted a picture of her baby’s footprints, along with his name. The sympathetic response was a great comfort to her, though it was also overwhelming, so she had her husband respond on her behalf from her Facebook account.
- You choose how much information to provide. Unfortunately, some mothers make the heartbreaking choice to end a pregnancy due to structural defect, trisomy, or other health-related risks. Ending a pregnancy can be controversial and stigmatizing, and it can feel like everybody has an opinion about it. Remember that you are responsible for sharing the details regarding how your pregnancy ended. It may feel more comfortable to say you had a miscarriage or stillbirth to avoid confrontation or additional questions. Even further, you may simply say, “I lost the baby”. Nobody has the right to question how your baby’s life ended. However, if you feel you would like to share how your baby died, that is entirely your choice, too. Express as much or as little information you feel comfortable with, and be prepared to draw clear boundaries when subsequent questions are raised. Empower yourself to say, “I am really grieving this loss and I don’t want to share anything else at this time”, or “Please respect my wishes for space.”
You are not alone as you try to make sense of this painful experience, and it is my hope that the people who love and support you rally around you with tenderness as you begin to work with your feelings of grief and loss. If you would like to learn more about how to talk about your pregnancy loss, feel free to schedule an appointment at The Center for Growth.