Friday, February 26, 2010

What Not to Say

I know I made a similiar post days ago but I found this & think it does a better job at explaining than I did. It mentions stillbirth but really this applies to all families who have lost a newborn.

I know most readers have experienced a loss themselves & do not need to be told these things. I am hoping the friends, family & strangers who read my blog can walk away with some better understanding.

I do not want this post to make people even more afraid of talking to grieving parents so I am compiling a list of what to say & do in the aftermath of a child's death & will have it posted shortly.

What we wish you knew about pregnancy loss: A letter from women to their friends and family

When women experience the loss of a child, one of the first things they discover they have in common is a list of things they wish no one had ever said to them. The lists tend to be remarkably similar. The comments are rarely malicious - just misguided attempts to soothe.

This list was compiled as a way of helping other people understand pregnancy loss. While generated by mothers for mothers, it may also apply similarly to the fathers who have endured this loss. When trying to help a woman who has lost a baby, the best rule of thumb is a matter of manners: don't offer your personal opinion of her life, her choices, her prospects for children. No woman is looking to poll her acquaintances for their opinions on why it happened or how she should cope.

-Don't say, "It's God's Will." Even if we are members of the same congregation, unless you are a cleric and I am seeking your spiritual counseling, please don't presume to tell me what God wants for me.
-Don't say, "It was for the best - there was probably something wrong with your baby." There may have been nothing wrong with the baby at all. Most stillbirths are unexplained deaths or are caused by the health of the mother. If there was something wrong the fact that something was wrong with the baby is what is making me so sad. My poor baby may never have had a chance. Please don't try to comfort me by pointing that out.

-Don't say, "You can always have another one." This baby was never disposable. If had been given the choice between loosing this child or stabbing my eye out with a fork, I would have said, "Where's the fork?" I would have died for this baby, just as you would die for your children.

-Don't say, "Be grateful for the children you have." If your mother died in a terrible wreck and you grieved, would that make you less grateful to have your father?

-Don't say, "Thank God you lost the baby before you really loved it." I loved my child.

-Don't say, "Isn't it time you got over this and moved on?" It's not something I enjoy, being grief-stricken. I wish it had never happened. But it did and it's a part of me forever. The grief will ease on its own time line, not mine - or yours.

-Don't say, "Now you have an angel watching over you." I didn't want her to be my angel. I wanted her to grow up and grow old to enjoy her own children and grandchildren.

-Don't say, "Now your mother/father/grandmother/grandfather/brother/sister is taking care of her." They could have 'taken care of her' just as easily if she had stayed here with us.

-Don't say, "I understand how you feel." Unless you've lost a child very late in pregnancy or later, you really don't understand how I feel.

-Don't tell me horror stories of your neighbor or cousin or mother who had it worse. The last thing I need to hear right now is that it is possible to have this happen six times, or that I could carry until two days before my due-date and labor 20 hours for a dead baby. These stories frighten and horrify me and leave me up at night weeping in despair. Even if they have a happy ending, do not share these stories with me.

-Don't pretend it didn't happen and don't change the subject when I bring it up. If I say, "Before the baby died..." or "when I was pregnant..." don't get scared. If I'm talking about it, it means I want to. Let me. Pretending it didn't happen will only make me feel utterly alone.

- Don't say, "It's not your fault." It may not have been my fault, but it was my responsibility and I failed. The fact that I never stood a chance of succeeding only makes me feel worse. This tiny little being depended upon me to bring him safely into the world and I couldn't do it. I was supposed to care for him for a lifetime, but I couldn't even give him a childhood. I am so angry at my body you just can't imagine.

-Don't say, if this appiles, "Well, you weren't too sure about this baby, anyway." I already feel so guilty about ever having complained about morning sickness, or a child I wasn't prepared for, or another mouth to feed that we couldn't afford. I already fear that this baby died because I didn't take the vitamins, or drank too much coffee, or had alcohol in the first few weeks when I didn't know I was pregnant. I hate myself for any minute that I had reservations about this baby. Being unsure of my pregnancy isn't the same as wanting my child to die - I never would have chosen for this to happen.

-Don't call more than once and don't be angry if the machine is on and I don't return your call. If we're close friends and I am not responding to your attempts to help me, please don't resent that, either. Help me by not needing anything from me for a while.

-DO understand that I may not attend baby showers/christening/birthday parties etc. Please DON'T ask why I can't come.

-Do say, "I am so sorry." That's enough. You don't need to be eloquent. Say it and mean it and it will matter.

-Do say, "You're going to be wonderful parents some day," or "You're wonderful parents and that baby was lucky to have you." We both need to hear that.

-Do say, "I have lit a candle for your baby," or "I have said a prayer for your baby."

-Do send flowers or a kind note - every one I receive makes me feel as though my baby was loved. Don't resent it if I don't respond.

If you're my boss or my co-worker:

-Do recognize that I have suffered a death in my family - not a medical condition.

-Do recognize that in addition to the physical after effects I may experience, I'm going to be grieving for quite some time. Please treat me as you would any person who has endured the tragic death of a loved one - I need time and space.

Please don't bring your baby or toddler into the workplace. If your niece is pregnant, or your daughter just had a baby, please don't share that with me right now. It's not that I can't be happy for anyone else, it's that every smiling, cooing baby, every glowing new mother makes me ache so deep in my heart I can barely stand it. I may look okay to you, but there's a good chance that I'm still crying every day. It may be weeks before I can go a whole hour without thinking about it. You'll know when I'm ready - I'll be the one to say, "Did your daughter have her baby?" or, "How is that precious little boy of yours? I haven't seen him around the office in a while."

Above all, please remember that this is the worst thing that ever happened to me. The word “stillbirth” is small and easy. But my baby's death is monolithic and awful. It's going to take me a while to figure out how to live with it. Bear with me.


Kim Golinski said...

Thank you for sharing this Mal!

Just Breathe said...

This is a very good post and I pray that many people will read this and understand why. I know that the people mean well but if they haven't been through it they don't understand how wrong their kindness can be. This is so important, this needs to be on Oprah. I have written to them because I think the world needs to know these things. ((HUGS))

*Laura Angel said...

Crazy you posted this! I just posted something similar :) (((HUGS))) I have a friend tell me I need to get over it and that it consumes my life... my daughter only passed 3 months ago.

AKD said...

This is so incredibly true, Malory! I am sending you my thoughts.

Angela Donaldson said...

I am glad you are putting this out there and I think you may have conveyed some things better than I did when I posted something like this.

Thank you for all you do HUGS sweetie

Shari said...

I have just spent the last couple of hours reading your blog and I just wanted to thank you for sharing all your thoughts. I lost my son at 37 weeks to a cord accident and so many of your thoughts reminded me of mine, like the nursery and shopping and friends. I loved your Christmas card and it brought tears to my eyes. I love the conversations with your son that you post. I love what you have done with "Every Life has a Story". What a special gift you are giving! I wish that we lived in the same state so we could get together and look at pictures and talk about our precious angels. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts!

Anonymous said...

This is all soooo true!! Thank you for sharing.

Becky Baker said...

Can I borrow this???? Seriously!! Some of the things I've heard!!
I know they mean well, but ouch!!!

Malory said...

Becky absolutely!

Kristen said...

Thank you for posting this. I'm going to a visitation for an infant this afternoon and wanted to be as sensitive as possible for the mother and her family.

Anonymous said...

My Cousin and his Wife just had their first child 6 weeks premature and the doctors have given them zero hope for the baby's survival. Thank you for posting this. I feel so helpless and useless! I just want to know what to say.

Anonymous said...

Thank you.

Thank you for helping others.

Thank you for helping me.

I hope you are finding peace.


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