WHAT NOT TO SAY
By Randi van Wiltenburg & Jennifer Hammer
What not to say to someone going through a loss (miscarriage, stillbirth, infant loss) and why these things could cause damage and hurt, even with the best intentions.
Recently I got together with another loss/bereavement provider in our city; together we are doing a three part blog series. Part one will be “what not to say,” part two will be “what to say,” and part three will be “what you can do.”
Without further ado please welcome Jennifer Hammer of Sacred Nest (www.sacrednest.ca)
– Get over it, or why aren’t you over it yet?
Many people attribute grief to a timeline of sorts and will often make assumptions on how long it should take someone to move past a loss. This is especially common when someone experiences an early pregnancy loss. However there is no time line, there is no way to measure when someone should or should not be at a certain place. It is important to remember that everyone deals with grief in their own way and their own time. Grief is consuming for everyone. There are many different types of grief and many factors such as cultural influences and beliefs that affect how one deals with loss. For many, there is an attachment that forms right from that positive test. Many start thinking about clothing for their little ones, what the nursery may look like, how they want to parent. There are all these plans, hopes and dreams and suddenly those are ripped away. Asking why aren’t you over it or saying just get over it invalidates ones feelings over where they are in their loss journey.
– Thankfully it happened early on, or better sooner rather than later.
Almost all losses hurt, no matter what stage of pregnancy or life someone may have been at. It’s like Dr. Seuss says “a persons a person, no matter how small.” A loss is a loss no matter how old, from 4 weeks gestation to birth and beyond.
– There was a reason, or everything happens for a reason.
Perhaps at some point in time this may be what someone thinks or how they feel, however as outsiders we often don’t know how these words may impact someone. Hearing your baby has no heartbeat and having someone simply says “it happened for a reason,” no matter how well intended could have a detrimental impact on someone. For me it felt like my losses where just being shrugged off, similar to when someone says oh well.
– You can always adopt or have another baby.
There is no replacing the baby that was lost or simple replacement for what someone has lost. This was a person, a baby, a hope, a dream, a wish to someone, not a fork that you can buy at the store if you lose it. Adoption can be wonderful for so many but it is not something to bring up when a person is experiencing a loss and looking for support, hope and reassurance.
– Once you have a child, you won’t miss this one.
Again, there is no replacement. The loss needs to be recognized and validated. Some may find healing in having a living child, but it does not negate the feelings they may have for their loss. Some actually have a harder time after having a living child, as they get to experience what they lost.
– But you already have a child(ren)
Having a living child isn’t like a Band-Aid, they don’t just cover a wound and magically it no longer hurts or bleeds. It’s a process, and sometimes having a living child doesn’t allow someone to take the time they need to heal.
– Maybe there was something wrong with “it.”
Does this person refer to their loss(es) as “it?” If not, you certainly should not be. If they say baby, validate that. If they say fetus or embryo, match their language and validate that. Yes there may have been something medically ‘wrong’ but this does not devalue their loss. Bringing up that something may have been wrong with their baby does little to ease their sadness and may contribute to feelings of guilt and anger so please be mindful and use active listening skills.
– It wasn’t a baby yet.
No matter what science states, this doesn’t determine the language people use. Many say baby from conception, others may use more medical terminology. Respect the language the family uses, and meet them there.
– You’re not actually a mom/dad/parent yet.
This is one that comes up for bigger holidays like mother’s day or father’s day. We don’t get to say what/when makes someone a parent, they get to decide that. Establishing the birth of the baby is important to do because it reinforces and validates the mothers truth of her pregnancy loss and giving birth.
– It was ‘just…’
Again this is a negative word to use, as it’s negating someone’s feelings/emotions. It dishes value and impact.
Miscarriages are tough; you often have no warnings, no answers, you may not know the sex, or what they looked like. You may have to go through contractions and delivery, often times alone. Sometimes you have to go through surgery as well. Many people haven’t shared that they were expecting, and they may travel this journey somewhat alone and isolated.
Stillbirth/late term loss; again there may be no warning at all, or they may have some forewarning both of which can have their own implications. There is often laboring and delivery to experience, very common to have this in hospital, with interventions possibly occurring. Your hello and goodbye are held in the same moment. Sometimes surgery occurs as well. Many times people will be more aware of this loss, but the family may not be given space when they might need it.
Medical diagnoses; these are still a loss, even when parent(s) have had to make this choice. It’s not an easy choice to make. They may face judgment from others, little support; they may even opt to not tell anyone. Many will wonder what if, and never get answers. Some may be able to get answers and gain knowledge, but not all information is freeing.
Neonatal/infant loss; these losses can happen for so many different reasons. They can be expected or out of nowhere at all. There truly is no one way to support someone through this type of loss.
People grieve in different ways and we all experience loss in different ways, they aren’t comparable. Let each person grieve in their own way. Meet them where they are, not where you think they should be, or where you would be.
Thanks for reading and stay tuned for part two, what to say.
Butterfly Baby Doula Service’s Randi van Wiltenburg and Sacred Nest’s Jennifer Hammer