A sadly too-common experience we hear from our community is parents who have been through loss then facing further isolation from friends, neighbours, colleagues and even family members.
We know this often comes from ignorance or awkwardness, with people not knowing what to say or do around parents facing such a devastating situation. With the help of our community and our Tommy’s midwives, we’ve put together some advice on how to talk to someone who has been through loss.
Saying something is better than nothing
This is important. “Someone may avoid talking to a family member or friend experiencing loss due to fear that they will upset them,” said Anna, a bereavement midwife. “Remember, they cannot be any more upset than they already are, as the worst thing imaginable has happened.”
If you aren’t sure what to say, you could simply say ‘I’m so sorry’ – especially if it’s a colleague or someone you don’t know very well. For friends and loved ones, a card or text saying ‘I’m thinking of you’ let’s them know you’re doing just that, without requiring a response from them if they aren’t feeling up to it.
A lot of people don’t know what to say but I promise saying something is better than saying nothing. As any new parent all you want to do is talk about your baby and this doesn’t change.
Acknowledge their baby – if they want to
Always be guided by them. While some people would rather not discuss their loss, many parents want to talk about their much-loved baby and it can make a real difference for other people to recognise that their child existed and is remembered.
It meant a lot that, under the care of Dr Alex Heazell and his team at the Tommy’s clinic, Ada was spoken about like the beautiful little baby that she was, not like a medical loss as we had been made to feel countless times before.
If they refer to their baby by name, remember it and don’t be afraid to use it if you’re asking about them. "They think saying his name will remind you,” said Raj, who lost his son Rhiaan at 7 months old. “As if you're not thinking about him every second."
There’s no time limit on grief and this loss will stay with them their whole life. Make the effort to remember anniversaries as you would a living child and show them some extra support at these times.
Offer comfort, not reassurance
As author Brené Brown says, empathy rarely starts with ‘at least’. Phrases such as ‘at least you know you can get pregnant’ or ‘at least it was just an early loss’ are deeply upsetting and offensive.
“Soon after a baby’s death parents don’t feel hopeful,” said Anna. “It is not the right time to offer false reassurance, minimise their feelings or tell them how to feel.”
Never ask a grieving parent if they ‘plan on trying again’. Aside from being incredibly insensitive, you have no idea what that person’s pregnancy journey was like.
There will be people who will say that it was ‘just chemical’ but every loss, no matter how early, is yours to grieve your way.
Grief isn’t linear. Just because a colleague has returned to work, doesn’t mean they’re ‘back to normal'. A friend who might’ve gone to one party or wedding will still have other days when they can’t face leaving the house.
Show support by being flexible and understanding. Certain dates might be painful, some occasions or events hard to be at. Your colleague might need help with a deadline occasionally or have days when they prefer to be camera off on calls. Keep inviting your friend to things while making it clear they don’t have to come – sometimes it’s enough to be asked.
Grief comes in unpredictable waves – rather than some linear journey where you get a bit better every day.
Don’t dismiss the grief of dads and partners
It feels natural to ask after a friend or colleague’s partner if their pregnancy ended in loss, but don’t forget to show them support too. “People always asked how Kate was, and rightly so, but only a handful of people ever asked me,” said Rob, whose son Theo passed away at 2 days old.
Two thirds of partners who have experienced loss have said they needed help opening up. While you don’t have to be the person who guides them through this – especially if you don’t know them very well – you can play a part in creating an environment where they feel seen and their grief acknowledged.