After losing Baby Teysko, we received a huge amount of sympathy cards and emails, and people were incredibly gracious, kind, and understanding. There were a few well-meaning souls who really shouldn’t have said anything, though, because even though their intentions were to be helpful, they were some of the most callous and stupid things I’ve heard.
There’s a thread on the grief message board I frequent where people post the most hurtful things that they’ve been told. I’m lucky in that I haven’t heard anything as bad as some of them (ie “you’re boyfriend was a loser anyway, it’s better that you lost his baby”). But I have heard some remarks that, if you stop for just ten seconds and think about them before you open your mouth, are really dumb. So consider this a Guide to what not to say to a friend going through a pregnancy loss. Chances are you know a woman who has had a loss – 25% of women experience them. So read up and remember these sentiments. These are not what you want to put on a card.
1. Well, at least you know you can get pregnant.
Why this sucks: I get it. This is supposed to somehow comfort me because I know I can get pregnant again, right? Again being the operative word. Because, you see, I knew I could get pregnant before I lost my baby. I’m not sure how losing a baby is supposed to reinforce my fertility. Here, let me burn down your house. At least you know you can live in a house, right? So you can live in another house. See, it doesn’t really help much, right?
2. There was probably something wrong with him.
Why this sucks: First off, you’re no genetics expert. You don’t know what was or wasn’t wrong with my boy. In many cases, like mine, the pregnancy was perfectly healthy, but infections cross over, or cords choke the baby. There are lots of ways for healthy babies to die, sorry to have to tell you (this might burst your own bubble of wanting to assume it won’t happen to you). Secondly, how is it supposed to help me to think that I created a mutant baby, not suitable for life on earth? If it’s not bad enough that he died, now I’m supposed to find comfort in the idea that maybe it’s better because he only had half a heart?
3. You’re still young. You can try again.
Why this sucks: Listen, I’ve just been through childbirth where I got to push and push and have no baby at the end of it. My hormones are a raging hot mess. Plus, I have hemorrhoids. So ask me how interested I am in trying again. Answer: not very, thank you very much. So take your Pollyanna trying-again-talk and stick it where the sun don’t shine, ok? Cuz I’m about to unleash a can of post-labor whoopass on you.
4. Everything happens for a reason.
Why this sucks: This one really takes the cake for me. Don’t you just sound all peaceful and zen, preaching about things happening for a reason. That sentence is always, always, always spoken by someone who hasn’t been through any kind of big trauma (not just losing a baby, but anything traumatic). Because once you’ve had an experience like this, you realize that things most certainly do not always happen for a reason. Sometimes things just happen. And there is no reason. It’s just how it is. Oops. Did I just cut off your ear? Oh well, you know, it happened for a reason I’m sure. Now you can be Van Gogh!
If you’re worried about navigating a minefield of hurtful comments, what can you say to someone who has just lost a baby? The first, and biggest thing is, let us talk. Ask us about our babies. Ask us about the nursery we had ready. Ask us what his name was. Ask us what we loved about him already. Because the thing is, we want our babies to be real. They’re real to us, from the moment we see a positive sign on a pregnancy test. If they’re real to you, too, then they become more real in the world. We want people to know that these are real babies, who are deeply loved by their mommies. They’re not just scientific embryos that didn’t develop. They were here. They were here inside of us. And they are ours forever.
Next, don’t be afraid of our tears. One of the greatest gifts you can give to someone is to sit with them while they cry. Don’t try to make us stop crying. The tears have to come. If you can be comfortable with that, you give us freedom to be vulnerable, and we both get to share something intimate with each other.
Finally, ask us questions and offer your help (if you want to). Be specific. Saying, “Are you taking the time to nurture yourself?” is better than, “are you doing ok?” Call us. Don’t just tell us we can call you, because we probably won’t. We’re ashamed of our grief, too, and we want to hide. But if you call us, if you show an interest in helping us, then you give us the gift of knowing that we don’t have to hide in our house all day, just suffering and watching Judge Judy.
The biggest thing is to just listen to us and don’t try to make it better. You can’t take away the pain. You can’t make it better. But you can make us feel not so terrible if you can be gracious enough to let us show you our pain, and not just sweep it under the rug like it doesn’t exist.
And please think about what you’re saying. How would your words make you feel if you were on the receiving end? If you think they would comfort, then say them. If you’re just talking to fill up silence, or because you don’t know what to say, then close your mouth and walk away.