By Sarah Villien, JFS Client & Donor Services Specialist
“A wife who loses a husband is called a widow. A husband who loses a wife is called a widower. A child who loses his parents is called an orphan. There is no word for a parent who loses a child. That’s how awful the loss is . . .” -Jay Neugeboren.
October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Month. We take the time this month to remember pregnancies that have ended in miscarriages or stillbirths as well as infant losses.
One in four women has experienced a miscarriage and one in a hundred experiences a stillbirth. Women and families that experience this are all around us.
While a very common occurrence, the loss of a baby is still a stigmatized topic. Whether it is due to the feelings of shame or distress experienced by a mother, the fear and discomfort friends or family have when trying to avoid saying the “wrong thing”, or the overwhelming sadness felt by all, our culture strays away from delving into this topic publically. This discomfort causes women to feel isolated from those around them. Unable to validate and explore this deeply emotional time with friends and families, women feel they are grieving alone and do not feel there is space to speak. The emotional toll grows heavier and heavier, but can be aided by the support of family, friends, co-workers and our communities.
While there is never a perfect thing to say to someone who experiences loss, here are some helpful ways to show support and destigmatize pregnancy and infant loss:
- “I am sorry for your loss. If you would like to talk, or not talk, I am here for you.”
- The mother facing the loss might not have the words or courage yet to share her story and feelings, but letting her know you are there to listen or sit with her provides great comfort.
- “I am going to (do something specific) for you.”
- Often times, we ask if there is anything we can do for someone, but because of the weight of grief or physical healing the person might not be able to provide an answer. Letting them know that you will bring by dinner, wash their dishes, pick up medicine, or any other specific tasks allows you to help. This allows for a decreased sense of burden or pressure to ask for help, while increasing connectedness and support.
- “I don’t have the right words, but I am thinking of you.”
- Fear of upsetting a woman or family after a loss makes people silence their thoughts. This silence adds to the isolation and loneliness of grief. This empathetic response, affirms that—despite your uncertainty of what to say— you are there with them to bear witness and support.
- “You might not feel this now, but you are very strong.”
- Positive affirmations are great ways to help someone during a time of adversity. Instead of saying negatives like “You will have another baby” or “It happens all the time,” focus on the strength they already are showing and will continue to grow.
With the process of grief having no set beginning or end point, those going through pregnancy or infant loss will continue to grieve and need the support of those around them. If you are in need of assistance, Jewish Family Service (JFS) is here for you. JFS offers affordable compassionate counseling services at both our Metairie & Northshore offices. Call us at (504) 831-8475 to set up your first appointment.