As we enter Baby Loss Awareness Week we chat to Tommy’s Midwife Amina Hatia for advice on what to say and what to avoid saying to someone who’s experienced pregnancy or baby loss.
What to say
Say sorry for their loss.
Acknowledgement and kindness go a long way. People will understand that you might not know what to say. It’s ok to simply say “I can’t imagine what you’ve been through, but I am sorry”.
Ask about and use their baby’s name and talk about their baby.
Ask them why they chose that name. Most parents want people to acknowledge their baby’s existence, and the fact that they had a baby. They will be part of their life forever.
This is something that Anne-Marie agrees with. Anne-Marie’s baby boy Ruairi was stillborn. “When I went back to work I wanted everyone to know that our son had died and I also wanted to introduce him. I’m still proud that he’s my son so I sent a note to tell people that he had born and he had died, his weight, that his name was Ruairi, and who he looked like.”
Ask how they are and really listen.
Parents often say the biggest help was someone just being there for them. Someone who cares and asks questions about the birth, the baby and what they need. You may assume the parents need space and will reach out when they’re ready. But, if everyone keeps their distance, the parents may feel alone and have no-one to talk to. Sending a regular message by text or in a card to say that you are thinking of them can bring comfort to parents without putting them under any pressure to respond.
Sarah, who has lost 3 babies to miscarriage, reiterates this sentiment. “You don’t have to know what to say. We just ask that you be there for us and let us talk about it if we need to. A hug is always welcome.”
Ask dads and partners how they are feeling.
Often the partner feels like they must be “the strong one” and suppress their own grief to support the partner who physically experienced the loss. It’s important we create space for dads & partners to share their grief too.
“As fathers you can often feel alone, helpless and left with a feeling that you shouldn’t be feeling as bad as you do, you weren’t carrying the baby so you shouldn’t be feeling as bad as the mother, you’ve got no right. That is a heartbreaking feeling. It’s hard to talk about. It felt good to be with people who had been through similar experiences and to spend time with other guys, that understood it from a man’s perspective.” Says James, who’d never spoken about his losses before he met Lewis and joined his running club for men who have experienced loss.
Recognise that grief for their baby will be with them for their whole life.
Grief can be unpredictable and moments such as Baby Loss Awareness Week or their baby’s due date can bring up difficult emotions, even if it’s been years since their loss. Let them know that their feelings are understandable and valid. Remembering those dates could mean a lot and make a huge difference. Letting them know that you’re thinking of them at these times, or are doing something to remember their baby, can go a long way. Again, this is dependent on the person and how they grieve.
“My sister texts me on what would have been the birthdays of each of my babies.” Anonymous
Be led by them
Some people might not be comfortable talking about their loss. It is fine to acknowledge their loss and then move on to talk about other things, if you sense this is what they’d prefer. Let them know that if they change their mind, you are there to listen.
What to avoid saying
Look to offer support, not solutions.
Avoid phrases to try and make them feel better, such as “at least it was early” or “thankfully you have other children”. Though often well-meaning, these can feel dismissive of their baby and undermine their experience. Remember that no matter how early a loss is, it can be devastating. A good rule of thumb is to avoid any sentence that could start with “at least”.
Assume that what was helpful for one person will be for another.
Grief is not one-size fits all and there is a wide range of experiences that can fall under terms such as miscarriage. Two people may have very different experiences even if they experience the same kind of loss. When someone is in emotional pain, we all feel tempted to offer encouraging words, or even possible solutions, because we want to help. You may have even been through similar experiences of pregnancy and loss and want to offer some advice based on how you coped. This can be helpful but bear in mind that everyone is different and it’s important to let people grieve the way they want to. Sometimes people aren’t looking for advice about what they can do. They just need someone to listen to how they feel.
Avoid saying nothing.
Your instinct may be to give people space and privacy until they are ready to talk, but if everyone does that then they may feel they have too much space and no-one to talk to. Many parents speak of feeling isolated after their loss. Simply acknowledging their loss, letting them know you are sorry, and asking how they are doing can be enough.
“You see the fear in people’s eyes the first time they have to talk to you. You know they’re so afraid. ‘Will I say something wrong?’ ‘Will I upset her?’ ‘Will I remind her that her baby has died?’ The truth is I never forget so they don’t need to worry about these things.” Anne-Marie
Avoid calling their loss or baby “it”.
Refer to their baby as he/she/they. Similarly avoid calling their loss “the issue” or “the event”.
About Amina Hatia
With 15 years’ experience in midwifery care Amina Hatia is a passionate advocate for all families having the best pregnancy and birth experience no matter who they are or where they live. She fits her Tommy’s role around NHS maternity ward shifts, as well as sharing her expertise with specialist organisations like Muslim Mamas and Doulas Without Borders.
“For me, the core of midwifery is embedded in kindness and support – and working at Tommy’s highlights just how big a difference being listened to, supported and treated with kindness makes, even during incredibly traumatic times. It's a privilege being trusted with people’s experiences and being able to support them when they feel there is nowhere to turn."
Tommy’s is the UK’s largest pregnancy and baby charity funding research and supporting parents through pregnancy complications, miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth. We provide support for everyone before, during and after pregnancy with our free expert midwife helpline.
No matter what kind of loss you have experienced, Baby Loss Awareness Week is a time for us to come together, remember our babies, and support one another. If you need support, this week or any week, Tommy’s is with you.
Support after stillbirth:
Support after miscarriage: