Supporting a Loved one Through Infant and Pregnancy loss.
As the recipient of The Holistic Parent Magazine & Home Hospice Association scholarship in December 2017, I was offered the opportunity of a lifetime to attend and participate in the Infant and Pregnancy Loss Doula Program, February 2018. Throughout the training, one of the major challenges I reflected on was building community capacity and individual confidence supporting a loved one through a loss. My hope through reading this article is for you to gain a few insights that will help you journey alongside your loved ones.
Miscarriage, preterm, infant, and stillbirth losses can be painful to talk about. The dance between acknowledging a loved one’s loss, reading a loved one’s cues, and assessing timing and location of a potential conversation is difficult. There is a lot to consider, thus, I ask you to consider ‘pressing pause’ to reflect on the following as a guide to having more meaningful and supportive interactions with those you are trying to support.
Upon learning of a loss, expressions of sorrow are imperative. Allowing the grieving parents to know there is in fact someone out there that does care and actually wants to know how you are doing is really comforting. This can be done by inviting the grieving parents to have a safe person to confide in and a safe place to be authentic. Perhaps sitting and creating the space for your loved one to cry, display anger, stare out of a window, etc. is your next step. Say nothing. A grieving loved one may need to know they are not alone, and that they don’t need to talk about their grief, conceptualize it, or explain it because maybe they haven’t begun to process their loss, what happened to them, or their bodies at all. If stuck or unsure, provide an expression of sorrow (i.e. “I can’t imagine what you are going through, but I am here for you”). Acknowledge in a text, phone call, or email that you are thinking about them, and be sure to name the child by saying the child’s name. Provide compassion, don’t minimize your loved ones pain, and keep the “why” theories to yourself.
Creating a healing/safe space for your loved one really is the first step, but I invite you to ‘press pause’. What are your limits? What are you capable of handling? If sitting with discomfort in the presence of a difficult conversation is causing you to shift out of a supportive role, consider the following instead; offer a service such as providing food or snacks or assisting with occupying the family’s other children, or offer to support with household chores. If the emotional support is difficult, that is okay, you can show support in other ways.
What else can you do? Gather information and reach out to experts. Connect a loved one to a grief community specific to their loss, a bereavement support group, a spiritual community, or a specialized counsellor. If your loved one is willing, offer to attend the initial session as a support person.
No matter what stage of loss, it is important to remember grief is activated differently person-to-person. There will be good days and bad, a loved one will oscillate and that will be challenging. So, be courageous and “press pause” on your day in order to be present in whichever way you feel most comfortable. Reach out, be consistent, and create a space that invites safety.
Bina Moore is a Registered Social Worker (RSW) with the Ontario College of Social Workers, Maternal Mental Health Advocate & Counsellor offering services through Embrace Counselling Services, a candidate for the Infant and Pregnancy Loss Doula Program, Home Hospice Association & a Labour Doula student, with DOULAs Inc.