How to Help a Parent Cope with the Loss of a Baby

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I’ll never forget the day that a dear friend of mine had faced her worst nightmare. She was pregnant with twins and working as a child life specialist at her hospital. Her water broke and she went into labor at 25 weeks gestation. She delivered both her babies, Benjamin and Scarlet with the help of her husband and doctors. Unfortunately, Benjamin passed away and Scarlet fought for her life in the NICU for 130 days.

Jen and her husband were surrounded by love and support as they grieved the loss of their beautiful son and kept hope for their daughter’s life.

Here is their story:

I don’t talk about loss too much, I just try to  focus on the positive. I have a beautiful daughter named Scarlet and she has an angel in heaven, Benjamin that looks down on her. He is always in my heart.

These are the phrases I stick with. I don’t say, it hurts, becasue it sucks. It always sucks. Not a day goes by that I don’t wish something could be different.

Today, I had to have an ultrasound. (Status post: I’m not pregnant). I cried. I wept through the entire thing. See, the last time I sat in that little room, I was watching two babies bump into each other on the screen. I was wondering which double stroller I should buy and how I was going to take care of two infants.

Fast forward to two years later and I’m different. I’ve known the greatest love one can ever know and the greatest loss one should ever have. No parent should have to bury their child.

As a child life specialist, we are always trying to help families through difficult times, but helping people through grief is different. In an effort to always keep learning and growing, I suggest a few things you can do when someone is clearly having a tough time.

  •  Offer them a tissue, or some water, but skip the platitudes. “Oh you’ll get pregnant again.” “Oh, you still have one.” “It’ll all be fine.” Or, as I recently was told, “Don’t worry, your bad luck streak will end soon.” Skip it; it doesn’t help the grieving parent feel better.
  • Say you’re sorry. “I’m so sorry for your loss.” “I’m so sorry you had to go through that.” Even, “Wow, the last year sucked” (okay, maybe not that last one, but it would have been honestly better than half of what I got).
  • Offer a hug (if you know the person). Sometimes physical contact is what a person really needs at that moment.
  •  Just be with them. In the present moment of their grief, just allow them to be and breathe. Maybe they need to cry and maybe you’ll cry too, that’s okay. Just let them keep doing what they’re doing, and be with them while they do it.
  • Ask them what they need. “Is there anything I can do to help?” Mostly, no, but just asking can help the person to feel like they’ve been cared for.

Grief isn’t linear; it’s a twisted ball of emotions that affects people differently. Just remember to think before you speak and to always acknowledge the loss.
Here is a list of additional resources:

Related Posts:

How to Help During a Hospitalization 

The Things People Say to Parents of Preemies: Cheering on Charlie

Perinatal Hospice

From NICU to Home

 

The Littlest Peanut: A Baby Book for the Teeny Tiny Ones

I am excited to feature an amazing resource for parents, child life specialists and NICU team members. It’s called The Littlest Peanut written by, Shannan Wilson. As we kick off the new year, we will be having a giveaway to win a copy of this beautiful keepsake.Shannan Wilson The Littlest Peanut

After both of her children were born early (Kendall at 34 weeks and her second child, Breck at 30 weeks) Shannan Wilson gained a new appreciation for the needs of parents and caregivers of fragile newborns in the NICU. During this uncertain time, she kept journals and wrote poetry as a way to channel her emotions when she visited her children in the hospital. Then, inspired by those around her, she created The Littlest Peanut–a simple way for caregivers to record milestones and special moments that are specific to NICU babies.  She created this journal with the understanding that not all babies will make that journey home though. The Littlest Peanut is meant to be a keepsake for all parents who would like to have a memory book of their child during this life-changing experience.​
You can purchase a copy from their website or on Amazon. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the NICU at Virtua Hospital in New Jersey. Be sure to follow their Facebook page.

The Littlest Peanut Giveaway

Win a copy of The Littlest Peanut

Choose one or more ways to enter:
1. Sign up for email notifications at ChildLifeMommy.com and leave a comment on this post.
2. Facebook: Follow Child Life Mommy, leave a comment and tag a friend on the post.
3. Facebook: Follow The Littlest Peanut and leave a comment about the giveaway.
4. Twitter: Follow, Like and RT the post to @ChildLifeMommy
5. Instagram: Follow @ChildLifeMommy, Like and Tag a friend in the post.
Good Luck, winner will be chosen 1/7/16

Related Posts:

Child Life Specialists in the NICU

Helping The Tiniest Patients Cope: Preemie Pacifier

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The Things People Say to Parents of Preemies: Cheering on Charlie

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Previously posted on Cheering on Charlie

The Things People Say
By Rebecca Wood
In honor of Prematurity Awareness Month, I am attempting to write a post a day (with the exception of power outages). With select posts, I hope to address a different aspect of our prematurity journey that non preemie parents may not realize.

Previously, I had written a post about some of the irritating things other people say to me. Now that we are further in our journey, I have encountered more comments that I could do without. Here are the additions to the list:

1) Any reference to God’s involvement. I realize people who say things such as “God has a plan” or “It was God’s will” mean well. There are so many reasons why I do not like this that it could be a post in itself. Life is not fair. It has nothing to do with God. If you must include God, say something like “I’m praying for you.”

2) Enjoy it, they grow up so fast. The infant need stage is dragging and I am exhausted. I look forward to no longer buying formula, washing bottles, changing diapers, or attending to late night feeds.

3) Aren’t you glad that having a preemie is behind you? Yes, I’m glad NICU life is behind us. However, including therapy, Charlie has about three appointments a week. Often, more than that. Her premature birth is far from being behind us, if ever.

4) Any unsolicited advice. On occasion, I will ask other parents for ideas or strategies. I rely on and do not mind this input. Like any parent, I dislike being told the “best” way to do something. Experience has shown that those who think they have all the answers are actually clueless.

5) Comparing my preemie to a full term child. Often, I hear, “So and so did that at that age.” Or “That’s just like so and so when she blah, blah, blah.” If so and so was not born fourteen weeks early, I want to scream for the speaker to be quiet. But mostly, I politely nod while looking for an exit from the conversation.

6) But she’s so cute. I am not sure where people get the idea that only homely babies have special needs.

7) She will be fine, right? This statement forces me to be optimistic and comfort the other person. We are only beginning to discover the long-term implications of Charlie’s premature birth. We will be fine… just not in the way this statement is insinuating.

8) You preemie moms worry too much. Guess what? I probably worry less than full term moms. There was a time in which a normal day included nudging my baby’s back to remind her to breathe. I have learned not to sweat the small stuff. But, there continues to be days in which the pediatrician instructs us, “Keep her breathing and keep her hydrated.” On those days, I worry. No, it is not because I’m a preemie mom. It is because my baby has significant health concerns.

9) What did you do to cause her early delivery? If I haven’t openly explained why my baby was premature, then it is none of your business. I get it. We live in a world where bad stuff just happens sometimes. I understand that seeking a reason why is comforting to whomever asked the question. However, most of us don’t know why we had our babies early. Plus we still carry a lot of guilt that we didn’t make it to full term. This question ends up being hurtful. Many times, there are no specific causes. Women have babies early or develop preeclampsia (or other pregnancy complications) with no known risk factors.

10) Anything concerning breast-feeding, cloth diapers, or vaccines. I think most parents, preemie or not, agree with me on this one.

Preemie parents, what would you add?