I will never forget the first time I felt it. I was sitting in a room full of women, who were all laughing, talking, complaining about their husbands, bragging about their children. It was five months after my son Joseph had died, and I thought I could do it. I thought I could join the world again. I wanted to feel normal. But sitting in that room—with a newly formed women’s group—I never felt so alone in my entire life. The sounds all became one, like a constant buzzing. My hands started to sweat. My heart started to pound. And I ran for the door.
I ran from new friendships and I ran from my old friendships. I isolated myself from those who had children and babies. I couldn’t face my pregnant friends, because I was a reminder to them of what could go wrong. My friends’ worlds were moving forward, and my life felt as if it was standing still. I didn’t know how to be anyone’s friend.
I was different. I had held my son and watched him take his last breaths. I watched his casket being put in the ground. I had gone home to leaking breasts full of his milk, an empty nursery, and a broken heart. And my friends would never understand that.
As the months after Joseph’s death turned into years, and I sought the help of support groups and private therapy to deal with my grief, I tried to repair old friendships and begin new ones. I started to accept this was the new me. And I began to see, I didn’t have to run.
And I wasn’t alone after all. Through Forever Footprints I’ve met thousands of other women just like me. Women who have lost their child or children. Many of them have become my friends. We may not talk every day. We may not see each other for months. But I know they are there for me, and I am there for them. We are forever connected by the love of our babies.
I found I could become a friend to others that struggled with pain or loss. It doesn’t just come in the form of losing a child, but also through things like divorce or illness. I’m not always the friend people call to go out for a movie or to go on a girl’s trip, but I’m often the one they call when they are going through a difficult time.
There are still times I sit in a room and feel so different than anyone else. But I don’t run. I embrace that being a mom who has lost a child has formed me into a person who is strong, brave, resilient, and compassionate. And I tell my story, because more often than not, there someone else in that room that needs a friend.
Your best friend just called you sobbing because she lost her baby in her 10th week of pregnancy. You just got an email from your coworker, and at her 36-week checkup, she learned her baby no longer has a heartbeat. A friend you haven’t seen in a while, but who you follow on social media, just posted her 2 month old daughter passed away last night.
What do you say? What do you do?
There’s never going to be the perfect thing to say or do when you learn that someone you know has experienced pregnancy loss or infant death. But the worst thing you can do is stay silent. Here are some ideas on how you can make an impact on the life of a grieving family:
1.) If their baby was named, use their child’s name. It’s not a horrible reminder to those of us who have lost a child. It’s a beautiful memory.
2.) Don’t wait for the family to ask for help—take action. Many families are in shock after their loss. They might not know how to ask for help or want to be around others. Drop a meal on their front porch or send a care package.
3.) Remembering milestone dates is very meaningful. Send a note or even a text message on the due date, baby’s birthday, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and/or holidays. Many people are afraid this will “remind” people of their loss. The reality is we never forget, and knowing others remember our child is comforting.
4.) Hold their hand. Give them a hug. And listen.
5.) Be mindful of saying things that could be hurtful to the family. Don’t say: It happened for a reason. You’ll get over it. Don’t be sad. The baby is in a better place. You can have another baby.
6.) Forever Footprints offers online fundraising pages. The pages allow friends and family to make donations in honor of the baby or babies and send words of support. Donations benefit the work Forever Footprints is doing to bring support, education and remembrance to those who have experienced the loss of their baby or babies. Click here to create a fundraising page.
7.) Grieving mothers often receive an outpouring of support during the first month. But as time goes on, that support fades. Any of the above items can be done not just following the loss, but in the months and even years that follow.
8.) Give the family resources on how they can seek help and support. For more information on how Forever Footprints can support a family, click here.
9.) Consider the siblings, father, grandparents, and other family during a loss. Everyone close to the baby or babies will be grieving. It’s important to check in on other members of the family and offer support to them, as well.
10.) Be patient. Everyone grieves differently, and grief has no timeline. Remember that the mother has lost not only her child but her dreams of mothering that child.
When Forever Footprints learned that many families left the hospital with empty arms, we vowed to change that. For many years, we have distributed memory boxes into the community, so families who have experienced pregnancy loss or infant death have treasured memories of their baby. And while we are so proud of the boxes, we had a dream of providing ones that were larger and sturdier.
Thanks to the generosity of the Brady family, in honor of their son Jayden, the dream became a reality. Because of their support, 200 boxes will be given to families. In addition to sturdier boxes, we are also able to include teddy bears, blankets, hats, keepsake magnet frames, and support information in English and Spanish.
Many thanks to all our volunteers who donated their time to assemble boxes at our Forever Footprints office.
It is our hope to provide even more boxes to grieving families. You can sponsor a box for $25 by clicking here.