Last week I began sharing the stories from women who were expecting their rainbow babies (babies born after miscarriage or still birth). Throughout March I will be blogging on Pregnancy after Loss to recognize the significant need for support for women who are expecting after loss. This need ranges from emotional support in some cases to improvements in the care during subsequent pregnancies. Continuing from last week’s blog, read it here, here are Five more things Not say to a women experiencing pregnancy after loss.
- “At least this baby will make you forget your angel/this baby will ease (or make you forget) your pain.”
Maybe we need two months of awareness instead of just one??? Okay I will go slowly. The problem here (and yes I realized that I have graduated from calling it an issue to a problem) is that rather than being comforting, this statement highlights that there is a lack of understanding of the grief process or even what it means to lose a child. Would marrying a new person make you forget about a spouse that died? Probably not, and while it may bring wonderful, new experiences into your life you will still remember. Moms can go on to have 10 more children, but the loss will always be remembered and felt. Having another child doesn’t ease the pain, it is time and progression through the grief cycle (which has nothing to do with you rainbow baby) that does. So instead, how about we try this:
“Now that you are pregnant again, how would you like me to refer to your 1st baby?”
- “Maybe the last one was gonna have problems so it died so you could have a healthy baby this time.”
So many assumptions contained in one little statement. Maybe the speaker is a trained medical professional who is making a qualified diagnosis but I doubt it so I’ll unpack the assumptions one by one. Firstly, there are countless reasons why babies do not survive, there are babies who have been healthy up until birth when they pass away suddenly and there have been difficult, sickly babies who defeat the odds and go on to live long healthy lives or short, difficult one or ones filled with health challenges…we don’t know. Secondly, even doctors don’t always know why babies die and science doesn’t always know because life and death belongs to God only. But for anyone to proclaim that this was merely an act of practicality can seem pretty cold when I know that the intention was to be comforting.
And thirdly, moms to be already feel torn in two trying to grieve their loss while remaining hopeful about their new baby so for anyone, especially people close to them, to come along and place their two babies against each other is a pretty hurtful thing to do. But I am trying to stay focused on being informative and so even though at this point, literally anything you say would be better that this I would still suggest something like:
“Congratulations on your pregnancy, is there anything I can do to help?”
- ”I told you you should have stopped having kids, what if this one dies too?”
I couldn’t spin this one but my husband insisted that this is a teachable moment. And I did say that I was going to assume that all statements came out of concern for the mom to be. So if I were to be objective and assume genuine concern, I would say that maybe a better approach to this would be silence but if you absolutely had to say something and could not stay silent, then maybe:
“We have a really long road ahead of us, how can I help?”
- ”Make sure and relax and don’t think of what happened last time.”
This may sound like sage advice but have you met a grieving mother ever? Don’t think about what happened? Grief is with us all the time, that why PAL needs awareness. So we can’t just relax and not think about it, our grief is real and very much a part of our new pregnancy. However, this is salvageable, and can be turned around to be a bit more supportive:
“It’s important that you relax, but if ever you need to talk about all that is going on, I am here to help!”
- “Don’t lift anything heavier than a kettle until you have your baby safe in your arms.”
Okay so forgive me if I sound hypocritical here because I know I did a whole thing about being gentle with PAL moms and offering them all the help they need but here is the issue with this one. Like before it shows little understanding of the many reasons why babies die and sort of puts responsibility back on the mom to be. Short of a doctor’s orders, many moms are capable of resuming normal pre-pregnancy operations and suggestions like this one kind of suggests a fragility on the woman’s part that may be hurtful and inaccurate, although well-intentioned. So finally, I suggest some thing like:
“What has your doctor said about it and can I help you with that?”
Okay I know, I know. I am asking a whole lot and I do not claim to be an expert in the experiences of all PAL moms but I hope that by sharing these stories, some of which I know sound incredulous even to you, we can all be more mindful of the effect of our word on those around us. So instead of immediately responding with our own thought and feelings, how about being a listening ear, someone moms can call on to pray with them when they get scared or help us cook or clean. Sure it’s going to require more commitment from us than platitudes but maybe it will really show a mom the kind of support she needs.