Today, we live in an illusionary world that makes us believe we know everything about everybody and everybody else has got their life together. Just not us. And therefore we better keep quiet about things that don’t get exposed on social media too often. We live in the reality we want to live in and when something extraordinary happens, we feel confused and shaken because there is no “like” or “love” buttons. Not even a “help” button.
This is exactly what happened to me in January, 2013. After 6 months of a perfect pregnancy, my doctor unexpectedly detected some possible genetic problems with the baby. Fast forward 7 painful days later, I had my baby daughter in my hands. The first and the only time. She didn’t breathe because she was already dead and I had to say good-bye to her some minutes later because technically and according to our law she was “medicinal waste”. Those 7 days opened a new world to me, the one I didn’t know existed. There are countless women who spend their days at hospitals either fighting for their babies’ lives or dealing with their own lives after they’ve lost their babies. Every room in that big hospital was occupied and I felt another level of shock even in my already shocked state of mind.
Why am I telling you all of this? Because the statistics lie. Most of these lost babies are not even registered. I have also lost another baby in an early stage of pregnancy, and that time I learned that about a third of pregnancies end within the first trimester. A third! That means that every third friend of yours have lost a child and you might even not know it! Why? Because we live in this modern day society pretending that everything is awesome and nobody has ever dealt with a miscarriage. Talking about a miscarriage or loss of a child is still a tabu. I personally never felt that way and shared my feelings and experience whenever I felt it was needed. My husband didn’t feel this way in most cases and I respected him and his wish to keep silent. It didn’t help either of us… After our youngest child died, I even sorted my Facebook friends in groups so that my post about the death of our child would not reach our common friends who were mostly his, not mine. I felt ridiculous when these friends came to us and told us that maybe it’s high time we tried for our third baby… I looked at my husband and saw him suffer and I wanted to kill those people. Whenever I’m asked how many children I have, I cannot answer it. I’ve had four, you see only two. If I say “two”, I feel like I’m lying. If I say something else, I need to elaborate. And it’s painful like hell.
It’s been five years now and it’s only this year when I finally don’t feel like I’m suffocating. My body has a perfect memory of what happened and my mind helps generating the memories of the exact experience over and over again… which is not helpful at all. What IS helpful? Having other children. They are the reason I’m still alive and breathing. And by now, I have also a pretty clear idea of what could have helped me five years ago. Believe me, I read every piece of information I could find on the internet (and I read in 4 languages) but there was none that would make me feel better. People differ, needs differ, destinies differ but here is my try to help somebody who knows somebody who is going through something similar I went through years ago.
Your friend’s child has died. What to say?
The truth is – you don’t know what to say. If you haven’t had a similar experience, you are at a loss for words. If you and your friend share similar religious views, you can cite some powerful lines from the Bible or other holy scriptures but I personally lost my faith in God and I would throw my phone or you out my door if you tried this with me.
The typical English saying of “I’m so sorry. You’ll be in my prayers” drove me nuts. Seriously! Maybe people really do that but I couldn’t imagine a person I haven’t met for several years suddenly caring for me and praying for me.
I actually have no advice on what to say. I think it’s more about doing than saying and I’ll discuss it later. However, I do have advice of what NOT to say.
Your friend’s child has died. What NOT to say?
- Omg, how did that happen?!? The reason I chose to post an update and inform my closest friends on Facebook was simple – it seemed easier and less painful to do it in one go. I couldn’t imagine meeting everybody in person and telling my story over and over again. I have done this with my travel stories and it is exhausting. Talking about my child’s death countless times? You gotta be kidding me! Nevertheless, there were people who were insensitive enough and asked me what and how exactly it all happened. I was left shaking after each conversation and ended up switching off my phone for a few days.Instead, try asking your friend about their feelings. If your friend is a woman, there is a big possibility that she just needs someone to talk to, no matter how supportive her husband might be. If your friend is a man, there is even a bigger possibility that nobody, even the doctors, have ever asked about his feelings, although he might feel as lost as his wife. If you are a true friend, you will find out the details sooner or later but before that – just visit your friend, hug him/her, and be silent if you can’t find the right words. Because there are no right words.
- You’re young. You’ll get another one soon. You probably have never lost a baby, have you? Although, I might be wrong because this was what my mother-in-law told me even though she has lost one of her children… Anyway, you have no say whatsoever about how many children other people may or may not have. Sometimes it’s even not their decision…
- You’re strong. You’ll get over this easily. How do you know? I wanted to die. I felt like staying in my bed all day every day. That’s not a definition of a strong person, is it? The only reason I got up was the fact that I had another child in diapers calling for me from his crib. The only reason. Full stop. I’m not strong. I just didn’t have the chance to be weaker.
- What does not kill you makes you stronger. I’m sorry to disappoint you but at that moment I felt it all had killed me already.
- I’ll be praying for you. Will you?
- You look ok. Aren’t you grieving? Seriously? I just got my last bits of energy and willingness to live together. Thank you for encouraging me!
- Just let me know if I can help you.
This leads us to the next point.
What to do if your friend’s child has died?
Asking for help is not natural for most of us. I had several of my friends saying “just let me know if I can help you” but I never called them. All I wanted was to be alone in my own misery. I felt annoyed by everyday problems and everything seemed meaningless. I had no energy to take a shower or make myself a meal. I only got up when my other children were hungry and needed me. Therefore, if you REALLY want to help, do one of the following:
- Bring a meal to your friend. You can even leave it at the door, ring a doorbell or leave a text message and go away.
- I don’t promote drinking but in some cases it can be beneficial. I was drugged beyond limits at the hospital and drinking was not allowed for some time, but if your friend has no restrictions whatsoever, a bottle or two of wine or something stronger is highly suggested. Send it to your friend or deliver the bottle yourself. Getting the pain out of the system is the ultimate goal. Bottling it up is not. Pun not intended.
- Don’t call and ask but show up at your friend’s house and take their other kids away for a few hours. The longer, the better. Your friend might need some time alone just for sleeping… or crying.
- Send them some money. Due to health complications, I could not work for two months. My husband lost his job soon after we lost our child. At one point, we understood that we cannot and will not be able to pay our bills. We refinanced everything we could and applied for all possible social benefits but it still did not solve the problem and caused additional stress. I would never ask anybody for money and nobody would ever think I’d need any. Why? Well, you told me I’m strong and could deal with anything, right?
- Take your friend to a spa. A relaxing massage is always a great idea. Obviously, not straight after your friend has given birth to a baby or has complications that make full body massage impossible but there are various other ways to help restore your friend’s wellbeing. Again, don’t call and suggest it. Just do it!
- Take your friend for a walk in the nature – the beach, a park or the woods work wonders. This might be a hard task but if you are a close friend, you will know how to persuade your grieving friend. Also, you will not be afraid to accomplish this not so easy task. Whenever you feel like it’s getting too hard, remember that your friend is dealing with something much harder.
- Respect that your friend’s view of life might have changed. For many of us, the loss of the child is a turning point that shutters our current life into small pieces. After that, we might make drastic decisions and feel completely at peace with it. For me, everything lost its meaning. Everything. The news, the weather, the politics, the school system, my work, everybody else’s work, bills, taxes, retirement plans, feeding your children or children in Africa… Nothing seemed to have any sense or meaning and I literally pushed myself to put my life back together piece by piece but it was and will never be the same. If you cannot respect that, I thank you for your role in my life so far and we part our ways. Everything happens for a reason and the people we meet on our way also come into our life for a specific reason.
Time heals everything. I hated to hear that, too, but it has turned out to be true.