For Family and Friends

When a Baby is Stillborn

   Someone you care about has lost a baby and you might not know what to say. It is a hard time for everyone and you may find yourself scared of saying or doing the wrong thing.  Try not to let your fear drive you into silence and keep you from saying or doing anything at all.  When trying to help a parent whose baby has died, the best action is a matter of manners.  Don't offer your personal opinion of their life, choices, or prospects for future children.  Everyone is different and has their own opinions; none of them will bring their baby back.

   Don't expect a parent to handle this tragedy the same way others have in the past.  As a society we are uncomfortable with the death of any child, so in the past we have often tried to ignore that it happens.  The problem is, stillbirth happens much too often.  It is time to understand we must change how we view stillbirth or it will continue to happen.  To do otherwise will only hurt those we love who are already hurting after the death and stillbirth of their baby.

   Above all, please remember that this is the worst thing that can ever happen to a parent.  The word "stillborn" is so easy to use as a label for the death of a baby, but it is still the worst thing in the world. It will take any parent a while to figure out how to live with it.  They don't ask you to understand, only that you allow them to grieve and acknowledge their baby in whatever way they need, for as long as they need.  The death and stillbirth of their baby isn't an event that just happened, it is a life changing tragedy that will affect them the rest of their life. 



What Parents Tell Us They Need:

  • Say my child's name. It is like music to my ears.  My baby is on my mind every second of every day; it is okay to talk about them.
  • Recognize that I have suffered a death in my family, not a medical condition.
  • Say, "I am so sorry." That is enough.  You don't need to be eloquent.  Say it and mean it; it will matter.
  • Send flowers or a kind note.  It helps me to know others are thinking of my baby.  Don't resent it if I don't respond, and don't expect a thank you note.
  • Say, "You are wonderful parents and the baby is lucky to have you." We need to hear that.
  • Understand if I might not attend baby showers, christenings, birthday parties, etc.  Know that I appreciate the invitation, but please don't be angry if I don't attend or ask why I can't come.


What Parents Don't Want:

   Even if you are trying to be comforting, some things are better left unsaid.  Here are some of them.

  • Don't try to take away parents grief.  Although you want to ease my pain, remember it is important for me to experience my grief.  It is a critical and healthy process that takes time.  Don't try to keep me from crying; give me permission to cry.
  • Don't say, "It's God's will."  Even if we are members of the same church, please don't presume God wants this for me or my baby.  God uses many terrible things for good, that doesn't mean they were "His will" or make them less terrible.
  • Don't say, "It was for the best—there was probably something wrong with your baby."  I love my baby! Even if something were wrong with them, I would much rather that they were here with me than dead.  The majority of stillborn babies die for no known medical cause, and autopsies seldom reveal any problems.  Please don't try to comfort me by saying something that you can't know to be true.
  • Don't say, "You can always have another baby." This baby wasn't disposable.  I would have died for my child, just as you would die for your child.  You would never tell someone they could remarry after the death of their spouse.  Please don't ask me to trivialize my child.  Every member of a family is precious.
  • Don't say, "Be grateful for the children you have." Would grieving the death of one of your parents mean you were not grateful that you still had one parent living? No, that just isn't how grief works.
  • Don't say, "Thank God you lost the baby now instead of later." It doesn't matter if they died just prior to, or after their birth.  The fact that they were or were not able to take one breath does not change my love or grief.
  • Don't say, "It's time to get over this and move on." This is not something I control.  I wish it had never happened, but it did and it is a part of my life.  I will never "get over" this.  Some say grief is a healing journey that must be traveled, but the journey doesn't take you back to where you began; it takes you to a new place.  We each have our own life journey;  please allow and support mine.
  • Don't say, "I understand how you feel." Unless you have lost a child, you really can't possibly understand, and I hope you never have to.
  • Don't say, "Well, you weren't too sure about this baby, anyway." I already feel guilty that I ever complained about morning sickness, or a child I wasn't prepared for.  I already fear that this baby died because I didn't take vitamins, drank too much coffee, or had a drink before I knew I was pregnant.  Being unsure isn't the same as wanting my child to die—I never would have chosen for this to happen.
  • Don't tell me horror stories of your friend, neighbor, or family member who had it worse.  This was bad enough; I don't need to hear how "lucky" I am.
  • Don't pretend it didn't happen, or change the subject when I bring it up.  If I say, "before the baby died" or "when I was pregnant," don't be frightened.  If I'm talking about it, it means that I want to, so let me.  Avoiding/changing the subject or pretending that it didn't happen will only make me feel alone.
  • Don't refuse to talk about other people's children, but don't expect me to want to interact with other babies and pregnant women.  It's not that I can't be happy for someone else, It's just that every cooing baby and happy new mother makes me physically and emotionally ache so deeply that I can barely stand it.  I may look okay, but there's a good chance I'm still crying daily.  It may be months before I can go an entire hour without my child consuming my mind.  You'll know I'm ready when I reach out and ask about others. 
  • On any given day, don't call repetitively in an effort to get me to pick up the phone if I don't answer.  Don't be angry if you leave a message and I don't respond to your call.  Help me by not needing anything from me for a while.

Remember Both Parent and Child.

   Flowers and cards after the baby's death is always a compassionate gesture, but a parent lives with the death of their child every day for the rest of their life.  Remember to acknowledge special days such as the baby's birthday, family holidays, and especially Mother's Day and Father's Day.  All of these days remind parents that someone is missing in their family. 

  • Purchase a memorial at local hospitals, parks or other community areas.  Memorial bricks, trees or benches can often be purchased in the baby's memory.
  • Donate to a cause such as 1st Breath in memory of the baby.  This kindness provides comfort to parents by letting them know that you remember their baby, and that their baby's remembrance will also help provide comfort to other families who are newly grieving, as well as support the fight against stillbirth so future families may not have to face this tragedy. It may even help save the life of another baby.
  • Personalized gifts about the baby are always special and often provide a special remembrance for the parents.