When Mothers Are Hurting

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Yesterday, someone I know asked for advice on Facebook.  Her friend, 4.5 months pregnant, was told that her son would not likely make it to term due to a heart defect.  She wanted to help, but didn’t know how.  A friend brought it to my attention, thinking  I could offer some words, knowing that kind of heartbreak.

I mulled it over for a few hours.  I assumed that this woman’s precious baby boy was likely going to die, due to the way in which the question was asked.  For the mother, I instantly thought of her agony: possibly weeks ahead of doctor’s visits, days between visits of feeling like the rest of the world is racing by while she is sleepwalking.  Wondering if she could get to viability, get to 24 weeks, 28 weeks.  Would he die before then?  Would they need to make a decision?  Would he be delivered, only not to survive?  When she delivers, would it be to deliver a baby that might not survive, or would it be delivering a baby who was already gone?  The medical “what-ifs” swirl around people who have been through it, while the rest of the world remains unaware.

I tried to think of the tangible:  What are things that can be done to help her?  What can make the unbearable a little more bearable?

  1. Tell her that you are here with her, not for her.  “For” implies that you are going to do something.  You are going to stand with her through her pain.  A nurse held my hand.  A friend came to visit me in the hospital.  Another loss mama held me tightly while I cried.  Show up.  If you are going to do something for her, bring a meal or hire someone to clean her house for an hour or two.  Anything to make the days easier.
  2. She will be surrounded by people in the beginning, but then those people will fall away and she will still be hurting so much.  It is isolating to be in such a world of pain while everyone else keeps moving.  Check in with her every few days.  Then every few weeks.  Then every few months.  But don’t stop checking in to see how she is doing.  Losing a child is not something she will “get over.”  If she answers “I’m fine” try to dig a little deeper.  She may be so used to saying “I’m fine” to the outside world that it is an automatic response when she is anything but fine.
  3. Use his name.  Let her know that you haven’t forgotten her son.  Parents who lose babies fear that their children will not be remembered.  It will “remind” them of their child: we remember our children every single day.  Saying their names is acknowledgment that they existed.
  4. When she delivers, make note of the day.  Put it as a recurring event on your calendar.  On his birthday, send her a message and wish her son a happy birthday.
  5. And when the time is right, a support group will likely help her tremendously.  It may not be right away.  It took me a year to attend my first meeting.  But fellow loss parents are the only ones who truly understand.

I am appreciative people who ask “What can I do to help someone who is hurting?” rather than doing nothing, saying nothing, or saying the wrong thing.  Intangibles like thoughts and prayers are a nice sentiment, but that mother will probably need help just finding the strength to get out of bed in the morning.  There are ways to proactively find out how best to help someone.  (I also recommend the book There’s No Good Card for This: What To Do and Say When Life is Scary, Awful and Unfair to People You Love).

Some things in life cannot be fixed.  They can only be carried.  –Megan Devine

Losing a child cannot be fixed.  It is seared by platitudes like “everything happens for a reason” or “you can have another child” or “at least he’s in a better place.”  Or later, “Aren’t you over that yet?”  No.  Just no.

Be with her.