How to show support to a child loss survivor

I’d like to preface this post by touching on 2 separate but very important points.

First, I was somewhat reluctant to broach this topic. Although I’m a repeat loss mom and I’ve lived through child loss a number of times my opinions on the topic are my own and they are very much shaped by my political, religious and spiritual beliefs. As a result, what I perceive as supportive may not be comforting to everyone and vice versa. So, please, when reading this keep in mind that there is not a one size fits all approach to supporting families facing loss – it really really really depends on the person and their unique belief system.

Second, within this post you’ll find examples of things that were said to me over the years. I do not believe for one second that any of these statements were said with any malicious intent yet they were painful and hurtful to me while I grieved and so I will explain how they were perceived by me. I doubt (I’d like to believe anyway) that hurtful, malicious and ill meaning things would ever be said intentionally to a grieving family and as a result please do not be offended if you’ve ever uttered these words yourself. I do not for one minute believe that anyone means to be anything but supportive in these situations – sometimes though,  words can be perceived far differently than they were intended.

Do Say: I’m so sorry for your loss.

Don’t Say: I’m sorry for your loss. At least, you know you can get pregnant.

This statement was repeated to me more times than I can count and every time I heard it my heart would break open again. The thing is, getting pregnant doesn’t guarantee a baby. In my case getting pregnant wasn’t the hard part (until that became a problem too) – staying pregnant was. The odds were not in my favor and I was very open about my issues so attempting to comfort me by reminding me that I was fertile served only to remind me that my body was very efficient at ending pregnancies.

The at least part is also important to mention. There really isn’t any “at least” when talking about loss. “At least you lost this pregnancy early”, “at least you weren’t full term”, “at least you’re still young”. All these statements are loaded and quite hurtful – there is never an at least.

Do Say: I’m so sorry for your loss.

Don’t Say: Take comfort in knowing it was God’s plan.

This is a very controversial one. I was raised between the worlds of orthodoxy and Catholicism. Having one parent from each faith meant that although they held very different beliefs they each believed that God was our creator. I was never (still am not) very religious but I do believe in God and as a consequence I struggled with my own belief system a lot over the last few years. I was angry and questioned why God would punish me in such a horrible way? Why would He bless me through conception only to take my precious babies away? As a result, when family and friends tried to comfort me with statements about it being God’s plan I was often quite angry because it was hard to understand why I was chosen to suffer this way while others were not.

Do Say: I’m so sorry for your loss.

Don’t Say: It’s for the best! Clearly there must have been something terribly wrong with the baby.

Often times pregnancies end for no known reason. In my case my losses were caused by structural issue within my uterus. My condition is actually considered a müllerian defect which I was born with so my 3 losses had everything to do with me and not the babies. Having said that, a child lost to issues like mine or to chromosomal anomalies is still a a lost child.  I cannot speak for those parents who’ve lost children to genetic issues but this statement is so incredibly difficult to digest. Even IF there would have been something terribly wrong with any of my babies, losing them would still never be okay.

Do Say: I’m so sorry for your loss.

Don’t Say: I know how you feel. I lost my dog who was like a child to me.

Pets are members of the family aren’t they? We’ve got a total of 3 cats and a dog co-habitating with us here at TTBH and although I love my furbabies dearly losing a child is simply not the same thing. I don’t for a second believe that a statement like this is made with the intention of comparing the losses. Instead, I feel like it’s an attempt to find a common ground by sharing grief. Yet, every time this was said to me (and yes it was said more than once) I couldn’t help but wince – losing a child is just not the same as losing a pet. Period.

Do Say: I’m so sorry for your loss.

Don’t Say: You’ll have another baby and it’ll make the pain go away.

At some points on my journey when I was deep in depression facing more bad news than good I naively thought there might be a little truth to this statement. Sadly, having Margs has actually amplified my grief for my lost babies. As I watch her grow I catch myself questioning what the other babies would have been like. Would they have similar personalities? Enjoy the same things? Look similar? Each baby is unique, loved and special and as a result having another child does not fill the void left by a lost baby.

Do Say: I’m sorry for your loss.

Don’t Say: Everything happens for a reason.

What possible reason could justify so much heartache? Why are some families blessed with children while others are fighting to bring one into the world? I never quite understood the meaning behind this statement and unfortunately it’s probably the most common one I’ve heard over the last 5 or so years. There is no justifiable reason to make loss okay. Losing a baby is never okay. Never.


A few tips for showing support to grieving parents:

  • Just say “I’m sorry”. That’s truly the only thing you can say.
  • Don’t burden yourself with trying to make the parents feel better. You simply can’t. Acknowledging the loss and the grief is enough. You can’t fix this – only time can heal.
  • Grieve with mom and dad. Fathers are often forgotten when it comes to pregnancy loss. They grieve too.
  • Offer to help if you can. Cook a meal, drop off groceries offer to babysit older children. Every lit bit helps and is so so appreciated.
  • Give the family time. Child loss is incredibly difficult and it takes time to find a new normal. Your friend or family member will likely never be the same but will eventually find a new sense of normal. Be patient – they are battling and living one of the most traumatic experiences life can offer.
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  1. Thank you for posting this. I think people (myself included) often feel like saying “I’m sorry” is not enough, but it sounds like it’s really the best / only thing, which makes sense as no words could ever make someone feel better when they’re going through something so tragic. I thought that was a great point about comforting Dad too, I think they often get lost in the shuffle. I think you are so brave for sharing your story 🙂

  2. Dear Jenny, firstly I want to say a big thank you for reading and liking my post “Thoughts on Mother’s Day”. Reading your own post I can see just how hard this day is for you. Mothers Day for me is the simple things not the commercial exploitation. I am so very sorry for your loss. Take care. Clair

  3. All of this. Especially supporting grieving fathers, since my husband was often just treated as a means of finding out how I was doing instead of being shown support as well.

  4. It was hard when people said that at least I had two other daughters already. Yes, I love them, but I also loved the one I lost just as much.
    And then like you mentioned about being able to have another. That was rough to hear.

    1. YES!

      I get this a ton now. When people ask me if I’d like a second living child I’ll often say yes, but I don’t know if it’ll be realistic given the circumstances. I get a lot of the “at least you have Margs”. There’s a lot to say about having the my reproductive liberties taken away from me ya know? Knowing you may not be able to grow your family brings its own form of grief.

  5. This is so helpful. I had a loss before, and while I know that people have good intentions, sometimes the best thing to say is simply, “I’m sorry.” The heartfelt sentiment is all the same with these simple words.

  6. We have dealt with secondary infertility and so many did not get that what they perceived as supportive comments were in fact, not supportive to me at all. I feel the people who were most supportive to me were those individuals who actually walked a mile in my shoes before or have gone through similar circumstances. It stressed me out so badly when people told me to “relax and it will happen” or “just be glad you have one child” or “once you stop thinking about it so much it will just happen”. Although I’ve never experienced this type of loss, I can understand this perspective and what kind of support is needed, versus what so many people offer. However, as much as that kind of support triggered me to get upset at times, I also tried to give people a little grace because like I said the knowledge and understanding of what it’s like to go through something so hard just wasn’t there because they, themselves never experienced it. At times, it also allowed me to open up and bring more awareness to the table about Secondary Infertility so I would appreciate those times as well.

    1. I’m so sorry you dealt with those types of comments. Infertility and secondary infertility is a disease just like diabetes is. Unfortunately many people know so little about it that they think that “relaxing” is enough to treat it.

  7. Really loved this post! I myself had given birth to a still born child when I was 18 years old. And while many have dealt this this same issue we are all different so we could have been through the exact same situation but not know remotely how each other feels. It’s nice to read something helpful in this crazy world. Thanks for sharing.

      1. Thank you Jenny. Same to you. As mentioned in your post, people did say “oh you can always have another” which was annoying. Not that this “makes up” for it because that’s silly but I do have two beautiful kids now! I remember someone telling me I was to have 3 kids. And I responded, well then I guess I am done, and they proceeded to say, “oh the first one doesn’t count.” I thought that was a pretty horrible thing to say because the first does count. Even though she didn’t live, she was a she. She has a name. And she was mine. That that occurred 7 years ago and while the pain has somewhat subsided, comments like this even years later can make you wonder if people use their brains at all. I hope your post gets out there and a lot of people see it. Because sometimes people want to say or do something and as you said they just don’t know what to do! Sometimes saying nothing or doing nothing but just being present is good enough.

        1. I’m so sorry you dealt with that.

          I’m also at a point where I think I’ve accepted what has happened. I still grieve but time has made the grief different. I think at some points, I did feel like having another child would heal the wound but now that she’s here I see how absolutely wrong that is. There’s a void that only another loss mom will understand.

          If you’re on twitter or any other social media please feel free to share this post. I think there is still not enough transparency when talking about this topic.

  8. I am deeply sorry. I hope that you can find comfort in the fact that I value your strength and courage to open up and talk about your loss. I have nominated you for the “One Lovely Blog Award” congrats to you for being strong enough to write about such personal experiences. 🙂

  9. It takes lot of strength to go through those emotions again as you pen it down. I’m really sorry for your loss. Sometimes a loving hug would be more comforting than any word said. Hugs !!

  10. I heart all of this. Most people have no idea. I tried an analogy once to explain… if a born human being dies most of the things that were said to me when I lost my son would be acceptable. Grief is grief and I am not comparing the relationships of those grieving… but it would be disgusting to say to someone that lost their five year old to have another baby it will make you forget. I believe the same etiquette (not the right word but struggling while remembering the hurt) applies when anyone dies. For those who want to do or say more than I am sorry. That time will come. When the grieving tries to go through the motions of what their life was. Stand by them. Listen if they want to talk. I found myself in a bad place when I realized no one was using my son’s name. I was able to ask my mother why (she was one that stopped using his name as soon as we found out he died) she thought it would be too hurtful. I appreciated her honesty and maybe that is true for some. But one of my fears was that eventually Jackson Thomas would not exist. I didn’t have birth or death certificate. Hugs to everyone who has ever suffered losses of babies. Hugs to all that love people who have suffered.

    1. This is all very true. My twins seem to have been forgotten or at least from my perspective they have. Both sets of grandparents will say things like”let them rest in peace” but from my perspective it makes me feel better knowing they are remembered and talked about because it’s one of the only ways we can still include them in our family ya know?

      So many hugs coming your way <3

  11. Thanks for posting this. I always struggle with what to say to people when they are grieving over any kind of loss, let alone the loss of a child. I know that nothing you can say actually makes it better, so saying anything at all often sounds so cliche to me. Most people when they try to say something are just saying it out of necessity or a sense of duty to a friend or family member. Most of those people don’t take any grief away from the situation, they aren’t going to go home and cry over it or have a heavy heart from the situation (not saying some people don’t but a majority of people have their own problems and are just going to walk away and say “that sucks, but at least it’s not my problem). I want to be able to be genuine with people and let them know that I really do care and I feel for them. This post really made it clear to me that the simplest approach is best. The actions speak louder, like you said, if you can make meals or babysit the older kids or do something to actually help out it is way more important that just saying something to try to sound thoughtful. I think you’re right that people don’t try to be malicious, but more often than not they just spew out word vomit because they aren’t quite sure what to say. In those cases, most of the time silence, a hug, or sorry for your loss is just fine. Thanks again for sharing, I know this is a difficult topic for you. <3

    1. Thank YOU so much for reading and sharing this.

      Jessica from inspirethemom put it perfectly – if you don’t know what to say you can just say that you don’t know what to say. Sometimes it’s better to just be honest ya know?

      I don’t doubt that the intention is anything but pure but sometimes the perception is far far different than the intention.

    1. Yes! I don’t doubt that it’s meant to be supportive. I just think sometimes it can be perceived far differently than it was intended. Thank you for reading!

  12. Having lost too, I agree with all of these. I think its ok to say “I dont know what to say.” Sometimes making ourselves vulnerable and stating the simple obvious truth is better than saying things just to say them and the possibly hurting someone.

  13. I think this is very well written! You’ve laid it all out so perfectly! I think losing a child is a horrific thing… I would crumble! Thank you for this post, and I really like the pictures you’ve chosen!

  14. oh yea, I hate the ‘everything happens for a reason’ comment. A religious friend said this to me after my Mum died and I just found it really upsetting! People mean well but some things are best left unsaid.

    1. I think we each have our own set of beliefs which is fine but I think we need to be far more conscious of whether or not the person we are communicating with holds the same belief system ya know? It’s not necessarily a question of right or wrong but more a question of respecting that what might make us feel better might not be the truth for others.

  15. Very, very, VERY well written. Thank you for sharing. I’ve wanted to write something like this in response to how people responded to me after my mother passed away. Thank you so much for sharing. Even people with the best intentions don’t realize the trauma and pain they cause with their words when someone is grieving.

      1. Oh my gosh you are so welcome. You have written it so incredibly that everyone needs to read it! I hope even more people share it so it can spread such important awareness of what to say and what not to say. So so important. Thank you for writing it!

  16. You have shared what everyone needs to know about all death, really. I don’t know…we seem to think we have to be in control or fix people or make them feel better. I lost five babies. We never even told anyone about the 5th. I was done with people. I realize now that they mean well, but we need to learn to just be quiet sometimes. I have two boys 20 and 17 and I still think about my five babes and how life would be. I think that it’s ok. Thanks for sharing this Jenny. I am going to try and reblog this and share it on my twitter. HUGS

  17. Thank you, thank you for posting this and thank you for sharing your story. Stay strong. And above all know that I am sorry for what has happened to you and your family! I hope that time is doing its job and healing you all.

    1. Absolutely. I do not for one second feel that any of these things were ever said to me with any ill intention. It’s truly all about perception.

  18. I am sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing. I found that when my husband was diagnosed with cancer, people also made similar comments that came from the heart but were not helpful, even hurtful. (There were some people I even avoided because of this tendancy!) “God never hands you anything you can’t handle.” “Everything happens for a reason.” “At least it isn’t Stage IV”, “I’m having a hard time with this.” (Oh, really?) The best thing people can say is “I’m sorry. I’m here if you need me, and how about I bring you dinner on Tuesday?”.

    1. Agreed.

      I didn’t include the “god never hands you anything you can’t handle” statement because it slipped my mind but, I did get this one often too.

      I couldn’t handle it ya know? I was just given no choice but to deal with the cards I was dealt.

  19. Hugs to you. My best friend had two still births and I also have a few friends that have lost older children. I am sure they have all heard these some things multiple times. I know I have seen or heard them directed to a few of them. Another one that I have heard is that they will be reconnected with them later. I know for me, that would not make me feel better for a couple of reasons. One, I want to raise my kids and I am also an atheist. I also have heard that God needed them more than the parents. I agree with you that things said are not meant to be hurtful but I know that for me, not even being these kids parent, that they did not help me. I will always miss Sam, Maddie, Shaniah. I cannot imagine how their moms- Kathy, Dianne, and Deanna feel. I always tell them that I love them. I loved their children and that I am so sorry that they are gone.

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