Parents who have had a stillbirth often say the best support was someone who was just there for them and listened. Someone who cared and asked questions about how they could help, rather than acting as though they knew best how to deal with the situation.
Support the family
Don’t assume the parents are dealing with their grief together as a couple. One may want to talk and the other might not be able to yet, so they may need support in different ways.
Try not to forget the dad. They may seem to be quietly getting on with things and may even have returned to work, but it is important they have someone to support them too.
If there are other children don’t assume the parents would like them kept away, or don’t want to see them upset. It is important that children know it is ok to feel sad about what has happened.
Meeting the baby
If you are family, or a very close friend, in the very early hours and days after the stillbirth the parents may want you to come and meet the baby. This may be the first time you have seen a baby that has died, and this may be quite a shocking or distressing thing for you.
Remember that the parents only have the baby for a short, precious amount of time.
If this is something that you are really worried about, talk separately to the midwife caring for them who may be able to offer you reassurance. You might be able to see a photo first. Ask the midwife what to expect, and how to hold the baby if you are not sure.
Acknowledge the baby
Most parents want people to acknowledge their baby’s existence and the fact that they had a baby. If you feel it’s appropriate, ask questions about the baby. Ask why they chose the names they did, what did the baby weigh, what colour was her hair? Did she look like mum or dad?
Don’t ignore what has happened, talk about the baby as a person, using her name. You might even feel it’s ok to ask to see a photo if any were taken.
Follow their lead
There will be some parents who don’t name their child, or who don’t want to share their baby’s name with work colleagues, or anyone other than very close family.
If you are unsure, don’t be afraid to ask them what they are comfortable with. Be sensitive to their reac-tions.
It is fine to acknowledge their loss and then move on to talk about other things, if you sense this is what they’d prefer.
Choose your words carefully
Many parents find certain sentiments unhelpful. Responses such as, ‘You’ll have another baby’ can undermine their grief and belittle their sadness. They might not be ready, now or ever, for what may seem like encouraging, positive comments about their future. Another baby will never be seen as a replacement for their dead child.
Don’t avoid them – be there for them
The nature of grief – and how individual it is – particularly when it’s a baby that’s died can make people feel very uncomfortable. You might feel completely unsure as to how the parents want you to behave.
Also their grief might bring cause uncomfortable memories of your own losses to resurface, if you have experience of baby loss or other bereavements in your past.
In most instances, parents will want you to be there for them. They’ll want you to surround them with love and care. If you don’t know what to say, ‘I’m sorry’, or even explaining that ‘You can’t find the words’ is so much better than avoidance.