What was supposed to be a beautiful bonding moment between mother and daughter turned sour mere seconds upon the doctor’s arrival. I had just given birth the day before, and the hospital pediatrician was making her rounds in the maternity ward—a very common occurrence.
“Did you start breastfeeding?” the doctor asked.
She wasn’t very pleased with my answer and shook her head as I hung mine.
She wanted to know why.
I was honest. I explained that since my baby boy’s passing 13 months ago, I had been seriously depressed and anxious. With the guidance and support of my amazing OB/GYN, we decided to concentrate on getting me mentally healthy enough to properly care for my newest arrival. This would entail starting anti-depressants and not focusing on breastfeeding, which would just be an added stressor.
The pediatrician blatantly ignored what I said while continuing to explain the wrongness of my actions. I didn’t blame her for trying to encourage me to breastfeed.
I was, however, disappointed about her lack of concern regarding my son’s death. What I had gone through was a pretty big deal.
Did she even care?
While strange, I wasn’t exactly new to this type of treatment. A year earlier at our post-natal check right after we lost Liam, my former OB/GYN seemed more curious about how soon we would be trying again rather than providing comfort or resources. She hadn’t even called us to check in after Liam died. My husband Brian and I stood dumbfounded as she suggested a little wine and a romantic setting might help ease the stress.
It wasn’t just our medical professionals who we felt failed us. Family and friends, while well-meaning, often used the wrong words in trying to console us.
“You guys should be so happy right now, Liam is home with Jesus and he is more blessed than all of us,’’ a friend commented.
While that may be true, we would have rather him right here with us.
“Maybe you should try and adopt a puppy,” another person suggested.
The comments only added to our emptiness and sadness.
Full disclosure: I don’t fault any of these people, nor do I hold a grudge.
The death of a child has been taboo for so long that society’s handling of the tragic event has become poor and uninformed. Frankly, none of us know quite what to say during this unimaginable time.
Throughout the years, I have given quite a bit of thought on how to support the bereaved mom and dad. While nothing said or done can bring back a child, comforting words are not only appreciated but are crucial in order to begin the grieving process:
Remember A Loss Is A Loss
Quite too often, those who miscarry are led to believe their loss really isn’t that big of a deal. “At least it was early or “it’s probably a good thing because something must have been wrong with the baby” diminishes the tragic nature of the loss. It was a baby, however early it was, and the parents lost their child. Instead, choose comforting words and promise to be a listening ear.
Acknowledge The Loss
Losing a child goes against the cycle of life. If you, on the outside looking in, are having a tough time accepting this, one can only imagine how it is for the parents. Unless the parents are specifically requesting privacy, always offer condolences.
Attend Any Services
Without a doubt, a funeral involving a child is the hardest to attend. Do it anyway. It shows the parents you care and that the baby’s life, although brief, mattered very much.
Don’t Tell Them How To Grieve
A few months after the loss of Liam, Christmas arrived. Although Brian and I were in no mood to celebrate, we decided to put together a holiday card to memorialize the loss of our son. Being that most of our family and friends were feeling festive and cheery, the card did not go over too well. A few of them deemed it “unhealthy’ and “depressing.” The response was very hurtful and made us quite leery in wanting to share our son with those in our lives. Bottom line: Unless you have experienced the horror of losing a child, you have absolutely no idea. Be respectful. Everybody grieves in their own way. What may not seem right to one person, brings much comfort to the other. Unfortunately, a few relationships were left strained due to the lack of empathy.
Be Patient While Continuing To Be Present
Brian and I were in no mood for partying after the loss of Liam. Invites were declined and socialization was limited. We were way too grief-stricken. It was our way of coping. While many people in our lives were hurt by this, it really wasn’t anything personal. We just needed some space. One of our dear friends put it perfectly when he said to another, “It doesn’t matter how long it takes—weeks, months, or years—I will continue to stay right here whenever it is they choose to return.”