Death is an uncomfortable subject. When people are in a situation where they have to say words out loud about death, it leads to some very awkward encounters. For reasons we can all imagine, this awkwardness increases when discussing the death of a baby.
Before having two miscarriages and my daughter being stillborn, I figured if your intent was good then it didn’t really matter what you said. I assumed that people would overlook the awkwardness and just focus on the intended support.
After my daughter died, I discovered that good intentions only go so far in supporting someone.
The words people say, they matter. People remember the supportive things they heard and they definitely remember the awkward things they pretend to politely overlook.
After two miscarriages and a stillbirth, I’ve heard my fair share of cringeworthy comments. Here are some actual comments said to me and what I wish I had said, but I was too polite to say in return.
You don’t even look like you had a baby.
Well, I did. That comment, which I’m sure is meant to compliment my appearance, feels like salt in the wound. I may not look like I had a baby, but I did have a baby. My body is going through the same experience as any other woman who has had a baby–except I have to do it without the baby.
Well, now you can drink again.
Yes, since I’m no longer pregnant or concerned with breastfeeding, I can have as many cocktails as I want. But is that really a good thing? I’d rather have my baby than bottomless mimosas at brunch.
At least you know you can produce breast milk.
Yes, I definitely can produce breast milk. It’s a great thing if you have a baby to feed. Without a baby to feed, my breasts are just incredibly engorged and it is painful. I hate not being able to feed my baby and having to stuff my bras with ice packs instead.
Wait, why were you in the hospital if the baby was already gone?
Because babies don’t evaporate. They have to be delivered somehow. Miscarriages can happen at home, but if a woman needs a D&C then she must go to the hospital. If a baby is stillborn, then they need to be delivered. Even though these babies aren’t going to be born alive, they and their mothers still require care.
And the list goes on.
There are countless awkward encounters that a person must endure after having a miscarriage or a stillbirth. What makes them especially awkward is that these words are often being said by people who care.
Every one of those awkward comments was said to me by someone who was trying to be supportive.
They were doing the work of showing up, but they still had work to do in how they were showing up. I know my losses stirred up a lot of questions and thoughts for them, but it wasn’t necessary for me to hear them all. Having to endure all of that awkwardness made me angry. Now that anger has become a question.
When we talk to people, are we being thoughtful?
I think we often confuse thoughtful with saying the “right thing.” And in our effort to say the one right thing, we ramble and often say more than needs to be said. When you are offering support, your words don’t have to be profound. They can be simple. You don’t have dive deep into the details of loss. Just be receptive if the grieving parent wants to have that conversation.
We need to be thoughtful.
We need to know our audience.
We need to take a breath before we speak and ask ourselves if these words are going to help.
Being the recipient of such awkwardness has a taught me a lot about what needs to be said versus what needs to be heard. A grieving person does not need to hear the every thought and curiosity of the person trying to support them.
Just be thoughtful.
Being thoughtful won’t stop death from being an uncomfortable topic. Awkward thoughts and questions will still arise. But supporting a person who is grieving is not about your own comfort–it’s about stepping outside of that comfort zone to reach a person you care about. It’s about knowing your audience and understanding the impact of your words.
I promise–that kind of thoughtfulness will never be overlooked.
Photo provided by Canva.