After experiencing pregnancy or infant loss, a wave of milestones will inevitably wash upon us, bringing challenges that are difficult to process. While these moments are often painful and unavoidable, you need not face them alone.
You may receive support for the more obvious milestones, like the baby’s birthday or due date and the date of your loss, but here is a list of the more subtle milestones that can be just as emotional for you, the grieving parent.
Date of your next prenatal appointment (which now needs to be canceled):
I was surprised to find that my doctor’s office did not handle this for me, following my loss, which then required me to have to call and explain why I would not be coming, adding insult to injury. Hopefully, my experience was an anomaly and most other practices take this into account.
Date of other babies being born:
Although it is certainly possible to experience joy through pain, this may trigger feelings that overwhelm you, especially if it occurs in close proximity to your own due date. Whether someone close to you or merely an acquaintance, it is natural to feel sadness for your loss during a time of other’s celebration.
Date of other pregnancy announcements:
Similar to the above, you can share in happiness of learning that someone else is expecting, but also feel the sting in your heart from the void that lingers. This often catches you off-guard, such as bumping into someone at the grocery store, casually browsing social media, or opening a holiday greeting card.
Date of calling daycare to cancel reservation:
Many childcare facilities require a space to be reserved well in advance of the baby’s arrival, due to limited openings. This can be another upsetting reminder of a decision you once put so much thought and effort into making, but is sadly no longer needed.
Date of maternity leave beginning or ending:
Having finalized all of the details with your employer about when you would start maternity leave and then later return to work, seeing these dates come and go without a baby here to care for can make work tough to focus on. Time away from work may be needed to recover, even if it’s not the kind of leave you planned.
Date of receiving bad news:
Whether it was the first ultrasound, an unexpected trip to the emergency room, at home or in the doctor’s office, wherever you were when you first heard the news, you will never forget this heartbreaking moment. Depending upon the circumstances of being alone or having a support system to lean on, this date can be haunting.
Date of finding out you were expecting:
From the second you saw the positive pregnancy test, you began to envision your life changing by the addition of a new family member. Your hopes and dreams for your baby took flight, only to travel down an unwanted and unplanned path instead.
Date of gender reveal party:
If you got to experience the party before your loss, this may bring mixed memories of a once exciting occasion that now symbolizes all that could have and should have been for your baby’s future. If your loss happened before the party that you intended to have, this date may serve as a reminder of another lost opportunity to celebrate your little one.
Date of baby shower:
Similar to the above, if you got to experience the shower before your loss, the celebration of your impending bundle of joy may be comforting at times and upsetting at others. However, if your loss occurred before the shower that you looked forward to with great anticipation, a raw emptiness may overcome you as the event is cancelled.
Mother’s Day / Father’s Day:
This may impact you differently, depending upon whether or not you have additional children. Some choose to distract themselves with their kids, while others may not have that option. Regardless, for anyone that has experienced pregnancy or infant loss, I cannot imagine this holiday is ever easy to cope with, no matter the circumstances or years that pass.
Holidays / Family Gatherings:
Sadness may sweep over you any time your extended family gets together; it does not necessarily have to be the biggest holiday of the year. The palpable sense that someone very special is physically missing from your annual traditions can be tough to manage.
So how do you help your friend through these various milestones? We all know that saying nothing is not always helpful. Here is a list of possibilities of how you can lend meaningful assistance:
- Be cognizant of these difficult dates. Remember them; write them down on a calendar; plug them into your smart phone.
- Anticipate certain dates will be hard and ask your friend in advance if they would like to do something to commemorate their baby. Sometimes the days leading up to the actual date are just as challenging, so your friend may need extra comforting beforehand.
- Ask your friend if they prefer to have company or be alone. Do not make assumptions – ask first before showing up unannounced.
- Ask if they would like to talk about it. If you friend does want to talk, be an active listener. You do not have to have all of the answers and sometimes listening can go a lot farther than trying to chime in on a subject that you are not equipped to offer advice about.
- If your friend does not know what they want to do, gently brainstorm suggestions together, but be mindful not to push your ideas too much. It is okay for them not to have an exact game plan.
- Ask your friend if there is something specific that you can do to help versus using the open-ended “Let me know if there’s anything you need.”
- On the flip side, ask your friend if there is something specific they wish you or others would not do or stop doing altogether.
- Be aware of things your friend has mentioned that others have done that were unintentionally hurtful and try your best to avoid repeating them.
- If you are nervous about offending your friend by inadvertently saying the wrong thing, admit that you may not know quite how to help them, but extend your unconditional support.
- Be conscious that your friend is not you, so what may help you personally, may not help your friend. You are both different people and may cope differently.
- If you make a commitment to your friend, follow through and uphold your end. Do not make excuses about why you have to cancel your plans at the last minute, especially on a difficult date.
- Be there for your friend as time passes. Many so-called ‘friends’ may come and go as the years march on. Be one of the few that stays, no matter what, even if your friend seems to have healed.
Photo credit: adapted from DafneCholet | Flickr
What are your tips for helping a friend through the hard dates? Share in the comments.