This blog post was written specifically with family and friends of those grieving the loss of a baby in mind, just in time for the approaching holidays. I know you feel helpless to ease the pain and sometimes have no clue where to start. I want to guide you by listing several books, gifts, etc that have helped us through two stillborn losses. First, the basics. You are here to support the grieving family and listen when they lament or share their story. You are NOT here to point out what they could have done differently, compare your losses, excessively cry or tell them this is so unfair/sad or tell them to move on already. In grief, there are “circles of support” and rules that go along with “grief etiquette”:
The rule states that where ever you are, you offer support to the people inside your circles and you ONLY dump (complain, cry, protest, say things like “it’s so unfair” or, if at all, use clichés like “it’s for the better”) to the people in the circles to the outside. Supportive things to say when you don’t know what to say are: “I am so sorry.” “I am here for you/I’m listening.” “I don’t know what to say.” “This sucks and I’m sorry it happened.” You can read more about specific phrases to avoid and ones that are most helpful here. You wouldn’t believe how well meaning people can turn into completely self absorbed people when it comes to other people’s loss. Overall my family and friends have been fantastic and I could not ask for a better support system. I want to make sure everyone has that in difficult times.
I’ve had countless friends come to me and ask what to do for their friend who recently lost a baby. I am happy to give recommendations for books, gifts and action steps to help. Who would know better than someone who has been through it, twice? I am going to lay out a guide for helpful books with reviews from people who read them, organizations that provide services (some free of charge) to help grieving parents, ideas on gifts and things you can do for your friends/family in the worst time of their lives.
First, books. Here is a list of books and reviews from women who have experienced loss and how these books have helped them.
Books geared towards women:
- I Will Carry You by Angie Smith: This book is by far the most popular when I asked for suggestions. A mom described it as a journal that she didn’t write. It is a book by the wife of the lead singer of the group Selah and their story of hope and intimacy with God during the pregnancy and birth of their child with a condition deemed “incompatible with life.”
- Surviving My First Year of Child Loss by Nathalie Himmelrich: The death of a baby, whether through miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal loss, or the death of an older child, is the worst experience a parent can endure. Parents often don’t know how – or if – they will survive such an earth-shattering event. Just as each individual’s grief journey is different, so is each parent’s experience. This book includes twenty-six heart-wrenchingly honest essays by parents who convey their personal challenges and the ways they coped during the first twelve months after losing their children.
- Waiting for Gabriel by Amy Kuebelbeck: I received this book from Duke’s perinatal bereavement team and just finished reading. It’s about a pregnancy and birth of a baby with hypoplastic left heart syndrome and the family’s decision to give comfort care, rather than invasive tests. It starts before they knew about the condition and continues months after the birth. I found it very comforting to know that everything I felt was felt by someone else.
- Empty Cradle, Broken Heart by Deborah Davis: This is more a practical book about what grief looks like and the physical recovery from it. It offers reassurance to parents who struggle with anger, guilt, and despair during grief.
- One Year Book of Hope by Nancy Guthrie: This book is easy to pick up and find topics you need help with at the moment. It centers on finding hope amidst deep loss and grief.
- Grieving the Child I Never Knew: A Devotional for Comfort in the Loss of Your Unborn or Newly Born Child by Kathe Wunnenberg: This devotional collection will help mothers grieve honestly and well. It has spaces to answer questions, journal and helpful ways to work through the tough holidays and milestones.
- Loved Baby Devotional: This 31 day devotional offers real talk about loss, Christ-centered comfort, tips on how to handle social media/reconnect with your spouse, knowledgement that your child is in Heaven, and strategies to walk through grief, etc.
- Anchored: A Bible Study for Miscarriage, Stillbirth, and Infant Loss: This study lets you grieve in a honest way and helps answer questions like: Why me? How could God allow this to happen? Did I do something wrong? Where is my baby now? Can I survive this?
- And She Still Laughs by Kate Merrill: This author lost her child to cancer and longed to find joy again. So, she delved into the women of the Bible and studied their stories of deep grief and loss and how they came to the other side.
- I Carry Your Heart with Me by E.E. Cummings: This is the children’s adaptation of the original poem, but its used commonly when there is a loss of a child.
- What Grieving People Wish You Knew about What Really Helps (and What Really Hurts) by Nancy Guthrie: Drawing upon the input of hundreds of grieving people, as well as her own experience of grief, Nancy offers specifics on what to say and what not to say, and what to do and what to avoid.
- A Momma’s Heart: Comfort for Loss Moms by Bethany Conkel: A coloring journal with specific thoughts, prayers and verses geared towards grieving mothers. This was written by a mom in the anencephaly group I am in and she helped me tremendously throughout the donation process.
Books geared towards men:
- A Guide for Fathers: When a Baby Dies
- Grieving Dads: To the Brink and Back
- Sometimes I Cry In The Shower: A Grieving Father’s Journey To Wholeness And Healing
Books to help siblings cope:
- Something Happened
- We were Going to Have a Baby, but We Had an Angel Instead
- No New Baby: For Siblings Who Have a Brother or Sister Die Before Birth
There are so many more books than this, but these are the books that came highly recommended by people who read them.
These are the projects that I have used/found out about since my own loss. Some of these are completely free of charge and some take donations:
- String of Pearls: I personally requested this package for myself, but anyone can request a package. It is geared toward families who know their babies won’t survive birth or long after. They include plaster kit to make hand and foot molds, clay for creating hand and foot prints, ornament with paint and instructions for firing, journal, small photo album, the book A Gift of Time, Cabo Cream (to help decrease milk supply), a variety of books dealing with grief for parents and siblings and a stuffed animal with a heartbeat recorder inside.
- Molly Bears: These bears are weighted to the exact weight of the baby up to a year of age (1/2 ounce to 14 lbs). Order forms open every month on the 30th and there is a $20 fee per order. The current wait time is 6-8 months. This makes an excellent gift (make sure the parents know about it-they do not allow surprise gifts).
- The Finley Project: This project is amazing! They provide resources, practical help and support for up to 5 years after loss. They provide help to arrange the funeral, grocery gift cards, house cleaning, massage gift cards, support group placement, one-on-one counseling and a specific support counselor to aid the mother for up to five years all FREE. Some women don’t have a support group. The mother would have to register, but it is a free service.
- Healing Embrace: They have two bereavement doulas who will travel and assist women whose babies have a fatal diagnosis through their hospital stay. They provide assistance for funeral and hospital expenses, grief counseling, post partum care (meals, house cleaning, nanny, in-home nurse) after birth. They also have weighted bears and gift bags they provide to loss families.
- Angel Pics Project: They retouch pictures of babies who do not leave the hospital. It is a service for term or near term babies. They remove bruising, effects of stillbirth, tubes and other hospital devices from pictures. When a picture is all you have left of your baby, you want that picture to be as perfect as it can be.
- Charlotte’s Purpose-Wrapped in Love Project: This provides a burial gown or suit to a family who needs to bury their child. You can donate your own wedding dress in memory of someone you know who lost a baby and help other families by providing this service.
- The Tears Foundation: They provide financial assistance for a burial/cremation of a baby. Planning and paying for a funeral when you’re grieving is by far one of the hardest things any parents has to face. This can lift a significant burden for them.
How you can support a friend/family member during their grief:
- Sit with them. You don’t need to fill the silence. Let them cry or talk. Be uncomfortable in their grief with them. We don’t need advice or platitudes.
- Please don’t say “let us know if we can do anything.” We will not contact you. Instead, say “can I go grocery shopping for you? Can I babysit? I’m bringing by a meal tonight, let me know what sounds good.” Show initiative in helping.
- Set up meal trains. I cannot stress how important this is to a family grieving. I barely want to eat some days, but I know it’s important to feed my children and it’s incredibly hard to plan meals at this time. Do it without asking. Don’t stay long and follow their schedule. Meal gift cards may be an even better option for some families.
- Volunteer to babysit. This is huge. Date nights to reconnect during grief is important, even months out of the loss.
- Pay for a cleaning service. Some people clean when they’re grieving (me) and some people can’t get out of bed. Everyone grieves differently, but having this off your plate is a big deal.
- Offer your house if you have a vacation home free of charge. If you can swing this, this is HUGE. If you can’t, pool money together and help the family plan a mini vacation.
- Ask if you can throw a shower even if you know the baby won’t make it. I had an in-person prayer shower for Cora since she was my first and I didn’t want to miss out on the milestone. It gave me so much peace and made me feel like everyone loved and honored her. For Layla, I had a great friend throw me an online shower to raise money for our family to go on a memorial trip this summer. We are headed to Hilton Head Island for 5 days in July and it’s something I can look forward to as I start back to work.
- Send gift cards for lunch/coffee on their first day back to work. For me, I’m dreading going back to work (REALLY dreading it). When I came back with Cora, my coworkers collected money to buy me lunch every day. It was something to be excited about.
- Send gifts with the baby’s name on them. I have linked websites and stores with beautiful jewelry to give people a place to start with gifts in this post. Having something with Cora and Layla’s name on it means the world.
- Talk about the baby. Say their name. Tell them you want to hear about them and what they looked like. Ask to see pictures, even the “hard” ones.
- Send a book or several.
- Make something with their baby’s name on it.
- Give meaningful quotes on a canvas or framed as a gift.
- Plant a tree, name a star, donate in their memory.
- Go overboard on Mother’s Day with texts, cards, hugs, etc. This day is such a mixed bag for women who have lost babies. Please go out of your way to acknowledge their motherhood.
- Handwrite letters/cards. We have a pile of cards from complete strangers telling us they are praying for us.
- If the baby was buried, visit the grave and send the parents pictures so they know you remember.
- Continue sending acknowledgements of their loss in the months and years after. People will send me texts on Mother’s Day, Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness day in October, and birthdays to let me know they are thinking of my girls. Publicly acknowledging the loss on social media, etc. helps show the family you remember. It means the absolute world.
- Plan get togethers during the maternity leave. I’ve had so many coffee dates and visitors during my leave and it makes the time off less excruciating.
- Volunteer to put away the baby stuff for the family if this wasn’t expected. Having to break down a crib, put away baby clothes and toys knowing you will never bring a baby into that room can be torture.
- Put together baskets of goodies for the living siblings. It brings an immense amount of joy to the children, but also lets the parents know you’re thinking of them too.
- HELP PLAN THE FUNERAL. I can’t emphasize this enough. There are so many details in the planning and it starts in the hospital. When we lost Cora, our brother and sister in law took care of it all. They contacted and met with the funeral home, cemetery director and our pastor when we just couldn’t. It’s so overwhelming and when you’re in the new grief stages, you’re just trying to survive. With Layla, we tried to plan everything beforehand so we didn’t have to worry about it in the hospital. We also gave ourselves more time between coming home from the hospital and the funeral. Our friends helped us with music and flowers. It was so special.
- DON’T BE SILENT. Say something. Say you don’t know what to say. Acknowledge this is sucky and you can’t fix it.
Unique gift examples:
- Hand stamped name jewelry/keychains by ajlajoysjewelry on Etsy: It’s an everyday bracelet created by a mom who also lost her baby. Proceeds go to specific acts of kindness such as creating boxes for families who experience a stillbirth. These boxes will include foot/hand print materials, a baby blanket, a list of local resources and grief support groups, and other little items. I ordered one for myself and love that I can look down and see Cora and Layla’s names AND I’m contributing to helping other parents heal.
- My Forever Child: jewelry/keychains with actual hand/footprints
- Hollyday designs: Milk still comes in after loss. Many moms find it comforting to save some in jewelry. This website has rings, bracelets and necklaces as well as DIY kits to create your own custom piece.
- Custom constellation map: A map of the night sky at the moment of baby’s birth.
- Laurelbox: These are gift boxes you can create yourself or pick premade to help comfort after loss or commemorate a child’s memory.
- DillyDesignsArt on Etsy: simple and beautiful watercolor paintings to honor miscarriage/loss. You can personalize with names.
- Little Sycamore: My personal favorite. GORGEOUS birthstone rings/earrings/necklaces that you can personalize with raw, uncut birthstones. She has “angel baby” stones in white to represent loss as well.
- Mint & Birch: Customizable authentic gold bar and triangle necklaces
- Emily McDowell Empathy Cards: These cards tell it like it is. “Please let me be the first to punch the next person who tells you everything happens for a reason” is the one I received from my sister in law and it nailed exactly what I was thinking. They are blunt cards for the blunt person.
- Families Forever Art on Etsy: Besides keychains, there isn’t much on gifts for fathers (besides the honest cards above). This is another option. These are watercolor portraits of your family + your angel baby.
- Cremation Urn via Etsy
If you are a loss mama, let me know in the comments what gift helped you.
It’s hard to know what to do when you haven’t personally experienced loss, so I hope this guide helps. People who have lost babies just want to be heard, their babies to be remembered and feel loved.