I really liked this picture when I saw it, because it's SO accurate. I think 2 and 3 can go together a lot of the time: know when the baby was born, and be aware that it could be a hard day each time that date pops up. For example, Ariella was born on the 30th, and I've found the 30th of each subsequent month hard. I also find the 28th hard, because that is when we heard that she had died.
Number four is also important. The support is most obvious soon after the baby's birth/death, and slowly tapers off. I am very thankful that people are still continuing to check in on us, three months down the track. One thing in particular that makes me smile is getting notes in the mail. I absolutely LOVE opening the letterbox to find a card, letter or note in there.
Number six is perhaps the one that people find most difficult. It's easy to say "do something" - but what exactly to do? Here are a few ideas:
- Make a meal. Be aware of any allergies, intolerances or strong dislikes. It's easiest if it can be frozen, as it means there is no rush for the parents to eat it. If it can't be frozen, arrange a date to drop the meal off. That way the parents know they will have a meal that night, and won't have something already prepared. If there is a person or church who can collect meals, that's great, as it means the parents aren't having lots of people on their doorstep wanting to chat. On that note, if you do drop a meal off in person, be considerate in terms of how long you stay. We never had anyone overstay or linger, which was brilliant. Also, if you have children, please be aware that the parents may or may not be comfortable seeing them. It's worth checking with them, even if that feels awkward.
- Offer to do the grocery shopping, or arrange some food deliveries. For a few weeks after Ariella was born, going to the shops was terrifying. Not only is it likely that there will be babies around, you might run into someone you know. The idea of unexpectedly seeing people was too confronting for me, and it actually did happen once. I'm not sure if that couple even knew we'd had a baby, as I hadn't seen them since early pregnancy (before I had a bump). To make it worse...they were carrying a baby in a capsule. A group of friends got together to organise 5 weeks worth of fruit and veg deliveries for us - it was amazing. Not having to think about going to the shops for fresh food quite literally took a weight of my mind.
- Consider giving financially. We were overwhelmed by people's generosity when it came to finances. It's slightly different if there was a miscarriage, but once a baby is over 20 weeks, the law requires them to have a proper burial/cremation, which can be quite expensive. You could offer to help pay for that, but don't be offended if the parents say no, they may feel like it is something they need to pay for themselves. The Dad may be taking time off from work, and depending on the job, it might be unpaid leave.
- Send flowers - I know of mums who didn't like receiving flowers, because flowers eventually die (and they've already dealt with more than enough death). Personally, I loved receiving flowers. The brightened our lounge-room, and smelt wonderful.
- I've mentioned this briefly above, but send a letter, card, or short note. Text messages or emails are great, but to post something takes a little bit more time and thought, and I love knowing that someone has been thinking about us and Ariella. Plus you get to keep cards and read through them whenever you want, without worrying about things like if your phone's memory is full.
- Offer to do jobs or chores. If the loss was due to stillbirth, the mum will be recovering from birth, which has all sorts of physical implications (whether there was any damage done during birth or not). Please be aware that the mum's body will be acting as though her child is still alive - bleeding, milk, contractions, joints and muscles still loose...they're all the same. Housework may be too physically demanding, and it is almost certainly to emotionally demanding. Offer to help out (but don't touch the baby's things unless asked).
That's probably a long enough list for now, but I want to say one last thing. Please do not be offended if your offers for help are not taken up. Marcus and I had offers of help from dear friends, and it wasn't until weeks later that I realised I never took them up on it. The parents are going to be a fog, and chances are they may forget about your offer! This doesn't mean they don't appreciate it, because they do. It just means that they may not have needed that offer at that point in time; don't hesitate to offer again a few weeks later :)
If you haven't read my other posts about what to do after a friend loses a baby, you can find them here.