October is Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month. This can be an incredibly difficult time for many families, but sometimes the most difficult conversations are the most important ones to be had. It can also be hard to find the right words to say to someone in these circumstances, but offering support, an ear to listen, or a shoulder to cry on can make all the difference. We’ve invited local mom, and writer, Leslie Froelich, to share her experience with us, including a bit of advice when it comes to knowing what to say, and what not to say during these sensitive times.
For my family, it is painfully ironic that October is Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month.
On October 4th, 2012, we lost our baby girl, Hannah, to complications related to Heterotaxy Syndrome and a severe congenital heart defect. We had three beautiful, but agonizingly difficult, weeks with her before she was taken away from us. Her twin sister, Elizabeth, survived and is healthy and thriving, and we eventually went on to have another daughter, Maggie, who is now two years old.
I would give anything and everything to not be a part of the grieving parent’s club. To have all three of my children with me, laughing and playing together. Literally not a day goes by that I don’t think of Hannah and everything that happened, and it crushes my soul.
We experienced a particularly difficult pregnancy, as Elizabeth and Hannah were diagnosed originally as conjoined twins, and I was told to prepare for miscarriage. While this ended up not being the case, my girls were, unfortunately, an extremely rare and high risk set of twins referred to as Monochorionic-Monoamniotic or ‘Mono-Mono,’ meaning they shared one sac and one placenta. The risk of cord entanglement and death was a possibility at all times. I could never adequately put into words the suffocating anxiety and fear that my husband and I endured throughout my entire pregnancy.
I was eventually put onto hospital bed rest at 27 weeks gestation, for daily fetal monitoring and stress tests. Though I found ways to pass the time and I tried to remain positive, the almost two months I spent at the hospital were some of the darkest days of my life.
I delivered via C-section when Elizabeth and Hannah were at just 33.5 weeks gestation. They weighed less than four pounds each and were immediately whisked away to the NICU, where Elizabeth stayed for a little over three weeks before coming home. Hannah had open heart surgery on October 3rd, 2012. Ultimately, her body could not support her condition, and she passed away in my arms the morning of October 4th.
When Hannah died, I descended into hell on earth. My sadness and grief consumed me, and I completely disconnected from Elizabeth. I suffered horrific postpartum depression and anxiety, and it took almost a year of biweekly counseling, along with medication, to finally begin the healing process and start to fall in love with my daughter.
Today, I am better, but I will always feel incomplete and deeply sad over our loss. I will never fully recover from the fact that, instead of bringing two beautiful little girls home from the hospital in car seat carriers, one of my children came home in an urn. The reality of this fact haunts and torments me at all times, but I have to choose to be strong and move forward, for my own wellbeing and that of my family.
Losing a child is said to be the most unnatural thing in the world. Perhaps it is for that reason that so many people struggle with knowing what to say or do when someone they know loses a child, whether that be through miscarriage, still birth or infant loss. In my experience, the most common things people have said to me over the years are: “She is in a better place now;” “Everything happens for a reason;” “God must have had other plans for her;” and “At least you have your other daughters.”
I know that when people make these types of statements, their heart is in the right place and they only have the best of intentions. But I would say that in general, it is best to steer away from these types of comments, especially if you are unsure about a person’s religious beliefs. I myself personally am of the Christian faith, but even then, it still stings when someone infers that your child, whom you would give anything to see and hold, is somehow “better off” not physically here with you.
For that reason, I would say that the safest thing you can say to a parent who has lost a child would be some sort of variation of the following: “I’m so sorry for your loss. Please know that you are thought of often and supported.” Short, simple, and to the point, and virtually no potential for offense.
Another way to show support for someone who has lost a child is by simply acknowledging the child’s existence. Some people think this will cause pain for the parent, but for myself personally, anytime someone mentions Hannah’s name or recognizes that we have three children and not just two, I feel that Hannah is being honored and validated.
It also means a lot to me when people make comments about the pictures of Hannah that we have throughout our home, or when they recognize that September 12th is not just Elizabeth’s birthday, but Hannah’s as well. Yes, there are painful reminders, but by and large, I find that other grieving parents like myself want to acknowledge our children and find ways to keep their memory alive.
If you know someone who has lost a child, just know that showing your love and sympathy and support, whatever that may look like – whether by giving a much needed hug or shoulder to cry on, or by simply sitting with that that person and being there for them – is always the right thing to do.
Leslie Froelich is a freelance writer and co-founder of a postpartum depression support group in the Cleveland, Ohio area, run through the organization POEM (Perinatal Outreach and Encouragement for Moms). She is a stay at home mom to two daughters, Elizabeth and Maggie, as well as two cats, and has been married to her spouse, Nick, since 2007.