Strategies for Survival: Dealing with Infant Loss
Mack and her husband were able to hold two of their babies. “I needed to see them. I needed to see they were real. I will never be sorry that I did that. My little girl Nicole looked exactly like my husband.”
Seek Support and Keep Communication Lines Open
The loss of a child is in the top tier of the stress scale, according to Johnston and Campbell. They urge parents to regularly check in with each other, participate in support groups, and recognize different—even conflicting—emotional needs may emerge as they grieve.
Mack and her husband set aside time each night to talk about their children. “We almost count the days until it is time for a meeting,” Mack says. “It is very freeing to be able to sit in a room with people who understand, and they can tell you how they cope day to day. The days you think you’re losing your mind, someone is there to say, ‘No, you’re not. We’ve all felt the same thing.’”
Sometimes friends and family assume they should avoid the subject altogether with grieving parents. Johnston cautions, “The truth is they do think about it. They are going to be upset if you don’t talk about it.” For those at a loss for words, she suggests, “I’m sorry this happened. There are no words that are going to take away the pain.” Campbell adds, “Just silently sitting there and listening is huge.”
Prepare for Uncomfortable Moments
To help diffuse difficult situations, the social workers recommend that parents discuss how they will handle Mother’s and Father’s Days, due-date anniversaries, and conversations with acquaintances and colleagues.
Johnston and Campbell encourage that parents arm themselves with a short, automatic response such as “Thanks for asking. Unfortunately, there were complications, and the baby didn’t survive,” so when parents run into people, they don’t feel the additional panic of what to say on top of their pain.
To address the initial flood of calls of concern, they suggest a general voicemail or email saying, “Thanks for calling. We appreciate your thoughts and prayers,” or appointing a close friend or family member to be the communicator.
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