What not to say (and what to say instead) to a loved one who has lost a baby

You find out your friend, who was 5 weeks pregnant, has miscarried.

Your sister in law delivered a stillborn baby six months ago.

Your coworker had a four-month-old baby that died 10 years ago.

You want to help, but you don’t know how.  You may be afraid you’ll say the wrong thing or that if you say something you will cause them more pain.  But I want to tell you thank you.  Thank you for acknowledging that grieving mama needs you and pushing through the comfortableness  of grief.  Thank you for recognizing her special needs and researching ways to help her.  In a world that tells women to forget “it” happened or her baby didn’t count, you have no idea how much you are appreciated.

It’s difficult to understand the intangible grief of a mother who never saw her baby or the depression she falls into every Mother’s Day even decades after the loss of her unborn or newly born child, if you haven’t experienced it yourself.  Unfortunately, even with the best of intentions, people either say the wrong things or don’t say anything at all, both of which minimize grief and intensify pain.

When you say nothing, the mother feels you are not acknowledging her baby existed or was significant enough to be recognized.  Your silence tells her you don’t recognize her profound loss or her need to grieve.  She needs you to respond, but to say things that will bring her comfort and peace.

The following statements are things that have been said to me or to someone else and though were probably meant to comfort, were very painful to hear. The list is not to make you feel bad if you’ve said the “wrong” thing.  Haven’t we all?  Instead, it’s meant to bring awareness, so you can comfort those around you who hurt.   Please familiarize yourself with them and educate those around you.

What NOT to say

At least statements are NEVER acceptable as they minimize the loss and value of the child.

  1. At least you weren’t farther along. (That does not make a mother any less pregnant or her baby any less valuable had she carried it to term.  When you say this, she feels you are taking away her right to grieve.)
  2. At least you know you can get pregnant. (Please remember we don’t always know what women have been through to achieve pregnancy as many endure years of expensive, risky infertility treatments or have been waiting years to conceive.)
  3. At least the fetus didn’t have a soul yet. (Psalms 139:15-16 David says God knew us before we were even conceived.)
  4. At least you have other children. (We are thankful for our other children, but one child does not replace another.  We are grieving this baby as a part of our family that will not get to live life with us.)

Avoid religious platitudes.  Even if the statements are true, it may be bad timing and not what a grieving mother, who has just lost her unborn or newly born baby, wants to hear.    And while they may bring comfort to some, they can also leave others feeling more isolated.

  1. God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.  (The Word doesn’t say this.  Also, if this were true, we would never need Him.)
  2. God gives and takes away.
  3. It was God’s will.
  4. God has a plan/purpose.
  5. You can trust God.
  6. All things work together for the good of those who love the Lord.
  7. Your baby is in a better place.  (This is a tricky one.  While this can bring comfort to some mothers, others can’t help but want their baby with them.  Just be aware of the timing on this one.)

Don’t try to explain why you think the loss occurred.   It can come across as very judgmental and often, very cruel.

  1. God needed another angel.  (Babies don’t magically turn into angels upon their arrival into heaven and it leaves the mother asking “God needs more angels more than I need my baby?)
  2. God needed him more than you did.
  3. Maybe God just thought you weren’t ready to have a baby.
  4. God knew you were going to be a bad mother.
  5. Your baby was just too good/too beautiful for earth. (I had a friend that interpreted this as her home not being “good enough” for her baby.)
  6. Time will heal everything.
  7. You’re still young.  You can try again.
  8. It was just a blob of cells.
  9. You didn’t need another baby anyway.
  10. Maybe it’s not God’s will for you to be a mother.
  11. It was God’s/nature’s way of getting rid of the damaged fetuses. Or  It was for the best – your baby would have had health problems.
  12. You seem ok.  Aren’t you upset about the baby you lost?  (Please remember everyone grieves differently and at different times)
  13. There’s always adoption. (Yes, adoption is amazing.  Both of my children are adopted, but it’s not the time to make the suggestion. )
  14. Maybe you shouldn’t have/should have..
  15. You’ll be fine in a few days.
  16. It’s just part of life.  Just get over it.
  17. Be grateful for what you have.

What to say instead

  1. I’m so sorry for your loss.
  2. My heart is breaking for you.
  3. I can’t imagine what you’re going through/ your pain/shock/heartache.
  4. I’m praying for you. (You only get to say this if you really are.)
  5. My heart is aching for you.
  6. I love you.
  7. I’m here for you.
  8. I’ve experienced losing a baby too.  I’m hear if you want me to listen or if you want to ask me any questions.
  9. I can’t stop thinking about you.
  10. What are your favorite meals?  We are arranging dinner for you for the next two weeks.
  11. How is your husband and can we do anything for him?
  12. I’m grieving with you.
  13. Is there anyone I can contact and share the news with to make it less difficult for you?
  14. I’m here just to listen if you need to vent and I promise not to judge.
  15. Take all the time you need to grieve.
  16. Don’t feel pressured to call or text back, but I just wanted you to know I’m here for you.
  17. I will miss your baby too.
  18. This isn’t your fault.
  19. It’s OK not to be OK.

Again, thank you for learning how to speak words of comfort and helping the grieving mama who needs you.  Because you have chosen to recognize such a taboo subject, you are telling her that her pain matters, her loss counts, and her baby’s life has worth.

Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.  Proverbs 16:24

Blessings to you,

Lori Keeble

Founder of Sparrow’s Cry