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Dear Abby

by Rowan Sterling

Date: Tue, 11 Mar 1997

Yesterday I got so mad at something some one said to me about my baby being lost I sat down at this computer and wrote something to Abby Van Buren. I've never written to Abby before, but it seemed like a good thing to do at the time. ... This letter is about what to do and what not to do for a friend or relative that has lost a baby (whether miscarriage, pregnancy interruption, or born still).

Thanks,

Rowan

Dear Abby,

On February 22, 1997, my husband and I lost our baby daughter Gabrielle at 23 weeks of pregnancy. She lived for two hours before she passed away peacefully. She was too little to survive.

We have received an outpouring of support during our initial grieving period, but there were a few things that were said to us that were very inappropriate They weren't necessarily inappropriate, but timing is the key. While it is comforting to hear such things about Heaven and God, sometimes it can result in anger if it is too soon after a loss. As a mother who has lost three babies during pregnancy, I am getting quite used to some of the responses we have gotten over our losses. Abby, I know they are well meaning as a way of attempting to comfort the bereaved parents, but I think sometimes they can hurt more than they help. Please let me remind some of your readers on some of the how to and how not to comfort a man and woman who have just lost their baby.

Please don't say "You're young, you can have another." Abby, we don't want another. We want the baby we lost.

Please don't say "Well, they needed another angel in Heaven." While it is comforting to know that our baby is now an angel looking over us, depending on when you offer this sort of comfort we may not react too well to this. We want her here with us on Earth. Sometimes we feel that we needed her more than God possibly could.

Please don't say "You're lucky you didn't get to know her before she died." Abby, yes we did. She was in my body for 6 months. She lived, moved, and communicated in her own little way. My husband held her closely for the two hours she lived. He got to know her too in a special way.

Please don't say "It's nature's way of weeding out the weak or sick". Abby, no child is a waste no matter how "weak" or "sick" it is. I could have looked forward to a life love from a child, sick or not. Ask many of the families that care for and love terminally ill or chronically ill children.

Please don't say "If you need anything, call me". Many bereaved parents can't take a daily shower let alone pick up a phone and call for help. If you are close to the person who has experienced a loss, make it a point to call every few days just to see if you are needed.

Please DO say "I don't know what to say. I'm sorry." Sometimes it is more comforting to know that your friends or family are truly at a loss for words. Applying false sympathy or empathy can infuriate a bereaved parent, adding to the anger they already feel for their loss. It is better to say "I don't know what to say." than to say something that might hurt.

Please DO send a sympathy card to acknowledge their loss and pain. While they may be emotional and not what a bereaved parent wants to see right away, it is the best way to say "I care and I'm sorry." Nothing is worse than losing a baby and thinking no one seems to care to take $1 our of their wallet and five minutes to send a letter or card. Sympathy cards are also helpful way to begin or complete a baby remembrance book.

Abby, let your readers know that there are many other things a friend or family member can do to help. They can listen. I've found myself needing to talk about what happened. My best friend has sat on the phone with me for hours just listening.

Call the child by name if the parents have given one. Saying "the baby" or "it" dehumanizes the tiny human being that was your child. When a child dies at a year or 10 years, people refer to that child by their name. It should be no different for a baby who lives only a few days, hours, or who was born still.

If you are a close friend, make the time and effort to try and do all that is asked of you (and a few things that might not be asked). My best friend and my mother took quite a few hours out of their day to come and help put away the baby things before I got home from the hospital. I couldn't do it myself and I didn't want to come home to a cradle that would not be filled. They also took the time to clean my house (better than I ever did), make a few meals and store them, and see to phone calls on the first day after the obituary was in the paper, accept flowers, cards, and gifts sent to us in sympathy.

There is no easy way (if any) to help a family grieve for a child that was lost during pregnancy or shortly after birth, but if you remember to think about what you are saying and doing before you say or do it, you can save the bereaved parents from a little more pain than is already there.

Sign me Empty Cradle in Pennsylvania

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