You may or may not have seen this article circling through your newsfeed. I shared it. Many of my loss friends shared it. It actually came to my attention because someone thought of me and tagged me in the link, which I think is great because it means people are paying attention to what I am saying and how important talking about our children is to Mothers of Loss.
In case you don't have time to read the entire article, it is basically a Loss Mom's letter to another woman who sat in awkward silence after asking about her children and learning her first born son had died. The mom said she didn't really care that she made the woman uncomfortable because she's not about to deny the existence of her child. I am right there with her, although I do hate the sad eyes and downward glances. I think, as a society, we push all pain out of the public eye. I think a big part of why baby loss is so taboo is because people are just so uncomfortable with death and grief in general. Add to that the loss of a human that had yet to begun to live, and we're talking serious silences and seat squirming.
I'm one of those people that when one of my statuses is shared, I like to click over and see what was said about it. When one person shared it, one of their friends commented that they really don't know what to say. A similar situation had happened to them and they weren't really sure what to do. That's perfectly understandable and quite admirable to admit and want help with. I imagine a lot of people outside the loss community might feel the same way.
So, here's a typical scenerio and how you might respond:
You: Is she your oldest/ only child?
Her: No. She has an older sister who was stillborn.
You: I am so sorry for your loss. (smile, while asking...) What was her name?
Her: Her name was ________
You: That's a beautiful name. Optional: If you'd like to tell me about her, I'd love to listen.
That's it. That's all you have to do. She's already brought up her child. She is already letting you know she is comfortable talking about her...or at least that she wants to. She wants you to know that the child you see isn't the only child she has. Asking the name lets her know you acknowledge her baby as important and loved. Most likely, she will glow in telling you the name. She might get misty eyed, but you didn't make her sad. Bringing up her loss didn't make her sad. Living in a world without her child makes her sad, but she's not on the edge of sadness all the time. She finds joy in her life, she does. Losing her child broke her heart, but it didn't break her.
When you talk to her, don't think how horrible everything must be for her. She can see that in your eyes. She can tell that you are feeling sorry for her. Don't. She doesn't want your sympathy. You don't have to comfort or console her. She probably already has a grief counselor. She just wants someone else in this world to know her child existed. You might think it's morbid to be discussing her dead child with her, but she doesn't. She's happy someone is willing to listen. To her, there is no difference between her children other than the fact she can hold one and not the other.
Most likely, she will steer the conversation into what she's comfortable with. She might volunteer what happened to her child and she might not. If she doesn't though, don't ask. Other than that, talk to her like you would any other mother talking about her children.
I think a lot of people might get uncomfortable in this situation because they think the conversation is going to be all about death. Honestly, we don't really want to hash out all the details of our child's death with a stranger. We don't want to tell you our hospital horror story. We don't want to relive those terrible moments with you. We just want to include all of our children in a conversation when someone asks. That's it.
Be honored she is willing to share her child with you. She fully understands how you might react, and she is still willing to put herself in a vulnerable situation with a complete stranger. That is how much she loves her child. That is how important talking about her baby is to her. She's not concerned with your uncomfortableness because you were the one who asked. She didn't come racing up to you to say, "hey...guess what....my child died."
If you're friendly enough to bring up a woman's children in casual conversation, then you have enough people skills to handle this. You do. One out of four women experience the loss of a child either in pregnancy or in early infancy. One in four. The baby loss community is getting stronger and more outspoken. More and more women are feeling comfortable talking publicly about their loss and their children. There is a good chance your casual conversation may take this turn.
Don't feel sorry for her.
Don't change the subject or try to end the conversation
Just talk to her. Listen to what she has to say. You'd do it for any other mom on the playground. Do it for her too.