For parents who’ve experienced miscarriage, stillbirth or infant loss, the grief can be debilitating. Chrissy Teigen made this clear when she and husband, John Legend, lost their baby son last month. Teigen took the extra step of openly sharing their grief on her Instagram account.
Though some Neanderthals criticized the couple for their posts, they also received a groundswell of support from people who have had the same tragic experience—with many of them thanking Teigen for talking about a still taboo subject in this culture.
“Many women and partners who have had these devastating losses feel isolated,” said clinical social worker Margaret (Maggie) Mieras. “Sometimes loved ones don’t know what to do or say to give them comfort. Which means they might not say anything.”
Grief and emotions associated with the loss can be triggered when a parent sees other children in public, when they have a friend or family member who is pregnant or when they approach their expected due date or the anniversary of the loss of their baby.
Couples also may experience added conflict because of different coping styles.
Daily stressors in life and relationships may compound the effects of grief and increase the emotional pain that parents feel.
This is why Mieras suggests couples seek help to manage their grief.
“The death of a newborn is not the same as the death of an adult where you have decades of shared memories,” Mieras said. “This is a loss of dreams and expectations for the future.”
It’s also a loss friends and family may not acknowledge in the same way as with an adult. Even if there was support initially, that could change as time passes.
In addition, there’s a misconception that the five stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance—are universal, Mieras said.
“Although some people experience all of those stages, others don’t. Grieving is an individual experience, and there is no right way to grieve,” she said. “Processing grief depends on someone’s coping style, personality, life experiences, the significance of the loss, a person’s faith and other factors.”
This is where a trained professional can be particularly helpful.
“A professional will have experience supporting different types of grief and can help find ways for you and your partner to heal based on your own unique circumstances and personalities,” she said.
Keep in mind that different types of support may be more appropriate for different individuals; some parents may find comfort in support groups instead of private therapy.
“For some people, private therapy can be intimidating,” Mieras said. “For others, coming to a support group very quickly after a loss can be emotionally overloading. Others may need to process their grief privately. The most important thing is to understand that there is help out there to support you when you’re ready.”
Often, an obstetricians can recommend groups or professional therapists skilled in perinatal or reproductive loss.
Friends and family of those coping with pregnancy or infant loss can get additional support through these tips:
Reach out. Even if you aren’t sure what to say, connect with your loved ones. It’s OK for family and friends to admit they don’t know what to say to the grieving woman or couple. “Tell them you’re sorry for their loss, or say the words, ‘I don’t know what to say,’” Mieras advised.
But take care to avoid clichés. “Common phrases such as ‘everything happens for a reason’ may be comforting for some families, but more often it is not comforting to the parents,” she said. “The loss is heartbreaking, and often there is no reason or explanation.”
Take their lead. Parents may prefer to acknowledge their baby in private or public ways. It is best for family and friends to respect the woman’s or couple’s wishes and acknowledge their loss as they do.
Make your support known. As people grieve, let them know you want to help. Ask what they need. Volunteer to bring meals or watch their other children. Parents may not be able to grieve or share with family and friends at certain times. It’s also OK to give them time and space.