Coping with infant loss is one of the hardest things a parent can do. Losing your child, regardless of age, is a grief beyond compare.
Those who have experienced these depths grief know the importance of finding tools, resources, and groups for help coping with infant loss. And yet, the concept of “coping” seems nearly impossible.
How do we actually cope, or help others cope, with the loss of a child? Where do we turn if we’re experiencing stillbirth or infant loss ourselves?
If you need support through stillbirth or infant loss right now, contact First Candle’s 24/7 Grief Hotline at 1-800-221-7437. If your need is life-threatening, call 911, or contact your local emergency services (for non-US readers).
Coping with any loss is a grieving process, and one of the most important things you can do is let yourself experience grief.
The principles and suggestions below are largely the same as they would be for coping with any grief–the loss of a partner, parent, sibling, friend, pet. While many of the resources provided below are specific to coping with infant loss, they are also, in many ways, general resources for grief.
In this post, we will share the following types of support resources:
- Resources for Support People: Advice and articles for people supporting friends or loved ones through the grief of stillbirth or infant loss
- Resources for Grievers: If you have experienced stillbirth or infant loss, you’ll find the following types of resources in this article:
- Advice for coping with grief
- Resources for immediate grief support and finding a grief counselor
- Personal stories from parents who have survived infant loss
- Links to online support groups
Supporting Friends Who Are Coping with Loss
Knowing how to support others who are coping with loss can be extremely tricky. People often ask me what to do, what to say, and what not to say.
In most cases, one of the most important things you can do is remember that you cannot fix the problem. You cannot bring back their loved one, and you cannot take away their pain.
What you can do is provide a loving ear and a shoulder to cry on. You can allow the griever to discuss their loss to whatever extent they’re comfortable. Listen to them tell stories, and if it’s appropriate, tell your own stories about the person they lost.
The following resources are helpful for learning how to support those we love through the grief of infant loss.
Many people, but not all, who are coping with the grief of infant loss feel the need to talk about it. Unfortunately, they don’t always feel like they have people who are willing to listen, especially without offering advice or useless platitudes to “make them feel better.”
Keep in mind that, no matter how uncomfortable you may feel discussing someone’s grief, they’re always thinking about it. If they want to talk about what they’re feeling, let them. Don’t force them, but allow them a safe space to speak if they need it. Follow their lead, and allow yourself to be uncomfortable for their sake.
Learn more in “Why We Really Need to Talk About Grief.”
Say Their Names!
People so often fear that using a child’s name will remind the parents’ of their loss. But truthfully, they never stop thinking about it.
In most cases, using the deceased child’s name helps the grieving family remember that child’s actual life. They want to remember the time when their child was with them, and they need to know that you remember it too.
Learn more in “My Baby Died: Please Ask Me His Name.”
Don’t Compare Their Grief to Someone Else’s
Someone will always have it worse, but that doesn’t change the experience each individual goes through. Avoid minimizing a griever’s experience by making comparisons.
(This is equally important for the griever, who is likely to make their own comparisons and, thus, invalidate their own feelings.)
For more resources on helping others coping with grief, check out Dr. Christina Hibbert’s “The Do’s and Don’ts of Helping Others Through Grief.”
For the Griever Coping with Infant Loss
Oh, dear one. We’re so sorry you have to be here. There are so many things you can do to learn to cope with your loss. Among the best is to learn more about the loss you’re experiencing. You can do this by reading stories or articles that talk about what to expect.
Coping with Grief
(1) Allow yourself to grieve
The process looks different for everyone, but repressing emotions and pretending everything is okay will hit you hard later.
If you’re feeling your grief acutely, allow it. If you’re not, build in some time for quiet reflection each each day.
5-10 minutes of meditative time will likely help allow the emotions to come. That is not to say that meditating will take the pain away. It will likely make it more acute. The goal is to allow yourself to experience that grief.
Know, though, that we all grieve differently. Some of us cope more easily and more quickly than others. It doesn’t matter where you fall on the spectrum: you are okay; your grief is valid; it will get better. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Grief will not always be your center.
How long will it take to overcome your grief? Truthfully, you may never overcome it.
“We don’t move on from grief. We move forward with it.”Nora McInerny
How long it even takes us to move forward is different for everyone. Learn more in this video by Dr. Christina Hibbert, psychiatrist, and survivor of abundant grief and trauma.
There is no shame in seeking mental healthcare when you need it. I, for one, cannot imagine my life without it.
If you experience pregnancy loss/miscarriage, a great resource for finding support is Postpartum Support International. Although these therapists are technically for the postpartum period, many postpartum therapists are also trained in stillbirth and infant loss.
CALL their hotline anytime at 1-800-944-4773 or TEXT 503-894-9453.
I know the process can be scary. If you aren’t ready to make the call, click here for a step-by-step article on finding a good grief counselor.
(3) Create a ritual
Rituals promote healing, allowing us to place our grief somewhere concrete, and thus making our abstract emotions more tangible.
Rituals look different for everyone–ranging from having funerals, planting trees, burying fetal remains, creating a memorial space in your home, getting a tattoo, finding or creating a token of remembrance.
Ultimately, it’s all about what works for you.
Infant Loss: Stillbirth and SIDS Stories
Reading other stories of stillbirth and infant loss can be extremely cathartic. Those stories are essential reminders that you’re not alone as you’re coping with the grief over infant loss.
For stories of loss and photos that capture both the grief and the process of moving forward, check out the Infant Loss Photography Project by Ann Hughes Photography.
Undefining Motherhood has featured many posts by Hannah, who lost her daughter Senna Lynn mere hours before her birth. Senna was born sleeping at 41 weeks gestation.
We’ll share some of Hannahs’ work as resources below, but you can read her story on the Infant Loss Photography Project website.
Read Jamie’s story about her son Jackson’s too-short life. Jackson was lost to SIDS at less than a month old. Jamie has since built an entirely new life in Jackson’s memory and honor.
Precious Addie is not your typical infant loss story. At just 7 months old, Addie passed after her appendix ruptured, causing sepsis and peritonitis.
Addie had received medical care days before her death. But because a ruptured appendix is so rare in an infant, and because infants do not display the same symptoms of sepsis as older children and adults, everyone missed the signs.
Connor Andrew Rhodes: A SIDS Story
In this video, Alison Jacobson recalls the day her son’s daycare called to tell her he wasn’t breathing. At just 3 months and 24 days old, her son Connor was lost to SIDS.
Parenting After Infant Loss
Parenting after infant loss is an experience fraught with emotions. Many parents of loss are surprised when they don’t feel immediately connected to or grateful for healthy children.
In reality, parents of loss (or with histories of reproductive trauma) are more likely to experience mental health disorders like Postpartum Depression and Postpartum Anxiety (PPA & PPD). Many also experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
For a story that discusses all of these experiences, see two of Hannah’s articles.
Looking for support in your local area? Postpartum Support International can help. Most of their therapists are trained in grief and loss, including perinatal loss.
Struggling with grief? Dr. Christina Hibbert’s series on grief provides some great information and resources.
Experienced infant loss? Reach out to Alison Jacobson and her team at First Candle. Their grief support team is made up of parents who have lost children to SIDS.
Recommended Books for Coping with Grief
- This is How We Grow by Dr. Christina Hibbert
- Empty Arms by Sherokee Ilse
- Empty Cradle, Broken Heart by Deborah L. Davis, PhD
- A Guide for Fathers When a Baby Dies by Tim Davis
- Healing a Parent’s Grieving Heart by Alan D. Wolfelt
Share your favorite tip or resource in the comments so we can build a treasure trove of places to turn when we need support!
Katy Huie Harrison, PhD, is an author, mom, recurrent miscarriage survivor, & owner of Undefining Motherhood. She lives in Atlanta with her husband (affectionately known on the internet as “Husband,”) son (Jack), and dog (Charlotte). She believes our society puts too many expectations on women that make womanhood and motherhood restrictive. Her goal is to shift the paradigm about what it means to be a woman and mother, giving all women a greater sense of agency over their own lives. You can find Katy and her work featured in places like CNN’s Headline News, Romper, Scary Mommy, Demeter Press’s Motherhood and Social Exclusion, & more.