How to support a friend's new pregnancy after her stillborn loss
August 1, 2016 8:57 PM   Subscribe

My co-worker/friend's baby was stillborn and it was, of course, very awful and traumatizing for her. She is now pregnant again (about halfway along) and I want to support her in the best way possible without saying inadvertently thoughtless things.

For instance, this is about the time when you start feeling the baby move around. But would bringing that up be a thoughtless reminder about her previous loss? I want to balance excitement and support with recognition that this is a tough/complicated time for her. Happiness mixed with fear and anxiety and excitement. Oh man! What are some things I can do or say that would be appreciated? If anyone has first hand experience with this and remembers specifics about what to do or not do, I'd love to hear about it. We are co-workers, so I see her mostly in the work environment, though occasionally other events no work-related. She has been involved in support groups for her loss, so this is more about how to make my behavior helpful (or not harmful) for her.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think the best thing to do is make sure you aren't telling her how you're feeling or telling her how she's feeling, but asking how she's feeling and listening to her answer.

"How are you feeling now that your baby is starting to move? Is it hard for you?"
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 9:02 PM on August 1, 2016

Don't say anything, in the sense of putting any names to what she "must" feel or do or be or have. Only react, echo her emotions, acknowledge that this may be complicated and hard and you will not judge her no matter what she says. Tell her she can tell you whatever she needs whenever and you'll be there for her.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:05 PM on August 1, 2016 [5 favorites]

Don't make assumptions about how the pregnancy is progressing, how or what the baby is doing, or how or what she's doing or feeling. Don't give advice unless explicitly asked.

"How are you feeling?" "What's that like for you?" "Is that difficult/exciting/frightening/happy?"
posted by lazuli at 9:47 PM on August 1, 2016

I had a stillborn pregnancy and got pregnant right after in my first fertility treatment post-loss. Uh, I was a mess. No one really knew how to talk to me, whether they should bring up my loss or just talk about the second pregnancy. A few things that did or would have helped:

-If you know when her due date was, just do a check in like "how you doing?" on that day. No one remembered it was mine and a few babies were born to relatives then. I was a mess. No one asked. I didn't want to burden anyone.
-If you don't know any of the important dates from her last pregnancy, just gently probe and listen.
-If she starts to unload grief/hope/confusion, let her keep going.
-Don't talk about her being lucky to have this pregnancy after losing one
-If you know an appointment is coming up (birthing class, hospital tour, etc.) check in to see how they went.
-Watch for nonverbal cues on her feelings
-Ask open ended questions, if she wants to share in depth stuff she will.
posted by toomanycurls at 10:41 PM on August 1, 2016 [5 favorites]

When I was pregnant a second time, after a second trimester loss, I was terrified and really didn't want to talk about it much. It was impossible to convey how frightening it felt to anyone who had not been through it too.

Your instincts are spot on that certain milestones are probably triggering for your friend, and pregnancy is a long series of milestones to get through. I ended up having another loss before I could feel the baby moving this time, but I imagine had I made it that far it would have been very triggering.

I know everyone is different, but I couldn't tolerate much pregnancy chat from anyone. Honestly, I most appreciated the friends who let me take the lead in how much or how little I wanted to talk about the pregnancy and who were completely understanding at my lack of excitement (which stemmed from profound terror). I felt very guilty for being unable to be excited or happy. Your friend may feel similar.

I thought this was a really good advice page: 12 Things to Say to the Mom Pregnant After a Loss.

I think your question shows how much you care and your friend probably knows that. Thank you for being thoughtful and supportive of her--you sound like a good friend.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:01 PM on August 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

Just remember that she is still a mother to her stillborn child. This is not her first child. Stillborn erasure can be very painful. Take her lead, but it won't be her first child not her first birth. Respect that, and that they are so very different, and also that this baby had a big sister/brother and you'll be a wonderful supportive friend.

I think you're gorgeous for thinking about this. Just gorgeous. XX
posted by taff at 12:39 AM on August 2, 2016 [4 favorites]

I think a simple "How are you feeling? Do you need anything?" would suffice here. Asking if they feel different or frightened might conjure up old anxieties. I wouldn't bring up the previous pregnancy at all to be honest. I wondered this myself after a friend miscarried. We did talk about the miscarriage after, but not until after her second (successful) pregnancy.

Other than that, listen when she needs you to and be a good friend (and it sounds like you already are!)
posted by futureisunwritten at 8:27 AM on August 2, 2016

Seconding "how are you feeling" without any suggestive words ("do you feel sad?") or tone (negative or positive). If she wants to talk about it and you convey nonverbally that you're willing to listen to good, bad, or ugly, you need to trust that she will. Don't probe. At most, maybe "today was your first due date, right? how are you?"
posted by mchorn at 1:35 PM on August 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

My first friend in our cohort to have a baby back in our mid twenties had to have an abortion because the baby wouldn't have lived. She and I have a habit of writing paper letters. I got a letter one day, maybe a a year after the abortion. In the middle of the page it just said "I am pregnant. Tell no one." I opened it at my office and ran to the bathroom and sobbed with joy and fear. I told her that in my next letter and she said that was so perfect to hear, it was an echo of her own feelings.

I am not saying you should do this. We were friends from childhood, we had (and still do have) the kind of strong friend love where manners take a back seat the way they do with family.

I do have a point though. If you have strong feelings, I wouldn't necessarily bar yourself from sharing them with her. It's not always putting the burden on them to fix your feelings. Sometimes it's just really good to know that someone is feeling something hard for you. Sometimes it helps with the feelings of loneliness that come with these sorts of things.

Only you know if this would help your friend coming from you. Or maybe you don't. In any case proceed with caution so as to not give her emotional labor to do for you. Make sure it's a real gift of empathy if you do it.
posted by The Noble Goofy Elk at 12:47 AM on August 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

This is maybe only tangentially relevant but I am currently 2/3 of the way through my first pregnancy and am reading a book called Great with Child, which a friend sent me. It's a collection of letters from a woman to a younger, newly-pregnant friend, and the writing and thoughts are quite beautiful. The letter writer has a 3-year-old, but had a failed first pregnancy that was quite traumatic for her. She addresses it specifically when she writes to her young pregnant friend, and says that she wasn't really ever able to fully talk about it until she'd successfully given birth to her daughter, but also reinforces what taff says above re: still being a mother to her firstborn and wanting the first pregnancy not to be just ignored when talking about the second pregnancy.

Anyway ... I don't know if your friend is a reader but if she is and you wanted to get her an actual thing, she might enjoy that book. (The letters are fairly recent and delve into a lot of currently-relevant issues and thoughts about motherhood & identity & life, even though the whole concept and even writing style feels like part of an epistolary tradition from pre-text and email days.) It's nice because it doesn't ignore the fears and scary stuff that comes with pregnancy and motherhood, but it sort of feels like ... a little look into what can be wonderful and funny about it, too, without schmaltz or manufactured sentiment. And, I don't know, maybe your friend will appreciate the perspective of someone who has been on her journey and is now on the flip side?
posted by alleycat01 at 10:35 AM on August 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

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