I can tell a lot of people want to be supportive, to say the right thing. I can also tell when they have no idea what to do.
It’s not like anyone teaches you how to be a support system in advance. There isn’t a supportive friend test you have to pass before people let you into their lives.
Before my loss, I was not a great support system. I tried to be empathetic and kind, but I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t realize how large grief is, and I didn’t realize how long it takes to regain basic day-to-day function. I had no idea the emotional exhaustion, how that translates to physical exhaustion, memory loss, motivation loss, anger, and numerous other manifestations.
I was clueless.
I should have googled or bought a book, but I didn’t even know to do that.
If you’re reading this article because you want to support a mom in your life who is pregnant after loss (PAL), you are already a better friend than I was, and you are taking a huge step. You are making an effort, and that’s a huge part of it. Take a deep breath.
1. How are you feeling?
This is a good, open-ended start. It’s more caring and personal than “how are you?”, which can sound like small talk where you don’t really care about the answer. At the same time, you give the PAL mom the option to keep the conversation to a minimum if she doesn’t want to get into it at the moment. She can answer truthfully and personally, or she can simply say “OK.”
2. Do you want to talk?
If you want to let your friend know you’re willing to listen, don’t be afraid to ask if she wants to talk.
3. Would you like to come over / go out?
Whether your friend has living children or not, it’s never bad to offer some company. She can take you up on the offer if she thinks it would be good for her, and she can turn you down if she isn’t up for it. An invitation is nice, as long as you aren’t overly persistent where she feels like she HAS to for your sake.
4. I’ve been thinking about you.
It’s always nice to know someone is thinking about you. Especially if something made you think of her baby, let her know! If you saw her baby’s name somewhere, saw a bird or a flower, or simply thought of them. Say so. It’s comforting for PAL moms when other people acknowledge and remember them and their children.
5. How is your partner?
Partners are often overlooked. A visibly pregnant woman gives a constant reminder, but for partners sometimes we forget that they are expecting after loss too.
6. Do you feel supported by your doctors / medical team?
This one can be touchy, but if you are close friends it’s worth asking. Many PAL moms have a lot of anxiety that may or may not be taken seriously (or recognized at all) by her medical team. Some moms want all new doctors and caregivers, while others want the same doctors who already know their history. Some moms will be classified as high risk, with extra appointments, tests, and checks. While this is comforting for some moms, others find it intrusive and stressful.
7. Do you have a support group?
Some moms have local support groups, some find online groups, some use both or neither. She may not have considered that support groups for pregnancy and infant loss or specifically PAL even exist. I sure didn’t know until I was in need of them myself. And I wouldn’t have gone to any if people hadn’t pointed it out to me (one was a social worker, one was a colleague who had also lost a child). It’s probably not a good idea to push someone into going, but encouraging them to consider the option may end up being really helpful.
8. Gentle congratulations.
This one is good for when you first find out about a woman’s PAL. A lot of people get visibly overexcited when a woman announces her PAL. It might be too much, and she might be having really complicated feelings about everything. By toning down your initial response and letting her take the lead on whether there will be giddiness, moving on to a new topic quickly, or something in between, you give her control of the situation.
9. You’re a really good mom.
It’s always OK to tell a mom that she’s a good mom. Any mom. A mom with living children. A mom who is pregnant for the first time. A mom who is PAL. A mom with no living children. They all love their kids, and they all deserve recognition.
10. I’m always here if you want to talk.
This one is good in writing, especially for a PAL mom you weren’t especially close with before. PAL moms may not want to talk RIGHT NOW, but it’s comforting to know where the sympathetic ears are. It’s comforting when someone puts it out there that they will listen.
Hopefully these suggestions get you thinking about how to support the PAL moms in your life. They need it! And you are a great friend for seeking good ways to provide it.
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