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Thoughts on How to Support Someone Experiencing Pregnancy or Infant Loss

The awful truth is that babies sometimes die. It’s excruciating, the worst thing most of us can imagine, and when we hear about or meet someone who has lost a baby, it’s hard to know what to say or do. It’s so terrible we may even feel inclined to hide, turn away from or avoid someone who has lost a child, but experts agree you should push through your own fear or discomfort to offer what support you can, even if it feels like you’re doing it wrong. As we wrap up October's Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, here are those experts' thoughts on how to support people experiencing this type of grief.

A woman we’ll call Mary, whose baby was stillborn at 32 weeks, offers this advice: “If someone you know experiences a stillbirth you don't need to know the right things to say. You just need to acknowledge their pain, acknowledge their grief, understand that you're not going to understand, and let them talk and talk until they've finished.”

Beth Condley, who is the clinical director of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at INTEGRIS Baptist Medical Center, agrees. "Every family is different, and every situation is different. It’s really more in what you don’t say than what you say. You just need to be a listening ear," she says.

Condley is quick to point out that the loss of a baby is more common than one might think. "More people have experienced it than you know: for instance even some of the nurses here in our NICU have been affected personally by infant loss." In fact, experts estimate approximately one million pregnancies each year in the U.S. end in early pregnancy loss, stillbirth or the death of a newborn child.

A miscarriage is when an embryo or fetus dies before the 20th week of pregnancy. A baby who is stillborn has died in the womb after 20 weeks of pregnancy. A neonatal death is a death occurring within the first 7-10 days after a baby is born.

Condley stresses the importance of meeting each person who has experienced this loss at whatever point in the grieving process he or she currently is. "Our philosophy is that while we can’t be in their shoes, we can help pick them up. Not everyone can be a NICU nurse, it's a tough job. They walk a fine line, trying to help each family in the way that they need to be helped at that moment."

The NICU at INTEGRIS Children's at Baptist Medical Center employs bereavement specialists, who are nurses specifically trained to help people cope before, during, or after the impending death of an infant. Kourtney Bridges, bereavement coordinator, is on the front lines of this intensive type of care.

"My job is to help families. There really is no firm protocol because every family is different and every baby is different. We decide what we do according to each family’s needs. Some babies get to a point where there is nothing else we can do except let them pass in the arms of their parents. We offer suggestions and services to each family and adapt according to their needs. It’s a little like a dance," Bridges says.

She and her team try to capture little mementos for the family to have later on. "We make footprints, and save a lock of hair. We may bring in a photographer; there is a nonprofit called Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep that comes in and takes keepsake pictures for the family at no charge. These photos often become the most prized possession of the family," Bridges says.

She feels honored to be in service to families as they grapple with their profound loss. "I feel it is a blessing for me to be a part of such a sacred time. We are with people on the worst day of their lives, and that understanding keeps me focused on them, on doing whatever I can for them, whether it’s in that moment or in the months and years that follow."

Part of the bereavement program at INTEGRIS is staying in touch, remembering and commiserating with families. "We have some families who still very much need us to stay involved two or three years later. Other families do not wish for us to continue a relationship with them. It’s entirely up to them. We are simply here to walk with them in any way we can."

RESOURCES

In the Oklahoma City Area:

Oklahoma Family Network - The Oklahoma Family Network Family-to-Family Health Information Center connects individuals with others who have experienced loss in similar way. Contact them at 877-871-5072.

Kids Joining Eternity - Kids Joining Eternity is a local non-profit formed with the intent to help parents, siblings, family members, friends and caregivers come to terms with the loss of a child whether it be through miscarriage, stillborn loss, sudden infant death, and/or chronic childhood illness. Support groups are available for individuals and couples with additional support opportunities for the whole family. Contact Executive Director Melanie Edwards at 405-802-5739 or melanie@kidsjoiningeternity.org

INTEGRIS Hospice Services - Bereavement counseling. Contact: 405-603-1708 or online at www.integris/hospice-services/grief-recovery.

Compassionate Friends, Oklahoma City - The mission of Compassionate Friends is to assist families toward positive resolution of grief following the death of a child of any age. Contact them at nookctcf.com.

Calm Waters - A support group for parents who have lost a child from birth to 12 months. Contact Maribeth Govin, M.A., LPC, Program Director, at 405-841-4800.

GriefShare - GriefShare is a friendly, caring group of people who will walk alongside you through one of life's most difficult experiences. Groups are located throughout the Oklahoma City area. Contact them at 800-395-5755.

The Kids' Place - The Kids' Place is a faith-based support group for children and teens who are experiencing mourning after the death of a loved one. Contact them at edmondkids.org.

MISS Foundation - MISS Foundation cares for families experiencing the death of a baby or child, providing a sanctuary for healthy and necessary grieving. The facilitator, Jill Bobier, can be contacted at  jill.bobier@missfoundation.org or 405-990-5388.

INTEGRIS Baptist Medical Center Family Pastoral Care - For individual counseling, contact them at 405-949-3195.

Crossings Community Church - Miscarriage and infant loss support group and infertility support group. Contact them at 405-302-1293.

The Littlest Angels - A nonprofit organization that provides blessing gowns and memory boxes to families who experience the loss of an infant in the OKC metro area. Contact them at thelittlestangels.org.

In the Tulsa Area: 

The Tristesse Center - Offers a variety of individual and group programs to help those of any age who are grieving, including:

  • A six-week grief support group for the loss of an infant or toddler on Thursday evenings.
  • Coping with the loss of a child Monday evenings.

To contact them, call 918-587-1200. Sessions are $10.00.

Oklahoma State Department of Health/Child Guidance - One-on-one services to children who have lost a parent or sibling. Fees are based on a sliding scale. No one is refused services for inability to pay. Contact them at 918-594-4739.

Family and Children Services - Grief and loss counseling (also provided in Spanish). Meets hroughout the year, every second Thursday of each month. Contact them at 918-587-9471.

Hannah's Hope - A Tulsa based organization that supports families by creating memory boxes for those who have experienced the loss of pregnancy or death of a child. For information, contact Kathryn Johnson, Founder and President, at info@hannahshope.us.

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