Supporting a Parent Coping with Miscarriage or Stillbirth

Advice on supporting a parent who has experienced a miscarriage or stillbirth

Last updated: 28 November 2016

Parents who have experienced a miscarriage or stillbirth often find that their grief is ignored or judged. If you are supporting someone who is grieving after losing an unborn baby, the best thing you can do is respect and understand their grief.

Understanding grief

Unfortunately, there is an attitude in our society that miscarriages and stillbirths are not as traumatic as losing a baby that has been born. This is not true. Not only does it have a physical impact on the mother, both parents may mourn for the baby they looked forward to meeting and holding in their arms.

Everyone deals with grief differently. Some parents may heal and move forwards relatively quickly, others may grieve for their baby forever. Here are a few things to bear in mind if you are trying to understand what they are going through:

  • They may have already had a future planned for their baby. Expectant parents often begin to love and care for their child long before it is born. The wonderful future they had imagined is now gone.
  • They might be worried that they can’t have children. Although miscarriages and stillbirths don’t necessarily indicate a medical problem, this can be an extremely distressing time when the parents question if they will ever fulfill their dream of having a family.
  • They might blame themselves. Sometimes parents believe, often irrationally, that they have done something to cause the miscarriage or stillbirth. This can cause intense feelings of guilt, which can be difficult to cope with.
  • You cannot fix their grief. There is nothing you can do or say to make their grief go away, so it’s best not to try. Instead of trying to offer solutions, just be there to listen to them when they need you.
  • Children cannot be replaced. Unfortunately, comments like “You can get pregnant again” are well-meaning but often hurtful. In the parents’ minds, this child already had a personality and a future. That can’t just be replaced.
  • Leave your beliefs to one side. Especially with miscarriages, bereaved parents might hear people say things like: “It wasn’t even a baby yet.” Even if this reflects what you believe, this is not about you, it’s about how the parents see it. Try to put your personal feelings to one side and concentrate on supporting the parents.

Ways to help

Although you can’t fix someone’s grief, you can offer emotional support. Here are a few ways to be there for your grieving friends:

  • Don’t ignore them. Ignoring or avoiding the parents can make them feel isolated and ashamed. Reach out and talk to them – saying something is better than saying nothing.
  • Don’t pretend nothing is wrong. Ignoring the fact that they have lost a baby might be upsetting and make them feel even more isolated. Try asking them how they are, and if the subject of their loss comes up, don’t try to change the subject.
  • Be patient. It may be a while before they open up about how they are coping, if they ever do. Feel free to ask them how they are doing, but don’t pressure them into sharing.
  • Invite them to socialise. Invite the bereaved parents to a social event, starting small with something like dinner at your house. Don’t be offended if they say no and keep inviting them to events. Even though they don’t feel up to it right now, there’s a good chance they will do in the future.
  • Attend the funeral if they decide to have one. Parents who have had a stillborn child may choose to have a full funeral service. The practice is also becoming increasingly common after miscarriages. The best way of showing your support for their grief is to attend any funeral or memorial services.

For more information on how bereavement affects parents, you can read our pages on coping with miscarriage, or coping with stillbirth. You can also contact bereavement support organisation across Australia for expert help and advice.