When a baby dies – A guide to grief.

Last year, on the first of January my second child was born. Her name was Ariana Rose, and she was born at 29 weeks gestation with a multitude of medical problems. We lost her four days later. I felt like I had been sucker-punched the day we were told she would not survive. For eleven long weeks before her birth we had held out hope and faith that she would be healed. That she would recover. That she would be strong enough to fight whatever was attacking her body. It wasn’t to be.  We were supported – we were loved, we were held and we were carried through what was undoubtedly one of the worst times in our life. Ariana wasn’t just our daughter. She was a sister, she was a grandchild, a niece, a cousin. She had the potential to be so much more.

In all the amazing moments we had with her, there were some truly, truly awful ones. In total innocence, people can say the most horrific, insensitive things to a family who are not only battling through a difficult pre-natal diagnosis but the aftermath of losing their child.

Things we were told included:

– It’s better this way. She would have had a horrible life.

– Why are you continuing the pregnancy, the sooner you let go of this one the sooner you can try again.

– Don’t tell Lucy about the baby dying. Just get pregnant again and let her think the baby is the same one. (That might be acceptable for some, but we wanted the chance to let her grieve her sister, we wanted to be honest in our home about our emotions, and our grief. Children are not foolish, they know when their parents are sad and upset. We wanted to eliminate confusion for her by being upfront and honest, and her sister Ariana deserves a place in our lives, and deserves to be recognized.)

– Why are you putting her name on things – she’s not here.

– Hide her things from Lucy, it will just upset her.

– God had other plans

– She’s in a better place

– You can have another one

The worst thing I think anyone ever said to me was “Keep praying”.  As though I had not been doing that, every day since I got the first positive pregnancy test. Praying was what we had been doing, for the eight months prior that it took us to conceive her. Praying was what we did as I landed the ER time after time with cramping and spotting in the early days. It was what we did as we told our first child Lucy at the tender age of 2.5, that she was going to be a big sister. It was what we did at every scan, right up until the one two days before her emergency delivery when we naively believed she was improving, that she might be getting better. It was we did through the emergency cesarean. It was what we did when we saw her, when we touched her, when we though about her. It was what we did when we made those phone calls, to tell our family to come to the hospital. It was what we did when we sat our not-quite-three year old daughter down, and told her that her baby was going to die. We prayed.

I am sure that the intent was good, but those two words implied to us that our grief and fear were misplaced, that we should give it over to some higher power and just keep praying. Those two words told us that we didn’t have enough faith, that all we had done wasn’t good enough and that we were responsible, that had we prayed more, we would have had our daughter healthy and in our arms.

It infuriated me.

The thing with insensitive comments is that they genuinely do come from a good place. But when you’re two days into a lifetime of living without the baby you’ve carried inside you for six months, hearing that you can have another baby does not ease the pain. Grief is very literal – if you say It’s better this way, I am going to hear “It is better that your baby died”. I will not hear “It’s better your baby’s pain is gone, and that they are at peace.” I will not hear “It is better because as much as you love your child, subjecting them to a lifetime of pain and suffering and physical immobility and brain damage just so you can hold them each day is selfish, and you made the right choice.” I will not hear any of that.

I will nod my head, and hide my tears from you.I will walk away with empty arms and a broken heart while my mind screams out, “You don’t understand”.

And you will not understand.

I will not expect you to understand. If you want to help me, all you need to do is hold me. Hug me tight, and tell me that you are so sorry, and that if I need you, you will be there. Let me cry. Ask how I am. Ask about my family. Mention Ariana’s name to me. You can’t ‘remind’ me about my baby. She is on my mind every.single.day. I like it when she is on your mind too. Talk about her with me. Tell me that you saw a butterfly, and she reminded you of Ariana.

These things can help me.

And, if in doubt and you really do not know what to do, or say. Do not hide. Do not avoid me.

Tell me. Say to me “I just don’t know what to say”. And I will tell you, that I don’t know what to say either.

But I will appreciate your honesty.

And that will help me too.



13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Hope
    Jun 22, 2011 @ 09:38:03


  2. ceallach1983
    Jun 22, 2011 @ 09:49:54

    i think people say that because they literally have no idea what to say. I go by the if you dont know what to say, say nothing but offer your arms to the person. Chances are, you need that more than Hollow sentiments.
    ❤ you Tam, and i think of Ariana every day xoxo


    • tamking11
      Jun 22, 2011 @ 11:41:40

      There is never the words to ‘fix’ the situation. But there are definitely words that make it feel worse.


  3. Jane Lennox
    Jun 22, 2011 @ 10:14:23

    Beautifully written Tam. I hope people read this, and it makes them think before they speak, so that another grieving person is not subjected to their insensitivity. xx


  4. cookwithkids
    Jun 22, 2011 @ 12:14:04

    I have never lost a child and cannot even begin to imagine what you have gone through and continue to go through every day. But I have experienced loss and you are so very right, there are no words. Nothing will ever be the same again and you are never the same again. Thank you for sharing your innermost thoughts and feelings.


  5. Rainbowg
    Jun 22, 2011 @ 13:24:02

    Tam, an amazing and brave post. Made me tear up to think that you had to go through such a difficult time. I can’t begin to imagine how I would handle it or what I would say to a friend going through something like that.


  6. Nicole
    Jun 22, 2011 @ 16:23:57

    So beautifully written. I am sitting here with tears streaming down my face. Once again Tam you have hit the nail on the head and have given grieving parents (like myself) a voice. Thank you Tam! xoxo


  7. Cathy Strahan
    Jun 22, 2011 @ 19:20:42

    Hi Tam,
    I don’t know you but your amazing and thanks you for sharing your story, I too had many tears reading your story and can relate to people saying the most insensitive things at the most inappropriate times after my many many IVF cycles and my own loss of a baby early in one of my pregnancy’s.
    I think people like you and Nic are such a power of strength to those who have no where to turn and no idea how to express how they feel.
    I saw a butterfly today and thought of Ariana.
    All the best


  8. Caspette
    Jun 22, 2011 @ 20:53:37

    I think as well some of those responses are kinda preprogrammed if you get my meaning. We see it said everywhere. A great post to make you think about your response next time and sometimes the best thing is just to give your ear and listen not speak yourself.


  9. Sarah Linebaugh
    Jun 23, 2011 @ 02:30:17

    This is exactly how I felt Tam……the words meant nothing. The words I hated the most were “I’m sorry”……I’m sorry for your loss…I’m sorry you are going through this…I’m sorry I don’t know what to say. As much as I knew friends and family hurt for me in my loss of Evan….those word made me mad….no one really knew how it felt to carry this child for 27 weeks and then to birth him a sleep in death. No one can every no that heartache until the live it themselves. There were no words that could bring comfort….I just really hated those words.


  10. sunibuni2010
    Jul 05, 2011 @ 10:18:29

    Oh Tam that was beautifully written. I know nothing anyone says will bring comfort. Sometimes all you need is a hug. I’m sending you a big hug. Ariana is always in my thoughts. xo


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