Wednesday, November 11, 2015

What not to say: "You can have other children"

A. Hanson Denver, 2014. Blue Christmas. 
Today's post in the series, What Not to Say is particularly heartbreaking.  I have encountered well-meaning people saying "You can have other children" to those who have recently experienced a miscarriage or to those parents who lost a child or children just before birth, during birth, or in infancy.

It is so heartbreaking because in saying this to grieving parents, you have completely ignored the reality of an already-loved and cherished child who is very real and a part of this world.

One of the most heartbreaking spaces where I find myself as a chaplain is the birthing room with parents whose child died in the womb, during birth, or shortly thereafter.  It is a liminal space in which life and death are so intricately intertwined, that it is impossible to distinguish one from other. The crushing reality of not leaving the hospital with a newborn is suspended for a short time. Parents will hold and kiss and snuggle their baby and say the things they need to say.  As hospital staff, we do our best to create memories with footprints and handprints and locks of hair. This space of honoring all the lost possibilities and potential of this child, THIS child, is so very necessary.

Saying, "You can have other children" ignores the child who has died. But it is also cruel because there is no guarantee that there will be other children.  Conception may have been difficult, there may have been complications that make future pregnancies difficult or impossible, or perhaps the grieving parents just cannot bear the pain of infant loss again.

The most painful thing is to pretend as if the child never existed, that a miscarriage or other infant loss is merely something to get over.  To be so scared and uncomfortable with someone else's pain that we cannot even bear to talk with them.  Please never say, "You can have other children" because those potential future children are not what we are talking about now.  We are talking about the beloved one who has been lost.

Try saying this instead…

I am here for you in whatever way is helpful.
I would like to hear your baby's story, if you want to tell me more, I am willing to listen.
I love you.

Or the ever helpful,
Here is a casserole.  Please bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

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