How do you help someone who lost a twin during pregnancy? If you’re a friend or family member, it can be difficult to know how to help the family. You’re probably fighting conflicting priorities similar to the parents: Where is the balance between grieving the child who was lost and still finding the joy in the child who survived? How do I express my condolences but still let them know I’m happy about the upcoming birth? What is the right thing to say?
While no two situations are the same, here are some general guidelines that should help friends and family to navigate the emotional needs of parents who lost a twin during pregnancy.
• Listen. This seems obvious, but one of the most helpful things you can do is to be a sympathetic ear. In many cases, the mother will want to rehash the things that went wrong, or which she imagined went wrong, that brought them to that point. Keep in mind that she’s not always looking for advice, but a place to unload her emotional burden.
• Acknowledge their grief. In the face of such daunting adversity, some people think it’s better to say nothing than to say something that would open a raw wound. The opposite is true, actually. Silence can alienate the parents and make them feel as though they are grieving alone. There is a foolproof way to show you care without making anyone uncomfortable: “I’m sorry for your loss.”
• Take cues from the parents about whether or not they want to discuss the baby who passed away. Some will want—need—to talk about their deceased child on an almost constant basis. Others, however, prefer to focus on the surviving child alone, and to keep their grief away from the eyes of loved ones. There is no right or wrong answer, and no two parents will want to handle this situation the same way.
• Don’t forget. The birth of the surviving child is a big day, one that is hopefully full of joy. Make no mistake, however, that the parents are likely feeling the loss of the other baby as though it were fresh again. While it may not be welcome to speak up in the hospital room amidst the balloons and flowers, it is comforting to know that the other baby will never be forgotten. A phone call or a note at a later date is all it takes to remind the parents that both of their children were loved.
• Celebrate! Welcome the surviving baby into the world with open arms and the presence of friends and family who love him or her. Don’t let the sadness overwhelm what should be a wonderful, happy occasion. The birth of a baby is always a reason to celebrate!
Though each mother and father will handle this situation differently, keeping these tips in mind can help you figure out how to help them as they face the loss of one child and the birth of another.
Jennifer Oradat is Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief, Mom Babble.
This article is part of the February 2016 edition of the ChiPPS pediatric palliative care e-journal, available from NHPCO.