What To Say To Stillbirth Parents To Support Them, And Help Break The Silence
We spoke to Ms. Jasmine Yeo, Head Consultant Psychologist from The Private Practice, to glean expert advice on what hinders grieving parents in stillbirth recovery, and how to be there for them.
Losing a baby in pregnancy—whether through miscarriage or stillbirth—is still a taboo subject worldwide that is linked to stigma and shame.
As much as grieving parents recognise the loss of their baby internally, they struggle to open up about their traumatic experiences to even loved ones and friends for fear of judgment.
To help break the silence, we spoke to Ms. Jasmine Yeo, Head Consultant Psychologist from The Private Practice, to glean expert advice on what hinders grieving parents in stillbirth recovery, and how to be there for them.
Impact of Stillbirth on Parents
In Singapore, there are an estimated 80 to 120 stillbirths annually or an average of two to three stillbirths out of every 1000 pregnancies. 2019 saw 73 stillbirths in Singapore out of a total of 39,279 live births recorded in the 2019 Report on Registration of Births and Deaths.
Losing a baby to stillbirth can have profound short-and long-term psychological effects on parents. According to Yeo, these are the common issues observed in parents who have experienced stillbirth:
While bereaved parents experience grief over the loss of their baby, the lack of memories surrounding their baby can also create an absence of “something” to mourn. Furthermore, parents, especially mothers feel “a sense of biological failure” for not being able to protect their little one.
“Depression can also develop from minimisation by others or a lack of validation from others about the loss,” Yeo says.
She cites a strained marital relationship—which can leave parents feeling lonely in the grief process—as well as rumination about the loss of their baby as factors contributing to depression.
After being hit by such a monumental loss, there can be a sense of uncertainty when it comes to subsequent pregnancies or being a parent in the future.
- Ambivalent emotions
Grieving parents can experience mixed feelings—they try to move on but yet gets held back by the emotions of grief at times.
Some bereaved parents still relive the circumstances surrounding the stillbirth.
- Constant triggers
Feelings of devastating sadness and loss can be compounded when grieving parents see other healthy babies, and get reminded of their little one that has gone too soon.
“Seeing their friends having a smooth and easy pregnancy, social media of births and families,” according to Yeo, can be a hurtful reminder for bereaved parents who are trying to recover from their loss.
- Social pressure
Parents who have experienced stillbirth feel pressured from family and friends to fall pregnant again.
How Can Parents Recover From A Stillbirth?
Yeo highlights the importance of time when it comes to the recovery of a traumatic event, such as a stillbirth.
The Psychologist shares a few ways that have helped parents break free from the hindrances to recovery:
- Provide emergency emotional and environmental psychological first aid to cushion the stressful event
- Give immediate therapeutic clarification and guidance during this crisis period to help strengthen parents’ ways of coping
- Compassion-based interventions
Compassion has been found to have a multitude of benefits for physiological health, including mental health and in improving interpersonal and social relationships among others. In compassion-based interventions, specific strategies such as breathing practices, friendly voice tones, as well as facial and body expressions can help calm and soothe the individual.
How To Be There For Parents Who Have Experienced Stillbirth
There is a lot more that can be done to help support parents who have experienced stillbirth such as through psychoeducation, highlights Yeo, to help people gain a better understanding of stillbirth.
Here is what loved ones and friends of grieving parents can do to provide support:
- Acknowledge the loss of the baby and allow bereaved parents the space to grieve
- To recognise the baby’s identity, both internally and externally
- Provide practical support, such as to assist in making contact with families, negotiating with employers about when to return to work
- Emotional support – allow them to explore their emotions, reassure them of the concerns that they might have. Constructive, non-judgmental, non-blaming behaviour is encouraged
- Be in regular contact with the parents, provide a listening ear, be receptive, and try to understand their concerns
With more understanding and clarity, loved ones and friends will be able to support and respond appropriately to affected parents.
Loss of Unborn Baby What to Say, and What NOT To Say
According to Yeo, there are certain comments that as well-meaning as they are, can instead cause more hurt to grieving parents.
Here are some comments to be avoided at all costs:
- “I didn’t call because I figured you wanted to be alone.”
- “It was God’s plan.”
- “Stay strong.”
Instead, take to these comments to help encourage parents to open up their loss and encourage the road to healing:
- “I know how much you love____ and want to be a parent.”
- “I wish I had the right words for you.”
- “I can’t imagine what you are going through but I’m here to listen if you need me to.”
Experiencing the death of a baby before birth can be as painful as losing a child of any other age, and all it really takes is for more empathy and consideration for bereaved parents.