If you know someone who has lost a baby or is going through infertility, and you haven’t been through it yourself, it can be tough to know what to say. It’s a sensitive subject and many people worry so much about saying the wrong thing that they say nothing at all. Or, maybe they take the opposite route and offer advice or another friend’s story. Even with the best loving intentions, either route can actually be more painful for your friend or loved one dealing with loss or infertility.
The thing is, at some point, we all deal with grief. It’s an inevitable part of life. And, according to resolve.org (a respected free resource for people living with infertility), 1 in 8 couples have trouble getting pregnant or sustaining a pregnancy. If you are one of the lucky few who hasn’t experienced either, chances are pretty high that you know someone who has.
Let’s think about the facts again. Life and death are natural parts of life, grief is a natural resulting process for those left behind and 1 in 8 couples are dealing with infertility. These are unfortunately common things that we don’t know how to talk about. So what do you say or do in this situation?
Simply acknowledging that something difficult has happened can be the most loving and helpful thing to say. Telling a friend or loved one that you’re sorry and then expressing your sadness for them can be the perfect way to offer your love and support. It’s really as simple as that. “I’m so sorry that you are dealing with ____” You don’t have to say anything else. You’ll know right away whether or not they want to talk about it. If they don’t, they’ll know you care and you’re there for them if they want to talk later. If they do want to talk about it, just listening to what they have to say and acknowledging that you hear them can be the next most powerful way to show your love.
If you left it at that, know that you’ve already helped beyond measure. But, say your friend or loved one confides in you and you still want to offer your help, what can you say or do?
I’ll tell you. And to do that, I have a quick story. If you’ve been following along over the past couple of months, you know that I’m working on a new project called Art Through Fertility. Katie is the first person I’m working with. You can read about the process with her so far here and here. She’s an amazing human who lost her beautiful baby girl, Poppy, to stillbirth last year. She’s sharing her experience of grief and loss with me so I can create an abstract painting that captures her journey.
The last time I wrote about this project, I wrote about our first conversation around Katie and Poppy’s painting. Katie had chosen 4 colors that she wanted to see in the painting and 4 that she’d rather I left out and we made plans to have another conversation about her journey the following week. It was at that point that I started to work on her painting and then shared with her the progress I’d made just before our next call. Here's a preview of what I shared in its very beginning stages and including the beautiful colors that Katie chose.
As we work through this process and painting, I’ve found myself wondering who’s getting more out of it. Not only has she become a friend but I leave our conversations with a full heart and loads of life / art inspiration.
This second conversation about her painting was no exception. She told me about where she was with everything, with grief, with Poppy and with her life. She’s been focusing on taking care of herself and is being patient with the grief process. She’s been going to yoga, writing and meditating. She’s becoming stronger along the way and it’s remarkable to see and hear.
As she was telling me about her week, she mentioned that she attended a meditation for people who are grieving. She said, after the meditation a woman came up to her and struck up a conversation. The way she approached the conversation, Katie felt comfortable sharing her story. When she finished, this woman said the most compassionate few words. She said, “what feels supportive to you right now?”
“What feels supportive to you right now?”
Soak that up. Imagine, you’re going through one of the most difficult things in your life and someone says these words to you. They instantly put you at ease right? Not only did she acknowledge that something terrible had happened and then listen to what Katie had to say, but she showed her compassion and helped without offering any advice.
Katie went on to tell her that hearing people use Poppy’s name felt most supportive and this woman promised she would do just that.
The answer to that question will be different for everyone. That’s what makes it so great. Everyone deals with these experiences differently and giving them the power to tell you how you can help ensures that you’re not doing or saying the wrong thing. You’re giving them an opportunity to tell you how you can help them in the unique way that feels the most supportive to them. Try it the next time you hear of someone dealing with infertility or loss. I would love to hear how it goes.
In the meantime, I’m continuing to work on Katie’s painting. Next week, I’ll tell you how that’s going and the visit that Katie and I got to have in person in Denver.
Goodbye for now and thank you for following along as this project takes shape. I can’t wait to share more with you.
If you want to hear about this project as it happens, via email, you can sign up below.