This blog post was co-written with Jessica Popke. She is the co-leader of Embracing Hope: For Women who have experienced pregnancy or infant loss in South Texas. She is a wife and mom of 3 children. Two of which are with our one in Heaven. She has become a dear friend and confidant in my healing.
We understand. Loss has a ripple effect, and you hurt so much for me. You were just trying to comfort us after we lost our babies. You had the best intentions and your words came from a place of love. No one ever told you what to say or not to say to a grieving Mama. Trust me, I’ve been there too. I know my loss affects you and that you desperately want to bring healing to my heart and I love you for that. And so if you find yourself here gasping or cringing at the thought that maybe you’ve said these things to a mama in the past, it’s okay. This post is not about shame or condemnation, it’s all about educating and empowering us to know how to love one another well. And so here are a few things not to say to a Mama with empty arms.
1. "One day when you are a Mom…"
Friend, can I kindly remind you that I am a Mom? The moment my babies were conceived I became a Mom. My love continued to grow and my heart expanded with hopes and dreams and wonders of who my sweet babies would be. I saw them, if only for a moment, wiggling around on a screen and heard their steady heartbeats. I held my babies tucked away securely in my womb as God lovingly knit them together. And yet, here I live, with empty arms. I love as a Mama, and I grieve as a Mama. And although I do not get to hold my little ones this side of heaven or post their monthly milestones on Instagram, I am still a Mom.
Remind me that I am a Mama. On Mother’s Day, on my babies’ birthdays and homegoings, at baby showers and child dedication services, and every other day in between. Speaking the truth about who we are and how we’ve loved and lost makes us feel seen on especially painful days.
2. "At least…"
At least you were only _____ weeks along.
At least you know you can get pregnant.
At least you can try again.
At least you have your kids and/or spouse.
At least you will get to see your baby one day.
Those two words - at least- spoken with such ease followed by a possibly true and positive aspect of my life did not bring healing, rather they belittled the lives and deaths of my sweet babe. It was almost as if I was being convinced to think less of my loss or that I didn’t have the right to fully grieve.
“At least...” phrases make hurtful assumptions to our grief. Because those of us who only had a positive pregnancy test desperately wish we could have seen our babies on an ultrasound. And yes, we were able to get pregnant, but you have no idea the years and tears and prayers it took to create our child. You may not know the medical procedures and cost and waiting we went endured. And yes, I will see my baby again one day, but that doesn’t mean I can’t weep over the fact that I don’t get to see my baby’s first steps or hear her say “Mama.”
“At least...” also phrases unknowingly force us to compare our pain to the possible positive in our life because you want us to remember hope, and see the good, and find closure. Joy and pain can coexist, it’s true, - but please don’t try to convince us to see the blessings in the darkest days of our grief with the expectation that our pain will disappear. You see, for healing to come about, we need to be allowed to unreservedly feel, and cry, and miss our babies exclusive of anything else in our lives.
Tell me that my babies matter and that I have the right to feel sorrow and grief just like anyone else who has lost someone they loved. Tell me that right now I don’t have to push aside my pain to try to find a quick resolution and that you don’t expect that from me either. Tell me that it’s okay to not be okay. Tell me that I am allowed sit in my grief as long as it takes to heal, and that you’re committed to being right there with me.
3. "This made me think of you..."
I felt my baby kick and thought of you.
I'm sitting in my nursery and thought of you.
Even as I type this out and remember the voices of those who, in their best efforts and with the best intentions tried to comfort me, tears fill my eyes. Friends, my dear Mama friends, I know full well that you are having thriving pregnancy. And I am happy for you, I really am. I'm trying my very best to celebrate the life of your child while grieving the death of my own. It takes all that I am, at times, to not to be envious of your growing belly, perfectly prepared nursery, and joy-filled baby showers. Remember me, yes, but please don't remind me of what I do not have.
Tell me you are thinking of me. Tell me that my pain is not forgotten. Tell me that my babies are remembered. Tell me that you love me and you miss my babies in heaven, too. Even years later, remind me that you’re thinking of me on those hard days because you know that grief never truly ends.
4. Christian Cliches
“This was all a part of God’s plan.”
“God knows what He is doing.”
“It’s all in God’s timing.”
“Heaven needed another angel.”
“...but God is still good.”
I know. This is unusual. Hear me out.
Christian cliches can be excruciating because either there is no truth or there is just enough truth to unknowingly wrap a spiritual bow around pain or loss to make it appear prettier for us (or even you) as we journey through grief. When spoken, it’s almost as if these cliches meant to communicate that we shouldn’t be heartbroken.
I was already having an intense conversation with God. I already wanted to blame Him, because it was the easy thing to do. He is in charge, right? God knew how much and for how long we wanted this child. And these truths only made me angrier with God. Was His plan to hurt us this deeply? Did He knowingly send us on this painful journey? Was His plan to take my baby back before we had any time together? Was our miscarriage good?
Yes, God’s hand is over everything. And yes. He is capable of redeeming even the deepest wounds. And yes. God is still good, even if it doesn’t always feel true. But no, death was never part of God’s perfect plan. It entered our broken world through Adam and Eve and we have felt the sting ever since. And no, Heaven did not need another angel - and even if it did, our babies would not be among them. You see, our little ones born into heaven are so much more than angels, they were created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26 cf. Heb. 2:7). Angels are different beings.
Grief is uncomfortable and unsettling and very dark at times. For most of us, it takes all the black and white of our theology and turns it to gray. This is normal, and it doesn’t mean we don’t love Jesus or that we’ve lost our faith. It means we are desperately trying to find Him. And these questions cannot be summed up with a one-sentence cliche, that communicates “Chin up, sister.” Rather, it is through the wrestling that God reveals who He really is to us in life and in death.
Remind me that God hurts with me and He knows this exact pain because He, too, lost a Son. Remind me that God can handle the questions and that I can be gut-wrenchingly honest with Him. Tell me that God is with me, wherever my grief journey takes me and He will see me through. Remind me that the Holy Spirit is interceding on my behalf and so I can pray, even when all I have is tears. Remind me that He sees me and He hears me, even when He seems silent and I feel forgotten. And tell me that you are committed to standing in the gap for me as I struggle with who God is to me in my grief - praying for me, hoping for me, and having faith for me.
To you, the fierce Mamas with an undying love for the ones you lost.
It is excruciating, I know. The painful comments that take our breath away, bring tears to our eyes, and seem to pour salt in our already gaping wounds. But can I encourage you to do a few things. Remember that it takes bravery to enter in to someone’s pain and that we don’t always get it right. And so even though it hurts more than they may ever imagine, can you recognize the love and care shown in the bravery of trying? Can you give grace and forgive those who have said hurtful things, knowing they truly believed their words would bring healing? And lastly can I encourage you advocate for yourself? It’s okay to gently speak truth about insensitive comments and tell others exactly what you need and don’t need to hear. You see, even though they don’t always get it right, we need them now more than ever.
And to you, the friend of a Mama with empty arms.
It is often not so much what you say when we are grieving that brings healing, but it’s how you show up. It’s the, “I’m so sorry.” and the “I love you.” It’s the warm embraces and tears. It’s the meals, chocolate covered strawberries, care packages, and thoughtful cards. It’s the lack of expectations and the ability to accept the fact that I won’t be okay for a little while. It’s the prayers prayed over our hearts, our marriages, our physical bodies, and our futures. As we grieve, we don’t expect you to fix anything. Please don’t put that pressure on yourself. We just need you to be committed to going with us wherever our grief takes us and for as long as it takes to find healing.
Friend, thank you for embracing the awkward and unsettling as we try to navigate this messy grief journey. We need you. Because it is through you that we experience the tangible love, comfort, and healing of Jesus. Thank you for carrying our pain and loving us well.