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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    My best friend had a stillbirth and I don’t want to ask her details but I would like to understand what she went through. Can you explain?

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    Dr Carla Rogers

    Psychologist

    Are you ready to make some changes? I don't have a magic wand, I can't fix all your problems, and when we work together you're ... View Profile

    Hi there,
    I'm not sure I can specifically answer this question, but the first thing i thought when I read your question was “why don't you want to ask her details?”.  I believe in our culture that we are very quiet when it comes to grief - we allow people to just sit in their own space and don't ‘want to intrude’. 

    Can I suggest that you simply ask her first whether she'd like to speak about it - as someone who has experienced grief, as well as a mental health professional, I know that sometimes people are just crying out to talk about their grief, but everyone is too scared to ask.  Simply asking your friend - ‘would you like to talk about losing your baby’ - it gives her the opening to say “no” or “gosh yes, I really DO need to speak about it”.

    As for what she went through - she is grieving.  She lost a baby.  Sure, she hadn't met this baby, but she had if you know what I mean.  She had anticipated meeting this growing life form inside of her for 9 months… and then suddenly there was no live baby to take home.  She left the hospital with no baby.  She got to explain to everyone who wasn't directly told that she her baby had died.  There is never a ‘too late’ when it comes to this.  A mum at our school recently lost a baby in January.  The other day I checked in with her whether she was doing ok, and reminded her if she ever wanted to chat over coffee, just give me a call.  Your friend will experience sadness, anger, denial… finally acceptance. 

    I'm not sure I've answered your question, but I hope you feel more able to a) approach your friend and check she's okay rather than just being quiet because you're afraid to mention it, and b) understand that she is grieving just the same as she if grieving if she'd lost a 5 year old child.

    Carla

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  • Christine Wilde

    Counsellor, Psychotherapist

    Christine works holistically with mind, body and emotions to help her clients recover from trauma and feel safer and more connected. View Profile

    It is normal to feel hesitant about asking details about a painful event such as the stillbirth of your friend's baby. If you express care and concern first, rather than asking about any particular details, that will show your friend that you care about her. My first baby was stillborn and from my own experience I can say that although it was painful to talk about it, I really appreciated it when people did ask how I was and show their concern.

    When your baby is stillborn, you have nothing except grief and emptiness to take home with you from the hospital. Then cards of condolence start arriving instead of cards of welcome and celebration. They can hurt but they also acknowledge what has happened. A life has been lost, hopes and dreams for baby's future have been lost, and a family is grieving.

    Everyone's experience of this is unique, so it isn't possible to say what she went through. Only she can tell you that, so I would suggest talking with her and start by saying how you feel, that you're really sorry she is hurting, then listen. Do lots of listening. You'll probably both cry and that is ok. If you can visit her in person then a cup of tea or coffee and a hug will go a long way to helping your friend express what she needs to in her own time.

    Christine

  • Frank Breuer

    Clinical Psychologist, Psychologist

    Frank Breuer is a Sydney based Clinical Psychologist and the director of New Paths Psychology. In his 20 years of therapeutic work, Frank has found ... View Profile

    I get your hesitation to ask your friend about details. Losing a child truly is the most painful incident that could possibly happen, so you would like to avoid to add to the pain.

    When you think about your friend, what do you think she would need? What would she be o.k. with?

    I'd say, for your friend it might be tough at times when life goes on as normal, and she might be unsure who she can talk to when she feels like talking. At other times, daily life may be the distraction she needs on a certain day. 

    I guess the most alienating feeling for your friend would be if she felt lonely and could not speak to anybody about it at all. Sometimes partners, for instance, withdraw and are unavailable, because they are traumatised themselves. 

    I think, it does not hurt to ask her for permission if she is ready to answer your question. Seek the connection, offer support by spending time and if she's not ready I'm sure, it would be easy for you to accept any boundaries she might put in place to protect herself. 

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