14/08/2014 16:53 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 10:12 BST

What To Say (And What Not To Say) To Someone Who Has Lost A Baby

What to say (and what not to say) to someone who has lost a baby

Chances are, you know someone who has lost a baby. After all, the awful facts speak for themselves: a quarter of all pregnancies end in miscarriage, and 17 babies a day are stillborn or die shortly after birth in the UK.

The death of a baby is devastating, the shock waves rippling outwards from the parents through close family and friends. It signals the start of the most traumatic days of their lives, as they mourn not only the loss of a baby, but the loss of everything that baby could have been.

But what do you say to a parent who has just suffered the death of their child?

Sometimes, being lost for words means that you end up saying nothing at all, and avoiding the subject completely. This, however, can be the most damaging reaction. Carolyn Bray's daughter Rebecca was stillborn, and her friends didn't know what to say.

"When something so huge happens, you end up questioning everything, including friendships. The majority didn't know what to do, and some we've never spoken to since it happened."

Her experiences are shared by many. After Martine Brennan's daughter Hannah was stillborn, she felt completely ostracised from society.

"I felt like a leper," she recalls, adding that she lost touch with most of her friends, who avoided her - and the subject. Those who did speak to her offered misplaced words of condolence. "They often said, 'You have a little angel in Heaven now'. This made me very angry."

Why? Martine and her husband didn't want a baby in Heaven. They wanted a baby in their arms. Friends and family - whose hearts were in the right place - seemed to be looking for a magical phrase, a string of words which would somehow make everything better.

But such a sentence does not exist, and many attempts serve only to upset the parents further. And so, we return to our question: what do you say to a parent who has just suffered the death of their child?

It seems that, nine times out of 10, all a bereaved parent wants to hear are words. Just words. A sentence which recognises the terrible loss that has occurred; a comforting hand on the shoulder; a simple 'I'm sorry for your loss.'

In Martine's experience, this kind of direct support was the most helpful. She appreciated words which weren't sugar-coated, or entwined with flowery language. The most helpful words acknowledged her loss, recognised the pain she felt, and let her know that the person saying them was there if she needed help.

A mother or father who is experiencing the darkest days of their life needs support, and in order to try and understand what has happened they will often want to talk about their loss. And so, whilst you choose your words carefully, often your greatest provision of comfort and support involves not saying anything at all; but listening as much as you can.

'How I Came To Hold You' explores the emotions and challenges experienced during pregnancy after the loss of a baby. Every copy sold raises funds for the stillbirth and neonatal death charity Sands, and is available in paperback or ebook.