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'Tell me in advance, but never in person': I lost a baby, this is how I want you to tell me you're pregnant

By Meagan Donaldson|

How do you tell a mum who has lost a baby that you are pregnant? How do you tell someone who is struggling with infertility that you are pregnant? Although both situations are different, they share a similar pain. The pain of not having your baby in your arms.

It is a tricky question and one I hadn't given too much thought to, until I experienced my own pregnancy loss. In July 2019, 23 weeks into my pregnancy, my daughter Violet was born still but perfect.

As I'm in my thirties, this happened around the time that a LOT of my friends became pregnant or had their first baby. So, I navigated my grief amidst pregnancy announcements, and invitations for baby showers and first birthday parties.

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Meagan Donaldson lost her baby to stillbirth. Credit: Sophie Timothy from Sister Scout
Meagan Donaldson lost her baby to stillbirth. Credit: Sophie Timothy from Sister Scout (Supplied)

I never thought a Facebook post of someone cutting a cake to reveal blue food colouring could hurt so much¡­ until I joined the club of parents who have lost a child.? Over the last two years, I have learnt ways to protect myself, and enable me to celebrate my friend's happy news. I've also discovered the worst way to find out friends are pregnant when you've experienced pregnancy loss in your past.

I felt my stomach drop and I started to panic

One day, not quite six months after my daughter was stillborn a family member asked me to pop around to her house after work, I hadn't spoken to her much recently so thought it would be a good chance to catch up. When I walked into her house, she was really awkward and, instantly, I could tell she had to get something off her chest.

'I've got something to tell you,' she said. 'We're having a baby and I didn't want you to find out when we announced it on Facebook. It wasn't planned at all, but we are really excited.'

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Meagan Donaldson lost her baby to stillbirth. Credit: Sophie Timothy from Sister Scout
Meagan Donaldson lost her baby to stillbirth. Credit: Sophie Timothy from Sister Scout (Supplied)

I knew she thought she was doing a good thing by giving me advanced warning, but in that moment I felt my stomach drop and I started to panic. How did she expect me to react? Was I going to have the 'wrong' expression on my face? If I'd learnt through a text message, or even through the internet, I'd have time to process my mixed emotions ¡ª and hide them from her.?

I know that my reaction wasn't what she had hoped for or deserved and I felt incredibly guilty about that for a long time. It was her big announcement and big moment and I put a dampener on it.

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Mum Meagan Donaldson lost her baby Violet to stillbirth. Credit: Ken Spence from Heartfelt
Mum Meagan Donaldson lost her baby Violet to stillbirth. Credit: Ken Spence from Heartfelt (Supplied)

I am forever grateful to my friends who 'warned' me about their pregnancies before going public; but I did prefer that they text or message me instead of telling me in person. It gave me the opportunity to react in my own way before I pulled myself together and congratulated them. I found it a lot easier to celebrate with those who told me in a gentle way.

The honest truth is, when someone has recently lost a baby or is struggling to conceive a child of their own, the announcement of someone else's pregnancy is hard for so many reasons. But the reason is never because they are unhappy for you. It is because it is another reminder of something that they are missing.

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It might seem selfish if you've never struggled with infertility or lost a baby. It might seem like all of the focus is on the other person, but it's really not. It's a part of them dealing with something you have that they desperately wished for. They are happy for you and for your family, but sad for themselves and for what could have been.

So, what is my advice for how to tell a friend who has lost a baby or is struggling with infertility? I can only speak from my own experience and personal preference. But I would tell them before announcing publicly on social media and I would do it via text message so they had time to process their own emotions.?

Things to say to grieving parents.
What to say (and not say) to grieving parents

I wouldn't take it personally if they weren't instantly happy as I know it's not my pregnancy that is upsetting them but their lack of pregnancy. I know that they are happy for me, just sad for themselves. They wish so much that they could be in my shoes. That they too could feel their baby move and celebrate the exciting time that many people experience being pregnant.

I have been in both positions and I acknowledge that neither is easy. It is hard to be the person sharing your pregnancy news when you know that it might upset the other person. The truth is also that you will probably never feel like you can find the right way to tell someone you're pregnant if it is something they are struggling with. But in my experience if you're honest and open and acknowledge the situation, the woman you are sharing your news with will feel how much you love and care for her.

So, if you are about to announce your pregnancy, think about who you are announcing it to. Is it to someone who has lost a baby or is having trouble getting pregnant, or both? It's also important to add that no one should never feel guilty about being pregnant, it is amazing and definitely deserves to be celebrated.

After I lost my daughter, one of my beautiful friends wrote in her text message: 'I am telling you this way so you can be mad or sad or do whatever it is you need to do and then you can respond when you are ready.' For me, this was perfect.

Meagan Donaldson is the author of Still a Mum: a Story of Modern Grief and Life after Loss. Follow her @Violets_gift

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