My Story

The chronicle of the journey from infertility, to miscarriage, to finally raising twin girls born in June 2012.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Gift basket ideas

If you googled for birthday gift basket ideas or something like that, this post probably won't help you.  This is specifically for condolences and probably won't suit your situation.

I have to say that my extended family played this one about as right as it could be played.  A day or two after I got home, I stepped out to feed the cat and found a giant gift basket on my doorstep.  Well done!  I know you're thinking of me and I didn't have to do the social obligation of exchanging the gift and pleasantries at a time when I wasn't able to.  So many people give condolences and gifts for the reward of having their niceness acknowledged.  To give the gift without so much as expecting a face to face thank you really shows how unselfish it was.

And the ratio to "good items" and "not right" items was about as well balanced as possible.  Only 1 or 2 items out of about 20 were bad idea items so that's a pretty damned good basket.  I think we lived off that basket for a couple of days.

So here are some good ideas and bad ideas for a gift basket to a family grieving a miscarriage.

Food Items - your loved ones are having a horrible time feeding themselves right now.  Anything you can do to assist will be appreciated.  Know in advance that food is a very sense memory thing so the odds of you guessing correctly on every item are slim.  You have no idea what foods have become associated with "pregnancy" foods and what will just remind them that the pregnancy is over.  Be not afraid!  The care you are showing should outweigh the accidental reminders that you include.  But here is advice for what was good and bad for me personally.

Single bite foods.  Don't give me a casserole, I'm not going to heat up enough food for 10 when I know I can't even eat a full serving for 1.  If that's what you want to give, package it in single serving containers so I can heat one up and put the rest in the freezer.  And don't make me throw away a ton of rotting food 2 weeks from now.  2 or 3 servings of any one thing is plenty for a household of 2 people.

Precooked meat.  They included a precooked ham in my basket.  I immediately cut it in half and froze half and put the rest in the fridge.  I'm able to slice off a bit when I need to eat a bite of something substantial without cooking an entire meal.  Not recommended for your kosher families of course.

Cookies, a variety of cookies.  When I can't eat anything else, I can usually stomach a cookie.  I prefer soft, K prefers crunchy.  So a variety is a good idea.  Include oatmeal cookies to sneak something other than pure sugar and fat into their diets.  I'd say that there were 3-4 cookies of each variety included and that seemed to be a good number.  By the time I got through all the sugar cookies, I needed to move on to something else and something else was available.

Dried fruits and nuts - again, trying to find a means of stomaching a nutrient of some sort.  By the time I've taken a bite to see if I can tolerate something, even if the answer is no, at least I got that one bite of something.  My basket included some candied mango (but not the dry leathery kind) and I came to crave that.  Wish I knew where they got it so I could get some more.  Beware of too much dried fruit though.  If your loved one is on a stool softener like I am, an overload of fiber could be a really bad idea.  Cherries and prunes are an especially bad idea.

Soup mixes or ramen style soups are a good idea.

Chocolate.  Is there any occasion where chocolate isn't appropriate?   Unless she was allergic or diabetic before the pregnancy, chocolate is probably safe.  Even though I had gestational diabetes and was going to have to really limit my chocolate intake, now that the placenta is gone, this is no longer an issue for me and the doctors said that I really don't need to monitor my sugar intake anymore.

Random ideas that have occurred to me - English muffins and peanut butter.  Moist protein and granola bars.  Donuts.  Single serving cheeses like string cheese or something.  Single serving juices.  Produce might be a bad idea because it needs to be eaten right away but if you must, go for potatoes or other easily cookable things that can remain in the house for a long time if untouched.  Instant breakfast mixes.  If it will work in a packed lunch, it will probably work for the basket.

Phone numbers and gift certificates for any place that delivers.

Life Essentials - Who knows where your loved one might be in their grocery shopping cycle.  They could have a months supply of everything under the sun or they might have been on the verge of an emergency run to the store for toilet paper.  If you can put off an emergency run to the store for a day or two, that would be good.  Think trial sizes and samples of the following products.

Toilet paper.  She is going to be bleeding and when that softener kicks in, she's going to go through toilet paper like crazy.

If toilet paper is a little too personal for you, give travel packages of tissues.  She's going to want those for her purse anyway and can be used as TP if she's desperate.

Laundry detergent and dryer sheets.  I currently have a new thing of laundry detergent from Costco but I'm not supposed to lift anything heavy so I'm trying to remember to ask K to put the soap in the laundry when I run a load.  Alternatively, if there's a drop-off laundry place where you can just drop your clothes and pay for them to be laundered and folded, the phone number, location, and gift certificate to this place might be a good idea.  She was wearing something in the emergency room and might prefer to have someone else deal with it.  Or she just might not be up for household chores that need to get done regardless of whether someone is up for them or not.

Mild facial cleanser.  I usually prefer exfoliating stuff but my face was so raw from crying that I needed a small container of nonabrasive facial cleanser.

Shampoo, conditioner, non-scented soap.  Doctors might advise that she not wash with anything scented for fear of further infection or irritation.

A few days worth of pet food.  If your loved one has pets to care for, running out of cat food might force them to head out in public before their ready.  A couple of cans, or a small bag of kibble will allow a few more days of hibernating.

Think about what you would pack for toiletries when traveling and let that guide you.  But look over my "Do Not Include" list at the bottom of this post before you go shopping.

Luxury and Distraction Items - There might be some items that you are in a financial position to provide.  These ideas are going to run the gambit of very expensive to dollar store.  Just because the idea is here doesn't mean you need to include it.

An eye mask.  My eyes have hurt so much from crying that I requested K go and get me one of those gel filled eye masks that can be heated or chilled.

Reading material. Again, very specific to the individual.  I don't have the brain power for a novel right now, but I'm passing time with trivia books and magazines (non parenting magazines).  I personally love the Uncle Johns Bathroom Reader series.  I can read those for hours if I have hours in me, or I can just read a page or two if that's all I've got.  And I like a magazine called Mental Floss.

Housekeeping services.  Very little energy to clean the house right now and I was told not to do any lifting or much activity for 2 weeks.  This one is risky, she might have nothing else to do but clean the house and won't want that taken away from her or she might not have the energy and get sick of looking at filth.  I'd include this only if you're wealthy enough to throw your money away on services that may or may not be used.

Gift certificates for a massage.  Again, probably won't be used right away.  Personally, my shoulders are tightening, I woke up this morning with a cramp in my leg and I'm just generally feeling stiff.  As much as I'd like a massage right now, I'm not going to get one because I'd probably lie on the table and cry for an hour.  But it might be welcome a month from now.  Or I can see my body going through stress all over again in May when the babies were due and might want one at that time.

Scented stuff.  Some people find it relaxing, others find it cloying.  I don't recommend body products because you don't know what the doctor advised.  I'd also stay away from candles because the last thing you want is for your loved one to light a candle and forget about it in all the stress and start a fire.  But there are scented gels and stones that are probably safe and can be kept tightly wrapped if your loved one doesn't like the scent.

Simple video games and other videos.  Perhaps give this via Itunes or other download gift credits.  If you can find a way for her to waste a few hours, go for it.  But again, they need to be simple.  I was playing the Sims over the last month and while I enjoy that game in general, and I had expansion packs on my amazon wishlist, my SIL offered to bring over the expansion they had gotten me for Xmas and I had to head her off telling her that I had recently been playing it as a fantasy version of the family I was about to have.  I had made characters of K and I and was screencapping my game to have visuals for this blog because no one ever seems to take a picture of me.  Just before going to the hospital, I had my Sim give birth to a girl and adopted another baby girl so I could start playing out the twins portion of the fantasy.  Should have known when the game started crashing at that point, but I digress.  SIL had absolutely no way of knowing that and was very understanding when I awkwardly told her that if that was the game she got for me, now wouldn't be a good time to play it again.  So stick to games that can't be interpreted as anything more than time wasters.

Generic gift cards.  For places like Amazon where she can get whatever she needs.  If this was an IVF pregnancy, your loved one is completely broke and buried under bills.  And even with health insurance, I'm well aware that my emergency room visit is probably going to yield a whole new stack of bills.  I'd like to engage in a little retail therapy right now, but I also know that I'll regret spending the money later.  If you are in a position to make my life easier financially by giving a gift card that will allow me to spend some money on non-essentials, that would be most helpful.

A word on cards and condolences - Pretty much no matter what you say, it's going to be wrong.  That's the sucky part of loving someone during tragedy.

I don't think anyone of any religion wants to hear about how this was God's plan or any other version of God being involved.  If religion will provide comfort, your loved one will find that for themselves.  But if they are of a religion that you aren't familiar with, or if they are really pissed off at God right now, your words of religion will do nothing more than incite anger.  And that anger might be directed towards God, or it might get directed at you for bringing it up.

And for me, poems are so insipid.  Blech.  And I'm aware of the fact that you don't know what to say and that you offer condolences.  The person grieving honestly doesn't know if being reminded of their children is better or worse than them being ignored.  So no matter what you say or don't say, it's a minefield.

And if you've gone through a similar loss, the grieving person already knows that.  Include your phone number or other contact information as an invitation to talk but don't push it more than that.  The person grieving doesn't know how they feel right now so telling them that you know how they feel is just insulting.  And while you may have a similar story, it's not all about you right now, it's about the people that are grieving their own personal loss.

Go ahead and let the person know who is aware of what's happened.  That will save them the awkwardness of not knowing later who needs to be told and who might greet them with sad "I know what happened" faces at the next family gathering.  A good way to do this is just to sign a single card with "from your cousins......" or "with love from the Smith family".

I would recommend something along the lines of "We love you very much" and really, that's enough.  If you must write more, go ahead and refer to the grieving as a "family".  Something like "Your family is very precious to me and I wish to do anything I can to provide comfort for your family".  The response will probably be something along the lines of "yeah, fuck you and your comfort" but don't take that personally.  The thought is appreciated beyond the momentary angry reaction.

And I recommend referring to the grieving as a family very specifically.  It's a word that will work in whatever minefield it is that you're walking into.  The grieving can interpret this to include the lost children or to be referring to just the couple alone.  It doesn't impose your interpretation of the children as existing or not existing, especially when the couple is probably struggling with how they interpret that idea.  The couple is still a family, even if they are a family of 2.  During the whole infertility process, it was important to continue reminding ourselves that we are a family whether we have children or not.  Reinforcing this idea, without blatantly stating it (that will cause a backlash) is both safe and reassuring to the grieving. 

Do Not Include - Here are some things that are just probably bad ideas all around.

Cigarettes and alcohol.  Even if the mother was a drinker or smoker before the pregnancy, including these items will further reinforce that she's no longer pregnant and it doesn't matter anymore.  If she needs to live in denial for a few days, don't try to take that denial from her.  It will also encourage her to do things to herself that no doctor would advise.  The only time I've properly taken care of myself was when I was pregnant.  So if you give me alcohol, I'm going to hear you saying "the babies mattered, but you don't, so you may as well poison yourself with a martini."  If someone wants to comfort themselves with these items, they can get them at any gas station or corner store pretty easily.

Bubble bath and other body items.  I'm not allowed to immerse in water for a bath or swimming or anything for 2 weeks in order to prevent infection.  I'm really not supposed to have anything stronger than water on my bottom half when I shower.  Besides, I really despise my body right now.  Lotions and potions mean I have to put my hands on my body and .....just no.

Religious items.  See above.  Very few people find comfort in God during this time and the people that do have every resource to comfort themselves in this way without your help.  But so many are pissed at God, or don't believe anyway, or believe in a different version than you do, don't impose your belief on someone during this time.  Or anytime actually.

Gifts for the lost children or other commemorative items.  I don't know if I want reminders of my girls surrounding me or if I want very little to no evidence of their existence.  And I change my mind every minute.  So little booties, or hats, or jewelry, or things with their names on them, that forces me to decide and I don't want to yet.  Anything that I'm given in reference to them means I either have to keep it forever and ever, or feel guilty about discarding it.  Because it's about them, how can I not keep them?  On the other hand, I don't want a pair knitted hats in my house for babies that will never use them.  If you give me stuff, you're forcing me to build a shrine and that's just not healthy.  Anything I want in the house of memory of them, I will select it.  When I'm ready and what I feel is unique to them and to me.  Again, don't impose your ideas on me.

Herbal or other ingestable remedies.  You don't know what the doctor has advised and the grieving person doesn't know what might interact with what the doctor has prescribed.  Don't offer them something that might react weirdly or wrongly.  I'm pretty smart with a pretty good memory and even I have to keep looking at the doctors notes to remember what 2 vitamins I'm supposed to be taking twice a day.  Don't make me start reading labels and interpreting potential interactions on top of it.  I'll put diet or exercise aids in this category.  Don't tell her what to do with the body she's currently mad at.  And she's not allowed to exercise right now anyway.

Perishable food.  It will perish.  And I'll have to dispose of it. 

Plants or flowers.  We will spend the next week watching those die too.

Pets/Animals.  There are a billion and one reasons NOT to ever give an animal as a gift.  It's cruel on several layers to several participants.  Just don't ever, ever do it.

Overly personal toiletries.  As much as I've told you above to get the person those life necessities, not this one.  After a miscarriage, she is going to bleed and will require sanitary napkins.  She's not allowed tampons and may never want to use them again for emotional reasons.  However, if there's a box of pads in the gift basket, that just tells her that she's going to have a period when she doesn't want one and that you are WAY too aware of what her body is doing.  Besides, it's oogy.  Same with lactation pads.  Her breasts might leak and she might require these.  But she might already have some and she might not leak so again, don't tell her what her breasts are going to do or that you're that familiar with her body.

Clothing.  I really want to replace my wardrobe right now.  Both because it was gearing towards maternity clothes, and just because it's that time in the life cycle of my clothing that it's time for new stuff.  But in the last week, I've gained 5 pounds on top of my pregnancy weight only to see it drop 20lbs immediately after that to almost 10lbs below my prepregnancy weight.  And my boobs spent about 48 hours at twice their normal size before deflating and going back to semi normal.  All in a matter of less than 10 days.  If you guess a size too large, it will remind her that she is supposed to be bigger than she is.  And if you guess a size too small, she's going to cry because she's a fat cow and doesn't even have a baby to show for it.  She doesn't know her size so you sure as hell don't.  The only advisable piece of clothing might be a hat.  She might not be bathing regularly (depression does that) and she might find it useful to hide her dirty hair in a hat for a trip to the drive thru.

Balloons.  Balloons are for celebrating.  No one is celebrating right now.

Stuffed animals.  I'm either going to see it as a gift for my babies or as an item that will sit in my house and remind me of why I received it for years to come.  Or I have to throw it out.

Caffeinated stuff.  I love me my Coke but I'm also having a hard time sleeping right now so I'm staying away from it. 

Ok, I think that's about it.  You know your loved one better than I do so by all means, do what you feel is best for that individual.  But hopefully this will offer you some guidance if you don't know the person intimately or if you don't know how they react in a time of grief.  People often have unpredictable reactions during a time of grief no matter how well you think you know them.  Feel free to leave your own ideas and thoughts in the comments.


  1. Awesome ideas, all the ideas are really appreciative .

  2. Thanks for this. I'm coming up on 10 years since the loss of my twin boys (21w5d) and I wanted to put together a small package to donate to the hospital where it all happened to help another family who will inevitably go rough this.
    I won't do things like food but the comments on what not to include are spot on and I needed that reminder.
    I too have a set of living twins (girls). Have fun with yours!

  3. A basket filled with healthy and organic foods. You will want to remind them to maintain their health and strength. A basket filled with granola bars and organic fruit, for instance, is a good choice for a health-conscious recipient.

    Shiva Gift Baskets


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