I think the question I am asked most often by friends and family who know about the 6 pregnancy losses is “How can I be there for you?“
I wanted to share some insight and some Do’s and Dont’s that were helpful to me to hopefully help some of you who may know someone going through infertility, a miscarriage(s), infant loss, etc. Although my experiences are primarily about Recurrent Pregnancy Loss, I believe there are similarities that may be relatable to others who are grieving.
Do… Contact her. If you can show up at her house or at the hospital, that’s great. If you can’t physically be there, send flowers, a card, or a text. Texting was easier for me in the beginning because it was hard for me to say anything out loud without crying. With a text, I didn’t feel pressured to “keep my emotions together”.
Do… Validate her feelings. Our experiences are unique to us, and emotions are a healthy and natural way of processing and dealing with grief.
Do… Listen and let her do the talking.
Do… Acknowledge her pain even if you think you would not react this way in this situation.
Do… Ask questions about her experience, how she is really feeling and what she is thinking about.
Do… Ask her partner how he is doing. I always encourage my friends and family to check in with David too, as I knew he was also grieving.
Do… Reassure her that it wasn’t her fault. I felt guilty after every loss, even though I realized deep down it couldn’t be my fault. Being reminded of the truth is always helpful.
Do… Offer to go with her to get her nails done, go hiking, or go out of town for the day. A change of scenery can be very refreshing.
Do… Realize that with pregnancy loss, the loss is more than emotional. Hormone levels can take weeks to return to normal, and having a miscarriage can be very painful physically as well as emotionally. It can take our bodies time to heal before we can resume daily tasks as usual.
Do… Offer to do something practical such as bringing over a meal or cleaning her house. When I had surgery for my ectopic pregnancy, my mom helped me clean my house and several close friends brought a meal by for David and I. When everything feels like it’s falling apart, it is nice to be in a clean house with hot food to eat that you didn’t have to cook.
Seven helpful things to say:
- “I’m so sorry for your loss.” These simple words really mean a lot, especially if you allow space for those grieving to talk (or not talk) as they wish.
- “I know how much that baby must have meant to you.” Here you are simply acknowledging that something precious has been lost, and opening a door to talk more.
- “You are so special to me and I love you a lot” It was always good for me to be that I was valued and loved. Being encouraged reminded me of my strength to persevere and helped me to reflect on the relationships I had to be thankful for.
- “I am here for you. If you want to talk, I am here to listen.” Again, listening is invaluable.
- “Can I check in with you in a few days/weeks to see how you are doing?” Often people are sympathetic in the beginning, then never mention the miscarriage again. You can expect the parents to still be grieving for weeks or months, so it is reassuring for them to know your support is ongoing.
- “I was wondering how you are feeling about the miscarriage(s) now” Parents do not forget a miscarriage. It is nice to know that our babies are remembered by others, even if a long time has passed.
- “I don’t know what to say.” We are usually not looking for you to have the perfect thing to say to make everything right again. We appreciate the honesty and the fact that you are available to listen is what’s really important.
Don’t… Avoid or ignore her because you feel helpless or uncomfortable with grief. This almost always results in her blaming herself or feeling guilty or shameful for sharing.
Don’t… Assume that miscarriage is easier to cope with than a stillbirth or other type of death. The truth is that her baby has just died, and it doesn’t really matter how pregnant she was.
Don’t… Be afraid of “reminding her” that her baby died by asking her how she is doing. If she does start to cry when asked, I promise it is not what you said or did that upset her. By allowing her to cry, you are helping her work through the process of grief.
Don’t… Offer unsolicited advice. If she wants your input, she will ask you for it.
Don’t… Feel pressured to say “the right thing”. There is nothing wrong with silence. You can share silence with a good friend.
Don’t… Set expectations about how long it should take her to recover. Losing a baby is one of life’s most difficult experiences and the depth of her grief is shocking even to her.
Don’t… Promise or assume there will be another pregnancy or that things will eventually work out. Unless you are God, you cannot make those types of promises.
Don’t… Feel guilty if you’re pregnant or feel that you can’t bring your children around her. She may need a little bit of space for a time as she grieves, but she will come around.
Seven things not to say:
- “You can always try again” This one unfortunately is said a lot, by friends and family and by doctors and nurses. For grieving parents, it just doesn’t help much. The parents didn’t just want any baby, they wanted THAT baby. Before they can think about another one they need to grieve for their lost one.
- “There was probably something wrong with it – it’s natures way.” This may be true but it still isn’t comforting. I guarantee you their doctor told them this already, so it isn’t beneficial to hear it again from someone they are seeking support from.
- “Everything happens for a reason/It was God’s will” Whatever your/their theology or belief system, this doesn’t feel good to hear. A much wanted baby just died.
- “At least it happened early in the pregnancy. It would have been much worse if it had happened later” When things like this are said, they minimize and invalidate the loss and the grief felt. It is not the length of the pregnancy that determines the intensity of grief experienced.
- “I know how you feel” Even if you have been through something similar, you don’t know how they feel. Everyone reacts to pain and loss differently. I know for me, all 6 losses felt a little bit different, and the grief was compounded each time.
- “You’re young, there’s plenty of time” It doesn’t matter how young someone is, pregnancy loss sucks whether you’re 25 or 45.
- “If you’d just relax, it will just happen” This statement exhibits blame, even though I know it isn’t meant to. It implies that the mom is doing something wrong. Most of the time miscarriage is caused by either a chromosomal issue, a preexisting condition, or a physiological issue that relaxation is not going to cure.
If in doubt, just say, “I am so sorry, I am here for you”, and make yourself available to listen. Every individual’s experiences are unique, and we all process loss and grief differently. It is always appropriate to ask them what is most helpful to them.