Supporting a friend through pregnancy loss

After each of our miscarriages, I knew that there were not many people who could truly understand what we were experiencing. Sometimes even I barely understood my sadness around these intangible losses. But despite that, we were lucky – our family and close friends did everything they could to acknowledge the depth of our grief. They let us cry. They didn’t give unhelpful advice. And most of all, they listened. When I would see tears well up in the eyes of someone hearing of our losses for the first time, I would feel comforted and less alone, our losses validated.

I know it’s incredibly hard to know what to say to a friend who’s suffered a miscarriage. Our tendency is to want to give advice, or get them to look on the bright side. Or worse, to not say anything at all, out of fear of upsetting them. It’s probably what I would have done, had I not gone through this. I’ve compiled my thoughts on better ways to support a friend who’s experienced pregnancy loss.

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1. Treat it like any other loss. A miscarriage is a death, like any other death in the family. The mother and father loved their baby, and had hopes, plans and dreams that will never actualize. If someone’s grandparent dies, you wouldn’t comfort them by saying, “It’s so common.” You would probably say, “I’m so sorry for your loss.” Send a card with a heartfelt note, offer to cook a meal, or send a bouquet of flowers.

2. That said, the best thing you can say to someone who’s just had a miscarriage is, “I’m sorry for your loss.” Acknowledge that it was a deep loss for the parents. Call the baby by his/her name if they had one.

3. If your friend wants to talk, listen. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about how they are feeling. Let them talk as much as they need to let them tell their story and process their emotions. Try not to give advice if they haven’t asked for it.

4. Realize that immediately following a loss, women still are experiencing pregnancy hormones. Any time a body goes from being pregnant to not being pregnant, there is a significant shift in hormones that can affect brain chemistry.  Postpartum depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders can affect a mom regardless of the point at which a baby is delivered.  This hormonal upheaval can also intensify the emotional experience for her. Also, depending how the miscarriage happened, the physical experience of having a miscarriage can by quite painful and traumatic (women may experience labor contractions, heavy bleeding, painful cramping, etc).

5. Every experience of loss and grief is unique. Grief is an individual process that is bound by no exact time frame. Often, grief can linger much longer than expected, and women (and men) can feel anxious that they are not “over it” yet. Let them know it’s ok to grieve as long as they need. This is individual to the person and the circumstances surrounding the pregnancy. Many women will grieve a miscarriage deeply and for a long period of time, as a death — others may feel differently about the loss.

6. Understand that being around other pregnant women and newborns can be emotionally painful after a miscarriage. Be sensitive to this. If you are pregnant, give her the freedom to decide when and how much to see you, while continuing to let her know you are there for her. Don’t completely avoid her – grief is an isolating experience, and avoidance will just intensify the isolation. But also do not take anything personally if she is not in contact with you.  With time she will likely come around, and being available, loving, and accepting of her will be imperative to this process. Baby showers are also likely to be quite difficult for her.

7. Remember due dates and anniversaries. Put a reminder on your calendar. These are likely to be very painful dates for the couple. In addition, don’t assume because a few weeks have gone by that the couple has healed. Continue to ask how they are doing, even as the months go by.

8. Don’t stay silent. People often say silent when they don’t know what to say, or are afraid of bringing up a painful topic. Not saying anything at all is much worse. See #2 above.

9. Don’t forget to ask how the husband is doing. He will be grieving also.

10. Don’t say things like, “You can always try again,” “At least you weren’t that far along,” or “At least you know you can get pregnant.” None of these things are comforting to hear and it will minimize their grief.

11. Don’t say, “Just relax.” Stress does not cause a miscarriage and nobody gets pregnant by relaxing.

12. A few other great articles on how to support a friend through pregnancy loss:

 

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