Tuesday, April 14, 2015

What to Say (and What Not to) When Someone Has a Miscarriage

When a friend tells you she's had a miscarriage, do you know how to respond?

As many as 1 in 5 pregnancies ends in miscarriage, so odds are you'll be in this position someday if you haven't been already.

With 1 in 4 pregnancies ending in miscarriage, you will definitely need to support a friend or family member dealing with pregnancy loss at some point. Do you know what to say to someone who just lost a baby? And more importantly, do you know what NOT to say? #miscarriage #pregnancyloss #support #comfort #sympathy #unremarkablefiles

Women who've lost a baby need to develop a hide made out of Kevlar to deal with some of the things people say.
 Nobody purposely tries to be an insensitive creep, but sometimes less-than-helpful words just get blurted out.

Don't Say: "What a bummer."

When I called my OB's office after my third miscarriage, the receptionist said in a very sympathetic voice, "Ohhh, that stinks!" There are hardly words to describe the devastating experience of losing a pregnancy, and it hurts even worse when people trivialize it. It's a bummer when your ice cream falls out of the cone; it's not what you say when someone's baby dies.

Let me repeat: If you only take one thing away from this article, I want it to be that dismissing your friend's grief is the singularly most hurtful thing you could do. She is a grieving parent. If what you say wouldn't be appropriate to say to the bereaved parent of an older child, it's also inappropriate to say right now.

Try Instead: "I'm so sorry."

Your friend lost a real baby and she's grieving. You can't change the situation, but you can treat it with the respect it deserves. Let your words, your tone of voice, and your facial expression show it. After my miscarriages, it was a huge relief just to talk to anyone who understood even a little how deeply it affected me (and would for the rest of my life.)

Don't Say: "Are you going to try to get pregnant again?"

This is literally the most inappropriate time to be asking that question. It's like asking a new widow at the funeral if she's going to remarry, and I hope you would never do that. It's too early for a woman having a miscarriage to be thinking that far ahead; and even if she is, it's none of your business.

Try Instead: "Can I bring you dinner tonight?"

If you want to ask questions about the future, find out when you can bring over a meal this week. Miscarriage isn't just an emotional trauma, it's physical, too. Trust me, she isn't going to feel like cooking for a while. If she has other children, could you take them for an afternoon or drive them to soccer practice today while you're at it?

Don't Say: "Maybe it wasn't meant to be."

Even if she's a religious person who also believes that God has a bigger plan, she's hurting right now. A sincere "I'll pray for you" would be okay, but proclaiming that her loss was God's will makes you sound like sort of a jerk.

Try Instead: "How are you feeling?"

Really, the only thing you can do is listen, so give your friend a chance to talk. Depending on your relationship and what's going on with her at the moment, she might not want to. But if she does, try rephrasing what she says, asking questions, and avoid making any judgments or conclusions.

Don't say: "At least..."

At least what? At least anything. Not "at least you know you can get pregnant," not "at least you were only 7 weeks," and not "at least you have children already." She's allowed to say that stuff if she wants to, but you keep your mouth shut.

Try Instead: Give a hug.

If you want to comfort a friend who's lost her baby, give her a hug. She doesn't need you to point out the silver lining, she just needs to process her feelings and knowing that you care will make it easier.

The #1 Thing to Remember

The double whammy after a miscarriage is that people avoid bringing it up. They don't know what to say, so they simply stay away or avoid talking about it.

But please know that your job isn't to fix the situation, cheer her up, or to say the "right" things. The truth is that losing a pregnancy just feels wrong to a woman who used to be pregnant and isn't anymore, so there is no "right" thing to say, anyway.

What a friend going through a miscarriage needs from you is your support and your empathy. That will look different for everyone depending on your relationship, but if you can do nothing but say you're sorry and mean it, that's enough.
With 1 in 4 pregnancies ending in miscarriage, you will definitely need to support a friend or family member dealing with pregnancy loss at some point. Do you know what to say to someone who just lost a baby? And more importantly, do you know what NOT to say? #miscarriage #pregnancyloss #support #comfort #sympathy #unremarkablefiles

With 1 in 4 pregnancies ending in miscarriage, you will definitely need to support a friend or family member dealing with pregnancy loss at some point. Do you know what to say to someone who just lost a baby? And more importantly, do you know what NOT to say? #miscarriage #pregnancyloss #support #comfort #sympathy #unremarkablefiles

With 1 in 4 pregnancies ending in miscarriage, you will definitely need to support a friend or family member dealing with pregnancy loss at some point. Do you know what to say to someone who just lost a baby? And more importantly, do you know what NOT to say? #miscarriage #pregnancyloss #support #comfort #sympathy #unremarkablefiles

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Carlee said...

Miscarriage is so hard. We lost our first pregnancy with a missed miscarriage. The ultrasound showed the baby was nine weeks, but no heartbeat. We hadn't told hardly anyone we were expecting, which was strange too. It is hard to tell people you are grieving a miscarriage when you didn't tell them you are pregnant!

mothers shadow said...

Jenny, this is a really great post, as all of yours are; featured on fb. I have not had a miscarriage and I HOPE I have said the 'right' things to others who have; however, now I KNOW what to say because of you. I am very grateful you took the time to write this, though it could not have been easy. My heart goes out to you, prayers to uplift and my gratitude. Carrie, A Mother's Shadow

Anonymous said...

Great post. Sometimes we don't understand how terribly insensitive we can be when trying to cheer someone up. It took me sometime to learn that most of the time the people I love just need for me to be there and let them know I love them. How I wish I had read this years ago.

Rachel said...

It's tough to know exactly how to respond to people in such a tough situation, but you're exactly right in plain and heart-felt: I'm so sorry.
Several of my aunts suffered miscarriages when I was growing up, and we were told about it. Only recently one of my aunts mentioned how much it meant to her when my little sister, when she was about 6 or 7, ran up to my aunt the next time she saw her and gave her a big hug, and in tears, said, "I'm SO sorry you lost your baby!" Kids can be blunt, but sometimes they naturally know how to comfort others better than adults do.

Moderate Mum said...

I really love this post. It wasn't judgemental just really helpful.

Mummy Fever said...

Really great post - I always think to say nothing is awful and then beyond that you should always ask how you would feel if someone said that to you. #sharewithme

Jenny Evans said...

Sorry to hear about your miscarriage. Our three also happened before we'd announced the pregnancy, so to this day very few people know about my miscarriages (unless they read my blog.) We didn't even tell our children until years later. Just one of the many things that makes processing your miscarriage so awkward and difficult.

Jenny Evans said...

So true, and not just with miscarriage. We mean well by trying to fix it immediately, but usually that's not what's needed.

Jenny Evans said...

It probably meant a lot to your aunt that your sister remembered after the fact, too. A lot of the time we don't bring up a loss after it's already happened because we don't want to remind the person and make them sad. Which is silly, because it's not like they could ever forget. I can't speak for everyone, but I find it cathartic to know that others haven't forgotten. Because I haven't.

Jenny Evans said...

We would all have a lot less feet in our mouths if we remembered to do that regularly!

The Resourceful Mama said...

It has been a number of years since my miscarriage. I remember many people telling me it was not meant to be, It was not a big deal...the baby was only 10 weeks. I acted like it was not a big deal. That worked for about two hours when broke down crying in the middle of a staff meeting. Your hormones are all out of whack as well. Your body has been preparing for a pregnancy and baby that longer is. Thanks for sharing this.

Louise said...

Such a helpful post and I think the words "at least" are generally best avoided when speaking to anyone who has had any kind of loss. I agree that a hug and a genuine "I'm so sorry" are generally a good start and thinking about how you would feel if people said things like that if you were in that situation is helpful. Thank you for sharing and I am so sorry for your losses x

Home on the Corner said...

Thank you so much for posting this. It helps to hear these things from someone who has experienced it so we know just what to say. Thanks for sharing the tips and your heart.

Tiffany {A Touch of Grace} said...

Yes! People can be so insensitive sometimes! These are great prompts!
Thanks for sharing on the Shine Blog Hop!

Let's Talk Mommy said...

Great advice it's so hard to know what to say and if you are supporting or making it worse. Thank you ever so much for linking up to Share With Me #sharewithme

sharon rowe said...

Great advice it is not easy to know what to say! Thanks for sharing on Monday Madness link party :)

Alycia said...

Great advice. Although I have never gone through this myself, I have close friends who have, and saying the right this are so important.

Thanks for linking up with the Saturday Spotlight!

Wander Mum said...

Great post and really good advice. Miscarriage is completely devastating - something I recently experienced. But until you are in that situation you just don't know how that person is feeling. These points are exactly what to do/say and not say. Spot on x #sharewithme

Anonymous said...

This was a great post. I have had 8 miscarriages and a stillbirth of twins. In between all this, I had my amazing daughter. It is so hurtful when people say ,"well you have your daughter, be happy with that." I had a friend tell me that I didn't know what it meant to lose a child until I held my deceased child. She lost 2 kids at 15 weeks. It's the same loss whether or not you "hold" your child. It's still a child.
I am very sorry for all your losses. My husband and I made a necklace of butterflies with each child's would be birth stone so we can remember the loss but heal. Though our daughter is only 3, we bring her with us to the cemetery to say goodbye to her brothers and we tell her they are in heaven with grammy. She understands they aren't with us and I tell her she will see them again one day if she hasn't already while she waited to be born.
I think the best thing to do if someone says something incorrect is to just let it go. They didn't mean any harm and probably felt awkward dealing with the sadness.

Jenny Evans said...

I really don't believe people mean to be insensitive at all, they're just surprised or feeling awkward (like you say) and something just flies out of their mouth.

I really love the necklace as you've described it. I read a book that suggested having some type of memorial, like planting a tree or shrub or something, and I thought that was a nice idea.

Anonymous said...

my daughter had a miscarriage about three months ago and she is still having "break down" moments, her husband tells me. Since I myself have never had one I cant seem to find the right words to help her.
Any advice on how to help her?

Jenny Evans said...

Sounds about normal for 3 months later... she might find it helpful to talk with other people who've gone through the same thing. Some hospitals have pregnancy loss support groups, or there are always ones online if she doesn't know anyone in person.

After my miscarriages, I felt like I was "supposed to" just get over it already, which honestly made me feel worse. I think what I appreciated most was when Phillip just let me TALK and asked lots of questions about how I felt. He didn't really say anything, just listened.

Good luck helping your daughter and you can always send me a private email ('contact' tab on the top of the page.)

Unknown said...

Great post. I would add avoiding questions like, "Did you lift too much?" or "Were you overstressed?" AND also avoid spouting back the medical facts about miscarriages being "nobody's fault." Both the blame game and the dispelling of myths isn't helpful. It certainly didn't help me. It is a loss that stays with the mother, no matter the age of the baby and the "at least" words bring little comfort. Thank you for writing about this topic so eloquently and diplomatically.

Jenny Evans said...

Good additions. I didn't know that you'd had a miscarriage before; I'm sorry to hear it.

Anonymous said...

Has your religion helped you cope/come to terms with your miscarriages? If so, how?

Jenny Evans said...

I think the biggest thing for me was that I don't believe in original sin, so I never had a moment's doubt that those perfect souls are waiting for us in heaven and we'll see them again. I still had to deal with the trauma and the grief of miscarriage, but never had to worry about the eternal well-being of the baby. I think that was the biggest comfort to me.

Anonymous said...

After my second miscarriage, a friend in my neighborhood brought me 1/2 gallon of ice cream, she didn't say anything just dropped off to me. It was one of the nicest gestures because she knew what it was like and she knew no words could make it better. Just eat ice cream and feel sad for a while and that is okay too.

Meghan said...

I had to keep reminding myself that people meant well when they said things like, "at least you have Emerson, you can enjoy him..." as if to say I wouldn't enjoy him if those pregnancies had not resulted in a miscarriage.
When meeting with a new GP shortly after my second miscarriage (over the course of 3 months), I told her the details of what happened and she said, " huh, now that's bad luck." I was shocked by her response.
Overall, those who knew were beyond kind and sensitive, and I will never forget their support.
This is a great post!

Jenny Evans said...

About the "enjoying him" comment: That is exactly why I never liked the term "rainbow baby." Some people find the term useful but I always felt like it devalued both babies: the one who you lost becomes just the storm before the 'real' baby, and the baby who lived is defined by a sibling. You would never call a woman's second spouse after being widowed a "rainbow husband."

talkinturtles said...

I absolutely agree. Ive hated that term since i first heard it. I would never refer to my daughter that way.