10 Do's and Don'ts for Supporting a Friend Through a Miscarriage
Originally published on Alamo City Moms.
As most of you already know, I suffered a miscarriage at 10 weeks pregnant this past summer. I went public and blogged about my miscarriage for many reasons. While it was certainly therapeutic for me and aided in my healing process, I also wanted to help others who have been through similar situations to know they’re not alone. And I wanted to remove the societal shame of keeping quiet about a subject that is often deemed “taboo.”
Miscarriage, defined as the unintended loss of a pregnancy before 20 weeks gestation, affects between 10–25% of all clinically recognized pregnancies. These odds suggest that most of us know someone, if not several people, who have miscarried. What do you do when that someone is a friend or family member? How can you help?
In honor of Pregnancy & Infant Loss Remembrance Day, here are 10 do’s and don’ts for supporting someone you love through a miscarriage:
DO show up. Bring dinner, or offer to watch her other children for a few hours. Whether your friend miscarried naturally or underwent a D&C (or similar surgery), she is dealing with a barrage of emotional and physical challenges. Cooking a meal for her family is probably the last thing on her mind, and she may find it difficult to compose herself in front of her other children, particularly if they are too young to have known about the pregnancy or what she’s been through. Eliminating these stressors, even just briefly, will always be welcomed and appreciated by a mom who has recently miscarried. DON’T go AWOL. Your friend is going through a devastating, difficult time and needs all the support she can get from those close to her. Do not fall off the map and make her feel more isolated than she already does. If you’re not comfortable dealing with grief or don’t know what to say, a simple “I’m so sorry, and I’m here for you” will suffice. Just knowing she is in your thoughts will make a world of difference to her.
DO ask if she wants to talk about what happened—and be prepared to listen to her vent. For many moms, talking about their loss can be tremendously helpful. Allow her to work through her grief with you, even if it results in some comments you might normally consider to be TMI. DON’T push her to open up about her miscarriage if she isn’t ready. People grieve differently, and your friend may need to process and work through her own feelings before sharing them with you. That’s OK. Don’t pressure her to have a conversation she’s not ready to have. Simply knowing you’re willing to listen when/if she feels like talking is enough.
DO be careful with your words. This is incredibly important, as a mom who has miscarried will be hypersensitive to others’ words. You don’t need to walk on eggshells, but you do need to pay particular attention to your language. Sometimes the most well-meaning comments can be ultimately the most hurtful. DON’T say any of the following: --Any statement that begins with “at least” (e.g., “At least it happened early,” “At least you’re still young and can try again,” “At least you already have other children,” etc.). While these may hold some truth, your friend probably doesn’t see it. To her, she has just lost a child, along with all the hopes and dreams she had for that child. Remember how you felt when you first saw that positive pregnancy test? How you instantly started imagining your baby and your life after his/her arrival? The grief doesn’t lessen simply because she was “only” X weeks along. She may be eager to try again in the future, but this doesn’t diminish her pain in the current moment. And while she no doubt considers her other children to be blessings, she doesn’t feel any less heartbroken over losing what would’ve been their sibling. In fact, she may be dealing with the added stress of having to comfort grieving children, which only intensifies her anguish. --“It just wasn’t meant to be.” Thanks, Captain Obvious, but this really isn’t helpful. At all. --“You can always try again.” Sure, in theory. But this remark can be callous for two reasons. First, a baby is not a broken iPhone: You cannot simply replace it with a new model when/if something goes wrong. Second, trying again may not be quite so simple. Her pregnancy may have required months or years of disappointment and stress, fertility treatments, etc., and after a miscarriage, she may find the idea of trying again downright terrifying. --“It just wasn’t part of God’s plan.” Be very careful with statements like this—or any concerning God, for that matter. These imply that God didn’t want your friend to have this baby, for whatever reason, and no matter how secure she is in her faith, she will have trouble accepting that God’s plan didn’t include a future in which she her and her baby lived happily ever after together. She may also already feel quite angry with or abandoned by God as a result of what happened. There is no need to fuel that fire. --“Your angel baby is waiting for you in Heaven. You’ll see him/her again someday.” I understand this is a sweet sentiment and that people mean well when they say it, but please avoid this type of statement, even if you think you are attuned to your friend’s religious beliefs. While some mothers may find comfort in the idea of being reunited with their lost baby in Heaven, others may not want to accept that there is an unborn child awaiting their arrival in the afterlife. A mother may instead wish to detach from her loss by viewing the baby as an embryo or a group of cells that didn’t properly grow—and this is totally OK. It does not mean that she didn’t love her baby while it was alive or that she isn’t devastated by her miscarriage. Again, people grieve in different ways—some by holding on, others by letting go—and neither is more “correct” than another. --“Ugh, being pregnant SUCKS!” or “Little Johnny had me up four times last night. I’m sooo over these nighttime feedings!” You’d think this goes without saying, but under no circumstances should you complain to a friend who has recently suffered a miscarriage about your pregnancy woes or baby-rearing challenges. There is no amount of heartburn or morning sickness she wouldn’t endure to be pregnant with her baby again, and there is nothing she wouldn’t give for the opportunity to be sleep deprived from newborn feedings. In time, it will be OK for you to vent to your friend about the difficulties of pregnancy/infanthood, but that time is not now. *A mom who has miscarried may (or may not) eventually arrive at these same conclusions or make similar statements herself. That’s OK. What isn’t is having someone else suggest them before she’s reached that point on her own.
DO ask how you can help. If you don’t know what your friend needs, just straight-up ask her. Say, “I don’t know how to help you right now, but I want to be there for you. What can I do?” Allow her to point you in the right direction. Often, someone who has miscarried simply wants you to lend a listening ear. DON’T make assumptions. Don’t presume to know what your friend is going through, how she will behave, or what is “best.” You may expect her to be sad and gloomy and not understand when she instead appears numb. You may anticipate her desire to talk about the baby and feel surprised when all she wants to do is move on. With a miscarriage, anything goes; so don’t be too shocked if your assumptions about her emotional state are off-base. You may also assume that she’ll feel less traumatized by her miscarriage if the pregnancy was unplanned, or if she is, in your eyes, too young to be strapped with the obligations of parenthood. Please don’t make these conjectures. Whether a woman is 19 or 39, and whether this is her first or fifth pregnancy, she is equally likely, and entitled, to feel crushed by her miscarriage.
DO recognize her loss. Just because a baby wasn’t fully formed when it died does not make its loss any easier to the mother who carried it. To her, the pregnancy and baby were both very real, as is the grief that follows. Be respectful of this, and validate her feelings by approaching her as you would anyone else who is mourning the death of someone he/she loved. DON’T minimize what she is going through. People can act strangely around grief, and no one knows that more than a newly bereaved mother. For the love of all that is holy, please DO NOT pretend like nothing happened or refuse to acknowledge the miscarriage when speaking with your friend. Her world has just been turned upside down, and downplaying her grief is nothing but a slap in the face.
DO reassure her that it wasn’t her fault. Even when she logically knows that she is not at fault, a mom who has recently miscarried may blame herself for what happened. After all, as mothers, we are programmed to safeguard our children—both in utero and beyond—and it is shattering to feel like you failed to shelter the one thing you were built to protect. Reassure her that she did nothing to cause the miscarriage—and don’t become irritated if you need to repeat this to her often. DON’T suggest that she could’ve done something differently to prevent herself from miscarrying. This is another one that seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at how dumb insensitive people can be. Do not, in any way, shape, or form, hint that your friend’s miscarriage might’ve been caused by something she did or didn’t do. You might have seen her drink a bottle glass of wine before she knew she was pregnant, or witnessed her scarf down a hot dog when she was suffering from first trimester cravings. However, between 50–70% of all first trimester miscarriages occur as a result of chromosomal abnormalities that unknowingly take place during fertilization. Other factors that can cause miscarriages include maternal age, improper implantation of the egg, maternal health problems (such as PCOS, etc.), or maternal trauma—all things beyond our control. So the truth is, unless your friend uses drugs, there is likely nothing she could’ve done to prevent her pregnancy from ending prematurely. Questioning decisions she made during the pregnancy does nothing constructive and only adds to her already consuming guilt.
DO let her know she’s not alone. Despite its prevalence, miscarriage is not often talked about in our society, causing those who experience it to feel isolated and alone. Remind your friend that she is not alone, both in her experience and feelings. You might even suggest a few resources to her if she shows interest in speaking with others who have miscarried. There are a variety of miscarriage support groups on Facebook, as well as communities on Baby Center and the Bump. Personally, talking to others who have been through similar experiences made a world of difference in my emotional healing. (Shout out to those who have endured my lengthy texts or private messages and answered my intrusive questions with nothing but love and support. You know who you are, and I’m forever grateful for you.) DON’T violate her privacy by discussing her miscarriage with others without her knowledge or consent. Your cousin’s best friend’s sister may have had a miscarriage, and she may, in fact, serve as an excellent resource for your friend. But do not talk to others about your friend’s circumstances without her blessing. If she wants to be put in contact with your cousin’s BFF’s sister, awesome; she’ll ask. The last thing she wants to deal with is being forced to unexpectedly discuss the details of her loss with someone she doesn’t actually know. Respect your friend’s privacy, and if you know someone else who might serve as a source of support for her, ask her first.
DO check in on her often. During a time of crisis, it feels good to know you’re loved and cared about, even if you’re unable to respond. After my miscarriage, there were times when I was too emotional to reply to texts from concerned friends right away, but it was still comforting to know I was loved and thought of, even if I couldn’t handle talking at that particular moment. DON’T assume your friend is OK because she appeared to be the day before. Remember how your hormones fluctuated when you were pregnant and/or had just given birth? A woman who has recently miscarried is dealing with the same hormones—on top of a tragedy. The days and weeks that follow are an emotional roller coaster. Your friend may seem fine one day and act like a complete basketcase the next. It’s normal. When helping me cope, a handful of my friends would routinely ask, “How are you doing today?” I found this very comforting. Not only did it convey their concern about my well-being, but it also implicitly recognized that how I was feeling right then may drastically differ from how I felt the day before—and oftentimes, it did.
DO follow her lead. Take cues from your friend; no one knows what she is comfortable with more than she. If she’s struggling with her faith, don’t take it upon yourself to get preachy. If she identifies the baby as an “embryo,” don’t call it by the name she’d picked out. Likewise, avoid using a less personal term like “fetus” if she continues to refer to it by name. Pay attention to her language, and respond accordingly. DON’T ignore potential triggers. Even once a woman appears to have “healed” from a miscarriage, there are many things that can trigger an unexpected emotional response. Be aware that baby showers, pregnancy announcements, etc. can be difficult to face when you’ve recently miscarried. You don’t need to assume that your friend is incapable of discussing anything related to pregnancy or babies, but let her be the first to bring up topics like your coworker’s upcoming “sip ‘n’ see” or a mutual friend’s newborn photo shoot on Facebook. You don’t want to send her spiraling back to painful feelings she’s unprepared to deal with in your presence.
DO be patient and understanding. A miscarriage is a traumatic, personal event. Recognize that while you, as her friend, may be affected by it, your friend’s miscarriage is about her. Your opinions on what she should do to “feel better” or how long it should take to “get over it” are null and void. It may take a mom weeks, months, or even years to process and heal from her miscarriage—and even then, it will likely never stray far from her memory. Be patient and understanding of her pain, as well as the rest of her family members’. They, too, are grieving and need to feel supported and loved. DON’T take her actions personally. Again, your friend’s miscarriage isn’t about you. Please do not get your feelings hurt if she doesn’t want to talk, can’t reciprocate the friendship (at least temporarily), or needs space from you, particularly if you’re pregnant or have a new baby. A bereaved mom needs to focus on her healing as she moves through the stages of grief; she need not worry about her friends’ sensitivity during this process.
One of my close friends delivered her son exactly 10 days after I learned that my baby’s heart had stopped beating and five days after my subsequent surgery. I felt guilty that I couldn’t be there for her in the way I normally would have, and prior to dropping off a meal for her family a few weeks later, I had to explain that my daughter had expressed anxiety about having to meet the new baby, a concern I had to take seriously. Instead of worrying whether this hurt my friend’s feelings, I had to trust that she knows I love her despite my inability to be fully present in her life right now; and I had to have faith that, as my friend, she understands my need to prioritize myself and my own family as we mourn what might’ve been.
If someone you love has miscarried, don’t take it personally if she needs to devote her time and energies to herself and her healing. I assure you, she is doing her best to get “back to good.” And no matter how distant she may seem, know that her feelings toward you haven’t changed; her efforts are just otherwise occupied.
I would never wish a miscarriage on my worst enemy. It is, by far, the most difficult thing I’ve ever experienced. But I can’t even begin to describe how much the support of my amazing friends helped me to get through it. I hope that, if someone you love endures a miscarriage, my words can help you to see her through it with as much grace, compassion, and love as my friends have shown me.