Loss is hard. Talking about loss is hard. Hearing that somebody you love lost a pregnancy is probably going to hit you with all the feels, not the least of which is, "What could I possibly say to them?" As someone who has had three miscarriages and been present with loved ones who've also lost pregnancies, I am here to help unstick that frog in your throat and provide you with a few basic rules for talking to someone who had a miscarriage.
A commonly cited statistic is that at least 20 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage, according to my OB-GYN and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Anecdotally, however, when I started talking about my experience I couldn't believe how many other women started to talk about their miscarriages with me. Like, all of them. In other words, if you don't think you know anyone who has had a miscarriage, I can almost guarantee that you do.
Another disturbing trend, at least to me, is the culture of silence around miscarriage we're apparently living in. Though miscarriage is a common occurrence, it is mostly suffered in silence. Silence breeds shame, which further encourages us to feel defective, responsible, and alone. As Brene Brown's research tells us, shame can not survive when we shine light on it, and shame can not survive when we talk about it. So please, whatever you do, continue to talk about miscarriage with those who've experienced it. Consider this my invitation to be mindful, while talking, of the things that are most helpful when experiencing this particular kind of grief.
Don't Be Afraid To Make A Mistake
I know this may seem like a contradiction, since what follows is a list of rules about talking to people who've miscarried. However, I can assure you it's truly not. In fact, I put this one first because it's the most important. Above everything else, don't be afraid to make a mistake. If you are afraid of messing up, don't let that fear stop you from talking to your loved one about their miscarriage. Seriously. If you open your mouth and your heart, you're already doing better than 95 percent* of the people in her life.
*Writer's note: not an actual statistic.
Don't Ignore Them...
Yeah, yeah. I get that you don't "do grief," or whatever. I get that it's uncomfortable. Still, if you care about this person you will not ignore them. You will say something, even if it's to apologize for not knowing what to say. Just, for the love of all that's holy, don't ignore them. That's sh*tty and, unfortunately, it will probably change your relationship with them forever.
At least, that's what happened to me when some of my closest people couldn't bring themselves to talk to me about my losses. It sucks, and I'm sorry, but it was unintentional on my part. When I felt alone, a piece of my heart that was for those friends, died.
...Actually Talk To Them
So many people won't talk to people who've recently miscarried. You'll be remembered forever if you do. It's not what you say that she'll remember, so don't freak out about getting it right. It's that you took the time to make yourself uncomfortable to be there in her grief with her. Even if it was only for a few minutes.
After my first miscarriage I got a text from a dear old friend. That simple text saying, "I'm hear if you need to talk. I'm so sorry," meant everything. We don't talk very much because, you know, life. But whenever we do the connection is immediate.
Don't Offer Empty Platitudes
"Your baby's in a better place." "Everything happens for a reason." "God needed another angel." "Everything's going to be all right."
These statements are trying to make someone feel better, but here's the thing: they won't feel better. So, really, there's no pint in trying to erase a pain that just won't go away. That might be uncomfortable for you, true, but it won't kill you and it will be much more helpful to the previously pregnant person than empty platitudes.
Know Your Audience
Is the person in mourning a devout Christian? If so, then maybe it's totally appropriate to talk about God needing angels. However, if she's an Atheist, please leave your God/angel/Heaven analogies at home. Remember, this conversation isn't about you or your beliefs. It's about her.
Don't Talk About Rainbow Babies (Unless She Asks)
I have a rainbow baby now, so I know how important and transformative that relationship can be. However, when someone tried to tell me about the healing they experienced from their rainbow baby after my first, or second, or third miscarriage, it was devastating.
The truth is, you don't know if that person will ever have or even wants a rainbow baby. There's a time and a place to talk about your experience of the healing power of rainbow babies. But when your friend is grieving a pregnancy loss? Unless she asks, it's not the time.
Don't Ask If She's Going To Try Again
Remember, she may not want to try again. Even if she does, it's really none of your business. Our tendency as a culture to rush past grief with a question like, "Are you going to keep trying?" is not helpful. In fact, it can truncate and contribute to complicated grief. When and if she wants you to know she's trying again, she'll tell you. Until then, just hold her hand and listen to her.
Don't Say "At Least You Already Have Children"
Really? I hadn't noticed.
When people told me this particular sentiment I wanted to scream, "Yes! I know I have children already! Does that mean I should feel guilty for grieving a totally separate wanted pregnancy? Does that mean I don't get to have feelings?" Of course, that would have been my anger talking. What the deep, dark, depths whispered in my ear was, "You're broken now. It's so obvious. You had no trouble carrying the first two to term. Now you're broken. You've done something to damage yourself. It's your fault. Obviously. Your body can no longer do what it's supposed to do."
Think before you speak. Intention does not trump impact.
As in, be fully present in their grief with them. No need to fix or change anything. No pressure, just presence.
The night before my first D&C I got an unobtrusive message from my chosen-brother (also known as my absolute best friend). It read, "No pressure. I'm in town. Just in case you need me. I'll be here all week if you do."
I never would've asked him, or known I needed him, but he made himself available. Just knowing he was in the next room with my kids while I hibernated with the healing powers of Netflix was priceless. And in the wee hours of the night, when my kids were asleep, he sat with me, silently present for my grief while I watched a group of tormented teens stalked by a faceless person named A.
Be Physically Affectionate
If you were physically affection prior to her loss, continue to be physically affectionate. They're not broken in the sense that you can't touch them. Sometimes they are broken in the sense that they really need you to touch them. As always, however, consent is mandatory. In other words, ask for permission first.
Saying "I'm So Sorry" Is Always Appropriate
People worry about saying the wrong thing. If you're kind and heartfelt, however, it will show.
As I've mentioned above several times, it really isn't about what you say. You're not ever going to fix this hurt for them. Instead, what I've learned through the years of my own grief, and my years counseling people through their own grief, is that in grief people need nothing else more than your non-judgmental attending presence.