A friend once told me that having a miscarriage is a sudden shock. They understood what George R.R. Martin meant when he wrote, "A day will come when you think you are safe and happy, and your joy will turn to ashes in your mouth." To feel such happiness, and then such despair in an instant, changes you. If you've never been through the trauma of pregnancy loss, it's hard to know what to say or how to help. There aren't really greeting cards with meaningful quotes about miscarriage readily available for you to give a friend or relative, and there are about as many ways to cope with grief as there are people.
It can be hard to find the words to comfort someone who's lost a pregnancy, and a future they were so excited to watch unfold. Sometimes, it's best to say nothing and, instead, simply listen to their truth, acknowledge their pain, and let them feel how they feel about their miscarriage... and without having to explain why.
If you do say something, it's important that you try not o make them see "the bright side" of what might be an impossibly hard situation. In her work on empathy, author and researcher Dr. Brené Brown writes, "Empathy is a choice, and it's a vulnerable choice because in order to connect with you I have to connect with something in myself that knows that feeling." It's also important to remember that grieving is a process that honestly might never end. As poet Gwen Flowers writes, "Grief is not something you complete, but rather, you endure. Grief is not a task to finish and move on, but an element of yourself — an alteration of your being."
Unfortunately, offering empathy and comfort to someone who has experienced pregnancy loss requires a level of emotional vulnerability that's much harder than saying "things happen for a reason" or "you can try again later," which aren't really supportive at all. So if you are looking for some words of comfort, you might try one of these quotes instead:
“Sometimes it's hard to see the rainbow when there's been endless days of rain.” — Christina Greer
As Brown writes, "Rarely, if ever, does an empathic response begin with 'at least,' and we do it all the time, because someone just shared something with us that's incredibly painful, and we're trying to silver-lining it." Rather than telling someone to find a rainbow or silver lining, Christina Greer, author of Two-Week Wait: Motherhood Lost and Found Christina Greer suggests simply acknowledging that miscarriage is hard, it's understandable, and it's OK to be sad.
"Some people say it is a shame. Others even imply that it would have been better if the baby had never been created. But the short time I had with my child is precious to me." — Christine O'Keeffe Lafser
In An Empty Cradle, a Full Heart: Reflections for Mothers and Fathers after Miscarriage, Stillbirth, or Infant Death, Christine O'Keeffe Lafser talks of people's misguided attempts at sympathy, which often neglect to acknowledge that a baby who dies before birth is still important to their parents. They existed.
"Maybe learning to live with the question marks, recognizing that closure does not always occur, is all I really needed to do. I hadn't expected, coming from a world that fights to see life's beginnings in black and white, to be so comforted by a shade of gray." — Peggy Orenstein
Miscarriages are common, but often moms-to-be never find out why they happened. So, when people ask why out of curiosity or to comfort their friend, they might do more harm than good. Instead, Peggy Orenstein suggests in her book, Don't Call Me Princess: Essays on Girls, Women, Sex, and Life, that those who have experienced pregnancy loss don't always have to move on. Grief is a process.
“How very softly you tiptoed into our world, almost silently, only a moment you stayed. But what an imprint your footsteps have left upon our hearts.” — Dorothy Ferguson
As Dorothy Ferguson, a therapist who specializes in coping with grief and loss, writes, the people we lose will always be with us and in small but significant ways. The same goes for children that we only held in our wombs, and not our arms.
"Babies lost in the womb were never touched by fear. They were never cold, never hungry, never alone, and importantly always knew love." —Zoe Clark-Coates
Zoe Clark-Coates also reminds us that when her babies died before they were born, in the warm comfort of her womb, they were not afraid or hurt. It brought her comfort to think that their world was entirely one of love.
“Your absence has gone through me like thread through a needle. Everything I do is stitched with its color.” — W.S. Merwin
The loss of a pregnancy can leave a permanent hole that never really closes.
“I held you every second of your life.” — Stephanie Paige Cole
In Still: A Collection of Honest Artwork and Writings from the Heart of a Grieving Mother, Stephanie Paige Cole actually finds comfort in the thought that her angel babies passed within her.
"I no longer seek those things that help me to heal but for those things that fortify me with the strength required to carry the load fate has set upon my shoulders. Instead of finding a way to forget, find a way to bear the constant remembering. The silence of the wild being one of those elements that reinforce the weathered walls of the soul and mind." — L.M. Browning
"They" say that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. In a way, this is true. As L.M. Browning notes in To Lose the Madness: Field Notes on Trauma, Loss and Radical Authenticity you should never expect a loss mom to forget, but rather acknowledge the strength remembering takes.
"Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim." — Vicki Harrison
Life does move forward, but it's important to not pretend that nothing has happened when someone who's experienced loss is drowning in an ocean. They might need some help learning to swim, some space to tread water by themselves, or occasionally be thrown a life preserver when the waves get too high.
“It has been said, 'time heals all wounds.' I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.” — Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy
It's OK to feel sad about a miscarriage. It's also OK to never fully recover. You don't have to get over it, because people expect you to or you think you should. Grief is personal.
"Grief, I’ve learned, is really love. It’s all the love you want to give but cannot give. The more you loved someone, the more you grieve. All of that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes and in that part of your chest that gets empty and hollow feeling. The happiness of love turns to sadness when unspent. Grief is just love with no place to go." — Jamie Anderson
It's OK to feel any emotion, or all the emotions about your loss. Grief is weird and unpredictable. As Jamie Anderson writes on her blog, All My Lose Ends, grief comes from a place of love.
"And grief is not something you complete, But rather, you endure. Grief is not a task to finish. And move on, But an element of yourself-An alteration of your being." — Gwen Flowers
In her poem Grief, Gwen Flowers acknowledges that it is a never-ending process of change, not through moving on but through acceptance that you will never be the same.
I had my own notion of grief.
I thought it was the sad time
That followed the death of someone you love.
And you had to push through it
To get to the other side.
But I'm learning there is no other side.
There is no pushing through.
There is absorption.
And grief is not something you complete,
But rather, you endure.
Grief is not a task to finish
And move on,
But an element of yourself-
An alteration of your being.
A new way of seeing.
A new definition of self.