My friend paused, and took a sip of her mimosa. She looked down, and furled her bottom lip. “I miscarried last year,” she said, “I had a boyfriend, and I got pregnant. And we were ready to raise the baby, and I was going to have it.” I tried not to look shocked. The news was indeed jilting. But, I didn’t want to appear awkward or uncomfortable. As a mother myself, you’d think I’d know the things to do to support a woman that had a miscarriage. But my mind drew a blank. So I said the first thing that came to my mind.
“I’m so sorry,” I said. “How far along were you?”
“16 weeks,” she said. Four months along. That’s around the time you find out the sex of the baby, the time you start showing. You buy maternity clothes. You tell your job. You announce it to your extended family.
My friend went on to describe the grueling process of eliminating a baby. But, as I sat across the table from my friend — watching her heartbreakingly and candidly explain what happened — I couldn’t focus on a word she said. No, I was too busy worrying about what I was going to say next. How I was feeling awkward and uncomfortable with this conversation. I was too consumed by my icky feelings about death.
I’m ashamed to say that I abruptly changed the subject after my poor friend spilled her guts. I silenced her. I shut her up, to make myself feel better. Honestly, I don’t even know why she still talks to me. I failed horribly. I clammed up. There are so many reasons people have the same reaction as I did. The clamming up reaction. Out-of-order death feels so wrong. It feels “unnatural”. It feels like it shouldn’t happen.
I’ve learned a lot about miscarriage since that day. And how it shakes women (rightfully so), to the core. And how it never leaves. I’ve learned a lot about what it means to be a friend. Even, during times of grief.
In confessing my utter neglect towards my friend, I was connected to Dr. Jessica Zucker, a clinical psychologist specializing in women’s reproductive and maternal health. She’s also a mom that has experienced a second trimester miscarriage. When she miscarried, she was so thankful for the friends that were there for her, but she was also shocked and admittedly hurt, by the inaction of so many in her perceived support circle. Zucker channeled those feelings, to create pregnancy loss cards and the hashtag campaign #ihadamiscarriage as a way to get people talking, sharing and connecting about miscarriage. She designed the cards for people, like me, or maybe even you, who never seem to know what to do or say in situations of loss, death and grief. Especially, when the death is “out-of-order.”
As Zucker and I talked about her loss and her cards, we also discussed the best ways to help a friend cope with a miscarriage. I.e. everything I wish I had said. Here are seven things you can do to support a friend after a pregnancy loss.
Don’t clam up like I did.It can be as simple as, “I’m here for you. I’m listening to you. I’ll always be here.” Reassuring the griever that you will simply be there- and they are not alone in their grief, is the support they need. “Part of the antidote to reproductive shame is to simply share stories,” Zucker says. “To connect, to simply talk.” She adds that women’s reproductive events can be so stigmatized by our society, which results in shame. When you don’t say or do anything, and take the road of inaction – we’re silencing the griever, and adding to the shame.
2Ask "How Are You Doing"
Instead of trying to project what you might feel, or predict the griever’s feelings, or trying to figure out how upset the person is and to what extent, Zucker suggests we can simply ask. It doesn’t have to be some hour-long phone conversation. A simple text or e-mail is fine (note- I didn’t say a public Facebook post on your friend’s wall, or a tweet).
3Send A Card
This is just another way of showing your support and having a dialogue about it, even if it’s not actually speaking the words.
“In my experience, I felt like there was a lot of support in those initial days and weeks,” Zucker says, “But I would’ve so appreciated a card.”
The card doesn’t have to specifically be categorized as a pregnancy loss card, but the card you choose should reflect your understanding that this type of death, a miscarriage or stillbirth, is different than others. It is an out-of-order death. And if you are going to send a card, it’s worth it to take the time and really choose the card you want to send to make sure it will convey compassion in the way you intend.
4Don’t Use Old Worn Out Platitudes
For example, “Everything happens for a reason, or “It wasn’t meant to be.” Statements like that tend to harmfully minimize the situation. They’re an attempt to prematurely jolly up a griever. Oftentimes, those platitudes are spewed by people who are trying to make themselves feel better about the subject matter.
5Don’t Comment On The Woman’s Body
“Commenting on a woman’s body after a loss is very complex,” Zucker says., “I mean it’s complex anyway. But a woman is going to feel triggered. One woman might say, ‘Oh, yeah, aren’t I so hot?’ But another might say, ‘Yeah, but I wish I was pregnant still.”
Saying something like, “You don’t even look like you were pregnant,” is not a good idea. Compliments like this are usually well-intentioned, especially among women – it’s very natural for us to compliment each other’s appearances. But, implying that your friend looks “skinny” and “good,” might be very hurtful.
6Follow Her Lead
Everyone grieves differently. As a friend, you’ll be able to gauge how much attention your friend wants to bring to her miscarriage and what type of attention. She might prefer to grieve privately or with a community. You’ll be able to tell if she prefers to reference her lost baby by their intended name. If she calls her baby by name – you do it.
Be prepared to wrap your head around the fact that grief has no typical style, or timeline. Zucker says she sees a lot of women feeling like they need to hurry up and get happy again after a pregnancy loss.
“Why are you judging your grief? Why are you judging your grief,” Zucker says. “Again, it’s like drinking the cultural kool-aid on these kinds of things. Like let’s hurry up, let’s get back to, we gotta get back to happiness, we gotta get to positivity.”Everyone has their own unique experience with death. All feelings are valid. The feelings need to be honored. There’s no rush.
“It would’ve been really healing and helpful if people would’ve reached out three months later or six months later,” Zucker says. “Or have the courage to ask how I was doing after my daughter, my next child was born.”Letting your friend know that you’re thinking of her, that she’s in your heart and mind even months later is completely appropriate. Even if she goes on to have children after the miscarriage. Never assume that the initial sadness or even subsequent fear with her new pregnancies isn’t there.
What Zucker is doing with her hashtag campaign #ihadamiscarriage and her pregnancy loss cards is challenging women to be present. She’s imploring women to share and connect. When miscarriage happens, don’t be irrational. Stop the shame, and the silencing. Start talking, and start being there for your fellow women in a way that will lead to better understanding.