7 Things You Should Never Say To Someone Who Has Had A Miscarriage
I honestly have no idea how I became pregnant the second time. I mean, yes, tab A into slot B, egg meets sperm, yadda yadda yadda and all that health class jazz, but I was terrifically surprised. I had been tracking my very regular cycles and looking back even now, I can’t figure out when I might have conceived. But there it was: a positive pregnancy test staring back at me. It was one of the digital ones, so there was no misinterpreting or imagining a pink or blue line. I’d only really taken it on a lark, a way to officially write off the cramping, tiredness, and spotting I’d had over the last few days as the telltale signs of a particularly rough period, not a baby. But it seemed that’s what we were facing, about six months earlier than we’d planned to start even trying for another.
As the word “pregnant” appeared, I remember blinking hard and feeling a familiar wave of shock that had hit me me when I found out I was pregnant with my (also unplanned) son. But I did quick mental math: He would be just shy of two and a half when this new baby was born. That wasn’t so bad—that was about the age gap between me and my brother—and my shock turned into a laugh. “Hey sweetie,” I called as I walked down the stairs, holding up the stick, “It happened again!”
My husband’s reaction was pretty much exactly the same as mine: laughing shock, a shrug like, “Meh, a little sooner than planned, but that’s fine if not ideal,” and happiness. We hugged and kissed. I began imagining my son as a big brother, taking guesses as to whether this would be a boy or a girl (I guessed girl), thinking about how I would suggest that if it were a boy I wanted to name him Malcolm and not Henry, as my husband and I had always said. This was a Wednesday.
On Saturday, the light pink “implantation bleeding” that I’d been assured by Google and a few select friends and all my pregnancy books was totally normal turned bright red. This could still be normal, but that’s when they tell you to see your doctor. Because while it could be normal, it could also be a miscarriage. I knew that’s what it was. That night I took another test to prove it to myself: “Not Pregnant.” This time the digital lack of ambiguity wasn’t comforting. I didn’t cry then. I heaved a sigh and thought, “Well, that’s that.”
But that wasn’t that. I still held onto hope the rest of that day, Sunday, and Monday morning, at which point I went to my OB/gyn. I’d scheduled the appointment to see how far along I had been and whether I would need a D&C to remove the remaining tissue. And though I knew, logically and deep down that I was no longer pregnant, there was a middle depth between the two that still hoped. That dreamed my sweetheart of a doctor would look at the ultrasound and say, “Look at that! The little guy is doing just fine. Why did you make us worry, you tricky little one?”
But the ultrasound showed nothing: nothing alive and nothing remaining that wouldn’t expel itself naturally over the next few days. I still didn’t cry. I’d known, hadn’t I? So what was there to cry about? Plus, it’s not even like I planned this pregnancy, so I could just sort of move forward with a tinge of melancholy and no real regrets.
But the heart doesn’t work like that. About a week later, I had my first cry, a gasping for air, heartbroken admission that I wasn’t okay with what had happened. Even though I only knew I was pregnant for a few days, it took me a few months to go through complex waves of emotions before reaching a place where I was basically at peace. I didn’t tell very many people about this miscarriage in that time. I felt ashamed as a woman, like my body had failed to do what it was supposed to do. On top of being sad and disappointed, I was deeply embarrassed. Even then I knew this was entirely ridiculous and that I had absolutely nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about, but that didn’t alleviate the feeling and it only made me feel embarrassed about my shame and embarrassment.
The few people who had known, and the fewer whom I told in the days and weeks after the fact, were lovely. I got texts and messages checking in on me, even when I didn’t want to talk at first, but needed to. They sent me chocolates and cards and presents for my son. Almost three years later, I remain grateful for the many kindnesses I received in the weeks following my miscarriage, from those who said even one thoughtful “I’m sorry” to those who realized I would need them to check in on me weeks afterward, even though I didn’t realize it myself. I remain grateful that, in those extremely vulnerable months, I was not on the receiving end of some “comfort” that I would hear later on, either in regard to my own loss or someone else’s. Fortunately, by then, I was able to merely be offended by the things that were said and not hurt.
I’ve gathered seven of those misguided and all-too-common suggestions and “condolences” here. Please, please, please: Never say these things to anyone dealing with a miscarriage.
“At Least You Know You Can Get Pregnant.”
Oh wow. Yeah, what a silver lining this is! That totally makes the pain of this loss go away. Thanks. Thanks for this valuable insight. Nevermind that getting pregnant and carrying a pregnancy to term are two completely different things, so, yeah, maybe someone can get pregnant, but she still might not know if she will have a viable pregnancy. Depending on the particular challenges of the person you’re talking to, reminding them that they’re capable of getting pregnant might effectively just be rubbing their faces in what they can’t do.
“Well, It Wasn’t *Really* A Baby Yet Anyway.”
Screw you a million billion times. To some people, yeah, an embryo or a fetus is simply a clump of cells, and that is completely understandable and reasonable. To someone who had already decided to be that embryo’s mother, it was a baby, with all the emotional attachments and dreams that go along with one. The personhood—or lack thereof—of the cells in any given uterus is established by the uterus-haver, and that’s it. When I say I want people to keep their politics out of my uterus, I mean everyone’s. Yours too.
“This Is Why I Don’t Think You Should Tell Anyone You’re Pregnant Until You’re Further Along.”
Yes, because God forbid my pain should make anyone else uncomfortable. Yes, it’s hard to tell people you’ve suffered a loss after you’ve told them you’re pregnant, but it’s also terribly hard to go through the pain alone and feel pressured to keep it to yourself. Also, this basically amounts to a “told ya so” style scolding when someone is already hurting. Hold off on the judgment.
“Be Thankful For The Baby You Already Have.”
I’m positive that all the women who already have a baby when they have a miscarriage are tremendously grateful for the health and welfare of their children. That doesn’t erase the fact that they’re mourning the loss of another. If someone you know lost a leg, would you chide them, “Be grateful for the leg you do have”? If you answer yes, you very likely would, because you’re probably a dick and need to reassess your interpersonal skills.
“God Needed Another Angel.”
First of all, this is especially obnoxious if you’re talking to someone who doesn’t believe in angels or God. Second of all, even if someone is religious, it’s pretty obnoxious to blame this on God’s need for an angel. Couldn’t God just make an angel?
“Everything Happens For A Reason”
Hey, since you are an expert on divine will, maybe we can talk next about why the Holocaust happened. I’ve always been curious. I mean, if everything happens for a reason, maybe you can tell me the reason behind that? Look, you can think this privately to yourself all you want if that brings you comfort or helps you navigate the tragic complexities of the universe. This is likely not comforting to someone dealing with loss.
“You’ll Have Another Baby.”
Maybe I will. But the one I just lost is gone forever and can never be replaced. Respect that.
So What Can You Say Instead?
“I’m so sorry this happened to you. Please know that you can come to me if you ever want to talk.” That, “I love you,” and the beautifully silent sound of you handing over baked goods are your best bets.
Images: Mitya Ku/Flickr; Giphy(7)