How To Support A Loved One After A Pregnancy Loss

When I lost my last baby in 2019, I really didn’t have anyone to turn to. A couple friends, no family, and definitely no one that I didn’t feel like I was bothering by talking about it. This was my 7th miscarriage after having 4 live births. My family told me after each of my children was born that I needed to quit and get my tubes tied. After learning of my earlier miscarriages, I was told that I needed to “quit bragging about all the babies you would have had.”

My first miscarriage was in 2006. I was a 17 year old senior in high school, with an unplanned pregnancy. I found out around 6 weeks, and miscarried at 8 weeks. I was a scared kid and didn’t mention it to anyone outside of one close friend who told me that it was probably for the best. I had 3 more before I turned 20 years old. The responses I got were always the same, “It was probably for the best.” and “You don’t need/aren’t ready for a baby right now.”

Had my oldest daughter in 2010 and miscarried again in 2011. After the responses I had gotten in the past, plus how my family reacted to my daughter, caused me to not say anything. In 2013 & 2015, I had healthy baby boys. In 2016 I miscarried again, followed a month later by a healthy pregnancy resulting in a baby girl in 2017. When I lost my baby last year, I thought that I had done enough inner work to be able to sit down and talk to my mom about my experiences and losses.

While she did try her best in her own way to be supportive and understanding, her true feelings always shown through. She didn’t want me to have any of my kids, didn’t believe the circumstances were right (and they usually weren’t), and that I just needed to get my tubes tied, be grateful for what I have and shut up about it. [I do need to mention that my family has never been one that deals well with feelings, so the fact that she tried at all to be understanding meant a lot to me.]

When a miscarriage occurs, society’s attitude is to not talk about it, in fear that it’s too upsetting. However, not talking about it only makes it harder to move on. A miscarriage leaves a woman in a state of physical and emotional readiness for a baby that will never be. Grief is a natural process which has no exact time frame and is experienced in unique ways by different individuals. Supporting a grieving person does not mean you can take away the pain, but you may be able to help lighten the stress by being more aware and well informed.

What NOT To Say

What I learned through my own experiences, and through listening to other women, has shown me that most people really don’t know HOW to support someone after a miscarriage, stillbirth, or other type of child loss. What do you say to someone who has just lost their child?

Well for starters, I don’t recommend the following:

  • “It happened for a reason.”
  • “It’s probably for the best.”
  • “It was only a miscarriage, you’ll get over it.”
  • “You’re young, you can have another one.”
  • “That’s okay, you were only x weeks/months.”
  • “It was God’s will.”
  • “You’ve already had one (or more) healthy child(ren).”
  • “It wasn’t meant to be.”
  • “Now you know you can get pregnant”
  • “It happens all the time”.

If you say any of the above things (or any variation of them) to a parent who has just lost a child, you deserve to be punched in the face. If your parent or spouse or best friend passed away and someone said those things to you about your loss, you would be understandably upset too. Losing a child is no different than losing any other loved one.

“When people said that, what I heard was: it’s nothing, your baby is nothing, what you’re feeling is nothing, and your baby doesn’t matter.” — Lea

Well-intentioned people often add further hurt by saying inappropriate things – things like, “You’re still young; you’ve got lots of time to have more children,” or “Maybe this is God’s way of saying your baby wasn’t healthy.” It’s better to say nothing than to step on someone’s toes with insensitive statements of this kind. Here are a few more examples of comments you should definitely avoid:

  • Don’t say: “Gee, I understand. I’m having a rough time right now, too.” The last thing your friend needs right now is to hear about your problems – unless you just lost a loved one yourself. In that case you may be able to empathize.
  • Don’t say: “I can imagine how you feel.” If you haven’t lost a child, you can’t.
  • Don’t say: “It’s a blessing. Your baby was probably deformed.” This is not a comforting comment, regardless of the speaker’s motives. Besides, it serves to perpetuate the fallacy that human life is only valuable when it comes in a “perfect package.”
  • Don’t say: “It’s okay. It’s not like it was a full-term baby.” Bear in mind that the human spirit has no “size.” Every person is created in the image and likeness of God, and that image and likeness are fully present from the moment of conception onward, regardless of the size or capabilities of the body and mind.
  • Don’t say: “Please let me know if there’s anything I can do.” This sounds nice, but it actually puts the burden on the bereaved person to think of something, and then to have to ask you for help.
  • Don’t say: “God had a purpose for this.” No matter how this squares – or doesn’t square – with Scripture, it turns a baby’s death into a mere movement of a pawn on a chessboard. In fact, it makes God out to be the “bad guy” in the situation, and He isn’t.

“It made me feel as though I was wrong in actually grieving. I didn’t know anyone that had miscarried before, so I really didn’t know that I was allowed to grieve, and I was allowed to cry.” — Lindy

Support is NOT:

  • About giving advice.
  • Criticizing what you have heard.
  • Minimizing the miscarriage e.g. “That’s okay, you were only three months.”
  • Using cliches e.g. “It was God’s will” or “You’ve already had one healthy child.”
  • Talking about your own story of loss. Some identification may be helpful, but keep it to a minimum.
  • Not allowing the person to express emotions such as guilt, shame, and anger.
  • Taking over completely may cause potential feelings of helplessness and powerlessness.
  • Fixing it (you can not take the grief away).

What To Do/Say To Show Them Support

Now that you know what not to say, it’s important to remember that failing to show concern may also send the wrong message; as in the case of one young woman who told us, “Nobody even acknowledged my miscarriage. Perhaps they didn’t know what to say, but I was grieving and I just wanted to know that people cared.”So if you really want to bring comfort and healing to your friend, start by reminding yourself that a miscarriage is the same as any other kind of death. It involves the loss of a real person. As in any situation where someone has suffered this kind of deep loss, there are a number of thoughtful gestures you can make that will be received with genuine gratitude. Here are some suggestions:

Acknowledge their loss

Many women and couples feel isolated and alone in their grief after losing a baby. Some may feel that, somehow, they aren’t allowed to grieve, perhaps because they miscarried early or never met their baby.

Nothing should stop anyone from grieving for their baby and the future they had imagined.

You may worry that you don’t know what to say or think that it’s best not to say anything. However, the simple act of acknowledging someone’s loss can really help. Just let them know that you’re sorry for what has happened and that you are there for them.

Encourage the grieving person to express pain and stress.

By working through feelings such as anger, guilt, sadness, doubt, and frustration, the normal process of grief and healing occurs. Continue to encourage communication. Understand that grief is an individual process that is bound by no exact time frame. This frame of time involves finding ways of living with memories and the pain associated with the loss.

Be prepared to talk about the baby.

Hearing others say the name helps a grieving person heal. Know when to be silent… sometimes it is best to say nothing at all. A grieving person may just want someone to listen.

Reassure the grieving person that their feelings and reactions are normal and necessary for healing.

Remember that specific dates or events such as the anniversary of the loss or the expected due date may trigger an emotional response. Encourage communication during this time. Perhaps a card or small remembrance.

Be present

When someone close to us experiences a loss, it can be tempting to give them “space” because we’re uncomfortable talking about loss. While some people really do crave space, it can be important to stay present in people’s lives as they navigate the first few days and weeks of losing a pregnancy. Send a text each day to let them know you’re thinking about them. Call them and just listen. If you’re close enough, ask if you can come over when they feel ready.

Do send a personal note or card.

You might also send a note or flowers at the time the baby would have been born. This is something seldom thought of, but can be very comforting at a time, months later, that usually brings renewed grief. But don’t take this opportunity to “preach” or find a reason for the miscarriage (see above). If you have experienced a miscarriage, however, it might be a good idea to share that. It can communicate the message, “You’re not alone, and I understand.” A few words validating the parents’ loss can be very comforting.

Do think of one or two specific things that you could do to help the family out in a practical way

Then call your friend and ask if you could do so. Even small gestures of practical help can be very comforting. (For example: bring a meal, watch their other children for several hours, do the laundry, run errands, or take care of yard work.)

Do make yourself available to listen.

It’s a mistake to assume that you have to say something appropriate or profound. Most of the time, the gift of listening, your tears, and a warm hug can help more than anything you could possibly say. A person who has experienced a miscarriage may need to tell his/her story repeatedly. Show you care by your attentiveness, gestures, and eye contact.

Be aware that grief has physical reactions as well as emotional reactions on the body.

Physical reactions include poor appetite, disturbed sleep patterns, restlessness, low energy, and other pains. Emotional reactions may include panic, persistent fears, nervousness, and nightmares.  Encourage your friend or family member to call you or reach out when they experience these feelings.

Do remember the needs of the baby’s father and any other children in the family.

While it’s true that a miscarriage hits mom the hardest, dad and the kids may be struggling with their own feelings of shock, confusion, and loss. Simple questions like “How are you doing?” or “Do you want to talk?” can let them know they’re not forgotten. A phone call, a note, an invitation to have coffee or get ice cream will convey the message that “I know you’ve experienced a loss, too – and I care!”

Other Ways to Help

Do pray for the grieving parent(s).

Go ahead and ask, “How can I pray for you right now?” Then remember to pray. It would also be wonderful if you could keep up with their prayer needs on a regular basis for the first few months after the miscarriage.

Do make a donation to a favorite charity in memory of the child.

Or, if there is a burial, make a donation toward a headstone or other related expenses.

Simply say… ‘I’m sorry’

Even at the earliest stages of pregnancy, women and their partners often feel a real connection to their baby, and will grieve for this baby and for the future they had imagined. It can be hard to find the right words to comfort someone who is experiencing this type of grief, but many people say that just having their loss acknowledged is helpful.

You might want to say:

  • “I’m very sorry that you have lost your baby.”
  • “This must be really difficult for you.”
  • “I don’t know what to say.”

Just by acknowledging the family’s experience and expressing your own feelings of sadness are acceptable. Sometimes when people say “I just don’t know what to say,” is the most helpful thing anyone can say.

Also remember, you as a supporter of someone experiencing a miscarriage may need to have someone you can talk to. Supporting others through bereavement may be physically tiring and emotionally draining. Do not be afraid to reach out. Whether it’s to another friend, a family member, a professional, even to me. No matter which side of the loss you are on, I am here to listen.

Have you lost a child? What did others say or do for you that helped? Share in the comments below to maybe help others struggling with their loss.

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