Miscarriage can be a traumatic and life changing event for a woman and her partner. It can happen with little to no warning, seemingly for no reason. The parents may feel shock, anger, guilt, or sadness after losing their child in the womb. Although the topic is rarely discussed publicly, miscarriages are quite common, occurring in approximately 10-15% of known pregnancies. Women report experiencing anxiety, insomnia, fear of getting pregnant again, as well as other physical and mental issues. Although miscarriages are often uncontrollable and unpreventable, women may feel like they are a failure, reminiscing over what could have been.
While you may want to offer support to a loved one during this time, good intentions can still cause deep wounds. The fear of doing more harm than help can be crippling. However, distancing yourself from your loved one can cause more pain, making them feel even more isolated, alone, and misunderstood. There is no formula or checklist for comforting a mother or father grieving their lost child, but some dos and don’ts can help you navigate the daunting waters of grief.
- Be well-informed. Research miscarriage. Understand your loved one may act out of character for a time and why. She may withdraw and isolate herself, especially from children and pregnant women, but she will likely return to herself in time.
- Make sure your loved one sought medical attention. Her health and safety are vital.
- Encourage your friend/family member to reach out. When they experience symptoms such as restlessness, panic, low energy, anxiety, nightmares, etc. they may need someone to turn to.
- Ask your loved one what kind of support she needs. However, she may not know what will help, so be prepared to try different methods of support. And if she wants to be alone for a while, that’s okay too.
- Say something. Determining what to say can feel like walking through an emotional minefield. However, saying nothing because you feel uncomfortable is far worse. Waiting until she “gets better” is also a grave mistake. Be genuine, reach out, and show you care in any way you can. Send a heartfelt card or text, make a phone call, or stop by in person. Telling her “I’m sorry” is a good place to start.
- When you have that heart-to-heart conversation, listen. Talk about the baby if she wants to. If she uses the baby’s name, you should too. Ask questions if she seems open to it and give reassuring responses. Allow her to talk as little and as much as she needs. Remember silence can also be soothing.
- Acknowledge her feelings. Whether she was really excited about the pregnancy or is unexpectedly grieved, encourage her that her feelings are normal and part of the grieving process. Tell her you understand how much this baby meant to her. She must be patient with herself and her emotions during this time. You can also acknowledge that what’s she going through is awful.
- Alleviate any guilt she may feel or express. Encourage her that this was not her fault.
- Share your own story if you’ve also had a miscarriage in the past. Then give her room to express her feelings about it. Although this moment is about supporting her in her grief, sharing an intimate and relatable experience can help her feel like she’s not alone.
- Make sure she gets some rest. Grief is exhausting and she needs the energy.
- Consider sending a care package. Include some items to help her relax, rejuvenate, or get her mind off of her experience. You may include items like snacks, tissues, cozy pajamas, entertainment, a card, or something else you know she’d enjoy.
- Check in regularly. As the days, weeks, and months pass, support from others will wane. Your continued support will mean the world to her when others have forgotten.
- Help with household tasks to alleviate her daily burdens. Bring her a meal, do laundry, wash dishes, or run an errand. Don’t take control of everything, though. Allow her to feel as capable as she is, providing some assistance to help make her day a bit easier.
- Offer to return any pregnancy/baby items she doesn’t want to keep. If she’d like to hold on to them, let her know you can store the items until the family is ready.
- Take her out to do something fun when she’s ready. Go to the movies, treat her to brunch, or walk on the beach. You know what your loved one enjoys. When she’s feeling up to it, go out and have some fun.
- Assume that your loved one does not feel grief. Even if they were planning on having an abortion and miscarried beforehand, the pain of this loss can be unexpected.
- Use clichés like “It wasn’t meant to be” or “This is just God’s plan.” These phrases are not comforting. In fact, they will make her feel more isolated and misunderstood.
- Try to fix the situation or give unsolicited advice. The tragedy is unfixable. Your loved one just needs to find healing through the natural process of grief, which takes time.
- Say “It was early” or “There’s still time to get pregnant again.” She may fear experiencing that trauma again. Whether or not she ever wants to have another child, this baby is unique. Trying to replace this lost child discounts its life and value to her.
- Tell your loved one “It wasn’t a baby yet.” She is likely experiencing the natural symptoms of pregnancy. Her body may be acting as if she still has a baby inside of the womb. Regardless, she built a connection with that baby from the moment she discovered she was pregnant. Denying that can be incredibly painful and isolating.
- Encourage her to look on the bright side. You may be tempted to say, “At least…” This is a mistake. The situation is undeniably bleak. It’s okay to acknowledge that and work through it. However, repressing her grief through attempts to cheer her up will only make her feel lonelier.
- Rush the grieving process. It’s especially unwise to say anything like, “It’s time to move on.” Everyone experiences grief at different times, paces, and in various ways. Allowing grief to naturally take its course is the only way to promote your loved ones’ healing.
- Be afraid to acknowledge you’re at a loss for words. Be honest and genuine. The situation is difficult. You both know that. It’s okay to be sad together for a little while.
- Discourage any desire your loved one has to get professional help. That may be the coping mechanism she needs at this time.
- Forget the father. Although he himself was not pregnant, he may have developed an emotional attachment that is now resulting in disappointment, anger, sadness, and deep psychological wounds.
Some of these tips may be well suited to your loved ones’ situation, and some may not. Just be patient, show them you’re there to support them, and be sensitive to their reactions and needs. The most important way you can support a friend or family member through their time of grief is just being there. Grief and support look very different for various people. Your loved one may need to talk about their feelings or they may not want to discuss it at all. They may want to spend time alone at home or go out to get their mind off of their emotions. Ultimately, it’s important to meet this person where they’re at and validate their grief, no matter what stage they’re in or how long it takes them to recover. Offering patience, time, and continued support are the biggest gifts you can give someone you care for.