“My heart breaks for them.”
“That’s too bad.”
People know how to respond to sad news to those not involved in trauma and death, but it’s a rare person who knows how to respond well to the people going through trauma and facing death.
What happens when people don’t know what to say?
They stay silent.
What’s wrong with silence from those who know someone who has experienced miscarriage?
Silence is the MO of grief for a lot of people experiencing loss, too. Not knowing how to feel or what to say or how to find the other side of grief is exhausting and overwhelming as it is. Feeling alone and surrounded by silence as you try to navigate these new waters?
Even more so.
So the next time you hear or read that an acquaintance/friend/family member has experienced a miscarriage, don’t leave a crying face emoji and keep scrolling. Say something or do something to show you care.
Don’t know what to say or do?
Keep these 10 things in mind:
***First, I in no way believe this is a comprehensive list nor one that applies to every person and situation. Not everyone processes loss the same way. No two losses are the same, just as no two women are the same. Some people are more private. Some people are extremely introverted and do not desire attention or care from others outside their intimate circle. Some people may desire lots of attention and care.
It is up to you as their friend to determine what (if anything) within this list is helpful. ***
1. Don’t silence those who are brave enough to share their struggle by remaining silent, too.
Say something, but keep it brief, kind, and be sure to use the baby’s name (if known) or the word “baby” to let them know you are acknowledging they’ve lost a family member.
“I heard that you lost your sweet baby. I’m so, so sorry for your loss.”
“I’m so sorry for your loss, _______&_______. I will be praying for you both.”
“I’m so sad that you’ve lost your beautiful baby girl. You’ll be in my thoughts. I’m here for you.”
“I’m so sorry you are hurting so much. This is such tragic news. I will be praying for your baby and your family.”
“I’m sorry for your loss.”
If they’ve shared this sad news, they are reaching out and sharing their pain with you, so take a minute to care. Let them know you’re thinking of them or praying for them, that you’re sorry they are hurting, and that you are sorry for their loss. If the person you’re sending condolences to is an acquaintance or someone you are not close with, saying something brief, kind, and acknowledging is enough. You don’t need to do more.
*Be aware that you should not expect an answer from them. It’s exhausting responding to everyone, and frankly, this isn’t about you. Even if they never say anything to you about your comment directly, it’s always nice to see that someone is thinking of you and reaching out to let you know they’re there when you need them.
2. Don’t offer explanations or reasons.
There is no reason good enough for any mother to be comforted by when they’ve lost their child. Avoid phrases that downplay the significance of what has happened such as, “You can have another baby,” “God has a plan,” “Maybe this wasn’t the right time,” etc. Keep your “God’s plan” and “reason for everything” speeches in your head and not out loud. You don’t have to have the answers; they certainly don’t, and they don’t expect you to either.
3. Don’t forget dads (or significant others/spouses/etc).
Make sure you reach out to the spouse/husband/significant other as well. He/she may not have the exact same emotional connection to what’s going on, but they are hurting too. Sometimes what is most painful for them is seeing his wife/spouse/significant other hurting and feeling lost as to how to help her. If you are her confidant/best friend/sister/mother etc, he may even need or ask for some guidance as to how to treat this situation and how to best support her. Lots of support groups offer for dads to come as well.
4. Don’t place the burden of accepting/planning help on the person who is struggling.
If you are in a position or are close enough to the person to offer assistance that you TRULY intend to follow through on, let them know you are there for them and what you will be doing to help.
You want to bring them dinner? Awesome.
You want to take their other children to the park to give them some alone time with their husband to grieve? Great.
You want to come clean their kitchen or walk the dog or just sit in their living room with them on the day their spouse goes back to work because you know that day is going to be really hard for them? Amazing.
But don’t just say, “I’m here to help how I can!” or “Let me know how I can help!” and ‘walk away’. Unless you are specific and direct about your plan to help, an offer is nice to hear but pretty worthless otherwise.
When you’ve lost your baby, the last thing you want to do is help other people figure out how they can help you. Your brain ceases to function well. Grief floods in and fills any mental capacity to expend unnecessary energy on helping someone else to help you. Plus, for most people, accepting help is a really hard thing to do, even when they most need it.
So, if you want to send them a meal, instead of saying, “Can I send you a meal?” say, “I’d like to bring you dinner tomorrow night. Does that work for your schedule? If not, I can bring it by on Tuesday.” Or, be the friend to set up a meal train. Take Them A Meal is a great free resource to help coordinate meals for someone in need of support.
Be sincere, make a plan, and follow through.
Often what we need most is for someone to hear us and acknowledge and validate our feelings. It’s pretty redundant to ask, “How are you?” but “How are you feeling?” invites a real response and true inquiry into their wellbeing. Then, listen. Know that holding space and sitting in the silence can also be helpful, too. Gauge what they need on a case by case basis. Not everyone needs the same thing. Also, if you are not in the right frame of mind or if doing so will be detrimental to your mental health, don’t take this on as something you MUST do.
- Let them to talk about how they’re feeling, what they are frustrated by, and acknowledge that an entire range of emotions is perfectly normal. Juxtaposed emotions are common and extremely confusing: anger and despair, laughing while in despair, numbness and confusion, feeling lost and ungrounded, and even sadness and relief (this can be especially common in cases of an unexpected or unplanned pregnancy).
- Feeling loved and acknowledged and validated during this time is very important. Remind that she should never downplay her pain due to how far along she was- to not compare and to not let anyone else compare/downplay her pain for her either. “At least…” phases are not welcome in this space. It’s very normal for most women to try to compare their loss to that of someone else, but it doesn’t matter how far along she was: the loss was significant to her. Women often feel like they should not be so upset, so they try to downplay what they are feeling and end up repressing their emotions and not processing them. Remind her that her pain is real, and it’s okay to feel it, sit with it, and examine it in order to process, cope, and heal.
- Don’t make this about you or how you’re feeling about it. Don’t inadvertantly place your emotional wellbeing on them, too. Listen to how they are feeling. Let them know that their feelings are normal, that grief takes all forms, that where they’re at in the grieving process is an okay place to be right now. It’s not a linear process.
- Most importantly: if what you hear makes you fear for their wellbeing, reach out to their spouse or to someone you know who can get them to safety.
6. Encourage them to find a way to process their feelings apart from talking to you or their spouse about this.
This could be writing in a journal, talking to a therapist, or going to a grief/loss support group. Encourage them to find a loss support group in the area, or if they would be comfortable with you doing so, find a few for them and give them the information. Offer to go with them if you think that is something that you can handle. Being around others who have been through this will give them a sense of camaraderie and normalcy during a time when they feel so isolated.
7. Acknowledge that their loss was a baby, a family member, a person they had hopes and dreams for already.
Use terminology that indicates that you understand that; it shows you acknowledge the depth of their loss.
If you are extremely close with them, let them know that it’s perfectly normal and acceptable for them to name their baby if they want to. It may feel awkward for them to do so if they’ve never been through this before or if no one has ever “given them permission” to do so. It’s also perfectly normal if they don’t want to name their baby. However they want or need to handle this is okay.
I named the boy I lost last spring, but I have not named any of the others, and that’s okay.
8. If the mother expresses feelings of guilt or if you are close enough to have this conversation, remind the mother that this was in no way her fault.
Guilt is extremely common and powerful, but any doubting or negative thoughts she may have had at any time during the pregnancy were not powerful enough to make this loss happen. Guilt is almost always a part of loss, no matter how unwarranted that guilt may be. Women feel that because they were the carriers, it was up to them to keep baby safe. They may feel betrayed by their bodies. Guilty they “failed” the baby, themselves, other people, or their husbands/spouses. Guilt is a disease that spreads quickly and deeply, even if logically the person knows they were not at fault. It still weighs heavy and infects thoughts and dreams. Reminders that they are not at fault can be helpful.
9. If you choose to send a gift, be thoughtful about it, but know it can be overwhelming for some.
For some people, receiving some sort of trinket is a helpful and healing thing. It shows that you acknowledge that what happened was significant and reminds them when they look at it that you’re there for them. I love my angel mama necklace very much. It was the first thing I received that gave me an identity inside what was happening; it showed the outside world who I was.
For others, trinkets can be triggers because they may want to try to heal and move on, to not give a lot of significance or attention to what happened. That is their right to feel that way. Sometimes all the “stuff” can be overwhelming to deal with on top of the emotional burden of everything. When we receive a gift, it is expected that we say thank you, that we reach out and show appreciation. When you’re grieving, that can be extremely hard to do and a burden many would rather not have. Words can be enough.
Some people they do not want the attention, or that’s not how they best process things. They may be more private and want to process it privately without anyone else’s input. They may not want reminders around the house of what happened. That’s okay, too. Grief is personal. This reservation applies to the concept of group therapy as well: some people may not do well with group or have any desire to go to group, and they would better benefit from private therapy sessions, which most hospitals also offer for grieving families.
10. Let her know that it’s OK to stay away from social media for a while.
Encourage her to unfollow people who may be pregnant or who may become pregnant until she is ready to handle seeing those kinds of photos. It’s okay to say no to baby showers, even if it’s her best friend’s shower. It’s okay to say no to public events. It’s okay to not want to be around people with children or places where children are. (I know that can be a very hard thing for close friends and family to endure, but hopefully close friends and family will respect her space and wishes and NOT try to make her feel guilty for how she needs to grieve!) Sometimes, all they need is time. Give them space and don’t hold them to a timeline for their grief.
Definitely encourage her to unsubscribe from any blogs, podcasts, or store advertisements so that she doesn’t get those things in her email or in the mail. Delete any registries and unfollow baby industry companies for a while (maybe help her make a list of who she unfollows if she wants to be able to remember later down the line). They are painful reminders days and weeks and months after the fact.
As I approached my due date, I was still getting formula samples in the mail until I sent a very HONEST letter to the company about not sending unwanted/unrequested items. It’s okay to reach out and tell companies, “NO.”
When I lost my son Amos in May 2018, I was blessed to be surrounded by many women who had either attended the MommyCon session I contributed to about loss and infertility or had read the blog post summarizing what we spoke about at the event. Those women knew that saying something short and kind and being present were better choices than saying nothing at all. We were lifted up and carried (and fed) for months on the love of friends and family and even people we’ve never met from our online communities. They reached out and stayed present during the darkest storms of our grief. We were lucky, and I wish that anyone going through loss would have the kind of support we did during that time.
So, be part of that kind of love and support for someone else.
Be part of the change.
End the silence.
Don’t keep scrolling.
If you have previously experienced a loss and need some emotional guidance from those who have walked that path, please check out the blog post summarizing the Braving Infertility & Loss Together session I contributed to from MommyCon 2018, and know that I am so, so sorry for your loss.
If you or someone you know could benefit for more grief resources, access to loss support groups, or if you’re looking for lists of books, groups, or gifts to provide for yourself or others, please consider checking out the website of grief support resources I’ve curated over at Amos’ Anchors.