I have learned here is no way to understand the heartbreak of miscarriage if you have not experienced such a loss firsthand. I have known women who have had miscarriages, and I rather fear that my responses were sub-par.
I’ve received a few responses this week: some people have been fantastic, and others have been slightly disappointing. I have done my best to take these comments in the well-meaning vein in which they were intended.
But if you are trying to support a couple who has just miscarried or lost a child before birth, based on my short experience so far, here’s a list of my suggestions for what not to say and what you can say/do instead. I’ve also compiled a list of helpful links at the bottom of this post.
1. At least you know you can get pregnant.
It is universally agreed by miscarriage survivors and counsellors alike that this is not a helpful thing to say and yet is one of the most repeated pieces of “wisdom” given. (I’ve been told this at least ten times in the past 5 days.) It may be true but, damn, it’s a small comfort. See, there are no guarantees: Just because I got pregnant last time doesn’t mean that I will next time, or that it will happen easily. Nor does it mean I will be able to carry a baby to term. Plus, if I am lucky enough to get pregnant again, I imagine I will be so worried All The Time. I’m really trying not to worry about the future, so when people say that to me, it diminishes what I am currently feeling right now.
→ Give me a hug instead.
2. You will just have to try again / You can have another.
Please don’t tell me what I should do months from now. Before I can even think about trying to conceive again, I have to finish my miscarriage (which hasn’t even started yet), which could take 2-3 weeks. Then I have to wait for my period to return, which could take 6.5 weeks. (If it doesn’t come back in that time, I will need more tests, adding to the delay.) All this and only then will I be able to start tracking my Basal Body Temperature every morning in the hopes that I will conceive a couple of weeks later. Right now, all this feels like a very, very long time.
→ It’s okay that you don’t know what to say. You can say that!
3. Saying nothing or next-to-nothing.
Not calling / emailing me has been one of the most upsetting reactions. If I told you about my pregnancy, I emailed you about my loss, so I really hope to get a response from you. I hope I mean enough to you that you can take a few minutes out of your day to show me you are thinking of me. I know people are busy with their lives, but not saying something or dashing off something with no real thought behind it like “Hugs to you x” does not show me you care. It makes me feel like you can’t be bothered or that I have inconvenienced you and/or am selfish for interrupting your day.
→ I don’t expect you to have all the answers. Just tell me how sorry you are.
4. Showing me pictures of your baby / talking about what a handful your kids are / complaining about what hard work parenthood is.
Right now every pregnant belly I pass, every child I see, and every picture you post of your kid (especially when you keep tagging me in them) is a painful reminder of everything I have just lost. I’m not jealous (I don’t want your pregnant belly or your kid), just envious (I wish I had my own). I don’t expect you to understand my envy, but please try to respect it. I already feel like a terrible person for feeling this way. As for complaining about your pregnancy symptoms or misbehaving kid, please remember that I wish I were dealing with those complaints instead.
→ Give me time and space. I want to be happy for you, but I would appreciate your patience on this one.
5. At least you found out at this early stage.
Very true. Actually, one of the things that has been frustrating is that so many books on miscarriage are focused on having a stillborn child or one who dies soon after birth. My god, I cannot imagine the extent of that heartbreak. But you know what? It’s really not helpful to compare me to a woman who has lost a child she was carrying much longer. My loss and disappointment feels very real to me and my heart is broken. Author Stephanie Paige Cole put it well: She wasn’t just expecting a baby. She was expecting the rest of their lives together.
→ Tell me you love me instead.
6. Let me know if there’s anything I can do.
Years ago I read in some magazine like Marie Claire or Real Simple that when someone is going through a tough time (I think the example was breast cancer), this response, though well-meant, is a bit of a cop-out. There’s nothing you can “do”. If only it were that easy, I’d be on the phone in a second. Non-specific offers of kind help won’t get me on the phone: right now, I might not know I need something until you suggest it.
→ Offer to go for a walk or take me out for coffee or dessert. If you live nearby, you could bring over a simple meal, like soup, or offer to do a load of laundry. If you live far away, you could send a card or little care package.
7. Emailing / calling / texting only once.
This is an experience that I will never forget, so please remember that I am grieving and that grief is a process without a timeline. I would appreciate it if you would check in with me every now and then. It doesn’t have to be often, and when you do, it doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. Some of the things that have brightened my dark days this week have been voicemail messages and emails from people letting me know they are thinking of me. It’s lonely out here.
→ Even if I don’t return your calls, your messages are a source of comfort. Please keep sending them.
8. It’s for the best / It wasn’t meant to be / It’s God’s plan.
How do you know any of this? I assume you’re referring to the fact that my little bean had a chromosomal defect that couldn’t sustain life. The way I take this is: why is it for the best that s/he even had such a defect to begin with? If it wasn’t meant to be, why did I get pregnant in the first place? And, as I am not religious, please understand that I do not take comfort in your God and the plans you believe he has for me and my family.
→ Say that you are keeping us in your thoughts. If you are religious, let me know we’re in your prayers. Even if I don’t share your beliefs, I do appreciate your prayers.
9. Forgetting that miscarriage affects dads and partners too.
Some of the most touching responses to our loss have been the ones that included my DH in the message of sympathy. He may not have to go through the experience of delivering the fetus, but he has suffered a shocking loss too.
→ Be sure to include dad or (as in the case of gay & lesbian couples) the other mum or dad in your message of sympathy.
10. If only Eve hadn’t tempted Adam with the apple then women wouldn’t have to put up with the trials of pregnancy and childbirth.
This was written to me by a well-meaning family member — who happens to be an atheist no less — but it probably wasn’t the best response… DH and I didn’t take it too seriously, but when thinking about what to put for #10, I decided to include this one: DO NOT MAKE JOKES.
→ Pick any other item from this list. Even blurting out one of the no-nos is probably better than making a joke.
As I said, I do not proclaim that my feelings are universal, and can only write from my own experience. If you want more general advice on what to say, here are some links you might find helpful:
What would you add to the list? Do you have a piece of advice or a link you’d like to share?