Thank you for visiting to read my thoughts on What Not to Say When Someone Has a Miscarriage. My words here are based on my own experience with miscarriage, but some points may also fit for those dealing with stillbirth, child loss, or any death of a loved one. Please feel free to add your own thoughts and experiences in the comments section.
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I’ve seen some pretty shocking things on social media. Friends, there are some terrible people in the world. With all the ugliness I’ve witnessed, I sometimes think I’ve seen it all and it takes a lot to surprise me. Then this week I stumbled upon a thread of tweets that caused some “naughty words” to tumble right out of my mouth.
A woman had tweeted something about the offensive things people said after she had a miscarriage. Other women were also weighing in with their stories. One crazy person went on a tweeting frenzy. She was essentially laughing at the idea that the woman was sad. I can’t give you exact quotes because (thankfully) the tweets were deleted, but the gist of it was that a miscarriage isn’t a big deal like losing an actual baby and that the original tweeter was looking for attention.
The horrible tweets went on and on and were incredibly shocking. I visited the offensive tweeters profile and found she had a following of over 1,200 and her Twitter feed was filled with Bible verses and “advice” for women. Great.
I admit I haven’t always known what to do or say for friends experiencing a miscarriage. It is hard to understand unless you’ve been there. And yet, it’s actually not so difficult to not be a horrible person.
What a Miscarriage is Like
A miscarriage is when a persons child died in the womb before the 20th week of pregnancy. Still birth is when a baby dies before birth in the second half of the pregnancy.
A miscarriage is physically painful.
A miscarriage takes a toll on marriages, a persons health, finances, work life, and friendships.
Miscarriages are expensive, especially without good medical insurance coverage.
Parents never “get over” their children who died.
If you’ve never experienced a miscarriage, read about the experiences of others. You need to be able to understand and empathize. (Here’s my story written a few months after my miscarriage and more recent thoughts on miscarriage aftermath)
What Not to Say When Someone Has a Miscarriage
Everyone deals with their loss in different ways. There are no easy answers. There is no manual to describe exactly what to do and what to say, but here are some suggestions:
Don’t explain away the pain with purpose.
Don’t try to say there must be some purpose for this. What purpose could there possibly be for something so awful? Eventually the person/family can find ways to use the experience to bring about positive change in their lives. But soon after a loss is not a good time to be talking about there being a “purpose.” A parent may express that they want to use the tragedy for good in the future, but let them say those things; you should not.
There’s no “up side” when your baby dies.
Don’t suggest that the parents look at the positive side of things. Let people feel what they need to feel.
My arms is where my baby belongs.
Don’t say anything about the baby being in a better place. That may be true in your eyes, but the family left to grieve the loss is not better off.
One baby doesn’t replace another.
Do not say things like “don’t worry, you’ll have another baby.” Okay, seriously? First of all, you do not know that for sure. Secondly, the baby that was lost was important. It cannot be replaced by any other child. Don’t pretend that a loss can be “fixed” by a different child.
Don’t blame mom.
Do not say anything that sounds like you are blaming the mother. “Were you not eating right, maybe?” “Maybe you were too stressed?” “Do you think it would be good to lose some weight before you try again?” “You know, your body may just be getting too old to carry a child.” Stop. Just STOP. These ignorant statements are so incredibly damaging.
Better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all? (easy for you to say)
“At least now you know you can get pregnant!” I feel more mildly about this one that some of the others. For me, it actually was in my mind (even as I was losing my baby) that I was still relieved that I did get pregnant in the first place. This is because it took six years to get pregnant with our first child. The second pregnancy happened much quicker than the first, which was a surprise. But still, this is not something that someone else should be suggesting to a person who has just lost their baby.
A person is a person, no matter how small…
“At least you weren’t very far along.” I was 11 weeks pregnant when I miscarried. To some, that may not sound like I was “very far” along. But 11 weeks means I was 1/3 of the way through my pregnancy.
11 weeks meant I quite literally went into labor to deliver a dead baby in my bathroom.
11 weeks meant almost three months of connecting with the little life growing in me… months of morning sickness and pregnancy exhaustion… months of thinking of names… moments of excitement sharing the news with family…
11 weeks and then it was over.
It doesn’t matter if a mother is 5 weeks, 11 weeks, or 20 weeks when she loses her baby; her baby has died and she is hurting. We all process grief differently and might have some different feelings depending on how far into the pregnancy we were when it ends. But please do not discount a mother and father’s pain by counting the weeks of their baby’s life.
So, What Should We Say?
“I’m sorry. This sucks. It isn’t fair.”
“How are you feeling?” This is a good question because depending on how the person is feeling about sharing their feelings they can say very little or they can say a lot. Don’t push it, just listen.
Think of the father. He is struggling too. Send a text, make a phone call, send a Facebook message and let him know he’s in your thoughts and prayers.
Scripture and comforting poems can be a little helpful sometimes.
I know this is a tough thing. You may feel like you’re just at a loss for words. That’s okay. Your words, no matter how heart-felt and profound, will never fix what has happened. Mere words will not replace what has been lost. Let that knowledge take the pressure off of you so you can just reach out with love and concern.
What Are Some Helpful Things We Can Do?
Send a text, a Facebook message, or maybe even make a phone call to say you love them and are praying for them. No advice. Nothing intrusive. Just reach out. You don’t need to know what to say. Just communicate that you care.
Care for Them
Head to the grocery store and call (maybe call the spouse or close family member if the mother is still suffering physically) or send a text to ask what they need. Toilet paper? Paper towels? Bread, milk, snacks? Don’t ask “can I bring you anything?” Say “I’m out now at the store and am getting some things for you so you don’t have to go out. Any suggestions?”
Make a meal and drop it off. Call first to find out if they have any food preferences. If they already have meals for that day then make a freezer meal for them to use when they need it. When making a meal…
1. Use disposable containers and let the family know they do not need to return them.
2. Make a main dish, one or two sides, and dessert.
3. Consider also making up a nice basket of items for the next morning such as bagels and cream cheese, muffins, biscuits, fruit, a bottle of juice, etc.
Give a Gift
You can send flowers and a card. Some people don’t like flowers, so think of an alternative like a plant, cookie bouquet, box of chocolates, etc.
A friend who lost a baby suggested wind chimes as a thoughtful gift and reminder that even though the little one isn’t present, she continues to make an impact on the lives of her family.
I received a stuffed animal as a reminder of my little one who was lost. This is a sweet gift for a grieving friend.
Another great idea would be a card with a gift card in it. I received a sympathy card and a spa gift card and that was such a nice surprise for me as I was experiencing a difficult miscarriage.
Many parents experiencing loss are actually more interested in talking about the loss than some may think. We want to remember our little one. We need to share our feelings. I don’t want to pretend this didn’t happen to me.
Inner Circle Organizing
Encourage mutual friends to reach out. This depends on how public the news of the miscarriage is. If it is appropriate, suggest mutual friends, co-workers, and others do things such as those listed above to show support and love for the grieving parents.
Adjust Your Expectations
Don’t put any pressure on the parents to do anything extra too soon after the loss. Ease up your expectations of them as a friend, boss, co-worker, family member, etc. Put their feelings first.
Don’t Forget About Me
Don’t exclude your friend from social invitations, play dates, etc. They may say no if they’re not emotionally up to participating, but being excluded hurts.
The Pain Lasts a While
Continued support is critical. One thing that most people don’t think about is the grief and sadness that continues. Marking the would-have-been birth month is tough. The miscarriage related medical bills that continue to come in the mail… like a knife to the heart. Offer continued support in any way you can.
Be a Good (Human) Boss
If you are an employer, be aware of your employees financial situation. Help with their medical bills in any way you can. Allow other employees to donate sick time.
“I’m pregnant and I don’t know how to tell my friend who had a miscarriage.” I hear this question a lot. DO NOT let your friend hear about your pregnancy from anyone other than you. Take your friend to lunch to talk (or call on the phone if you’re not living close to each other) and share your pregnancy news. Is it awkward? Yes. But if you care about your friend you’ll face the difficult situation and be a good friend. In most cases she will genuinely be very happy for you and really appreciate you telling her personally.