Of the whole range of human experiences, grief is definitely one of the trickiest to navigate—both for those who are in it and for those around them. My miscarriage in November was the first head-on meeting with grief I’ve had since my grandmother died three years ago, and I was quickly reminded of how complex and overpowering the feelings surrounding a loss can be. Some days I moved through with a positive outlook, and some days I collapsed in a heap on the bathroom floor. And once I started to share the news of the miscarriage publicly, the grief became an even more complicated emotional dance. Loved ones and acquaintances did their best to offer comforting words, while I did my best to receive them with gratitude and grace—having constantly to remind myself that the sentiments were intended as love, even when it was hard to interpret them as such. Now, nearly two months after my surgery, I’ve given a lot of thought to the words that supported me most (and those that didn’t!) in the days and weeks following our loss. These are my personal suggestions for what to say when someone has a miscarriage, offered in the hopes that my experience can serve as a guiding light for how to approach this all-too-common occurrence.
What Not To Say: “20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage.”
Why It Doesn’t Work: After I lost the baby, I was surprised to learn how incredibly common miscarriage is. And I understood that people shared this figure—plus lots of other miscarriage statistics—in an effort to reassure me that I wasn’t alone, that many women weather this pain and come out the other side. In the depths of my sorrow, however, I didn’t hear hope; I heard only my living, breathing emotions being reduced to a cold, hard fact.
What to Say Instead: If the intended message of a statistic is, “You’re not alone,” then it’s most powerful to say exactly that: “I can’t imagine what you’re going through, but I’m here for you, however you need me to be. And I know all the women who have also been through this are here for you too, both in spirit and in fact.” Acknowledge and validate her feelings as uniquely hers, while also encircling her in the warmth of your unconditional support.
What Not to Say: “My sister/cousin/friend had a miscarriage, and now she’s got two healthy kids!”
Why It Doesn’t Work: Providing personal anecdotes of women who had children after a miscarriage stems from an understandable desire to foster hope during a dark time. During my easeful moments, I was able to embrace that desire; but on days when I was fearfully questioning my ability to carry a pregnancy to term, stories of women who had done so successfully felt like empty promises.
What to Say Instead: The truth is, none of us can guarantee that a woman who’s just had a miscarriage will be able to conceive and birth a child in the future. So make promises that are within your power to keep: “Whenever you need a listening ear, I’m just a phone call away.” “Whenever you’re feeling up to it, I’d love to treat you to a mani/pedi with extra massage—or to anything else that feels good for you.” Then continue to check in with her unprompted, reminding her that you’re standing ready to support as desired.
What Not to Say: “Did the doctor say what caused it?”
Why It Doesn’t Work: One of my most difficult thought patterns after the miscarriage involved ruminating on all the ways I may have caused the loss myself. (Were my workouts too strenuous? Did I not give up caffeine soon enough?) So whenever someone asked me this question, it inevitably shifted my mind further in that direction. In fact, most miscarriages don’t have an identified cause, so heading down that path yields only torment. Furthermore, if the cause of the miscarriage had been known—an inherited genetic trait, for example—I’d have preferred the opportunity to volunteer the information myself.
What to Say Instead: Whatever may have caused the miscarriage, it’s in the past. Rather than looking back (or forward), ground what you say in unconditional acceptance of the present, however it may look. It actually really helped me when my loved ones spoke of their grief over the miscarriage: “My heart is hurting so much right now. I know how excited you were to become a mom, and I was really excited to be an auntie.” Words like this created permission for me to be fully in my own feelings in that moment, and they removed any expectation that I put on a brave face.
What Not to Say: “At least now you know you can get pregnant!”
Why It Doesn’t Work: This one was perhaps the toughest to hear. I have so many friends who struggle with serious infertility issues, many of whom are still in the midst of intensive medical treatments or arduous adoption proceedings. Even when it’s not consciously intended, the implication of these words was that I should be thankful to have conceived at all, when so many others cannot. That not only invalidated my grief, but added to it a layer of guilt for ingratitude.
What to Say Instead: Reproductive challenges of all shapes and sizes can be heartbreaking. The strength and courage required to walk any of those paths is no joke. So acknowledge those qualities in her: “I know this isn’t easy, and you’re doing an amazing job. Your strength inspires me so much.” Even though she may feel weak with despair, your words will reach the part of her that needs them most.
P.S. I’d LOVE this post to be an interactive one. If you’ve had a miscarriage or other experiences of grief, what words served you most to hear? Which ones were more hurtful than helpful? Please comment below! Images source.