Saturday, June 16, 2012

Things Not to Say to a Friend Who Has Just Experienced A Miscarriage

The road to hurt feelings is paved with good intentions. Maybe that isn't exactly the way that phrase goes but it is pretty accurate. When I had my miscarriage in December 2005 I immediately told my husband and my mom to let everyone know that I did NOT want to talk about it. I didn't want sympathy, I didn't want questions. I wanted to pretend like it didn't happen. At least while I got through Christmas. This is not how everyone will handle it, but at the time we were traveling from place to place celebrating Christmas and I did not want to have to deal with an emotional breakdown at a huge family event. Inevitably, either someone didn't get the message or they thought that what they had to say would somehow make all my pain disappear. Deep down I know that they did not intend to hurt me, but it did. So let me help you out with how to respond to a friend who has just experienced the loss of an unborn baby.

Things not to say:

1. Well at least you weren't that far along. I was 7 weeks pregnant when I lost my dear Jaime. It hurt. It hurt just like I would imagine losing one of my other children who are here with me. Maybe that doesn't seem like it can be true, but it is how it was for me. It does not matter how far along the pregnancy is, losing a child hurts.

2. You can always try again. Maybe. But that still does not make the loss of this one any easier. The idea that my baby can just be replaced by having another is insane. If one of my born children died would you tell me to just have another?

3. You can always borrow mine. Because that is just like bringing my child back from the dead. NOT.

4. It must have been God's plan. Logically we know that, yes, God had a plan for that child and though their life was brief, He reigns and there is a reason for the loss, but it takes weeks, months and sometimes years to be able to acknowledge that out loud.

5. Don't worry you will have another. This is a pie crust promise. Easily made, easily broken. No one but God knows whether this is true and to say it to a woman who is grieving is a painful stab at the heart, because the first question we ask ourselves is "what if we can't".

6. It's been (insert number) weeks/months now. Just let it go. No one has the right to time a mother's grief. I am 5 years post miscarriage and I still have a hard time talking about it without crying. Let us grieve however we need to for as long as we need to.

My best piece of advice would be this: If you wouldn't say it to someone whose born child has just passed, don't say it to someone whose unborn child has just passed.

Things to say:

1. Nothing. Let your friend decide when she is ready to talk about it and when she does, she may only want you to listen. And please, don't give advice unless it is asked for. Just listen.

2. I am sorry. If you feel like you must say something keep it short and sweet.

3. I will pray for you. Another short and simple condolence.

4. What about your husband, how is he? I think most of us can say that during emotional trials that our husbands try to put on the brave front. My husband fielded comments and phone calls, he answered questions and talked to doctors. I was in no mental state to do it, but through it all the only one who acknowledged his pain was my OB/GYN. Not that no one cared, but just that I was so obviously hurt that they were focused on me.

There is no easy way to comfort a friend who has just suffered a pregnancy loss. Be patient, be understanding and be kind. Be ready for crazy emotional outbursts as grief and hormones collide. Everyone is going to handle it differently. Let the parents decide when and how much they want to talk about it. Most of all, think before you speak.

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Tracey said...

Having miscarried at 11 weeks and delivered a stillborn at 36 weeks, I agree with all you listed here. Sometimes it aches deeply to feel the emptiness in your arms that were preparing to hold a child. I, however wasn't prepared for people to pretend nothing happened...i lost a child! Life stopped for a bit over here, and it was helpful for me to talk about my precious baby. Everyone grieves differently, and if you have a desire to see it, the mother will generally give you direction in what is helpful to her.

Anna said...

You are right, and I did not mean to make it sound like that is what everyone would want to do. I went up and edited it to make it a bit more clear. I was trying explain how my personal wishes were not followed and how that intensified my grief.

I am sorry for both of the losses of your dear babies. May you be continually be granted comfort.

ourhearts4home said...

Anna, I couldn't have said it better myself! I heard every one of those when we lost our baby. The only person who said the "right" thing to me was my doctor. She said "Oh honey, I am so so sorry, that must be so very hard for you." She knew all the behind the scenes and how hard dh and I had been trying to get pregnant. Just saying sorry and confirming how difficult it was meant the world to me.

ourhearts4home said...

One more thought... I agreed with my hubby that we'd not try for a baby our first year. But the following 3 years he would say no to my baby requests. It was a HARD 3 years. And then when he said yes, there was another year of negative pregnancy tests and a miscarraige. So in that 4 year span I came to hate Mother's Day at church. I would have well meaning folks come up and say "So when are YOU going to have some kids" "When are YOU gonna be a mom?" And I know they were eager to see us be parents and meant no harm, but I avoided Mother's Day at church that last year. I just couldn't deal with it. So, while this has nothing to do with the miscarriage part, I thought I'd add my 2c on hurtful comments while trying to conceive... You have no idea what may be going on behind closed doors. ~c

Anonymous said...

The first terrible comment I got was from my OB immediately after. He actually made a joke "By the way, you can't have sex for six months." Like I cared at all at that moment. The comments just got worse from there from other "well meaning" people/

Tina Hollenbeck said...

I lost my precious first daughter 13 years ago; she probably died at 12 weeks gestation and I found out at the beginning of week 14 when we went in for a "routine" ultrasound. I was blessed with two other daughters later, but I still miss my Anna Vivian and always will till I see her in heaven. Your list is spot-on, and I'll be sharing this on Facebook just because people need to be regularly told these things for it to sink in.

Mom as Doctor said...

I have had several miscarriages and what you have shared it so very true!

Anonymous said...

So true. I think for me what might have been nice was some longer term follow up, you know? Like, immediately after people remembered to ask how I was, but what about months afterward? My babies were still dead and I still missed them.

It's hard to bring it up in conversation because I don't want to make people feel too awkward, but I like talking about my babies in heaven. I'm not trying to encourage sympathy really. I just want to talk about my children!

I'm glad you wrote this. One of my greatest sources of comfort has been other women who have walked this road before.