Helping Someone After a Miscarriage
When we offer help to someone through this time, they are often in such shock they don’t know what they need. The objectives are to encourage the venting of their grief and re-establishing their self-esteem while recognizing their sorrow. Whatever the person is feeling, they deserve to have their feelings supported by the people around them. If you are their main comforter, see the following website for suggestions on how to be the most useful companion to a grieving person; www.centerforloss.com/companioning-philosophy.
- Contact is important. Be there if possible, but if not ring. A card would be lovely. Texting, Email or Facebook can feel less personal.
- Whatever she is feeling, she deserves to have her feelings supported by people around her.
- A hug or arm around her shoulders is comforting.
- Understand that her tears are a healthy response and should never be discouraged. Having a box of tissues handy is helpful.
- Let her do the talking. Be the passive partner who asks questions and focus on certain points to help her talk about her feelings. It is sufficient to just listen.
- Tell her how you feel about her losing the baby and how sorry you are.
- Acknowledge her pain even if you think you would not react this way in this situation.
- Ask questions about her experience, how she is really feeling and what she is thinking about.
- When you ask her partner how she is doing, don’t forget to ask him how he is.
- Encourage her to be patient and not to impose ‘shoulds’ on herself – grieving takes time
- Reassure her she did everything she could and it wasn’t her fault – it helps alleviate guilt.
- Grieving is a physically exhausting process and she will probably need to sleep or rest during the day. Take whatever steps necessary to give her the uninterrupted peace to do this.
- The intensity of grief fluctuates. During less tearful times a change of scenery is appreciated.
- Do something practical such as hanging up the washing/shopping or offer to take around a meal.
- Put on soothing music for her to listen to, offer a back massage, a walk on the beach. When she feels ready, take her to a movie of her choice.
- If you are seriously worried about her behavior, seek professional advice. As a rule of thumb, as long as she is not damaging herself, another person or property, you probably don’t have anything to worry about.
- Don’t ignore her because you feel helpless or uncomfortable with grief – she will wonder if what happened to her means nothing to you.
- Don’t think that miscarriage is easier to cope with than a stillbirth or neonatal death. The truth is that her baby has just died, and it doesn’t really matter how pregnant she was.
- Don’t be anxious or embarrassed about making her cry. It is not what you said or did that upset her, but losing the baby. By allowing her to cry, you are helping her work through the process of grief.
- Don’t confuse support with “cheering her up”. Grief is an enormously powerful emotion and needs releasing, not repressing.
- Don’t put on a bright cheery front yourself.
- Don’t be nervous and keep talking. There is nothing wrong with silence. You can share silence with a good friend.
- Don’t be tempted to be judgmental in any way about her feelings or reactions. People in grief often behave out of character or inappropriately and need your unconditional support. Things will eventually return to normal and she will feel grateful that you stood by her.
- Don’t have expectations about how long it should take her to recover. Losing a baby is one of life’s most difficult experiences and the depth of her grief is shocking even to her.
- Don’t assume there will be another pregnancy.
- Don’t try to do all the housework. Although well intentioned, she needs to feel capable and useful.
- Don’t minimize her loss by offering platitudes such as “you’re young enough to try again”, or “it was nature’s way of getting rid of an imperfect baby”. It is appropriate to deal with this as you would any other death.
- Don’t say that “she’s so lucky to have the other kids” – her pain is for this baby and other children don’t take that away.
- Don’t forget her children have lost a sibling, and it is natural for them to react in some way.
- Don’t feel guilty if you’re pregnant. Just forgive her if she’s cold and withdrawn, it’s her way of coping.
- Don’t feel you have to keep your children away. She must go through the process of accepting others’ children.
- Don’t ask how she is feeling if you only do so as a social obligation as it obliges you to listen carefully to the complete answer.
Seven helpful things to say
- “I’m so sorry about your Miscarriage.” These simple words mean a lot, especially if you allow the Mum or Dad to talk further, or not to talk, as they wish.
- “I know how much you wanted that baby.” Here you are simply acknowledging that something precious has been lost, and opening a door to talk more.
- “It’s okay to cry.” – this can sound like Hollywood but it’s reassuring for the Mum or Dad to know they are not being judged for their tears and sadness.
- “Can I call you back next week to see how you are doing?” Often people are sympathetic the first time, then never mention miscarriage again. You can expect the parents to still be grieving for weeks or months, so it is reassuring for them to know your support is ongoing.
- “I was wondering how you are feeling about your miscarriage now” – it’s nice for them to have the opportunity to talk about their miscarriage even if it is a long time later and after a successful pregnancy as well. Parents do not forget a miscarriage.
- “I don’t really know what to say.” The good thing about this is that it is honest. The fact that you are available to listen is what’s really important.
- “It must be so awful for you after going through those weeks of IVF treatment to have lost your baby.”
Seven things not to say
- “You can always have another one” – it doesn’t help much to know you can have another baby. The parents didn’t just want any baby, they wanted THAT baby. Before they can think about another one they need to grieve for their lost one. They have lost their hopes and dreams as well.
- “There was probably something wrong with it – it’s natures way.” This may be true but it is no comfort to hear it. They want to believe it was a perfect baby, and that’s who they are grieving for.
- “It’s God’s will” – People may or may not believe this. Whatever the case, it’s still sad. You are better supporting the parents’ grief than getting into theology.
- “At least you didn’t know the baby – it would have been much worse if it had happened later” – it does not help to minimize and invalidate a miscarriage, it is not the length of the pregnancy, but the strength of the parents’ attachment, that determines the intensity of their grief.
- “I know how you feel” – this statement can seem arrogant, even if you have miscarried yourself, as everyone reacts differently. Other losses can compound grief.
- “It wasn’t really a baby yet” – that may not be how the parents see it. If it wasn’t a baby what was it? To them it was real and they are grieving.
- “You’re young, there’s plenty of time. If you’d stop focusing on being pregnant so much it will just happen”
If in doubt, say something – anything – and be prepared to listen. Possibly the hardest thing, even harder than hearing an insensitive comment, is when people say nothing at all.
(The Seven helpful things to say and Seven things not to say lists are compiled from information courtesy of the Wellington Miscarriage Group)