What NOT to say to someone who had a Miscarriage
As many of you know, I’m writing a book about miscarriage. It’s going to be filled with my own experiences and the voices of other mamas who lost their baby(ies). I sincerely pray that the words help mamas- who find themselves in the middle of a miscarriage- feel less alone. I also pray that it helps educate the people around us on methods of support.
Support provided by loved ones is one of the ways that people are helped through any grief process. When a family member dies, society rallies around the griever. Refrigerators are full of casseroles, mailboxes are full of cards, and shoulders are loaned to cry upon. But the grieving process of a woman losing her unborn child is often lonely. This loneliness might be by choice- she might choose not to tell people. But sometimes the loneliness is because society as a whole tends to minimize miscarriage. “Maybe next time” or “It just wasn’t meant to be” are very common phrases uttered. Unfortunately these comments are often quite hurtful to the woman who has just lost her baby.
Stop and read the end of that sentence again, “lost her baby.” You see, this is not an abstract concept or a dream- we are mourning the loss of a baby: a loved baby. We found out we were pregnant with our baby (we might have been nervous, scared or excited), we used our bodies to nurture our baby (we read books, blogs, envisioned rocking our baby, stopped drinking coffee, stopped eating deli meat, started planning our nursery), and then we lost our baby. The physicality of this is quite intense; the emotional toil is real. It might not have been “real” to onlookers, but we know that our bodies were nurturing a human life and even though we shouldn’t- many of us feel misguided guilt that we couldn’t bring the baby to term. It hurts. Our thoughts are invaded by untruths. And even though we find comfort that our babies are in heaven with God, it still hurts. At the crux- all we ask is that you don’t minimize our loss and that you don’t offer comments that make us feel any further guilt. Pregnancy loss shouldn’t be minimized or brushed aside as not being worthy of grief. The loss of a baby is a grievous situation.
No one intends to be insensitive. I know you wish to bring comfort. I’m truly touched that you are reading this; it means you want to be helpful. Your heart is in the right place. I just want to help you with your words. Grief and death are tricky topics for anyone to address. My hands get sweaty when I walk into a funeral home. I don’t know quite what to say. We’ve all been there- in that uncomfortable space where “I’m sorry” just doesn’t seem quite enough. Although I had a legion of support after my two miscarriages, my feelings were hurt numerous times by well-intentioned people. All of this is compounded by the hormones a female experiences after a miscarriage. There is a marked increase in risk for depression and anxiety after a pregnancy loss (Lok, I.H & Neugebauer, R. 2007). It’s not something we can control- it’s a common psychological consequence of miscarriage.
After having my feelings bruised numerous times, I finally accepted that we can never understand someone’s unique life experience; therefore, we can’t expect someone to understand the physical pain and emotional toil of a miscarriage if they have not had that experience. I also kept repeating the verse from Romans 3:10, “There is no one righteous; not even one.” To me, this means that there are no perfect people in the world. People make mistakes and I can’t hold a grudge for a person’s offhand remarks. God is the ONLY one I can count on for comfort.
I did decide that I could help educate people on miscarriage- this includes raising awareness of phrases that evoke more harm than healing. Here are some commonly said comments you will want to avoid if you desire offering support to a grieving mama. As you read these, please know that these are compiled by a large group of women. These are comments we all heard numerous times. I’ve also included, in italics, the voices of some of the women.
Above all, please know- we appreciate that you want to offer us support. Thank you.
PLEASE DON’T TELL ME:
IT HAPPENED FOR A REASON
SOMETHING WAS PROBABLY WRONG WITH THE BABY
GO and HAVE a DRINK to take the Edge Off
IT WAS GODs WILL
“I feel too often in the Christian community that people want to brush over miscarriage like it’s no big deal saying things like “You’ll have another baby” or “This was the Lord’s plan for your life” without really considering what the mama is going through.”
“We know we can adopt. We might one day, but I’m grieving the loss of a specific baby. One that I just lost.”
AT LEAST YOU HAVE ANOTHER CHILD
“I’m so grateful for my other child, but that doesn’t mean I’m not sad over the loss of this baby.”
YOU CAN ALWAYS HAVE ANOTHER BABY
“I had to have a hysterectomy. I can’t have another baby.”
“It hurt when people reacted like I’d lost a puppy. And followed it up by saying I could have another. I wanted the one I lost. I feel like people that haven’t experienced the loss unknowingly trivialize it to a degree because we never physically meet our babies. It made me mad, and still does, but I try to remind myself that I can’t blame people for their reactions if they have never experienced the loss.”
“People would say, “oh, you’ll have more kids one day.” Realistically I knew that I might not be medically able to have more children. I wanted to accept that fact and learn to be okay with it. I didn’t like false hope or people treating it like I had lost a puppy dog, ‘oh, you can get a new puppy again,’ is what it felt like. The doctor told me it would be extremely difficult for me to carry a baby to term.”
AT LEAST IT HAPPENED EARLY
“Because losing a baby is somehow easier or less painful that way?”
HAVE YOU FOUND OUT WHAT’s WRONG WITH YOU? DID YOU EXERCISE TOO MUCH? IT WAS PROBABLY THAT INSECTICIDE YOU SPRAYED AROUND YOUR HOUSE. (INSERT ANY AND ALL “BLAME COMMENTS”)
“This person responded by basically indicating that I should probably “get checked out” because something might be “wrong with me.” It just really bothered me. I know there were good intentions somewhere behind what she said, but all it did was to bring back that flood of guilt that I had been trying so desperately to let go of.”
WELL, YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE ANNOUNCED YOUR PREGNANCY SO EARLY. YOU KNEW THIS COULD HAVE HAPPENED.
SO, WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO TRY AGAIN?
Here is a picture of me cradling our second baby. It was the day I found out I was pregnant. This was the first baby I lost. I’m not showing you this for you to feel sorry for me. I’m really not. I promise- I am okay now. I hesitated even posting this picture because I know it will make you uncomfortable. I am showing it to you for you to see the excitement in my eyes so that you realize that I was carrying a baby in my womb. I had hopes, dreams and fears. Please- don’t minimize our losses and please be careful not to utter any phrases that could lead us to believe that you are blaming us for our loss.
Once again, thank you for caring enough to even read this blog. Pray, offer a hug, tell us you are sorry. Give us time, permission, and space to grieve. Really- those simple tokens of love are the most helpful. We will share when we are ready- just follow our lead.
Follow my blog and please pray for me as I continue to write this book.
In the next few weeks I hope to do a post concerning “ways to offer support.”