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The Most Important Thing To Say To Someone Who Has Suffered A Miscarriage

I can imagine nothing more difficult in life than mourning the loss of a child.

Miscarriages are a fact of pregnancy. It happens. It’s the most common complication of early pregnancy. Oftentimes nobody knows why. Thankfully, I’ve never suffered one but, unfortunately, it’s something that happens to a lot of women; my mother, my best friend, several blogger friends.

Between 20 percent and 25 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage, three percent of them after 16 weeks. One minute someone’s life is filled with expectations of a new baby, a new family member! Someone mom had real hopes and dreams for. Pretty much every waking minute while pregnant is devoted to thinking about one’s baby, the next minute it’s all gone.

It’s tough to know what to say when a friend breaks the news. Traditionally, women wait until they’re three months along before sharing the news, but increasingly, women are telling their big news before then.  This, I believe, is a very good thing.

Women originally wanted to wait, I believe, until they learned the baby made it past the risky first trimester. But what if she does miscarry? She carries her grief alone? The statistics tell us that’s a lot of women carrying a very heavy burden without support. That’s why I think telling people about the pregnancy earlier is better. If you do miscarry, you have a support group to help you through something that hasn’t always been recognized as the extremely difficult event that it is.  (For a more in depth look at sharing news of miscarriages read Ceridwen’s awesome article, Talking And Not Talking About Miscarriage.

Women who miscarry haven’t always been offered the same level of sympathy and comfort as a woman who lost a child that’s been born. Most miscarriages happen early in the first trimester, so the mom-to-be doesn’t look pregnant. That, coupled with the fact that there is no body to bury, causes people to forget a woman is actually mourning the very real and very painful loss of a child, not to mention the accompanying guilt that a woman who has had a miscarriage is likely to feel even though it isn’t her fault. As one writer puts it:

Mis-carry: The word itself creeps with guilty error, as if you’ve carelessly dropped something you were meant to hold. Layne is very good on how the experience undoes one’s sense of control. Pregnancy comes with a list of dos and don’ts, and doctors and the women’s health movement like to emphasize the responsibility we have for our bodies. So, when you miscarry, it’s hard not to feel like you did something wrong. I couldn’t quite believe my midwife when she said it wasn’t my fault. I kept replaying what I’d said a week or two earlier when a friend asked me whether I might be carrying twins. “God, I hope not,” I’d said, daunted enough by the challenge of caring for one new child. “What if they knew?” I whispered to my husband. “What if they felt like I didn’t want them?” I know, I know, it’s crazy. But it still troubles me.

A blogger who suffered a miscarriage and also helped comfort her sister through one wrote what a woman who’s gone through a miscarriage is mourning over:

  • the death of her child
  • the fact that she will not get to hold her child or meet her baby face to face
  • the knowledge that she will not get to watch her child grow up and will always wonder if her child was a boy or a girl, she will not get to see her child’s personality develop or see her child achieve his/her dreams
  • her empty womb she may still feel all the symptoms of pregnancy, but her brain now knows that there is no baby in there.  There is a void there.
  • a sense of failure.  I haven’t met a woman yet who’s miscarried and hasn’t wondered if it was somehow her fault.  She failed, her body failed, she’s being punished for a past mistake, she shouldn’t have eaten this or drank that all of these thoughts can easily play through the grieving mommy’s mind.

Perhaps this information will provide the sign posts on what to say and what not to say.  Because, although people mean well, they end up saying stupid, hurtful things to the grieving mama.   If someone you know has a miscarriage, here is the most important thing you can say to her:

  • I’m so sorry for your loss.
  • These six words let her know her pain is real and she has every right to feel, grieve, cry and heal. You can follow up with:

  • Is there anything I can do for you right now?
  • If you ever want to talk, I’m here for you.

If the grieving mom does open up to you, then be sure to say the following:

  • You know this is not your fault, right?  There is nothing you could have done to prevent this.
  • Be honest.  If you don’t know what to say, just simply say, “I wish I knew what to say but I just don’t know what I could possibly say to make you feel better.  I am here for you though.”
  • It’s okay to grieve.  That baby was real and a part of you.  This is a real loss and you can take the time to grieve over your loss.  Say this, but don’t push her.  She may need to grieve in her own way.

Remember, if you’re at a complete loss as to what to say listening is always your most valuable tool.  Really listen.  Sometimes those people in grief don’t need to hear anything, as nothing you can say will make it better, but just listening to her could be just what the doctor ordered.

Image: flickr.com/NCBrian

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