A friend of mine just suffered a miscarriage. I stopped by with milk and cookies for the sole purpose of holding her hand. I told her I was sorry. I cried alongside her. And then I sat there, clenching her hand in silence for nearly an hour. Deep in the quiet, my heart wanted to say so many things. I wanted to tell her about my miscarriages, share what helped in my healing, and console her with the blessing of my rainbow baby, but I didn’t.
This first visit, this first hour, wasn’t about me. It was about partnering in her loss, not guiding her through it.
I knew visitors had been making the rounds, bringing food and flowers, sending sympathy cards and texts. I knew well-meaning folks were trying to negotiate her out of the sadness that made them uncomfortable. I knew her husband as a “fixer,” was at a complete loss. I knew her son didn’t quite know how to handle mommy’s heartache. I knew these things for having lived these things. But of all the gifts of care and support she was receiving, I knew she really only wanted one thing: to feel safe.
She wanted to feel safe in her own body again. To know what and when it all went wrong. She wanted to feel safe to process her pain in her own time. She wanted to feel safe to curse the universe, question everything, and retreat from her life and her loss, however she was able.
I wanted so much to give her these things — to shelter, protect, and really care for her. At least then I’d feel like I was doing something. But could any something really lead her through grief? Could any something offer true healing, comfort, or peace? It couldn’t for me.
After my first miscarriage, I remember the emergency room doctor telling my husband, “Take care of her as much as you can. Tell everyone who loves her to take care of her.” Bless them, they tried. When I still wasn’t myself a few weeks later, they tried harder. But only after these good people went back to their regularly scheduled living, could I begin the process of caring for me. And not through bubble baths or manicures. My self-care was messy and manic; just like it needed to be.
When care comes from others, it’s so very civilized, have you noticed? It’s clichés and careful (albeit sometimes misguided) words. It’s hugs and back-rubbing. It’s apologies and prayers. And it’s nice, I suppose, in some dignified sort of way. But self-care in times of true grief is a different animal. It’s blasting angry music as you drive way too fast down the freeway. It’s ridding your entire home of anything your family no longer uses at 2 AM. It’s buying an entire wardrobe at a store your previous sensibilities would have never allowed. It’s cutting off all your hair and going for a three-mile run at 4 AM when you’re not even a runner. That’s what my self-care looked like and it made sense to me even when it didn’t.
I’m sure on the outside my brand of self-care looked more destructive than constructive at times. With momentary highs and long lows, inappropriate laughter and unprovoked tears, I might have thought the same. But my wild and curious self-care was leading me somewhere I knew I had to go.
In stillness, sitting beside my friend, I wondered what her self-care journey would look like. For a brief moment I considered helping her find it, but instead I chose only to whisper from my heart. Her walk is most certainly her own; my only job is to stand right behind.
It’s hard to know what do or say after pregnancy loss, I know. Having been on both sides of the couch as a survivor and supporter, I can only say that acknowledgement matters. Recognize her baby, honor her pain, and above all, support her measures of self-care. If you don’t know where to begin, just hold her hand.