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 after a miscarriage might be by choice- the sweet mama 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 common phrases uttered after this socially negated loss. Unfortunately, these comments are 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 who’ve faced a miscarriage, stillbirth, or ectopic pregnancy 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, upset, 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 our baby died in our womb.
The physicality of this is quite intense; the emotional toil is real.
It might not have been “real” to onlookers, but we know our bodies were nurturing a human life. Many of us feel misguided guilt that we couldn’t bring the baby to term. It hurts. Our thoughts are invaded by untruths.
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 death of a baby in the womb is a grievous situation.
No one intends to be insensitive. I know you wish to bring comfort. I 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, but we search for the right words. Nervous sympathy.
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 many females experience after a miscarriage. Did you know there is a marked increase in risk for depression and anxiety after a pregnancy loss? Even PTSD. It’s not something we can control- it’s a common psychological consequence of miscarriage.
And the darting of reckless words compounds the emotional toil.
At times words can cast blame. Many people wrongly believe pregnancy loss can be prevented. In most all situations this is a myth. It is not the result of heavy lifting, stress, or even having sex while pregnant. Nor is it because someone “exercised too much.” The false assumption that pregnancy loss is the effect of a specific action causes many people to utter comments that place us, the mother, at blame. Friend, we must be careful not to project a comment that casts blame on the grieving mother.
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. Those are not the words that I need to choose to meditate upon. As a woman of faith, I know that God is the only one I can count on for comfort.
But, I did decide that I could help educate people on miscarriage- this includes raising awareness of phrases that evoke more harm than healing.
I truly appreciate you wanting to know more. To make the changes in wording so you can help another.
Here are some commonly said comments you should avoid if you desire offering support to a grieving mama. Much is taken as excerpts from my book Loved Baby: 31 Devotions Helping You Grieve and Cherish Your Child After Pregnancy Loss. As you read these, please know these are compiled by a large group of women. These are comments we have 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
My friend recalls a person saying, It’s probably a blessing. There is a reason some babies don’t’ make it.
Implying or saying a death is the cause for a celebration will not help anyone. It minimizes the loss of this specific and wanted child. Comments such as this make us feel our grief is imagined. Or that we wouldn’t’ have cherished a baby who had special needs. As one mama says, From the minute the test said pregnant I was attached.
GO HAVE a DRINK to take the Edge Off
IT WAS GOD’s WILL
One mother who faced a miscarriage said, 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.
Mourning is a must. We can’t skip over this step with a pat comment that minimizes the loss and minimizes the grieving process. Healing is dependent on doctors, caregivers, and loved ones recognizing that pregnancy loss is a death and not minimizing the event. Minimizing halts recovery. All grief requires mourning. And mourning takes time.
We know we can adopt. We might one day, but I’m grieving the loss of a specific baby. One that I just lost.
Adoption is a choice that arrives after much thought. Adoption is not a just situation. Not everyone has the financial ability to adopt or feels the call to this specific path of motherhood. Plus, right now we are grieving a specific pain. We need support that will help us process our present reality, not plan our future.
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.”
Comments such as these fail to recognize that we mourn a specific soul. It also implies it is simple to get pregnant and we will automatically have better luck next time. Many don’t realize the private emotional and financial struggles we endure. We might have spent several attempts at IVF or spent years charting our cycles. In fact, the baby that died might have been the light at the end of a five-year-battle with infertility.
Many women also have pregnancies that threaten their lives. Hemorrhaging is deadly. Women have life-threatening infections. Therefore, some women decide not to try again.
Or some women can’t have another baby due to a hysterectomy, damaged fallopian tubes, or other medical reasons that came as a result of the loss. Many families can’t go on to try for another baby and it stings when people assume otherwise.
AT LEAST IT HAPPENED EARLY
Because losing a baby is somehow easier or less painful that way?
Putting a gestational age on grieve is a caustic reaction. No matter the gestational age we are mourning the loss of a child that was conceived. Attachment can begin the moment we find we are pregnant. Have you seen ultrasound pictures lately? We can see the life within our body.
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.
Would not telling early have really caused my heart not to hurt?
SO, WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO TRY AGAIN?
All of the above are reckless comments that needn’t be uttered by anyone.
When in doubt offer a hug, send a card, send a gift package, send or make check-up calls and texts. Offer to watch their other children. Send flowers. Gift an ornament of remembrance. Listen. Give space and time to grieve.
Show love in the simplest of forms.
Making these simple changes in our language to families after pregnancy loss can be more healing than you would ever imagine.
Miscarriage does matter, and so do our words.
Let’s show love and not gloss over, speak blame, or utter comments that shame.