Losing a baby to a miscarriage is never something anyone wants to think about. Let alone talk about. But it happens every day. To women that we know. To women that we care about. And sometimes even to us.
For what seems to be a small number of women, miscarriage is easy to recover from. It happens, they heal, and they really only think of or mention it when the topic of miscarriage comes up. Miscarriage is a tremendous loss that feels no different from having a death in the family for many women. And that loss continues to sting for years and years after the fact, especially at important times like the holidays.
The March of Dimes states, “Miscarriage is very common. Some research suggests that more than 30 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage, and many end before a person even knows they’re pregnant.” 1 So if you’ve never found yourself sitting across from someone who tells you they have miscarried, you likely will in the future.
So what IS the appropriate way to respond when someone tells you they have just miscarried?
Nothing at all?
Just let them talk?
From the Mouths of Women Who Have Experienced Miscarriage
I asked several friends who have experienced miscarriages to tell me what they did and did not want to hear after their loss. While no two women or men are identical in their feelings, and some people are okay with things that others are not, there seemed to be 10 phrases commonly cited as more hurtful than helpful.
1. “Everything happens for a reason.”
While many people use this as their go-to explanation for hard things in life like a miscarriage, it is generally not helpful to say to a woman who is in pain because instead of acknowledging the pain that mother is experiencing, it makes her begin searching for reasons she is supposed to be in pain. One mother said, “It just made me mad. My mind went to thoughts like Why? Because I shouldn’t be a mother? Because I did something wrong? And what could possibly be a good reason for us to suffer like this? I knew people were just trying to comfort me, but I couldn’t hear it how they meant it at that point.”
2. “This too shall pass.”
While meant to provide hope for the future, this phrase makes people in grief feel like you are trying to rush them through their current pain. Grief is a process. Healthy grief takes time. Let them hurt.
3. “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.”
While someone may find this to be true in retrospect, this phrase also makes people feel like they shouldn’t be hurting because they should be able to “handle” it. Mothers don’t want to be told they can handle the pain of a miscarriage. They want to know you get how much they are hurting. One mother shared, “It is better to say nothing than to hear those words” when you’re hurting.
4. “At least you haven’t bonded with the baby yet.”
No one knows the heart of another person. Whether a baby was 4 weeks along or 14, a mother can still feel loss and devastation at any part in the process. One mother said, “There was no way for her to possibly know if I had or how I felt. I was so excited and connected to that baby from the moment I knew.”
5. “So what happened medically? Did something cause you to miscarry?”
While this may sound innocent, asking physiological questions makes many moms feel they are the reason something happened to the baby. You may feel like you are just seeking information, but they may feel like you are blaming them. One Mom shared, “Like I wanted to talk about that or even knew for that matter.”
6. “Did you know that Melissa also had a miscarriage and then had three healthy children?”
Again, this is meant to provide hope, but when a mother does not know your friend Melissa, there is nothing personal to them about her story. One mother shared, “While empathy is great, second-hand accounts can get old. And, of course, I know that miscarriage is relatively common, but that rarely helps when you are the one in the middle of the personal heartbreak. And the thing is, for me, while miscarriage may be common, five miscarriages are NOT common, and that is my experience.”
7. “You just need to relax and quit worrying! Your body will be able to do it when it’s ready.”
This unintentionally places blame on the Mom and makes them feel responsible for having a vital pregnancy. This is like telling someone who just returned from the emergency room over ant bites to relax as they step into a big mound of ants–easier said than done. Additionally, you may not know their full circumstances. One Mom shared, “It’s not like me being calm and stress-free was going to affect my husband’s low sperm count.”
8. “At least you have two other children.”
This is meant to help a mother remember her blessings, but it only seems to make her feel guilty for feeling hurt. One Mom shared, “Yes, and I am grateful and full of love for them. However, it doesn’t take away the hurt for this loss or mean I wanted this baby any less.”
9. People who say nothing at all.
If someone has taken time to tell you they have miscarried, it is better to say or do something than ignore their pain. One Mom shared, “Meals go a long way. An act of kindness sometimes says what someone can’t say. If you can’t think of something to say, then at least do something for that Mom who, to her, has lost her child or sometimes worse – lost the child and hope of ever having one at all.”
10. “You can try again.”
Again, this is meant to be hopeful, but if anything, it can make a mother or father feel rushed through their grief and anxious about the future. One Mom shared, “This was meant to make me look to a promise of a child in the future, but at the time, I was devastated from the loss of my child and unable to think beyond that loss, let alone thinking of the probability that another pregnancy could end all too early.”
4 Caring Things to Say to Someone Who Has Miscarried
Now that you know the 10 things that are NOT helpful, here are 4 simple phrases that are helpful because they acknowledge a hurting mother’s pain while still expressing empathy and willingness to help.
- “I am sorry for your loss and that you are hurting.”
- “I will be thinking/praying for you as you go through this pain. Not just today. But in the future, too.”
- “I am here to listen if you want to talk.”
- “Let me know if there is anything I can do that would be helpful, even if it is months down the line.”
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