Robin* had a healthy 4-year-old son when she decided to try for a second child. She was fit and had already experienced a successful pregnancy. So when she found herself going through a miscarriage, she felt defeated. “For me, it was a feeling of loss,” she says. “I was mourning a child I’d never meet.”
Three months later, Robin found herself pregnant once again. But at five weeks, she had another miscarriage. “The feeling of loss was compounded by a feeling of failure,” she says. “I worried that I wasn’t capable of carrying a child anymore. And that was hard to move past.”
Then, she met up with a friend who gave her hope. “She told me not to give up on my dream of having another child,” Robin says. “She knew that, for me, it was exactly what I needed to hear. And those small words of support lifted me up when I was feeling very down.”
Knowing what to say to someone who has experienced a miscarriage isn’t easy. Mostly because there’s no one way to feel when you’re going through it.
Karen Anderson, a social work supervisor at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns, has seen this firsthand. “I see couples who are going through miscarriage quite frequently,” she says. “What I’ve found is that it’s so different for everyone, and there is no right or wrong feeling, or one way of doing it.”
Anderson also counsels those who support these couples. For those who don’t know what miscarriage feels like, a seemingly kind sentiment can backfire into something extremely hurtful. “I have heard the worst,” she says, “Things like, ‘Something must have been wrong with the baby’ or ‘At least you lost it early and not when you were full-term.’”
What to say, when you’re not sure what to say
The most important thing to remember when supporting someone who has lost a pregnancy is that no words can fix what they’re going through. But being an active participant in their grieving process can make a big difference in how they move forward. Anderson offers the following five tips:
1. Acknowledge the loss and sadness that goes with it.
When people are unsure of what to say, they often say nothing at all. This has a tendency to invalidate how the woman is feeling. A simple, “I know you’ve just gone through a loss and I’m so sorry about that,” can go a long way.
2. Share your own sense of helplessness and desire to be present and provide support.
Even if miscarriage is something you haven’t experienced personally, sharing your own feelings can help the woman feel less alone. Being honest, and sharing that you’re unsure of what to say but you are there, is important.
3. Ask the woman to share anything about the experience she is comfortable sharing.
Everyone deals with miscarriage in a different way. Some women are very open about it, some prefer to keep it to themselves. Make sure she knows you respect her way of healing, and will support her in any way she chooses.
4. Let her know you are open to talking about it any time she would like.
Promise to make yourself available, and then deliver on that promise. It may take some time for the woman to feel OK about discussing her personal situation. But when she does, it’s important she knows she can lean on you.
5. Offer to attend a support group with her.
Support groups offer the opportunity for women with similar experiences to share stories and connect on a personal level. But for those who are new, they can seem daunting. Find support groups in your area, and offer to sit by her as she attends her first one.
For those supporting a friend or loved one, there are no perfect words. Sometimes the simple act of being there and listening is better than any advice you can give. “Grieving is not a process of forgetting,” says Anderson. “Instead, it’s a process of remembering.”
*Name changed for privacy.