It can be really hard to know what the right thing is to say when someone encounters a loss. Even more so when that loss was a baby that hadn’t had the chance to live yet. Miscarriage; a cruel part of life and death, and one that we’re really not very good at talking about.
There’s a cultural norm that women shouldn’t tell too many people about their pregnancy until they’ve had their 12-week scan – because the majority of miscarriages often occur within this window. But, this infers that we shouldn’t share the good news of a new pregnancy, in the event that it becomes bad news.
But why? Why is miscarriage such a taboo and why should there be this shroud of secrecy? It seems that all we’re doing is setting women up for silence and isolation if the worst happens.
No. We should be talking about miscarriage because if ever it were to happen to one of my friends, family, colleagues or even myself, I’d like to think that I, and the people around me, would be well equipped enough to know what to say.
It’s not enough to ignore it or plead blissful ignorance. Miscarriage happens to one in four pregnancies, which is roughly 250,000 miscarriages in the UK per year. With so many women experiencing pregnancy loss at some point in their lives, it’s important we know how to empathise with their heartbreak.
If you’ve had a miscarriage you will well know the impact it can have on the rest of your life. If you haven’t, then you can imagine. Though we would prefer bad news not exist, it does. And, therefore, it’s time to become conversant in talking about this difficult topic.
So, how can you support a loved one after a miscarriage?
If someone you know experiences a pregnancy loss, the worst thing you can do is say nothing at all. You don’t have to say anything profound, just start by showing concern for how she’s doing and telling her you’re there for her, no matter how long her grieving process may be.
It’s hard to talk about these things, but not talking about it doesn’t make it go away. If your friend isn’t able to deal with her grief properly, the impact on her mental health could last a lifetime.
Don’t be afraid to be direct
Be consistent. Check in with her regularly. Don’t worry about reminding her of it when you check in with her. The chances are, you’re not reminding her – she’s been thinking about her loss regularly. It feels better to be asked than not to be asked at all.
If you’re not sure what to say or do, think about what you would want to hear or receive in your darkest moments – she needs those same things from you.
Use the general rule that, if you wouldn’t say it to someone at a funeral, don’t say it to someone that’s just lost their unborn baby. It was a life all the same. Equally, if you would say it at a funeral, it is just as fitting for someone that’s experienced a miscarriage.
Simply saying “I’m so sorry. I’m here for you” can be all she needs to hear. There’s no need for advice or words of wisdom, just condolence and compassion will suffice.
Acknowledge her grief
Aside from not saying anything at all, the worst thing you can do is to try and make her feel better about the situation through comments such as, “This pregnancy might not have worked out, but you can try again.”
She might not want to try again, especially right now. She wanted that baby, her baby. So acknowledge that.
Ask if she’d picked a name for the baby. Ask if she wants to say goodbye. Ask if she wants your help in letting anyone else know. These are the things that help to signal that you see and hear her pain. Even if you can’t understand fully what she’s going through, she’ll appreciate it if you try.
Remember about her partner
Miscarriage doesn’t just affect the mother – try to check in with her partner too, if you can. If they’re busy trying to look after and support their loved one, it’s likely their grief is not being acknowledged. A simple hug or even a “how are you doing?” can go a long way.
Suggest they seek professional help
If you think it’s required, you could recommend counselling as an option to help them deal with their grief. Talking won’t bring their baby back, but it can help them to process and understand their feelings.
If they want your support with this, browse some counsellor profiles with them to help them find someone they can connect with. This relationship can be really important in overcoming a traumatic life event.