In the past few weeks, I’ve had several friends and family members bring up the subject of miscarriage. Sadly I seem to be the resident know-it-all on pregnancy loss in our family because of my own experiences with miscarriage and infertility.
Over the years I’ve also had many people ask me what to say to someone who has suffered the loss of a pregnancy. It can be an awkward time for the couple who are grieving the loss of a child and awkward for those who want to do something but don’t know what to say or do. The recent post about miscarriage made me think that others might need a some guidance in this area.
The loss of a child is perhaps one of the single most devastating and sad experiences a family can go through. In the same vein, when a couple loses a pregnancy similar feelings of sadness and loss are present. Unlike the loss of a child, when a couple experience a miscarriage there are no formal rituals of mourning, no graveside to visit and no pictures by which to remember this child. Many times this couple goes home from the hospital or the doctor’s office with empty arms and a lot of unanswered questions.
After my first miscarriage I wanted someone to talk to, someone to tell me everything was going to be ok, and that eventually I would get off the topsy-turvy roller coaster of emotions I was on. I had no idea what was going to happen to me, if I was going to be able to become pregnant again or even if I wanted to be pregnant again. I felt very alone, very scared and very angry that this was happening to me.
Here are some of the things that helped me during those dark days, and some things that I wish I would have had to get me through:
- Offer your condolences sincerely. There is no need to make flowery speeches and use meaningless clichés. Speak from the heart; let this sister know you are sorry for her loss. An important point I would also like to make is, say something. Silence from friends and relations during this time can be just as damaging and saddening as the miscarriage itself. If you don’t know what to say, just say you’re sorry for her loss. That means more than you know.
- Avoid comparing her experience or experiences to those of others you know. This minimizes her grief and her experience. Her loss is her own. Treat it as such.
- Ask her how she is, but let her answer in any way that she feels comfortable. Some women will want to talk and share all the details, some will not. Respect that, and give her the space she needs. I would also like to point out that if you have suffered a miscarriage, you are within your rights to politely tell people when something is none of their business or you would rather not talk about it. Do not feel like you have to share your medical history, trauma or drama with anyone other than your husband.
- LISTEN! I cannot say it more simply than that. Listen to what she has to say if she feels like talking. Be the kind of friend you would like to have in a crisis.
- Never break a confidence. If she has asked that you not mention her miscarriage to anyone else, don’t. If you feel you need to share this news with the Relief Society President, then ask permission. The last thing a woman who has lost her pregnancy needs is to become the grist for the ward gossip mill.
- Never, never, never, never give unsolicited advice. Never. An in-box full of “medical studies” and snake-oil cures is not what any woman needs. The only medical advice that should be given and taken is from qualified medical professionals with whom she has an established relationship. If you have gone through a miscarriage, you know what this sister is feeling and experiencing. Again, help by listening, by observing and by being the kind of friend you would like to have.
- Realize that everyone grieves differently. Some women are able to come to terms with their loss quickly and can move on. For others it might take a while. With this said, however, it is not wise to let grief become consuming. Know that each day gets better, the harshness of this loss will wane and life will feel normal again. If you observe hopelessness, severe depression, post-partum depression, or an inability to function, encourage her to seek professional help. I had no idea that I would experience post-partum depression without actually having a baby. My sister finally said something to me, and I was able to get help.
- Don’t expect the sister who has miscarried to want to attend baby-showers, see new babies or participate in things where “baby-dust” is present. I had my second miscarriage the day my friend had a baby. When she asked when I was coming to see her, I just said I couldn’t right then. Holidays like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Christmas, the baby’s due date or would-be birthday might also be hard. Treat these days with care; invite her, but understand if this sister chooses not to participate or would like to be excused. This includes family functions as well.
- Follow the spirit. If you feel prompted to do so, call, stop in and visit, or send a card. Just do it! There were days when I longed for a true friend, for someone to talk to, but I felt I had no one. How much better off I would have been, had I known I could rely on someone.
- Don’t forget about your sister, your friend, you cousin or the sister in your ward who has had a miscarriage. The body heals quickly, but sometimes the spirit and heart take longer. In the months that follow a miscarriage, remember to continue to reach out, to care and to show compassion. Be that friend you would like to have.
- Never ask, “When are you going to try again?” or “Are you pregnant again?” or similar questions. The sister who has miscarried might still be grieving, might be going through medical tests or just might not want to try again so soon after a loss. Questions regarding family building are personal and private: If the couple wants you to know, they will let you know. Otherwise, it’s none of your business.
- In the end remember the admonition of Alma and our commission as saints to “mourn with those that mourn, and comfort those who stand in need of comfort” (See Mosiah 18: 9). Let that sister know she can count on you to be a listening ear, a friend she can trust, and someone she can rely on to help her through her loss.
guest post by Joyce Anderson