“What do I do if someone I know is having a miscarriage?”
“What do I say to my friend who just had a stillbirth?”
“My sister-in-law just lost her baby and she won’t answer my texts…what should I do?”
Every year, I answer anonymous questions on my Instagram that people have about pregnancy loss. I do this in honor of my son Anthony on his due date, July 25. For every question asked, I donate $2 to the Adalyn Rose Foundation, a non-profit that support families going through pregnancy loss.
The number one question I receive: “how can I support someone experiencing pregnancy loss?”
This is quite beautiful to me. Instead of the opportunity to be nosy about my personal experience (nothing is off limits. What can I say? I’m an open book), people choose to look inward and say “how can I do better by my friends and family?”
Speaking from experience and from what I have seen from others in this community (the community no one asked to be a part of), I’ll do my best to illustrate your options of what to do – and what not to do – if someone you know loses a pregnancy.
DO: text them
PLEASE, oh, for the love of all things, please SAY SOMETHING.
You are not reminding them of their loss. They are quite aware, and the loss hurts. And you know what else hurts? When your friends or family act like you didn’t just lose your child.
If you’re unsure where to start, try these:
- “Hey, I heard about what you’re going through. I will never pretend to understand how you feel in this moment, but please know that I’m here for you when you’re ready to talk.”
- “Know that I’m thinking of you and your baby. If you ever want to share more about them or your experience, I would love to listen.”
- “I am so sorry for your loss.”
- “Sending you love. I’d like to stop by this week if that’s okay?”
If and when they respond, you can go from there. Maybe they will want to divulge more information. Maybe they will ask to speak to you another time. Maybe they will say “thank you” and nothing else. What I can promise you is that they will not forget that you reached out.
DO NOT: stay silent
I understand that wanting to give someone space during a loss is tempting. You don’t want to overwhelm them with yet another reminder, and yes maybe they are overwhelmed. However, this loss is already so silent and isolating. It happens in 1 in 4 pregnancies, yet it still is a taboo subject, meaning birthing parents often suffer in silence. These families didn’t just lose a baby, they lost the dreams and plans that immediately spring to mind when you see those two pink lines. Just because their baby didn’t make it earth-side, doesn’t mean it’s forgotten that easily.
DO: be of service
I wanted to say “DO: send gifts” but I felt like that was missing the point.
Don’t get me wrong; many people sent us gifts after our miscarriage and they were some of the most beautiful gestures of kindness. A close friend sent me a necklace with the July birthstone on it – the month Anthony was due. Another crocheted a baby blanket (a gesture of hope) and shared a note saying she prayed for us and Anthony as she made it. My best high school girls sent me records of our favorite artists and gift cards for take out. These things meant so much and lightened the load of grief ever so slightly, and most of all, reminded me that people cared about and loved Anthony even though they had never met him.
But what I truly mean by “be of service” is showing up in person or in any way you can.
Make something and drop it off or send a gift card. Or, tell them to pick a night and restaurant and get it delivered to their house. This is my favorite because the parents can pick what they have a taste for and limit interaction, especially if they’re not ready to be with people yet.
Grief can be paralyzing. Staring at a messy house can add to stress and when you just can’t muster the energy to do something about it, it’s even more defeating. Offer to stop over and do some laundry or dishes. Please note that if you do this, don’t expect them to either a. say yes or b. open up about what happened. While this could be a good opportunity for the grieving parent(s) to share, they may not be ready. You offering to help is huge in itself and will be appreciated, no matter how big or small the contribution.
If they have older living children, offer to babysit while the grieving parents nap or go out. If they sound like they need a friend, give them a call and offer to come over. Sometimes it takes a “I’m free Saturday at 1. Would you like some company?” or even a “I’m coming over tomorrow at 5 with dinner. Text me if you’re not available.”
Simply being present for a friend or family member going through pregnancy loss is the best gift you can give them, because your presence in their time of need says exactly what they need to hear: their baby matters.
DO NOT: overstay your welcome
If you do reach out and drop off a meal or offer a service, read the room. Do they seem like they want you to stay or do they want to be alone? Are they ready to talk about what happened or do they want a distraction? Do they have a greater need than you thought or do they actually seem to be managing (as well as one can in these circumstances)?
DO: listen and offer support
A few weeks after my miscarriage, two of my friends close by arranged a girls day for the three of us. I knew the timing was not a coincidence, but took solace in the fact that they would respect whatever boundary I set about sharing about my experience. If I kept silent, they wouldn’t push. If I wanted to talk, they would listen. I decided to take stock of my feelings once I got to my friend’s house the day of and go from there.
We sat down in her living room and something got brought up, closely related to how I was feeling postpartum. Here it was, my moment to decide. I said “guys, I feel like I just need to go through it all and tell you everything that happened.” They said “okay,” and I did.
These two amazing women – one a mother of two, one a newlywed – sat and listened to my whole story. They were silent for the most part and interjected when they knew appropriate, asking questions or calling people out that misguided us in our experience. They cried for me. They cried with me. They cried for the baby they didn’t get to meet.
This experience was so cathartic and I am grateful to them and their friendship in that moment when I needed them most.
On that note, a brief PSA:
It is not mandatory to share about your loss.
I want to be very clear: even though I fully support birthing parents and families sharing their stories in order to lessen the stigma of pregnancy loss, it’s okay to not feel comfortable talking about it, or not to talk about it ever! If someone you know who has experienced pregnancy loss feels this way, please respect that boundary but still find a way to be present for them that’s more appropriate to their situation.
DO NOT: give cookie-cutter advice that negates their feelings
Ah, well-meaning advice.
The biggest culprit of why people don’t say anything at all is because they don’t know what to say. This is fair. Grief is tough, and to be honest, kind of intimidating to talk about. Saying the wrong thing feels like adding salt to the wound which is never our intention. However, there are a lot of things that sound like good advice or the “right thing to say” when in reality, they can be twisting the knife.
“Everything happens for a reason.”
Do you really want someone who just lost a child to think that there was a reason for this to happen? Let alone a good one? Not gonna blow over well.
“It was just God’s plan.”
As someone who would consider themselves religious, I have a hard time thinking that God excites in taking children away from their parents.
Do I believe Anthony is with Jesus in heaven? Yes.
Do I now believe that there was a “reason” for the loss experience we had? I suppose, because some good is coming from it.
Would I rather have Anthony here than all of this? Abso-freakin’-lutely.
Telling a grieving parent that it was” God’s plan” to lose their child not only makes God out to be malicious (in my experience, He’s a pretty forgiving and loving guy) but also is a statement that retracts hope from future pregnancies, insinuating one child had to “sacrifice” themselves for another.
“Do you think it’s something you ate/did?”
Say it with me:
Do I need to say it again?
Okay, I will for my loss moms:
YOUR LOSS WAS NOT YOUR FAULT.
You did not hurt your baby.
You did everything right during your pregnancy.
Nothing you could’ve done could’ve saved your baby – because if there was something, you would’ve done it. You’re a mom.
End of discussion. Next.
“At least” statements like “at least you were only ____ far along,” or “at least you can drink again!”
“At least” means nothing. We would give anything to feel sick again, to not be able to drink or eat lunchmeat, to have our bellies growing and expanding over missing our babies.
It is gut-wrenching no matter if they were 4 weeks along or 40 weeks, and no loss is “worse” or “easier” than any other (more on that in a later post). A loss is a loss.
DO: remember their baby
Remember anniversaries/birth/due dates as if it were an earth-side baby
My friends and family call and text me on Anthony’s due date. While he’s not here physically, it feels like he had a greater impact with a tangible day to celebrate him and all that he means to me.
Say their baby’s name (if they named them)
If they decided to name their baby, use it. It’s not a bad word. Saying their name also says “your baby was here, they were real.”
Another brief PSA: it is not a requirement to name your baby. Ask the parents what they call their baby, if anything. Again, follow their lead.
Acknowledge their pregnancy
If they have living children as well as a loss (or multiple losses), ask about all of their pregnancies. Pregnancies that end in loss still can be perfectly “normal” and have the typical symptoms that birthing parents love to compare (“were you sick? Oh, I was MISERABLE with my first…my second not so much” etc.) While both of my pregnancies felt similar to start, my cravings were different in both. I always like to share that when discussing my pregnancies, but never know how much is too much for someone else to handle. Acknowledging each of their pregnancies includes their angel babies in the conversation, creating a safe space for sharing.
Grief doesn’t end after a few weeks.
Check in a few weeks after. And a few months. And a few years. And maybe a few weeks after a few years. Get where I’m going with this? Grief is ever-evolving and shows itself in the strangest (and sometimes terrifyingly unexpected) ways, especially after the shock starts to fade and reality sets in. Bereaved parents may need you long after the dark days of their loss.
The bereaved parent you know may have been great yesterday but saw something on TV that made them think of their baby today.
They may be pregnant after loss months later, yet are still afraid to use the restroom in fear they’ll see blood again.
Their angel baby should be 22 this year but they had a dream about them and imagined what they would have become.
Dropping in with a text, phone call or even a letter or a card every once in awhile could be just what they need to continue to cope on a daily basis.
Read the room; follow their lead on how much they want to share
Everyone grieves differently. This advice is not one-size-fits-all. Some people choose not speak of their loss at all. Some are open books. Some need time. Wherever your loved one is, meet them there. Come from a place of love and support and you can’t go wrong. Above all, say something. The “wrong thing” can be forgotten, but the thing that hurts the most is when nothing is said at all.
One thought on “What to do (and what not to do) when someone you know loses a pregnancy”
Pingback: Pregnancy Loss: A Holiday Survival Guide | A pregnancy loss blog