What Not to Say to a Woman Who Has Miscarried, and How You Can Help
After my three miscarriages, several older people have told me they were sorry about my "disappointment." "What disappointment?" I always want to ask. I'm disappointed when Lost is a rerun; I'm devastated when I lose the chance to bring a child into the world.
But that euphemistic approach to discussing pregnancy loss is at the heart of why so many people have no idea what to say after you've had a miscarriage. Even though it's surprisingly common, no one talks about it.
Before my own pregnancy losses, I had no idea what to say either. I would try to cheer up the mourning family and change the subject, thinking that an upbeat countenance was all it took to weather a loss so...small.
But now I know better. For me, and for many women, miscarriage is a death—even if it's very early, even if it's what's known as a chemical pregnancy. To me, that little life was my child, and the best thing someone can say to me is "I'm sorry for your loss."
Flowers, hot meals, wine, and child care are appropriate. This is grieving, plain and simple, not just a long menstrual cycle that didn't turn into a baby. Mentioning my miscarriage is not going to unhappily "remind" me of my grief—I'm already thinking about it. But acknowledging my loss helps me heal.
Next Page: What hurts and what helps [ pagebreak ]Here are some examples of unhelpful things people have said
"You wouldn't have wanted to have a baby with something wrong with it," or worse, "This is nature's way of fixing a mistake."
It isn't helpful to make the baby out to be something damaged or wrong. Perhaps we would have had a baby with disabilities. It's presumptuous to assume we wouldn't have loved a baby with genetic abnormalities such as Down syndrome.
It also doesn't help when people suggest reasons that it happened. Maybe I drank too much caffeine. Maybe I am too skinny. Maybe I didn't eat enough dark, leafy greens. Perhaps I was stressed out. Or, my personal horrible favorite, I tried too soon. (Only the last example has no study to back it up.) The only thing worse than losing a pregnancy is the implication that it was my fault.
What has helped
A friend sent an arrangement of little plants after my second miscarriage and one of them is still growing. I like having that plant around, something that did grow from that failed pregnancy. This time, two of my friends are putting together a girl's night out with wine and fancy food. They say it's for my birthday, belatedly—so it's not, you know, my Miscarriage Dinner. People are leaving me lots of phone messages, and although I don't feel like talking to anyone, it's nice to hear their voices.
There are websites that help guide families through their grief, including October 15th, which has established an official day to acknowledge lost pregnancies and infant loss, and HopeXchange, a storehouse of post-miscarriage resources, addressing everything from sleeplessness to anger. Health.com also has a helpful site about coping after a miscarriage, physically and emotionally.
Next Page: It takes time [ pagebreak ]Most of all, give it time
Everyone grieves at her own pace. It's unreasonable to expect a woman to pull out of the hormonal and emotional nosedive of miscarriage on a preset time schedule. Two months after my second miscarriage, the grief was still very fresh, and I still badly needed support. But some friends were ready for me to move on. They seemed frustrated by my gloomy countenance and began making plans that excluded me.
My lifesaver has been finding a grief counselor who specializes in miscarriage and infant loss. She taught me that it was normal to harbor irrational fears about the safety of my older daughter, and about my subsequent pregnancies. I also learned to say, "I'm sad because my baby died," and to look at the losses and my resulting grief head-on. Local hospitals usually have information on available support resources.
Miscarriage is so often hidden, so often an uncomfortable topic for people, that it can almost feel embarrassing to lose a pregnancy, let alone be sad about it. But if I have learned anything from my three miscarriages it is that this grief is real, and women who experience it deserve the respect afforded any grieving mother.