On helping a friend through a miscarriage

I was blissfully engrossed in the task of finally getting around to framing some old photos, while also making dinner and tidying the living room, when the phone rang late one Saturday afternoon. I was so engaged in what I was doing that even though I had picked up the phone and said “hello”, my mind was still on everything but the telephone.

The voice on the other end, breathless with surpressed excitement and without preamble, announced “I’m pregnant!!”

I knew instantly who it was, and struggled against a flood of conflicting emotions to make any sort of response. After a moment of silence that stretched on half beat too long, I gushed with excitement and asked the obligatory questions, but I could hear the strain in my own voice.

It’s still hard. This is one of my best friends in the world: the woman who had the courage to tell me that my ex-husband was being unfaithful when none of my other friends could; the woman who held me when I cried over our infertility diagnosis; the woman who asked me to be the godparent of her two boys; the woman I asked to be in the delivery room when Tristan arrived. She’s suffered through at least four miscarriages (how horrible is it that past a certain point, I’ve lost count) and I couldn’t be happier that she’s pregnant. And yet, in that first shocked moment, I froze.

I froze because what I thought was deeply buried was actually just below the surface. While I am overjoyed at my friend’s wonderful news, I guess I’m still not quite ‘over’ the miscarriage, despite my best efforts to leave it behind. And it took me that long and breathless heartbeat to slam closed Pandora’s box and recompartmentalize my own latent grief so I could properly celebrate her joy.

I mention all of this because twice in the past week or so, I’ve been approached by sweet, caring women who have asked me for advice on how to help a friend deal with a miscarriage. And I thought that maybe by reflecting on it here, I could both share my own insight and solicit yours. After all, I wouldn’t dare assume that even after three loses I could understand what another person is going through, but maybe collectively we can offer some varied perspectives.

My first thought was that you have to keep reaching out to someone who just experienced a loss. She might not be able to reach back just yet, and she might not be ready, but I think it’s important that you keep sending her notes, or giving her a call, just to let her know that you are there and that you care. Do what you can to make a ‘safe’ place for her to tell you about her feelings, no matter how dark. On the flip side, it’s also okay to try to make the world normal again, it’s okay to laugh if she’s ready (laughter being one of my main coping mechanisms), and it’s okay if she wants to ignore the grief and pretend all is well – for a while, at least. In other words, take your cues from her, but keep reaching out to make sure she knows she can come to you if she needs to.

One of the most important things is to simply acknowledge the miscarriage, even with a casual acquaintance. In the days and weeks after the miscarriage, I found it awkward talking to people if I wasn’t sure if they knew about the miscarriage or not. A simple “I’m so sorry” at least lets her know you know, and you care. I used to think that by saying something, you might be reminding someone of their grief in a time when they weren’t thinking about it, but I’ve realized that for much longer than I would have thought, you are always thinking about it, even in the back of your mind. So don’t be shy about approaching her. It was hard, so hard, accepting people’s sympathy those first few weeks, but I think it would have been worse if nobody acknowledged my grief.

When I lost the first baby, back in 2001, a friend of Beloved’s called to say hello and share his sympathy, and he told me about losing his mother when he was very young. I still remember that conversation, and how much it meant to me. He wasn’t equating the two losses, just saying in his own way that he had grieved, too, and I was more comforted by the attempt than the substance of his call.

So what do you say? That’s the hardest part. Say that you are sorry, tell your friend you love her and that she can talk to you if she needs to. Say what’s in your heart. Tell her how sad you are and share your feelings. Mostly, though, listen to her. Make sure she isn’t feeling guilty, that she doesn’t feel like the miscarriage is a failure on her part. Make sure she knows she can come to you. And don’t forget to acknowledge her partner’s grief, too.

I can share a couple of thoughts on what not to do, too. Don’t avoid her because you don’t know what to say. Don’t minimize her loss by saying things like, “You can always get pregnant again” or “It wasn’t meant to be” or by thinking that because she was just a few weeks pregnant that the loss is any less traumatic. Don’t judge her behaviour or her coping mechanisms, because everybody reacts to grief differently and moves through the stages of grief in different ways. And, in my humble opinion, don’t send flowers. A well-meaning friend sent a huge bouquet when we lost our first baby, and I hated the sight of them. I had to throw them away after a couple of days.

Finally, keep reaching out to her. She’ll probably get a lot of support in the first couple of days, but after that first period of grieving, people tend to stop talking about the baby and the loss. While it’s true that an insensitive comment can be hurtful, silence is worse. And keep talking to her about it. When you’re going through it, you need to talk it out to make it real. After a while, you need to talk to remember and heal. It takes a long time, much longer than I would have imagined. I truly appreciated the effots of a few friends who asked me, weeks later, how I was feeling and making sure I was okay.

After I wrote this, I did I little surfing and found this link to a fact sheet on American Pregnancy .org on supporting someone after a miscarriage, and it might have been more expedient for me to just link to them in the first place – it’s a good resource.

Anybody else care to share some thoughts?

Author: DaniGirl

Canadian. storyteller, photographer, mom to 3. Professional dilettante.

12 thoughts on “On helping a friend through a miscarriage”

  1. Thanks for this post, Dani. I have a few friends who have had miscarriages and I always have this feeling of uncertainty in how to handle it. I’m afraid of saying the wrong things, of not saying the right things. Your post helped, in large part, because you’ve been through it.
    Great post.

  2. I too have two miscarriages, the first was trying for our third child. Our son Drake was in the midst of his cancer treatment but we wanted to try anyway. I lost the baby during his surgery just before Christmas of 2005. It was a horrible horrible experience and one that I felt very alone going through. I had no support from my mother who thought I shouldn’t be having a third child anyway, her response was that Rob should get a vasectomy before we had another mistake!! My Grandmother (only 66) came forward telling me that she had a miscarriage with her very first pregnancy, she had to deliver the baby, barbaric! She also lost a baby from Spinobifida at a year old. My aunt became pregnant at the same time I had and when the baby was born, no matter how happy I wanted to be for her it was extremely hard, I was actually due on the same day as she was. On top of that pain my grandmother died of a sudden heart attack two days after the birth and my son Drake was undergoing life threatening surgery a week later. I guess what I’m getting at is that the pain is always there and never ever goes away, its your baby and people should not trivialize the loss. Life continues but that nagging loss is there. Reach out and hold her hand, she needs it more than ever.

  3. Dani, I am sorry for your loss… I know the fear of being pregnant and every time you go to the bathroom, worrying about if you’ll see any ‘pink’… it was a daily fear for me, and I thought my worry would go away after the first 12 weeks, but of course it didn’t go away, I was worried every single day. My mother suffered several miscarriages as well, and my best friend at 13 weeks. She went on to conceive 3 months later. It’s something I know she still thinks about. And I know it’s a fear I’ll have again when and if God willing we have our second child. Just wanted to say I’m sorry. It’s a fear every pregnant person has.

  4. Dani those are amazing word and thought on how to comfort a woman during this hard time. let her decide whether she wants to talk or not.
    Hug to you my friend.

  5. Well said, Dani, this is very helpful. I know several women who have experienced recent losses, and it’s hard to know how to be a support, without causing additional pain or being a nuisance.
    I am so sorry for your losses. Also sorry that you have become an “expert” in this area that nobody wants to experience.
    My sympathy and best wishes,

  6. Sometimes when we’re dealing with our own grief, it is so hard to be happy for other people–people that we love, people that we genuinely want to be happy for. Don’t be hard on yourself for hesitating for that moment you say “stretched on a half beat too long.” Your scars are there, they will be for a long, long time–probably forever, in some way or another. And they will probably resurface when you least expect it, no matter how hard you try to keep them away.
    For the longest time (and sometimes still do), I had a hard time around the time a friend has a baby… a healthy, surgery-free baby. All those happy pictures of mom and baby made me ache because I didn’t have similar pictures tucked away in my brain after my first was born.

  7. Dani–
    I have actually still been thinking of you and your loss, and I’m glad you seem to be doing well and I know how hard it can be.
    I miscarried our first pregnancy after six long years of infertility testing and treatments, and I was only a few weeks along. However, my husband’s mother was dying and she had wanted so much for us to have a baby, that we told her– and everyone else– right away that we were pregnant. (And we knew right away, because it was an IVF baby). Everything was even harder because we had wanted a baby so much, and we had told everyone, and yes, mostly what we got from people was the “Oh, at least you weren’t very far along….”
    Michael’s mom died eight weeks after we lost the baby, and it was a miserable time, but we got pregnant again a few months later, and almost exactly a year after she died our beautiful son was born. (And two years later our beautiful daughter– both also IVF).
    From time to time, though, I still do think about that first little one that we lost. And I always will.
    I hope you are doing OK, Dani. Hugs to you, from another mom who’s been through a little of what you have.

  8. Hugs Dani, I know it still hurts.
    I lost a baby in between my two daughters, and I still wonder if that might have been a son.
    I coped with the situation by trying to find out as much about miscarriage as I could. I got books out of the library, I searched the Internet. I tried to use science to deal with the emotions. And surprisingly, it helped. Along with wonderfully supportive friends and husband, we made it through. My research helped lay to rest the nagging feeling that the miscarriage was due to something that I had done wrong, something I’d eaten or that night I had a couple of glasses of wine before I knew I was pregnant.
    I found that this website was especially helpful — straightforward and simple:
    The parts that helped the most:
    “When you conceive and a baby is created, it takes half its genes from the sperm and half from the egg that ovulated that month. At the exact time of conception, the cross-over of these genes takes place. Sometimes, for no reason other than bad luck, some information is lost and the pregnancy is destined from that point not to be…
    It might be that this lost information is not needed for many weeks, and the pregnancy will continue as normal until that time. When the needed information is not there, it is then that the baby dies and you begin to miscarry…
    These are the most common reasons that women miscarry. Not because of something you did or didn’t do, but just because of chance. Not because you drank alcohol, ate some unpasteurised cheese, or didn’t take folic acid. Certainly not because you had sex or didn’t rest enough.
    Whether you lay in bed from the day of your positive pregnancy test or went hang-gliding every day wouldn’t have changed things. Its nature’s way of making sure that when you do have a baby, it has the best chance for all of its life.”
    I still think about my lost baby, especially on the due date, and the anniversary of the miscarriage, but the hurt is less now, especially since Rachel was born two days before the anniversary.
    Anyway, before I write a novel, my advice: Call. Visit. Listen. And if your friend starts blaming herself for the miscarriage, jump all over that at once. It wasn’t her fault, and she needs to believe that.

  9. Do you know, it’s funny, I was going to ask you about this subject some point last week, when I was dealing with my own… inability to get pregnant. This time last year I had a ridiculously early miscarriage. When I was 16 I had one at ten weeks, to my ex boyfriend. Currently… Eh. Not so good. May I just say that I’m sick to DEATH of being told ‘You’re still young, you’ve got years yet’. I KNOW that, but grief isn’t rational, is it?

  10. Dani, it is such a hard thing to deal with, miscarriage. Everyone handles it differently. I for one, didn’t want to be asked about it or reminded of it out of the blue. I had to deal with two miscarriages while two of my Sisters were pregnant and delivered their babies. It was all terrible.
    I do have one friend who always knew just what to say and what to do. When to talk about it and when to pour the wine. I know now that she would be the first person I would call and perhaps the person I would ask to share any bad news for me if I ever have to go through that again.
    If only nobody had to go through it ever again.

  11. I love your advice and I can deeply relate to your story. I had a miscarriage in January at almost 8 weeks. It was my first and only pregnancy. I would add to your grief advice to remember that your friend probably thinks (like me) that the only healing will come from getting pregnant again and having a healthy baby. Remember that certain points will be VERY tough. I had about 6 girlfriends who were as far along as me and I was a walking statistic–one out of 6 pregnancies ends in miscarriage and it was mine. I had so much trouble when they all started to show. I had trouble being around them–not to take away their joy–but it was tough to see them and think of where I would have been. I had a lot of trouble when baby showers rolled around and no one seemed to mind when I just sent gifts and couldn’t bring myself to go. Now I am 2 weeks away from what would have been my due date and I am still not pregnant. I am actually having surgery in a few weeks to remove a blocked fallopian tube and will have to start some fertility medication. It is SO discouraging. I still hurt SO badly almost 8 months later. I am having surgery instead of a baby. Nothing about it is easy. I have strong faith in God’s plans for my life, but it still HURTS. Just try to let your friends HURT and love on them. Don’t tell them stories about “Well this girl that I knew had a miscarriage and then got pregnant the next month…” because those stories set up unrealistic expectations (at least they did for me). My biggest fear was that I would not be pregnant by my due date. It is almost here and I am struggling. I have gone through points at which I was doing okay… doing a little better… but I it is like an emotional rollercoaster every month. People who have no trouble getting pregnant don’t understand that. Every period brings pain because it ends the hope for that month. Just be there for them. I have a few friends who have been there for me. The tough part is that at a certain point people expect you to be “over it.” I would love for someone to tell me how to get over losing a child. It’s not happening for me. I would also like to smack the next person who tells me to “relax” and “it’ll happen…” along with those women who say, “I have no idea how you feel–my husband just looks at me and I get pregnant!” It is the hardest thing that I have ever been through. If you want to help your friends get through it, don’t stop being there for them. Don’t stop checking on them. Don’t give up on them. Just love them. Let them cry and hurt and don’t try to make them feel anything that they don’t want to feel.

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