DON’T say this to someone who has had a Miscarriage (but say THIS instead)

Losing a baby – whether an early or late miscarriage, stillbirth or death of a baby – is totally and utterly shit. Let’s not make any bones about it here. Many women – and men – are completely devastated when they lose a baby and it shapes them for the rest of their lives.

Part of the hurt is the silence we collectively assume around early pregnancy and the taboo of being open about an early pregnancy just in case the unthinkable happens. And yet by keeping this silence we are not talking about the great big black elephant in the room – one which affects 1 in 4 pregnancies [1].

birthzang miscarriage 4When we do open our mouths (and our hearts) to friends and family about the experience of miscarriage, all too often we find entirely inappropriate and unhelpful things being said. And in some cases downright hurtful and frankly insulting.

As part of the baby loss awareness week [2] I have recently done some (highly unscientific) research among my network about the things that people say to you when you tell them of your miscarriage or loss. The responses I have had have been numerous and follow some very clear themes, but most depressingly, my inbox was filled with awful things that people had said and very few helpful ones.

Of course, people are generally well-meaning and don’t intend to cause offence or upset making it so much harder when the things they say don’t just touch a nerve but whack it with a sledgehammer and make things a lot worse.

This blog posts wishes to redress that balance and give a guide to what NOT to say to someone after they have suffered a miscarriage, and some ideas of things to say and do to offer helpful support to someone who is experiencing this pain.

DON’T say this to someone who has had a miscarriage or loss

It wasn’t meant to be

birthzang miscarriage 3This is by far the most common thing that people say, but actually just take a moment to think for a second about this! How can this possibly be a comforting statement! Are you are implying that there was some higher force that decided to put someone through the roller-coaster of a pregnancy only to have it taken away? This is really not helpful. Would you say this to someone who’s mother, husband or friend had just died?

Don’t make statements about destiny, fate or what is meant to be. Focusing on the past or future is not helpful right now.

Maybe it was for the best

The best. Right, for the best. The fact that they are going through physical, hormonal and emotional pain, that they are grieving and that something completely wonderful has been suddenly taken away from them is for the best. In what kind of universe is this pain and suffering for the best? There is no best when it comes to death and loss.

It wasn’t really a baby yet

WHAT???? From the moment the sperm fertilised the egg, a life was created. Call it a zygote, foetus or baby – it was a person and a life! Do you mean that they weren’t really pregnant or something? They wanted that baby, they carried it, nurtured it and loved it through every moment of their life – just because it was an early loss doesn’t make it any less awful.

“Probably the most hurtful. Yes it was a baby, it was mine and I loved it.”

At least you lost it early on

The loss was early so they never got past morning sickness, they never had a lovely scan photo, they never felt the baby move, they never got a bump, they never got to make an announcement to friends and family – and now it is gone.

Early loss can be incredibly hard because in many ways the baby had not made an impact yet on the world other than with their parents. Sometimes the shock and pleasure of discovering you are pregnant is marred within days by a miscarriage and it is no easier early or late. There is never a best time to lose a baby.

There was probably something wrong with the baby

The fact is that we don’t understand much about miscarriage. Along with the taboo of silence in the first trimester, it is a very little studied thing and as so many miscarriages occur before the mother is under maternity care, we really have no idea – in most cases – why a miscarriage occurs. There are some medical conditions in the mother that can increase the risk of miscarriage but these are not usually explored unless the mother has multiple miscarriages.

In the majority of cases there is no clue why it happens. So what makes you the bloody expert? How can you think this is in ANY WAY helpful. Clearly something went wrong, somewhere along the line. Pinpointing the cause right now is frankly not important when you are experiencing the grief of a miscarriage.

For some people finding an answer to why it happened can be helpful but miscarriage is full of unanswered questions and highlighting this with unfounded diagnoses is not helpful.

At least you know you can get pregnant

For some people, getting pregnant is easy. But having a miscarriage is still fucking shit.

For some people getting pregnant is a long and difficult process. And having a miscarriage is fucking shit.

For some people, getting pregnant is a pretty traumatic journey through explained or unexplained infertility, medical conditions and IVF. And having a miscarriage is fucking shit.

For some people, they have managed to get pregnant a whole bunch of times. And each time the miscarriage has been fucking shit.

Knowing you managed to get pregnant is an entirely different thing to grieving a miscarried baby. Don’t talk about something you know nothing about. The journey to pregnancy is a very private thing and it really is best not to try to focus on this.

You can try again/there’s always next time

This follows close on the footsteps of the previous comment, and is a way to try to look towards a hopeful future. But sometimes trying again isn’t that easy. Sometimes the journey to pregnancy hasn’t been easy.

And sometimes the pain of a miscarriage is so great that parents just cant bear to put themselves through the risk of another miscarriage, so they feel they just can’t try again.

And it does little to honour the life that was lost. Try not to focus on the past or the future, but think about right now.

“Hurtful on two counts – babies are unique, one cannot “replace” another.”

Compare it to someone else’s experience

birthzang miscarriage 5It is very sad you had a miscarriage as well, or that you knew someone who had this experience or that experience. Or that it happens to a lot of people (yes they ARE one of the 25% now).

That baby was their baby and their loss is intensely personal and they frankly couldn’t give a flying fuck about anyone else right now. It can feel like you are drowning in sorrow – they really don’t need to take on anyone else’s shit right now!

Mindless Medical professionals

Sadly it seems that nurses, doctors and medical professionals have a thing or two to learn about bedside manner for people experiencing miscarriage.

Discussing contraception, or medical procedures that are sometimes necessary to remove the baby from the uterus when the body has not naturally birthed the baby can be done in particularly harsh ways.

“I don’t care if it’s anatomically correct, there is just no need to ever utter the words “pregnancy tissue” or “products of conception” to a grieving woman going through a miscarriage.”

Saying Nothing

A common reaction to hearing about loss is not really knowing what to say that might be helpful. And the natural thing to do is not to say anything, perhaps even going out of your way to avoid that person. But really, saying something usually is better than saying nothing. You would be surprised at how you can say a few words and give comfort. See below for some ideas on what to say.

“I have since been far more forgiving of people’s gaffes and I do think that trying to say something consoling but misplaced is actually better than people saying nothing at all.”

 

The Unthinkable: breaking the silence of losing your baby

Do say or do this to someone who has had a miscarriage

I’m so sorry for your loss

It’s a no brainer. We say this when anyone experiences the loss of a child, adult, or even pet! It is just as applicable to miscarriage. If you don’t say anything else, say this.

That’s just absolutely shit

It is shit having a miscarriage or losing a baby. Saying so out loud is such an important way to acknowledge that what they are going through is awful.

OK, I admit I am a pretty sweary person and you may not feel it is appropriate to use these words but the sentiment remains that losing a baby is very hard.

It is physically painful and traumatic. It is emotionally draining. It affects you every day for, well, ever really.Many people feel guilty for the emotions they feel and how hard a miscarriage is to bear. A result of the silence around miscarriage is that people feel that they should be able to just smile and get on with their lives. Giving some acknowledgement of the difficult time that has happened and will come is more supportive than not.

Your baby was important

Acknowledging the baby makes such a difference to grieving parents. This is really a starting point to enable the parents to celebrate the abby they had. Creating memorials, having ceremonies, collecting mementos are all ways to help people in their grief.

The first step is to say that every child is important. To understand to those parents, that baby was EVERYTHING!

“Someone said “Every child served a purpose, no matter how long they were with us.” I took strength from that and still do and it has shaped who I am and what I do. So my little ones did make a difference.”

This is also something that is important to continue to do after the first few days and weeks. People remember their babies for years afterwards and while it may make them feel sad for you to bring it up, it will always be appreciated to remember especially during difficult times such as the due date and the anniversary of the loss when other people will have completely forgotten.

It’s OK to grieve, it’s OK to cry and it’s OK to feel utterly pissed off

birthzang-miscarriage-2Giving people permission to feel any emotions really helps. We don’t have a framework for how to behave when you lose a baby because we hide it away.

Some people find that they recover fairly quickly and easily from a miscarriage. For others it shapes the rest of their lives. In fact any reaction is valid but we need to embrace all the ways we deal with this and acknowledge that it is OK to feel exactly how you feel.

How can I help?

If you are quite close to the person who has lost a baby then you may well want to offer more than just one phrase.

But because everyone will feel differently the best thing to do is just bask them how you can help. They may not know. They may not be able to be specific and THAT’S OK because they know that you are available when/if they discover what they need.

I’m here if you need me

birthzang-miscarriage6Being available to a friend is so valuable. You may assume your friend knows you are there for them but it never hurts to remind them and reiterate to them that you are there to help them when they are ready.

Grief works differently for different people and respecting that will go a long way to providing support when that person needs it.

Tell me about it, I’m listening

Talking about it can be incredibly difficult – for both parents and for the listener. But talking about it is really important. Being able to openly talk about the experience really helps to work through the feelings and, while it can never take the pain away, can go a long way to helping to let out the pent up grief.

And not just listening but not trying to fix it, or soothe it, or take it away, or provide solutions or strategies for coping. Just being there Just listening.

Say Nothing

Sometimes just keeping quiet can be the best thing to do. This goes along with listening. Just being there. Just giving a hug. Or maybe making a meal or doing some shopping, or childcare or just something that gives them a chance to just be.

“My best friend was by my side and was just there for me. No words needed.”

 Actions speak louder than words

You also need to be mindful that sometimes people don’t want company. They may just want to be alone with their family and grieve privately. They will know you are there. They will find you when they need to talk, when they need you to listen.

You can still let them know you are there by sending a card or a letter, or even a gift. It won’t make them feel better – nothing can – but they know you have their back and that is more powerful than anything else: your support.

“Maybe flowers or a card. And also the delivery of cake and flowers to my doorstep (without ringing the doorbell).”

Resources

If you have experienced a miscarriage or loss then I am so truly sorry for your loss. If you are looking for support then here are some useful links.

Birthzang runs a Facebook support group, Birthzang Mums’ Club, for any mum (even if you have lost all your babies, you are still a mum) to find support and advice, and connect with other mums.

The Miscarriage Association offers information, advice and support on miscarriage, including a telephone helpline.

SANDS is a charity that provides information and support for stillbirth and neonatal death, with a telephone helpline.

Tommy’s is an organisation that does research into miscarriage and ways to help save babies’ lives. They have a centre that helps try to women who have experienced recurring miscarriages.

Reading Lifeline is a local charity that offers counselling and support to women who have experienced infertility, baby loss at any stage of pregnancy and postnatal depression.