Miscarriage survivors have a few things in common. We all lost a baby in the early to mid stages of pregnancy. We all were and are devastated by our losses. And, most likely, we all heard some terribly hurtful phrases when people tried to comfort us. We had our pain denied, belittled and dismissed. This leads to another thing a lot of miscarriage survivors have in common: We descend into silence because no one wants to know or hear about our tiny babies gone too soon.
When we experience a loss, people want to help. They mean well. At the same time though, they are uncomfortable, insecure and might even feel awkward. We all would much rather talk about the weather, our holidays or participate in work chitchat than acknowledging someone died. To this day, death is scary for most people and if we don’t talk about it then it doesn’t exist, right?
Yet, at some stage we all experience loss in one way or another. It might a personal loss or we know someone who lost a loved one. In that case, we are required to act and try to make the grieving person better. And that is where we start to walk right into a minefield full of hurt. Let’s be honest – it is HARD to talk to someone who is upset, in tears and absolutely devastated. We know we need to say something but in truth, we rather run away as quickly as possible. This might make us feel better. But it increases the grieving person’s pain and suffering so much more. They feel already lost and now they also feel incredibly lonely. That is especially true for women who lost a baby in the early to mid stages of pregnancy.
They were excited and over the moon and then, just like that, it’s gone. A tiny being they never met but loved from the first moment they knew about them, has died. Her world, full of wonder and joy, has come crashing down. There is no more baby but a lot of what ifs, guilt, shame even and a bottomless sadness. What they need right now is support, compassion and understanding. What they get instead is disinterest and hurtful comments.
No at least, thank you very much!
For example, it is NOT ok to ever start a sentence to a grieving mum with ‘at least’. No ‘at least you know you can get pregnant’ and definitely no ‘at least it was still early’. Stay also away from ‘at least it wasn’t a baby yet’. Big NO NO. If you think such comments are helpful then let me tell you now – they are not. They are very hurtful. It might not have been a baby to you. But for your friend, sister, cousin or co-worker it was a baby. Their baby. They didn’t lose a lump of cells but a tiny human being. If you say anything starting with ‘at least’ you deny the baby’s existence and importance. What is even worse, you make the grieving mum feel very upset and more devastated.
More awful stuff to avoid
But the list doesn’t stop there. The following phrases are also very terrible and right down awful to say:
- It is very common
Yes, technically a miscarriage is very common but so what? Stating the obvious doesn’t help a grieving mum feel better. It makes her feel like she is not entitled to her pain because, you know, it’s so common. Wrong. She is entitled to her pain and her grief and needs time to heal from this traumatic experience.
- Heaven needed another angel
Heaven has plenty of angels so that is no comfort at all when a grieving mum hears that. The only place for a baby to be is in their mother’s arms not some abstract place no one has ever been to.
- You’re still young, you can have another
That might be true. But rest assured that your friend, sister, cousin or coworker wanted THIS baby. Knowing she could have another is not helpful. Again say something like this makes her pain worse.
- Get over it. It’s not a big deal.
Umm, no. Losing a baby, at any stage of pregnancy, IS a big deal. There is no getting over it. All a grieving mum will be able to do, is learn to live with her loss. But it is nothing to get over with. The scar and the hole in her heart are too big for that.
At this stage, you might wonder – well, what CAN I say? Say ‘I am so sorry for your loss.’ That is it. After a loss like a miscarriage, it is more about actions not words. Give her a hug, put some cooked meals in her fridge or do the groceries. Most importantly, don’t leave her alone. Sit with her in silence, talk of she wants to talk and listen. Cry with her or let her cry in your arms.
It might sound simple but it’s not. The time right after a loss is extremely confusing, exhausting and dark. The grieving person won’t know what to do next or how to get through the day. Your presence and support is needed. If you don’t know what to say then say nothing and just be there instead.
One more thing….
There is one more thing to be mindful of when you are supporting a woman or couple who lost their baby. Grief has no time limit. You might think after a month, things should be back to normal. There is a high chance that they are not. Simply because miscarriage survivors are able to pick up their life and appear normal to the outside world, doesn’t mean they are fine. Keep checking in with them. Ask them six months after the loss how they are feeling. It will mean the world to her. The worst thing that can happen to any miscarriage survivor is that their babies are forgotten. Don’t let that happen. Don’t let your sympathy and understanding expire. It might be hard for you to remember the exact date of her loss but that is ok. Just remember that she lost a baby and encourage her to talk about it. Such support and interest is, unlike her loss, NOT common at all, although it should be. So let’s change that – one loss, one baby at a time.