5 Mothers On What To Say About Miscarriage

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Unfortunately, most of us have had experiences in comforting a friend who has lost a baby at various stages of their pregnancy.  It's unimaginable to me to begin what should be an exciting time, begin the process of emotionally and mentally preparing to become a mother and then have to part with that pregnancy.  In not having been through it myself, I worry about how to support my friends who have.  I asked five women I trust to share their honest wish for what someone would have said to them when they were healing from their loss.  I've kept their names anonymous as their perspectives are quite personal but as a result, so honest and helpful to those of us who want to understand.  

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Mother to two, New York, NY

In my experience there is nothing more frustrating than people saying "It wasn’t meant to be" or "At least it happened earlier than later on in the pregnancy", "Clearly it wouldn’t have been a healthy baby", "Don’t worry, you will go on to have another baby, you are young and healthy" OR "Well at least you have other children" (as if you can’t be upset because at least you already have kids). Really all I ever wanted to hear was “I’m so sorry, that really sucks. I’m here if you need me” and just knowing that people understood that I might be sad, or cranky, or need space for a bit. 

As a side note - people who are pregnant should know that sometimes when someone has miscarried they just need space, and that someone can be happy for you, but still sad for themselves and therefore just not be able to be the friend you complain to about how fat you feel, or anything related to your “healthy” pregnancy.

While everyone means well, and just wants to be helpful,  being told those things are not (at least to me) comforting. Having a miscarriage brings on an onslaught of emotions-disappointment, feelings of failure (even though it’s not your fault) and a sense of loneliness since it’s hard for other people to understand. It’s also hard to grieve something that never really was...in some ways you are grieving the idea of a baby, since it never actually materialized, and it feels somewhat silly to be so sad about something you never really had...just hoped that you might.

It’s also an extremely gendered experience-our whole life we, as women, are taught that having children is the ONE thing that we can do (and that men cannot) and then when you can’t do it or “fail” you put yourself through the ringer wondering what you did wrong, or worse what’s wrong with you for not being able to accomplish this ‘task’ that women have been doing since the beginning of time. And the truth is that so many women experience this,  but don’t talk about it because we have be taught it’s something shameful...when it’s not and it’s completely normal. 

Mother to one, Los Angeles, CA

In the case of a miscarriage or infertility, the truth is, there really isn't the perfect thing to say. For me, it was worse when people tried to find the right thing and put a "positive" spin on my situation which was still very sad and raw for me at the time. People would say "at least your miscarriage was early!" or "you'll have more kids, don't worry!". While I could see that they were trying to provide hope and positivity, both of these statements made me feel like the pain I was experiencing was silly. I think a better approach is to realize there isn't anything you can say that will actually help, so just be honest and show your own sadness for them. I also really appreciated the people that continued to check up on me, it made me feel like I wasn't so alone.

Mother to one, Boston, MA

Such an important topic that many women feel silenced by due to shame, embarrassment, or maybe simply because they want to avoid that awkward exchange - what do you say to someone who miscarried!?  Personally, this is a large reason why I didn’t super openly share my miscarriage when it happened- not due to embarrassment, but mainly to avoid causing the other person discomfort.  I wish I had a good answer to it, but it’s something I still struggle with even dealing with it often as I help my fertility patients on their journey to motherhood.  For me, simply saying “I’m sorry for your loss” or “pain” is sufficient. When people went on to say, “I’m sure you’ll have a healthy baby in no time” it felt invalidating. After a loss, you need, or at least I did, to feel the pain, the weight of maybe never being a mother, and go through the sad emotions before you land on positivity.  I think a common fear among women who experience a miscarriage (or a long process to getting pregnant) is the fear of never having a healthy full term baby.  So even when it’s well-intentioned and someone wants to share- “I know people who miscarry then go on to have perfectly healthy babies!” It fails to recognize or see what may be the women is going through, and if you don’t know what she’s going through, maybe it’s better to say nothing at all - or leave it at a few simple words.  

Mother to one, New York, NY

I think the one thing I realized in my experience is that you never know what someone else is going through when it comes to fertility and it made me much more aware of how I spoke about getting pregnant and the questions I asked of friends and family who were either pregnant or I thought might be trying or thinking about kids. We didn’t share our story with a lot of people at the time and so people would ask questions or share their own news that often made the pain worse without realizing it. While part of this is unavoidable because when you do get pregnant it’s incredibly exciting basically my one piece of advice is to just be aware of the fact that more likely than not someone you know might be having trouble or might have experienced loss as it's incredibly common so try to be sensitive to this whenever possible. 

Mother to one, Boston, MA

What to say to people? I have no idea. That's the truth. There's no right or wrong answer. Even post miscarriage I feel the same anxiety/ awkwardness consoling friends who experience the same. I should know better now. I still don't. I guess I'd say in general the "you'll try again!" is general no-no. Because... well yeah, obviously I will try, but that diminishes what happened and how I feel right now about that particular pregnancy. The feeling, whether warranted or not, that that pregnancy failed. A general, "I'm so sorry this happened, how awful" is a safer bet. I also appreciate not having someone immediately shut down. I would say this goes for all not-so-great-happenings in life. Not saying you should have to engage in a million questions and ask for small details, but just try to be open in case the person who experienced the loss wants to discuss it, even for a moment. There's a strange, cold, foreign feeling when something breaks eye contact and changes the subject immediately. Almost like you've done something wrong and should be ashamed. That's going a little too deep. Loss is hard/ personal/ emotional/ frustrating/ defeating but it does happen and I think we all understand that in the back of our minds.