As a recurrent pregnancy loss specialist, part of my job is to talk with my patients about their emotional as well as their physical well-being. Having a miscarriage can be an isolating and devastating experience, and when many of my patients come in, they are in the middle of grieving a recent loss. They describe the strain this can place on relationships with friends and family—people can unintentionally be hurtful when trying to be supportive. Many of my patients start to feel isolated from their family and friends, which is unfortunate, because going through a miscarriage is one of those times when people need support more than ever.
Miscarriages are more common than you may realize—approximately one out of three women will have a miscarriage in their lifetime. The experience can be physically as well as emotionally traumatic. I’ve learned a lot over the years, both in and out of the office, on how to be supportive when people go through a miscarriage. And here are the top five things I’ve learned:
Just Listen. Avoid clichés like “everything happens for a reason” or “it just wasn’t meant to be.” Clichés are clichés for a reason. Avoid giving advice unless asked. Your friend does not need to hear about an article you read about preventing miscarriage or someone who took a supplement to have a baby. Just listen for now. Avoid sharing other people’s miscarriage stories, since your friend probably doesn’t want to hear about your cousin who had 10 miscarriages and finally had a baby. Sharing your own miscarriage experience (if you feel comfortable) is different and may be comforting to your friend, but do not turn the conversation to you and your experience. Focus on their loss and their needs for now.
Say Something. Do not avoid your friend because it’s awkward or you don’t know what to say. It’s okay to give them space if they need it and ask for it, but check in every once in a while. Text, call, send an email. Let them know you’re thinking of them, that you’re there to help if they need anything. If they are ready to talk, you can say something like, “I am so sorry for your loss” or “It’s not your fault.” But most of all, listen. One good question to ask anyone who is grieving is, “How are you doing, TODAY?” Grief comes in waves, and some days are better than others. A general question like “how are you doing” can be overwhelming, even paralyzing to someone deep in grief, but they can focus on today—it all happens one day at a time.
Invite Them Out. Social situations may be tough for a while, but keep inviting them. It’s okay if they need a little space, but do not stop asking them to do things just because they have said “no” before. They may not be ready for a social gathering, but getting out of the house can be good for getting back to everyday routines. Ask them to do things one-on-one—a movie, dinner, a shopping day—and leave the bigger gatherings for later. Once they are ready for larger gatherings remember that social situations like parties and baby showers can be a battleground for people struggling with infertility and miscarriage. If you hear people asking your friend questions like, “When are you having kids?” or “When are you going to give your child a sibling?” help steer the conversation to a new subject.
No Judgement. Grief is like a roller coaster ride, and emotions can swing up and down and all around. Your friend may withdraw, need to cry, need to laugh. Be thoughtful and try not to take anything personally. Let them be where they are and be patient.
Do Something. Ask your friend if there is anything you can do to help, and most importantly, give them ideas. Most people say “no” when asked a general question like, “What can I do to help?” so be prepared with some specific ideas that you know your friend may need: cook your friend a meal, walk their dog, make a grocery store run.
The most important thing you can do when your friend or loved one miscarries is to just be a friend. They’ll feel better knowing you are there when they are ready to talk or go out, when they want to be alone and sad, and when (or if) they are ready to try again. Being a friend is meeting them where they are emotionally and being supportive. In the process do not forget about you and your feelings – allow yourself space and ways to recharge. You need to take care of yourself in order to be a supportive friend. Learn more about the emotional impact of miscarriage from my book, Not Broken: An Approachable Guide to Miscarriage and Recurrent Pregnancy Loss.