A miscarriage is a devastating loss for a mother, their partner, and their family. In many societies, the cultural norm is for the mother to keep it to herself, or between her and her partner, and mourn privately. This can lead to feelings of isolation, depression, and loneliness for those affected by the miscarriage. Even though miscarriages are common occurrences, people can feel very alone in their pain. The cultural conversation about miscarriages is changing as more women with public platforms share their experiences. Last year, Chrissy Tiegen and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, wrote articles about their miscarriages that had a substantial effect on how we talk about this topic.
Last month, New Zealand passed a law mandating a three-day bereavement leave for mothers who miscarry and their partners. This is an important move toward recognizing the grief and physical trauma that miscarriages can cause, and we are hopeful that more countries will adopt similar policies. But supportive policies are only one part of coming alongside those affected by miscarriage. Supportive friends and family who walk with a mother, couple, or family through miscarriage provide something that policies can’t. To better care for loved ones in this kind of difficult time, we need to understand and destigmatize miscarriage, respect the grieving process, and be flexible, taking our cues from those loved ones about what they need.
WHAT IS A MISCARRIAGE?
A miscarriage is an unexpected loss of a pregnancy before 20 weeks. Many miscarriages occur before the mother realizes she’s pregnant. Miscarriages are common: According to the March of Dimes, for every 100 women who know they’re pregnant, 10-15 of those pregnancies will terminate in miscarriage. There are many causes of miscarriage, and not all of them are known.
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THE IMPACT OF A MISCARRIAGE
A mother’s body may need up to a month to recover from a miscarriage. Mothers who have miscarried are more at-risk for postpartum depression with subsequent deliveries. Emotionally, the effects vary. Miscarriage is often emotionally fraught for the mother and her partner, if she has one. This is especially true if they’ve had weeks or months to bond with and prepare for the arrival of their child. Although early pregnancy loss differs from other kinds of loss, everyone involved can still experience grief. This loss can be world-changing for parents who care deeply for their little one, yet never got the chance to meet them. Parents often experience symptoms like depression, anxiety, anger, frustration, and even resentment toward others. They may fear future miscarriages, especially since it’s common to not know a definitive reason for the event.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
It can be difficult for someone experiencing this kind of loss to express or understand what they need. There is no perfect thing to say, no sure-fire offer of help to make. But that doesn’t mean that your support isn’t needed or valued. Here are five ways you can come alongside a loved one facing a miscarriage.
Do not assume you know what loved ones need during this time. Even if you experienced miscarriage, remember that everyone deals with grief differently. The most important thing you can do is to listen to them. Take your cues from them. Do they want distraction? Do they need to vent? Do they want talk and weep over their loss? Be attentive when they express even the slightest need and step in to meet that need if you can.
2. Be open to talking about the miscarriage.
Make it clear you are available to talk about the loss. Miscarriage is painful on many levels. The hopes the parent had for this child, the expectant excitement around the baby’s expected arrival, the deep love growing in the hearts of parents as the fetus developed are all suddenly, heart-wrenchingly disrupted. Parents may want to talk about any and all of these things. Let your loved ones decide when and how they want to talk about their loss, but be ready to go there when they are.
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3. Choose your words carefully.
It can be easy for you to forget and say something careless or unintentionally hurtful. Avoid trite platitudes, such as “At least you know you can get pregnant,” “You have an angel watching out for you now,” “You can always try again,” or “At least you already have a kid.” These statements ring hollow and give the impression that you’re trying to gloss over what has happened. Parents never forget about their lost pregnancy and can be hurt by your words, no matter how long it’s been.
If you want to say something, stick with statements that acknowledge their pain and don’t try to fix it, such as “I’m so sorry, this is awful, I can’t imagine what you must be feeling.” “I love you and I’m here for you” is also a great thing to convey.
4. Offer to help out with physical needs.
Grief can drain people of their energy. It’s nice to offer to help with whatever your loved ones need, but sometimes, it helps to give a specific offer for them to respond to. If you’re able, suggest some practical ways you could help them. Help with meals by sending a gift card for a delivery service or making and dropping a meal. Offer to provide childcare or pick their kids up from school. Cover a shift for them at work. Think of their circumstances and what might slip through the cracks while your loved one mourns their loss.
5. Validate them, their experiences, and their feelings.
Lastly, a great way to show support to anyone in your life who has had a miscarriage is to validate them, their experience, and the way they feel about it. Let them know that what they are feeling is valid and normal and that there is no timeline for when they need to “move on.”