What to Say (And Not Say) to a Woman Who Has Had a Miscarriage
Recent research has found that women will have more miscarriages than they will live births. Yet, for something so common for so many, the conversation surrounding miscarriages (and the mental and emotional toll they can take on a woman) is still kept hush-hush.
While some women may not disclose that they have had a miscarriage, for those who do tell their loved ones, it’s important they have the proper support to get them through this oft-painful experience.
Because miscarriage is so “taboo” and misunderstood, there can be confusion and doubts about what to say (and not say) to a woman who has miscarried. This can lead to isolation during what’s already an emotionally fraught time.
“Everyone is different but there are some common feelings women experience after a miscarriage,” says Julie Larson, LCSW. “Sadness is the most obvious, and is related to how attached a woman can feel even after a few weeks. Many women experience regret or guilt as they wrestle with the unknowns of why a miscarriage has happened.”
Larson adds that women who have had a miscarriage may feel anxiety, fear, and insecurity about themselves and their bodies.
Partners and Spouses
If you’re the spouse or partner of a woman who has suffered a miscarriage, you yourself will likely feel a spectrum of emotions, explains Mary Breen, LCSW. These feelings can range from devastation, to sadness, or even relief.
“Your feelings are important and they are valid,” Breen says. “However, during this extremely sensitive time, they simply can’t take center stage.” She recommends finding a support system for yourself (whether that be friends, siblings, or your therapist) to talk about your feelings so that you can completely be there for the woman in your life.
Breen explains, “Miscarriage is an embodied trauma impacting your partner’s physical and mental wellbeing. You cannot know what this feels like, but you can hold her pain by listening, reiterating that it wasn’t her fault, and making sure she doesn’t have to go through it alone.”
Support from a spouse or partner can be in the form of openly talking about what she wants and needs to do next that’s best for her, i.e. using medical intervention for managing the loss, trying to become pregnant again or waiting, etc.
It can also be by helping out in ways big and small around the house, whether it be taking on duties such as cooking or cleaning or taking on more parenting duties for the time being if you already have children, Breen suggests.
But, the most important thing is the emotional support you provide during this time. Simply put, Breen says, “Remind your partner how beautiful you think she is and of how much you love her.”
Friends and Family
“Women often turn to their closest friends for comfort after a pregnancy loss,” Larson says. “Many times they simply need to feel safe and share their story. They may not expect anything from you beyond your active listening.”
To do this in a helpful manner, Larson says that, as a friend, you should stay present, follow her lead, and give her permission to feel whatever it is she is feeling. Don’t try to be a problem solver or an insta-fixer: allow your friend to grieve.
While you cannot make what happened hurt less, you can try and help her feel better in the moment, whether that’s by taking her out to her favorite restaurant or catching a matinee to a comedy.
Whether you’re a friend or family member, if you have also experienced a pregnancy loss, Larson says, “It may be helpful for you to normalize some of the feelings she is experiencing.”
Breen echoes this sentiment. “The more we talk about things, the more normalized they become thus reducing or eliminating the stigma, shame, guilt, and isolation that can come from this experience,” she says.
If you do share your own experience, Breen points out it’s “important to remember that your experience was different than your friend/loved one. Don’t project your feelings about it onto them. Instead, allow yourself to be empathically curious about the ways this shared experience affected both of you, similarly and differently.”
If something helped you after your pregnancy loss, whether it was an online form or a support group, bring it to her attention, but remind her that everyone is different and what may have worked for you, might not work for someone else.
No matter what she does (or doesn’t) want to do during this time, you can show how you care by doing things like dropping off a nice dinner, bringing her her favorite magazine, or offering to watch her children for a few hours.
Rather than asking, “How can I help?”, Bree says to try, “Would it be helpful to you if I did X?” Keep a dialogue open, and offer your support in a way that works best for her.
What to Avoid
Whether you’re the spouse/partner or a friend or family member, Larson says you should never minimize or dismiss what she is going through after a miscarriage.
For instance, don’t say things like “You were only X weeks pregnant,” or “This happens all the time.” Larson also says to stay away from saying “Don’t be upset, I’m sure you’ll get pregnant.”
If you are pregnant yourself (or you know there are other pregnant people in her life), things like pregnancy announcements or expectant mother-related events can be difficult for a woman who has had a miscarriage. “Understandably, a happy, pregnant woman can trigger feelings of loss, resentment, and inadequacy,” Larson says.
In order to soften the blow, Larson says to “be gentle with your words and mindful of how baby news may be emotional to hear for someone who is struggling to get or stay pregnant.”
However, you don’t have to (nor should you), avoid your friend or any tough conversations that may arise. “If you are a close friend, you may say something like, ‘I thought of you when I learned Jane was pregnant. How are you doing?’” Larson says.
What to Remember
“Regardless of statistics or when the miscarriage happened, this is a significant event for a woman,” says Larson. “A miscarriage triggers grief and all grief is individualized and requires time. A woman may begin to establish boundaries around pregnancy or baby-related talk or events to emotionally protect herself. All women are different in the way they respond to a pregnancy loss.”
If your spouse/wife/partner/sister/aunt/best friend/cousin/niece/daughter says that she needs time and space, you should grant her that, but you shouldn’t completely disappear and be sure to check in with them. When you do, Larson says to reinforce to them: “I care about you and want you to know I am here for you. I trust you to reach out to me when you might be ready to talk or if you are having a hard time.”
This way, you’ve acknowledged the loss they have experienced and you are offering your care and support. Larson says, “You’ve also given her control which might be helpful at a time when she feels little to no control.”
If you do think you’ve done or said the “wrong” thing to the woman in your life who has experienced a pregnancy loss, Breen says that a simple “I’m sorry” can go a very long way.
“There is almost always space for repair when approached with genuine apology, concern, and love,” Breen says, adding, “And there is tremendous intimacy and mutual respect that can grow out of the the process of mistake and repair.”
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Author Bio Aly Semigran is a Philadelphia-based writer whose work has been featured in Well + Good, Amy Poehler's Smart Girls, Bustle, Refinery29, InStyle, and more. In addition to writing about women's health, she spends her free time with her dog at the park, going to the movies, swimming (weather permitting), and reading everything she can get her hands on.