**Trigger warning: pregnancy loss and miscarriage**
I vividly remember the first time one of my friends suffered a miscarriage. We were sitting across from each other having lunch and she just said it, “So, we had a miscarriage.” I also remember not having a clue about what to say. I had never been pregnant yet, how could I understand or support her through this kind of loss? What should I say? I only remember telling her I was sorry and I listened to her tell her story. Then for days after, I second guessed my words, wondering what more I could do, or should do. That was years ago. Now, after suffering my own miscarriages and two stillborn births, I have a bit more insight into what is helpful, and what is not.
Last year was an incredibly difficult year for our family. 2013 started hard and ended harder. Our daughter, Hattie, was delivered stillborn on January 5th. Then our son Emerson was delivered stillborn in the summer. We buried her ashes with his body a few weeks later, and rounded out the year with a once expected due date in December.
Our losses covered our entire calendar year in sadness. Two hospital stays to deliver babies that never took a breath or cried. Nothing can prepare you to leave the labor and delivery unit so broken-hearted and empty handed. Waking in the middle of the night to feel my growing belly, only to remember that it was now empty. Standing graveside as the mother of those being buried. Even on the days I felt I had triumphed over the sadness, I was reminded of my miscarriages. I could be in the middle of a day where I hadn’t yet remembered it all, only to check the mail and find a box of formula samples. At times it felt like I was being tortured with the constant reminders. I’d be lying if I told you I’ve completely recovered emotionally.
Family can be an incredible support, and mine was amazing, but family worries a lot more about you than your friends do. Often, it’s hard to be honest with your family because you want to reassure them that you’ll be okay. So, you cross your fingers you chose your girlfriends well and turn to them in hopes of finding a safe place to bare your soul with the deep and painful emotions.
Let me tell you, I’m more than blessed and found myself surrounded by love and endless support. My friends could write the book on how to be there for someone in the middle of such pain. If I tried to list it, I’d fill pages with all they did for me. Even last week, more than a year after all of this began, I found a need to reach out to them and they were right there for me. I couldn’t be more thankful and I am sure I wouldn’t have found the happy moments that I did last year without such wonderful women in my life. During both of my hospital stays, emails rolled in, texts of support, and love and prayers from so many people. I have mentioned to my husband a number of times how fortunate I am to be surrounded by such amazing friends.
So, what do you do when you get that call, that email, that text? What do you do when your friend gives you the news that her heart has shattered because the baby she loved so much is gone?
Help your friend remember her worth; as a woman and a mother
Miscarriage tears you apart like nothing else. As a mom, you want to protect your child(ren) at all costs. I felt as if I had failed at my most important job. In those early moments when the grief is thick, all you can think is that you should have been able to prevent it, that you should have been able to keep them safe. Losing a baby not only breaks your heart, it can break down your sense of self. We were showered with meals, packages, notes, and flowers. It reminded me that I was worth the time, effort, and thought my friends put into these gifts. A simple encouraging note or text will also help lift her up.
Don’t be afraid to reach out and offer support to someone with whom you aren’t very close
Each time we found out about our losses, we sent an email to some of our closest friends and somehow a few people that we weren’t that close to were on that list too. I was surprised to find the most support in some unexpected places. One woman in particular, who has since become a close friend, thoughtfully answered each of my emails and was always checking in.
Don’t remind her of all that she has to be grateful for
At least not for awhile. I know that sounds SO backwards, but your friend is aware of the good things in her life. She knows what she is lucky to have. For me, being reminded of this felt like I wasn’t allowed to grieve and be deeply sad. Avoid phrases that begin with “at least” you have your other children” or “everything happens for a reason.” Absolutely avoid that second one at all costs. Never, EVER say that. Think of that phrase as it’s interpreted with your friend’s feelings: “your baby died for a reason.” Not the thought you want to convey. Definitely skip it.
Don’t be offended if she can’t look at or talk about your baby
She thinks your baby is beautiful, perfect, absolutely amazing…and completely terrifying. Seeing babies in the months after each of my deliveries last year was HARD. Truthfully, it often still is. The moments when I felt okay to look at a friend’s baby, let alone hold one, were very rare. It simply brought back so many memories and thoughts of what might have been. The perfection of my friends’ babies was a tangible reminder of what I was missing. Try not to let it hurt your feelings and try to understand if your friend just can’t be around you and your sweet baby, especially if yours arrived when hers should have.
Invite your friend out for some fun
I so appreciated that my friends didn’t stop inviting me out – they never gave up on me. I didn’t always go, but they never stopped asking and when I was ready, the invitation was always there. The best part was that when we were out, they didn’t expect me to smile the whole time, only to show up and allow them to be my friends. Having a chance to do something “normal” was incredibly healing. Not only was it a momentary distraction, going out surrounded by a group of girlfriends who wouldn’t have cared if I had started to cry gave me a safe place to try to get back to being “me” again.
That’s it. You don’t need to know what to say, just offer an ear and a shoulder to cry on. Chocolate, flowers, and coffee don’t hurt either.
Follow up and check in
Mark your calendar for a month and then for three months or longer, down the road. Write down her due date and check in. I had a dear friend send me a card that arrived on my second due date. I burst into tears because I knew in her own experience she really understood how I felt and that she had shown so much care to remember the day I would be incredibly sad. Also, be prepared to offer her support without hearing back from her. She got your email, your message, or the flowers you sent. I found it emotionally exhausting to write back to everyone, but I appreciated each and every note we got.
Mostly, try and remember that each woman is different, and each loss is different. Your friend’s needs will be different from my experience and from your own experience. And if she has to suffer this a second time, she may need support in all new ways. Let her lead. Ask her what she needs and be willing to be okay taking a step back and waiting until she is ready to talk. You don’t need to be an expert to support her, just a friend.
Know that she sees your support and it means more than you could ever know.
Original post published February 2014
The crazy thing is – I never knew how common miscarriages were until I got married. Then I had one, and women came out of the woodwork sharing their stories. I thought it was rare or that it never happened, because it’s a woman’s health issue that just isn’t addressed. I was pretty angry to find out that so many women experience this and the most people say is, “well, this sort of thing happens.”
I got even angrier when people said “this is natural, the body often does this when there are abnormalities with the baby…” Stop talking. I would love my baby with abnormalities. I just want my child to be here. Please stop telling me he’s not here because there was something wrong with him. You don’t know that.
It’s hard sometimes to look at my daughter and realize she wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t lost our son. I know I couldn’t have had them both full term and healthy – but I still wish it could be so. I feel like I miss having two children; I feel like she should have a sibling; I feel like we’re a family of four.
Now that we’re trying for another, I wonder if we’ll miscarry again. It really frightens me, because especially now that I know how wonderful it is to carry a baby to full term…I think the loss would be even more painful.
It seems like a lot of things where once you know about it, it’s on your radar and you see it more and more. I’m sorry for all the pain you’re feelings, but it does it get easier with time. I don’t think you ever “get over it,” or I expect I won’t. Will be thinking of you…
I know it’s not the same by any stretch of the imagination, and I don’t want to hijack this post to talk about my own grief, but as the mother of a severely disabled baby, I appreciated this post so much. I daily hear the “at least”s and the “this happened for a reason”, but whether there’s truth to that or not, doesn’t make it any easier. I experienced support from the unlikeliest places, and also had friends distance themselves from me because they had no idea what to do or what to say. I have an incredibly difficult time being around friends beautiful, healthy babies, and in some ways, I am grieving a loss as well. My daughter will have moderate to severe mental disabilities and will be in a wheelchair her whole life. Anyway, I just wanted to say that I could identify with so much of what you said. I think the advice you give is perfect. Thank you for sharing your heart!
I think there are a lot of parallels with this post to any kind of suffering. We all need to get a bit less uncomfortable with the hard stuff and just be there for each other. No one is an expert and you don’t choose your friends based on what might happen in life, you just hope they’ll be there for you when things come, no matter what. I can imagine that you’re grieving often and that each stage is hard as you learn to manage parts of your life that you didn’t expect to. “At least” is a phrase that needs to be thrown out completely when someone is working through something hard – it’s not at all helpful to anyone. Thank you for your note!
Dear Beth, thank you for your words. Being better equipped to be a good friend in times of loss is invaluable. I appreciate you sharing.
Thank you Rachel.
Beth – Thank you for sharing such a heartfelt and honest post. This is a wonderful reminder as my best friend has also lost two babies in the last year and I sometimes wonder how to help her heart heal and if it is good to ask how her heart is or better to let her share if she is hurting. She called me the other day and it was her due date and I hadn’t kept track…I felt awful! But she cried, I listened, and then we moved on to other life topics. Your advice is so very helpful and your honesty and vulnerability are a gift to other mom’s. Thank you and blessings to you and your family!
Ugh…it just is hard all around. I remember you mentioning her (I think this summer??). I’m sure she didn’t expect you to remember the exact day, but how amazing that you’re constantly there for her, answering the phone and listening. I’m sure you are a bigger support than you even realize! Thanks Kristina!
I experienced two miscarriages last year as well at 10 and 16 weeks. I often think of writing to get through it but haven’t been strong enough emotionally yet. I sometimes think I scare away others when I talk openly about it – it’s nice to see others write about it. Thanks!
I’m so sorry, Beth. Thanks for sharing your heart!
I go back to these two posts on the web a lot because I find them so powerful in ways to support people.
I promise they aren’t spam.
Thank you for sharing – i have seen that Empathy video before, but watching it through this lens brought me to tears! It’s a great description of how to really help someone and why it’s hard for some people. Thank you for sharing it!
Here is the only one I meant to post.
I think it’s great because it’s about just doing something. It might help, it might not, but asking people in need what you can do is not helpful. You can build them a nest, or make them a meal, or just come over and take their other kids for a bit.
I’m so sorry for your losses! This post is so great!! People have no idea how to respond and it often feels like people forget. I remember soon after my son died (during birth) telling my mom that I felt like I was the only one who was still sad. Everyone seemed to have moved on. Even as we approach his first birthday it feels like people take my lead on talking about him. I wish people would bring him up on their own. However I know it can be an awkward situation for them especially if they don know what to say. I know sometimes I even struggle to find words when talking to someone else who has experienced a loss.