I vividly remember the first time one of my friends had 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 hadn’t even been pregnant yet, how could I understand or support her through this? What should I say? I only remember telling her I was sorry, listening to her tell her story, and then for days after, second guessing my words, wondering what more I could, or should, do. That was years ago, and now, having lost two babies myself, I have a bit more perspective on what is helpful, and what isn’t.
Last year was an incredibly difficult year for our family. 2013 started hard and ended hard, 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, then rounded out the year with a once expected due date in December.
Our losses seemed to cover our entire calendar last year in sadness. Hospital stays to deliver babies that never cried. Having to leave the labor and delivery unit 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. I could be in the middle of a day where I hadn’t yet remembered it all, only to check the mail and find yet another box of formula samples. It sometimes felt like I was being tortured, constantly reminded, and 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 and often, it’s hard to be honest with your family, because you want to reassure them that you’ll be okay. So, you hope you can turn to your friends and find a safe place to honestly bare your sole with deeply painful emotions and cross your fingers you chose your girlfriends well.
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 to be there 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? The one that brings you to tears. What do you do when your friend gives you the news that her heart has shattered because that 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 children 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 delivered, packages sent, 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 in support to someone with whom you aren’t that 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 suprised 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, at least, being reminded of this felt like I wasn’t being allowed to grieve and be deeply sad. Avoid phrases that begin with “at least” like “at least you have your other children” and “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.” Yep. Definitely skip that one.
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, and 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 may memories and thoughts of what might have been. The perfection of my friends’ babies was an all too 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 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.
Listen. 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, 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 so 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 still appreciated and was touched by each and every note we got.
Especially remember that each woman is different, and each loss is different. Your friend’s needs will be different from my experience, from your own, and if she goes through 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.
Just know that she sees your support and it honestly means more than you could ever know.