A friend of mine approached me not to long ago and asked if I would guest write a blog for her site, Everything Mommyhood, about what NOT to say to someone who has had a miscarriage. This was prompted by a Facebook post I made about some of the rather ill-thought condolences I received. I had planned on writing something similar here at some point, but the offer to write for her blog provided the opportunity to reach way more readers. I’m reprinting it here for the few who read my blog, but strongly encourage, recommend (and politely demand) that everyone visit Everything Mommyhood to support my friend, who gave me a much larger voice than I have here.
4 Things NOT To Say To a Woman Who Has Miscarried
There is no easy way to transition into this subject, so I will just say it: I recently had a miscarriage. I learned of my baby’s demise on June 4th. Words cannot convey the complex grieving process I am working through. Every day I am faced with the reality that I am no longer pregnant. It’s difficult to adjust to, even over two months later. The physical and emotional effects from losing my child are ongoing; however, what I find most difficult is the lack of understanding, or even ill-thought condolences, that I am faced with when people learn of my loss. I thought it wise to share with others some of the questions and statements either I heard directly, or others who had miscarriages disclosed to me, that should be avoided when speaking with someone who has suffered a pregnancy loss.
- “At least you know you can get pregnant.”
This particular statement was said to me on several occasions, as I had been going through fertility treatments for six months before I conceived. While those who said it were well-meaning, it did not address the loss of my child. Yes, I guess now I knew I could get pregnant, but if I had my way, I would still be pregnant with that child. This statement essentially negates the importance of the child I carried, basically reducing him to a trial-run for a pregnancy that would one day be successful. For some women, getting pregnant is easy- it’s staying pregnant that proves a challenge.
- “Everything happens for a reason” or “This was nature’s way (or God’s way) of fixing something that was broken”
I heard this a lot after I learned that my baby had Down syndrome. Once I learned of that diagnosis I did extensive research on the subject and learned majority of babies conceived with Down syndrome will miscarry. Most of those that make it to term have severe heart or digestive issues requiring multiple surgeries. Still, what people don’t realize is that I never think of my son as “broken”. He was my baby, someone I dreamed about meeting from the moment I learned I was pregnant. Had I carried him successfully to term I would have loved him no less than a child that wasn’t “broken”. I am extremely grateful that my son will never know pain or sadness, and will gladly spend the rest of my life with this grief so he didn’t have a moment of suffering, but that doesn’t lessen the harsh impact of such statements. For those that so flippantly suggest that things “happen for a reason”, I often wonder how they would react if I said the same thing to them after the death of someone they loved.
- “At least you have other children at home”
A few friends, who have already had successful pregnancies, told me they heard this on more than one occasion. They confided how hurtful the statement was because having children at home did not take away from the love they felt for their miscarried child. If anything I imagine having a child at home would make the loss more profound- I can only imagine what it is like to be a mother- whereas they have the experiences and memories and know exactly the beauty that will be missing.
- “It’s not like it was a real baby” or “It’s better that it happened so soon rather than later in the pregnancy”
This is perhaps the cruelest comment someone can make. Fortunately no one said this directly to me, but others I spoke with expressed that they heard this quite a few times- often from women who had successful pregnancies. There has always been a great debate about what constitutes the start of life, and this post isn’t going to wax philosophical about the distinction. What people should consider, before making a statement regarding the “realness” of a baby, is how they (or their spouse) felt when they went for their twelve-week ultrasound. How did they feel knowing they were going to see their child and its beating heart? Did they not love that child then? Well, it was no different for a woman who goes, expecting a happy result, only to be greeted with the awful stillness of a nonmoving baby. The gestational date of your loss, whether five, ten, or twenty weeks, does not diminish or change the hopes and dreams someone had for their growing baby. The death of a baby, at any gestational age, is devastating.
I believe that most people have good intentions when offering the “condolences” to a woman who has had a miscarriage. It is still a very taboo topic, and honestly before I had my miscarriage I probably thought or said at least one of the above statements. I didn’t know any better- the subject of miscarriage is largely brushed under the carpet and I had no idea how to react when confronted with the situation. Even recent news of Mark Zuckerberg and his wife’s struggle with infertility and miscarriage disappeared from the headlines relatively fast, and now…nothing but silence.
I wrote this, not to scold others, but in an attempt to educate others in what not to say to a friend or loved one should they suffer such a devastating loss. What you can say, what you should say, is quite simple- I’m sorry for your loss; I’m here for you; I love you. If you don’t know what to say, don’t say anything. Give them a hug, a flower, heck, bake them a cake. Listen if they need to vent or cry. Don’t minimize their loss. Don’t expect them to bounce right back to who they used to be. Understand if they can’t visit you or your small children right away, or if they don’t attend events focused around babies and birthdays for a little while- they just can’t help it. Above all else, just be there for them.