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How to Console Someone Who Had a Miscarriage
More than one in five pregnancies ends in miscarriage, so chances are that if there are many women in your life, you will probably have to deal with this situation more than once. However, dealing with it right is actually more complex than it might seem. Many people mean well but say all the wrong things. By learning more about the situation and how to handle it, you can keep yourself from making things worse.
Do's and Don'ts
Do acknowledge their loss.Many people don't know how to react when someone they care about goes through a great loss like this. It is common to feel like maybe you shouldn't say anything: either because acknowledging it is too painful or because you're afraid that you'll say something hurtful. However, saying nothing can be even more hurtful than saying the wrong thing. Do acknowledge this terrible loss, even if only briefly. It will help and even this small gesture can make them feel less alone.
- All you have to say is something like, "I heard that you lost your child. I want to extend my deepest sympathy to you and your whole family. Please, let me know if there's anything at all that I can do to help you."
Do admit when you don't know how to respond.Many people just don't know what to say in deeply serious situations like this. Admitting that you don't know how to react in a helpful way can actually, in itself, be helpful to your friend. When you do this, you show your humanity and communicate that you aren't avoiding them because they feel tainted or because you think they did something wrong. It also shows that you honestly do care about their feelings and don't want them to be hurt further.
- Say something like, "I don't really know what to say to make this better. I'm not very good at this kind of thing. But I hope you know that I am very sorry for your loss."
Do ask her what she needs.The best place to start when consoling your friend is to simply ask her if there's anything that you can do. She might not want consoling, but there might be someone other way in which she could use your help. She'll know best what she needs from you right now.
- It is important that if you tell her you would like to do something for her, that you do what she asks. Going back on your word at this point can leave an incredibly powerful negative impact on your relationship.
Don't expect everyone to react the same.You may find that your friend does not seem that upset by her loss. You may also find that your friend grieves very openly and loudly. Your friend might start acting very differently, such as always wanting to go out. On the other hand, she might want to just hide herself away and cut off most contact. These are all normal reactions to grief. Even if you went through a miscarriage yourself, you can't expect your friend to grieve in the same way.
- For example, you have another friend that's gone through the same experience and commemorates every anniversary of their terrible loss. This doesn't mean that your friend who has just lost their child will want to do the same and you shouldn't push them with phrases like "this is the best way" or "you'll feel better".
Don't put a time limit on grief.You might feel like your friend is grieving for too long over what may have been a short pregnancy. No matter how short the pregnancy was, the sense of grief can still be overwhelming, especially if the woman was particularly hopeful or excited for this baby. Everyone grieves in different ways and even if you feel that you would have been over it by now, it's important not to judge your friend for taking a long time getting back to normality.
- Even having another child will not always remove the sense of loss of this child. They may always feel a slight sense of grief. This is normal and should not be looked down upon.
Don't minimize her loss.Most of the things that people usually say in this situation are exactly the wrong things to say to someone who is grieving. This is most common when the person saying these things has not experienced real grief before. Your best bet is to avoid any comment which minimizes the sense of loss that your friend and her partner are feeling right now. Don't say things that downplay the situation or make it sound like a bump in the road. Even if it's true, those kind of comments don't help.Avoid these common phrases:
- "Don't worry. You can try for another baby again later."
- "Maybe you should have...", "Maybe you shouldn't have...", "Did the doctor say what happened?" and other statements which shift blame onto the mother.
- "It's for the best", "This happened for a reason", or "This is all in God's plan."
- "At least you miscarried early in your pregnancy" or other, similar "be grateful for" statements.
Keep her company.After a miscarriage, it’s very easy for a woman to feel alone, especially if many of her other relatives, friends, and acquaintances don’t know how to react to the situation. Make sure that you’re available to her to help keep her company. You don’t have to say anything or even discuss her feelings if you don’t want to. Sometimes a simple presence can make a world of difference.
- One good option for keeping your friend company is to have her over for a good cup of tea and a movie of her choice. This makes it easy to give her a warm shoulder to lean on and a good excuse not to talk, so that neither of you feels pressured to say anything if you don’t feel like it.
- Send her a text or email first asking if she wants company. Not everyone is up for it after something like this, especially if you yourself are pregnant. If she’s up for it or if it would help her, she’ll let you know.
Make sure she knows that you're available to talk.Sometimes, your friend may really need to talk to you about their experience but they think that because it’s sad or weird or “gross”, she can’t. If you’re willing to talk to them about the problems that they’re going through, you should make sure they know that you’re open and ready to deal with whatever they have to say.
- Say something like “I know there’s nothing I can do to fix this but if you just want someone to talk to, I hope you know that I’m here whenever you need me.”
- Be careful, however, not to leave them feeling like they’re obligated to talk about their experience. A one time offer to talk or just simple hints that you’re there for them (such as arranging quiet and private opportunities to talk) is plenty.
Be ready to be a silent shoulder to cry on.If your friend does feel like talking about her experience, then it’s going to be important for you to do more listening than anything else. If she doesn’t feel like talking about it, then you still need to be ready to just be quiet and let her cry on your shoulder. Hugs are helpful and Kleenex distributing duty is important but should be done silently.
Let her be sad.Don't try to buck her up or divert her attention. This is an incredibly sad experience and in order to process her feelings, she’s probably going to need to be sad for a while. You can offer her other activities if she’s up for them but generally it's much healthier to experience the pain and go through the stages of grief.
- The stages of grief do not necessarily go in order and not all are required but generally you might see your friend go through five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.Watch for each step in this chain to occur and you should see that progressing normally. Don’t pressure her to rush through it.
Help her commemorate the experience, if she wants to.Some women like to commemorate the anniversary of their loss. Some women will do something even sooner, such as for when they would have gone to their final checkup, their due date, etc. If your friend mentions wanting to commemorate that experience, you should help her in any way you can.
- You can provide a small commemoration, even if she doesn't mention wanting to do anything. A bouquet of flowers or a donation to a miscarriage charity (or perhaps an international charity that deals with infant mortality) can show your support.
Help educate others so that uncomfortable situations are avoided.It can be a great emotional burden on a couple that has just had a miscarriage to have to inform everyone of their loss. If you know your friend had made her pregnancy known to people, you can offer to let people know about their loss and save them that terrible experience. Of course, you shouldn't tell people unless she wants you to and you shouldn't "out" her if people didn't know that she was pregnant to begin with. Only discuss this situation with people if she allows it.
- It might be helpful to ask the couple for a list of people that they want to be sure know. You may have to use your judgement on telling anyone beyond the list.
- Another additional way to help is to give an article like this or an informational pamphlet to the other people you tell. That way, they'll also know the best ways to help and talk to your friends in their time of grief.
Give them the opportunity for alone time by taking on some of their responsibilities.You've probably had the experience of being very upset but stuck with obligations that force you to wear a smile. Save your friend the embarrassment of having to run into the back room to cry and take on some of their responsibilities. There are lots of ways that you can do this. You can:
- Give a coworker one or more of your paid sick days, watch their other kids for them so that they can have some time to grieve alone, cover their shift at work, etc.
- Another responsibility they may have now is dealing with all of the things that they may have bought for the baby. Most mothers don’t want to keep the items, so a long process of returning items to stores, selling the items, or bringing them to a charity will begin. You can offer to do this for her, since the experience can be even more soul crushing.
Help them with daily tasks.Even the most simple daily tasks can feel overwhelming when we're going through a hard time emotionally. By taking on some of these tasks for them, you can give them the chance to relax and go through the normal emotions of grief. This is also doubly helpful to a woman who has miscarried, as the physical repercussions can be painful and last up to several months.
- You can make them food. Try filling their freezer with a week's worth of dinners ready to go in the microwave.
- You can clean their home for them; vacuuming, doing the dishes, cleaning the bathroom, etc.
- Taking care of the yard is another household chore that's bad enough when you feel great, nevermind when you just want to cry in bed.
Continue to help them over time.Don't help your friend and talk to them for just two weeks and then go on with life, pretending like nothing has changed. This makes the effort you put in and the concern you showed seem insincere. Instead, check in with your friend every once in a while and see how they're doing. This tells them that you really do care about their wellbeing, which can go a long way towards helping them recover.
- You don't have to say much or even mention the miscarriage explicitly. All you have to do is call them up or invite them out for coffee every now and again and say something like, "How are you? Tell me how things have been going with you. I've been so worried but you do seem like you're doing better."
Don't forget that their partner could also use a kind word.A lot of the time, people focus on consoling the woman who miscarried and forget all about her partner. It takes more than one person to make a baby and this person has also suffered a great loss. Even if you don't know your friend's partner well, you should still offer your condolences, even if its just in the form of a card that your friend can pass along. This can mean the world to your friend's partner, especially if few people have been offering their support to them.
Helping Them Find Resources
Help them locate a support group.Support groups can be hugely beneficial for people that are going through grief or complex situations like miscarriage. With a support group, your friend can find advice and see that they aren't alone in this experience. You can find information about support groups for this situation through your local hospital. They should have a list of local support groups and counseling services.
- Online forums. If there isn't a group in your local area, you can find websites online which serve the same function. These online forums are filled with mothers who are going through this loss, and many who have come out on the other side.
- Go with them. Sometimes, it can be scary to go meet a bunch of strangers and talk about your deep personal feelings. Offer to go with your friend as backup emotional support. Once past that initial hurdle of the unknown, they might be more comfortable going on their own.
Help them find a grief counselor.A grief counselor is similar to a support group but this professional has many years of training and experience in helping people with their pain. They may have more tools available and may be more directly helpful in getting your friend back on their feet. You can usually get a reference to a good grief counselor from your local hospital or church.
- Professional grief counselors will generally charge money. You can show your support for your friend by paying for a session or two. If they feel it helps, they may go to more on their own.
- If neither of you can afford the service, there may be grants and financial assistance available. Contact your local health department to find out more. You can also often get free grief counseling services from your local church.
Hook them up with another friend.If you know someone else who has gone through the same experience, you may want to arrange for the two of them to meet. This can be less intimidating than a support group and may be just as helpful. Arrange for them to meet at least once when you can introduce them face-to-face. Offer to leave or give them privacy while they talk, however.
- Say something like, "I have a friend who suffered a similar loss. She's doing a lot better these days. If you'd like to talk to her and get some advice, I'd love to have you both over for dinner so that you can have some nice quiet time to talk."
Find them some good, helpful books on the subject.Some people are more private in how they experience grief. If you notice that your friend is having trouble expressing her emotions and talking to others about her feelings, a book may be a better route. A book allows her to approach grief at her own pace and at a time place that feels safe for her. Good examples of books on this topic include:
- "Surviving Pregnancy Loss" by Rochelle Friedman
- "Miscarriage: Women Sharing from the Heart" by Marie Allen
- "I Never Held You: Miscarriage, Grief, Healing and Recovery" by Ellen M. DuBois
- You can still have a normal pregnancy after a miscarriage.
Sources and Citations
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