At 16 weeks pregnant, I experienced the loss of my son, Solomon. That week I endured a traumatic induction process and then felt thrown out into the world again quickly. Not bleeding because of the D&C and told to take a tablet to dry up my milk, my body showed no signs of the recent pregnancy. The doctor had told me it was all over now and I could (implication: should) get on with my life again.
Emotionally, however, things were just beginning. Death had never felt so close to me before and I suddenly felt baptized into the human experience of grief and suffering. Emotions felt foreign and impossible to navigate and I was looking for others who had been through this to give me some sign, some comfort that what I was going through was normal. I decided to go to a meeting with lots of other mothers the following week. This might sound like a crazy place to go, but looking for others who had been through this, I statistically presumed that in a group of 12 or so women, 3 or 4 must have had a miscarriage. I had previously emailed them all to let them know what had happened so to avoid any awkward ‘how’s the pregnancy going?’ questions.
Unfortunately, that meeting actually initiated me into the complete ignorance of most people who have not experienced a miscarriage (I’m not judging – it would have been me just a week or so previously!). As far as I could tell not one of the women had experienced a miscarriage. Only one woman brought up the topic with me and asked me how I was doing. She was kind and caring but the others clearly had no idea what to say. One woman actually opened her mouth in horror when she saw me coming off the elevator and quickly turned and walked away and ignored me for the rest of the morning!
So I’m guessing that someone close to you has just had a miscarriage or stillbirth else you wouldn’t be reading this article. You want to help but you have no idea how to not stick your foot in it like the women in that meeting I just mentioned! What are the right things to say and do when someone has just experienced a miscarriage or stillbirth?
Sometimes we might not want to unsettle a person or ‘remind’ them of their grief. I can tell you that it is impossible to remind a person of their grief – they will be experiencing it for several weeks or months continually. It will be the lens through which they are living life for a season until their emotions are resolved. Many people are afraid of demonstrations of emotion, but if you are a safe space for your loved one, it can actually be helpful to have a space where emotions can be expressed and tears shed.
Here are some things that are helpful to say when someone is grieving:
1. I am so sorry.
You actually don’t need to say much at all to offer comfort to a grieving mother. Saying things like ‘at least you have other kids’ or ‘you can try again’ are actually isolating rather than helpful because a mother is grieving the loss of that particular child, not just the idea of being pregnant, etc.
Imagine if someone said to you after you lost a close friend or spouse: ‘don’t worry, you can find another friend / husband!’ – you would feel that the person you had lost was not valued or recognized, wouldn’t you? The same goes for trying to justify the loss by saying things like ‘there was probably something wrong with the child’ or ‘it’s for the best, you weren’t really ready for this pregnancy were you?’
I am so sorry is a good thing to say because it acknowledges that what the grieving mother is experiencing is hard! It tells her with your presence that it is okay for her to be in your company and to be grieving right now. It tells her she is accepted as she it and loved. These are the key things that a grieving person needs to here: they are welcome as they are and you love them as they are.
2. How are you feeling today? (And keep asking!)
Often people assume that the grief will be over within a week or two and although this can be some people’s experience, it is not the most frequent response to grief. It is normal for grief to be a process which takes several months or even longer depending on the other levels of stress that were going on in the person’s life at the time of the grief. Having people who don’t just check in once or twice but who continue to check in week after week, who care and listen (but don’t try to fix) can be incredibly helpful.
I had one friend who wrote the date of my miscarriage in her diary and sent me a beautiful message on the anniversary. It really touched me that she had remembered and valued my child and was very healing.
3. What have you been finding the most difficult in the process?
IF your loved one is open to talking about her grief, asking her what she is currently finding the most difficult may be really helpful. It probably won’t be something you can guess. It could be as varied as finding walking the dog overwhelming or finding that her partner is not responding to the grief in a way they hoped and it is putting a strain on their relationship.
Grief puts pressure on our lives and it is likely that some of the most overwhelming and difficult things are actually due to day-to-day concerns that normally wouldn’t be an issue. (This will also give you some clues as to what you may be able to help out with practically!)
4. Can I watch your kids for you this week?
If the grieving mother has other children to care for, this may be a huge day-to-day pressure and overwhelm. Relieving her of her responsibilities even for an hour or two so she can get some space with her partner to talk or do something else life-giving can be a huge blessing.
5. Can I pray for you?
You will know if this is question you can ask or that your loved one would find helpful! Just remember that prayer is bringing things before God, and God understandings suffering more than us all.
6. Would you appreciate separating some time to talk? I’m happy to listen!
Sometimes people want an opportunity to share where they are at, and sometimes they don’t. Even if your loved one doesn’t take you up on the offer, just being asked can be comforting and make grief feel less lonely. Just make sure you actually follow up the offer and make the time!
7. Have you chosen to commemorate the life of your child in any way?
Again, even if the mother decides not to commemorate the life of their child or would prefer to do it privately, asking her gives her permission to know it is okay to commemorate a lost one. Especially when a miscarriage is early, women can think that their child wasn’t seen and so isn’t worthy of being commemorated, so the question can help her know that her child is valued.
Above all, it is not about the words you say, but the friendship you offer. It’s your presence and your ongoing concern. What we can do for and what we say to those who are grieving can be summed up in three words:
Acknowledge. Value. Connect.
When we acknowledge and recognize a loss, we bring value to it which helps the grieving mother to accept how terrible it was and then in time to adjust to her new reality and embrace life again. Being connected with those who love her and remind her of the good things in life, will help her to slowly gain strength again.
What else do you think could be helpful or harmful? Let me know in the comments below!