The possibility of losing a growing baby inside them who they have come to love is always a lingering “what if” in the back of the mind of pregnant women. When it happens, it is truly a nightmare from which a woman cannot wake. Although I have never experienced a miscarriage myself, two of my close friends have had to face the terrible reality of having lost a growing baby. Here is what I have learned from them, and how you can support a woman who is suffering the loss of a baby and of a dream.
Firstly, if your friend has had the courage enough to share with you that she has lost her baby, it is an honor. It means that she trusts you enough to discuss something deeply and personal and painful with you, so the first piece of advice is this:
Don’t Dismiss Her
Don’t say anything like “it was meant to be”, “they are with God now”, “maybe it was for the best” and so on. This may or may not become a truth to the grieving woman, but after a loss is not the time to say it. Take care not to dismiss her pain, or explain it away. It is tempting to want to offer some reasoning to try and make sense of her loss, but avoid statements that disregard the pain your friend is going through.
Be Honest And Gentle
If you don’t know what to say, it is okay to communicate that to your friend. Not knowing what to say is better than saying something that may be hurtful. You can say something like, “I don’t know what to say, you must be hurting so deeply right now, and I wish there was something I could do to ease your pain.” This is a statement that, if genuine, will communicate to your friend that you feel for her and understand how deeply she is hurting (even if you can’t feel her pain).
Don’t Ask What You Can Do
This may seem counter-intuitive, but don’t put the burden of your wanting to help on your friend’s shoulders. Just help. Avoid playing armchair psychologist. Instead, send her “thinking of you” cards, make her a few meals, tell her that you are only a phone call away, call her and tell her that you are there, even if she chooses not to talk about it. Offer to babysit her other children (if any) so she can have time alone. Asking her “what can I do?” is putting unnecessary responsibility on your grieving friend, even though that is not your intention.
Don’t Pretend She Didn’t Lose A Baby
It is not at all wise or considerate to talk about the “fetus” she lost, or the “embryo” or another dismissive term, to avoid saying’ baby’. To her, she lost a baby, a real live person, even if it was still in her uterus, and even if it was an early miscarriage. Treat her as though she has lost a child, because she has.
Treat Her Normally
In other words, if you mention the word baby in conversation, don’t put your hand over your mouth dramatically and say “sorry, sorry!!” as if she is made of fine glass and will shatter at any mention of babies. Allow your friend some normalcy too, in addition to her grief. Show her that it is okay to have a better day, without pushing her into healing. Sometimes people get stuck in grieving because they don’t know how to transition into having a ‘better day’ than yesterday. Part of this is because well-meaning friends want to make every moment about how delicate and grief-stricken their friend is. However, as mentioned, don’t push your friend into healing either.
Finally, let your friend take the lead in her grief. Some people like to grieve privately, others feel more comfortable grieving publicly. Some women work through their miscarriage loss more quickly, some take a lot longer and will be working through the pain for years. The most important thing to do is be genuine and continue letting her know every so often that you are here if she ever wants to talk, and that you care about her deeply.