If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve had a miscarriage. Let me start by saying I am so sorry for your loss. No matter when you lost your baby, I know you loved that baby and are heartbroken.
Sadly, it is not an uncommon experience and it has been estimated that 1 in 4 women have had a miscarriage (source: American Pregnancy Association). When I started doing therapy, while in grad school, it was only a very short time before I had my first client who was crying in my office, longing to still be pregnant, and missing her baby. Over the past 6 years, I’ve worked with many women who have suffered this loss. Each woman’s pain is unique and everyone processes the grief differently. However, there are certain things that I’ve seen to be helpful to my clients. You may need to only do a couple of these, or may find you want to do all of them. I hope at least one of these resonates with you and starts to bring healing to your heart.
- Talk with a trusted friend or family member.
Getting out what you’re feeling and going through can be very helpful in processing your grief. If you don’t have a supportive community, finding a supportive online community can help. If you’d rather find support in person, scheduling an appointment with a therapist who has experience in this is a great option.
Journaling: some people love it, some loathe it. I suggest that EVERYONE try it! Journaling is a powerful tool to help you process what you are going through. Your journal is the safe place where you can write down EVERYTHING that you’re feeling. You need to get it out. Journaling can be a perfect avenue for it. In a journal, you are free to express those emotions that feel too big to share with others. Just try it. Sit down for 10 minutes and see how you feel and how much you get out. And, if you’re worried about others reading what you write in your journal, then write what you’re feeling on a piece of paper and shred it afterwards. Shredding is cathartic, too!
- Give your baby a name.
This sounds crazy to some people, okay maybe a lot of people. But, you didn’t lose an inanimate object, your baby died. That reality is so heavy that it’s hard to even put words to it. Naming your baby lets the gravity of what you’ve gone through sink in. It helps you process it. The naming process can be a great way to include your significant other. Your husband/boyfriend is probably experiencing this grief differently, but including him is important for both of your healing.
- Write a letter to your baby.
From the moment you found out you were pregnant, you most likely had hopes and dreams for your baby, ideas about what he or she would be like. You may have even been able to picture your child going off to his/her first day of kindergarten. All of these dreams do not need to be forgotten. Write to your baby and tell him/her all about what you thought he/she would look like, be like, and the life you planned with him/her. Writing this letter is hard to do, but you will feel better after doing it.
- Do something special each year.
On the anniversary of losing your baby and/or your due date, it can be very meaningful to light a candle or let a balloon go in honor of your child. This can be done privately or with loved ones. If you have children and they knew about your pregnancy, this can be a very meaningful activity for them and help their hearts heal.
- Pick something to remember your baby by:
o A picture
It doesn’t matter what the special item is. It is up to you what you would like to use to remember your baby by. The days when you are feeling especially low, it can be helpful to pull your special item out. And, for the days when you are feeling better, the special item can be a reminder of your journey and how far you’ve come. But, no matter the day or how long it has been, you most likely will always feel the loss of your baby, it just changes over time.
Be kind and gentle to yourself. You’ve been through a lot and the healing process can take a long time. If you’ve done some of these suggestions and you still feel distraught and are having a difficult time functioning at work, school, or at home, you need to reach out to a therapist for professional support and get treatment. As I said earlier, losing a baby is hard and everyone responds and grieves differently. If you need help, get it.
“A husband who loses a wife is called a widower. A child who loses his parents is called an orphan. There is no word for a parent who loses a child. That's how awful the loss is.” ― Jay Neugeboren, An Orphan's Tale.
If you’re reading this and have a friend who has had a miscarriage and aren’t sure what to say or do, read What to do, What not to do!)
Having a miscarriage is a difficult experience for most people. There are some women who have an “early miscarriage” and don’t appear to be bothered by it. However, there are other women who are devastated by it. The majority of women fall somewhere in between. The important thing to remember with miscarriage is that it’s a very unique experience to the woman having it. If you’ve had a miscarriage and are “over it” or were not deeply affected by it, don’t assume that your friend who just had a miscarriage feels the same way. Everyone is affected differently by this grief and expresses it in different ways. When you have a friend who has had a miscarriage, be open to hearing how she is feeling and experiencing it and try not to put your preconceived ideas and feelings on it.
Here are a few options of what you can say and do when a friend tells you they had a miscarriage:
- “I’m so sorry you went through that.”
It’s completely normal to not know what to say and that’s okay! You don’t need to “fix” anything and you can’t take away her pain. So, saying a simple phrase like this can be all she needs to hear. Saying something like this and sitting quietly with your friend can be a great way to show your love and support.
- “I can see this is really hard for you and I’m here for you.”
This is an example of reflective listening and is a great way to show you care about your friend. As I noted earlier, everyone responds to miscarriage differently and responding to how your friend is feeling about it is the best thing you can do for her. Additionally, she may feel better or worse, depending on the day, so don’t be shocked if she “seemed fine” last time you saw her and now she is uncontrollably crying.
- “Can I bring you dinner tonight (tomorrow, next week, etc)?”
It is common to experience physical discomfort all the way to excruciating pain during and after a miscarriage. If this is the case, the last thing your friend wants to do is plan, prep, and even think about dinner. Bringing her dinner is a practical way to show your concern. (Also, grief in general, is exhausting) Be prepared to stay as short (or long) as your friend wants you to. She may not feel like talking or having company. But, on the flip side, she may need a sympathetic ear to listen to what she’s going through.
- “I’m thinking of you.” or “You’re on my mind.”
Saying simple phrases like these are a great way to let your friend know you care and are thinking of her, and allows her to know she’s cared for, but doesn’t have to feel the pressure to say how she’s doing or explain anything. Your friend will appreciate that you’re thinking about her. (Saying “How are you?” is an example of a question that requires a response.) Let your friend know you’re thinking about her on holidays, her due date, and the anniversary of her loss. These are especially hard times.
What you do NOT want to say:
- “I’ve had a miscarriage too. I know what it’s like.”
You actually don’t know what it’s like, for your friend. You know what it was like for yourself. Your friend may be telling you about her experience because she knows you’ve had one and finds comfort in that. However, each woman’s experience is unique and saying something along these lines can unintentionally minimize what your friend is feeling. And, shut down the open line of communication.
- “My sister (cousin, co-worker, etc.) lost a baby when she was 6 months (or whatever time period) pregnant.”
I know you’re trying to identify with your friend and show your understanding. But, again, a comment like this can be hurtful. If your friend was 6 or 8 weeks when she lost her baby, she might feel like her pain is “lesser” when someone has lost a baby further along in a pregnancy. No matter what the weekly gestation was at the time of miscarriage, your friend is hurting and needs to know her pain is seen and it’s important to you.
If you’ve said one of these potentially hurtful comments, don’t worry. Sadly, miscarriage is a taboo subject in most social circles and a lot of people do not know what to say or do. I’d venture to guess that your friend knew you were just trying to comfort her and saw your heart. What you could do is talk to your friend about the unintentionally hurtful comment(s) you said and offer a sincere apology.
I hope you’ve gained some insight into what can help you show your love and concern for your friend. And if you’ve had a miscarriage, I am so sorry for your loss. (If you’d like to read my blog post on healing after a miscarriage, click here.)