Want to make people feel awkward? Grieve.
There’s nothing more awkward than being around someone who is grieving. What do you do? Should you ask them about the person they’ve lost? Or pretend nothing is happening and talk about something else? And what if you say something wrong and upset them even more?
From my experience, as much as people don’t know how to react to grief normally, they really don’t know how to react when you lose a child. Especially a child that hasn’t been born yet. We were beyond blessed to have lots of people in our life who loved us and supported us after our miscarriage, but I know it’s a hard topic for a lot of people.
That’s why, in honor of National Infant and Pregnancy Awareness Month, I wanted to share how people can support someone who has experienced miscarriage or lost an infant.
Remember that losing a child is losing a child.
Whether you believe life begins at conception or not, I think it’s fair to say that most people who find out they are pregnant after trying to conceive feel like that positive pregnancy test is a child in some way. They’re already thinking about names, about decorating the nursery, and about saving for college. That person, while not born yet, feels like a real person to their parents.
When you’re supporting someone who has experienced miscarriage, make sure to remember that the person is grieving the loss of a real, tangible person.
Don’t say “Don’t worry, you can try again!”
If there’s one thing I could tell you to NEVER, EVER say, it’s this. It’s like telling someone whose 10-year-old child died, “You can have another one though, right?” Like, sure they COULD have another child, but that doesn’t replace the child they lost. A loss is a loss. The best way to be supportive is to treat the loss of a child like the loss of anyone else: a loss to be mourned.
In addition, it’s important to understand that some people experience miscarriages for no medical reason at all; others experience miscarriage because they have a medical condition that affects their ability to conceive and carry healthy children to term. For some, it’s not as easy as “trying again.” It may have taken them years to conceive that child, and it may be that there is no guarantee they will be able to conceive again. Be gentle.
Don’t say “When you’re a parent…”
I know this seems like something natural to say. If someone has experienced pregnancy loss and the pregnancy was planned, you know that they are interested in starting a family. It seems natural – and supportive – to want to talk about them being a parent eventually.
But for many who have already experienced pregnancy loss, this is a painful reminder that they are parents – to a child they never got to meet.
Losing a pregnancy puts you in a weird limbo where you’re not not a parent, but you don’t have a child to show for it, either. Talking about what it’s like to be a parent or what it will be like when the person is a parent can bring up a lot of painful feelings for someone who is grieving the loss of a child. It’s best to avoid it.
Be mindful of triggering situations (aka children).
When you lose a child, the last thing you want to do is be around happy people with children. This doesn’t last forever, but especially right after a loss, it’s incredibly triggering to be around people with children.
In the words of my (very wise) sister, making someone who’s lost a pregnancy spend time with kids is like inviting someone who lost their dad to a father-daughter dance. It’s painful. I cried the first time I had to be around a baby after our miscarriage.
I don’t think a lot of people think about this, especially people with kids. People assume that because someone wants children, they won’t mind being around them. Which might be true…except for when they’re grieving the loss of a child.
I remember when my sister-in-law pulled me aside the first time we met her new foster baby. She told me she knew that being around babies might be hard for me, and told me she wasn’t going to be offended if I wasn’t interested in holding or playing with her new foster baby. That meant so much to me, just to know that someone understood what I was going through.
If someone is grieving the loss of a child, be mindful of what might trigger them. Try to avoid talking about everyone you know who is pregnant, or inviting them to events where there will be tons of people with kids, especially baby showers. If you know that an event might be triggering for the person, give them a heads-up and permission to duck out if they’re feeling overwhelmed or too sad.
Keep checking in.
Anyone who has experienced grief knows that it comes and goes in waves. You can feel totally fine for a week, then have a horrible day out of nowhere. It’s no different with pregnancy loss.
If you know someone who has experienced pregnancy loss, it’s important to be there for them not just in the moment, but in the weeks and months following. Just because they’ve stopped talking about it or stopped looking sad doesn’t mean they’re over it. Don’t stop checking in. Don’t stop asking how they’re doing, asking how they’re feeling, asking if they need anything. The pain of losing a child doesn’t go away quickly, especially if medical issues prevent them from trying again. Continue to be there.
While all of these tips are important, the best thing you can do to support someone is just to love them. Check in. Pray for them. Be kind to them. And remember that with 1 in 4 pregnancies ending in miscarriage, it’s a lot more common than you think.