Knowing what to do (or even what not to do) after a loved one experiences a miscarriage can be a tempting reason not to do much of anything. We can all relate to going silent when something is too uncomfortable to confront. However, when we gently urge ourselves to face difficult topics, we feel much more connected to others and ourselves. Miscarriage is one of these topics people often flee from. Friends and even family find it challenging to know the “right” thing to say or do, and yet it is such a common occurrence. Approximately, 10-25% of clinically recognized pregnancies result in loss. In an effort to shower friends with support, here are five ways to express your care after a miscarriage:
1. Show empathy, but don’t try to “fix” things.
When a friend shares that she’s lost a pregnancy, it can stir all sorts of feelings: sadness, bewilderment and fear. It might be tempting to try to comfort her through platitudes such as, “At least you know you can get pregnant;” “It wasn’t meant to be;” “Everything happens for a reason;” or “Things will be different next time.” Thoughtful in nature, these sentiments aren’t necessarily true and may hurt more than heal. Upon reflection, we might notice we are saying these things to relieve our own discomfort. Empathy can sometimes be best expressed through simple utterances: “How are you feeling?” and “I’m here for you,” or “I may not say the right thing, but I’m going to try.” These questions shy away from trying to “fix” the situation, and instead aim to acknowledge her pain.
2. Send a card.
Maybe you called your friend on the phone? Well, you can also send her a handwritten note. In a digital age, where we constantly receive calls and texts, cards can be opened when she’s ready to engage. Connecting in a variety of ways extends the expression of support. Additionally, writing a note helps you find the words you struggled to voice.
3. Talk about your loss, only if it feels right.
When a friend loses a pregnancy, it is beneficial for her to hear that she is not alone. Though the statistics are glaring, experiencing a miscarriage can feel incredibly isolating. If you’ve had a pregnancy loss and feel inclined, this might be an opportune time to share your experience. However, it is vital to tread lightly as you open up. Notice how she is responding emotionally. It could be helpful to hear details, or perhaps she’s too vulnerable. It’s important to check in, making sure your own experience doesn’t overshadow or overwhelm.
4. Let her know she’s not alone.
Research has found that a majority of women feel ashamed, isolated, and guilty after a pregnancy loss. A profound way to make an impact on these feelings is to be consistent with your communication. Constantly check in. For some, grief shows up later than expected; it could make a world of difference if you reach out a month or two after her loss.
5. Give her a call, but let her do the talking.
Some women are bereft after a miscarriage, whereas others are not. Loss means different things to different people; it is informed by histories, relationships, and other familial factors. Emotional landscape informs how much (or how little) individuals want to talk about the loss, the experience, and resulting feelings. Take the time to find out your friend’s desires. No need to assume. Engaging her and learning how she’s fairing leaves room for intimacy, conversation, and reiterates that you are a friend.
Jessica Zucker, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist based in Los Angeles. She is the creator of a line of pregnancy loss cards and the #IHadAMiscarriage campaign. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, BuzzFeed, anthologies, and elsewhere. She has been featured on Good Morning America, CNN, and NPR. Find her online shop.drjessicazucker.com and on Instagram @ihadamiscarriage, and her hey mama profile here.