You may have experienced pregnancy loss firsthand, but even if you haven’t, you likely know someone who has. In these situations, it can be difficult and awkward to know how to support your friend going through a miscarriage, but a few simple directions can guide you through how to be the support system your grieving friend needs at a time like this.
You might automatically assume that your friend is sad, though sad seems like such a small word and a small feeling for what’s likely an overwhelming loss. Following a miscarriage, your friend may be feeling a crushing sense of guilt or even anger. All emotions, even a feeling of numbness or no emotion at all, are understandable and to be expected following something like this. Even if you’ve experienced a pregnancy loss yourself or have experience with navigating grief and tuning in to emotions, don’t assume that you know exactly how your friend feels. They might not even know how they’re feeling, but it’s not your job or your responsibility to figure that out for them.
Let Her Lead
It’s tempting, especially if you know your friend well, to believe that you know what’s best for her and come into her space following a tragedy like this with guns blazing. You might think getting her out of the house or out of bed is the best thing for her. But follow her lead rather than dictating your own opinions of what would benefit her best.
If you want to boss someone around, ask other friends to make grocery trips or run other errands. Stay with your friend and let her behavior dictate how you react. She may want to stay at home for a few days. She may want to get out and distract herself. If she's unsure of what to do, ask specific questions; broad, unspecific questions might overwhelm her. Ask: Can I go put gas in your car? Can I take you for coffee after going to the doctor? Can I get you Chinese or Indian food later? Her answers should direct what your next course of action will be.
Listen – or Learn How To
It can be extremely hard to know what to say to a friend who’s grieving, especially because trying to comfort a grieving person can be awkward and unwieldy. You’re afraid of saying the wrong thing, but you might make things worse by not saying anything at all. One pregnancy loss researcher studied couples who had undergone a miscarriage and found that these couples were most hurt and confused when people refused to acknowledge the miscarriage at all rather than offer their condolences and well wishes.
Couples who miscarried were most hurt and confused when people refused to acknowledge the miscarriage at all.
You can start your comfort measures by listening. Don’t speak, interject, and don’t offer anything up unless asked. Sit calmly and quietly. Don’t react with confusion, embarrassment, or annoyance. Listen to what they have to say, and only after they’re done, offer up what you can. We might not all be great at listening, but in these situations, it’s imperative that we learn how to be good listeners.
It’s okay if you don’t know what to say. Anyone who has experienced loss and grief knows that words are insufficient. But a simple comment like “I’m so sorry for your loss, and I’m here to support you however you need,” combined with a hug, is all you need to do.
Don’t Be That Friend
The absolute last thing your friend, or really any grieving mother for that matter, needs to hear is, “You’ll get pregnant again soon,” or “At least you weren’t too far along.” Not only are these things unnecessary, they can come off as cruel.
Your friend doesn’t need to hear that she’ll feel better soon or get pregnant again in the future. The pain and the loss she’s feeling are happening right now, not a few weeks or a year from now. Be empathetic, not just sympathetic. Put yourself in her shoes and imagine what she’s going through. You can instill a spirit of hope in her without minimizing the pain she’s currently feeling. Be selective with your words, and if you wouldn’t want to hear it if you were in her situation, then you probably shouldn’t say it.
Offer Grace Instead of Judgment
Your friend, for whatever reason, might be wracked with guilt. She may feel that there’s something she should or shouldn’t have done that could have prevented the loss. Instead of corroborating the ugly, intrusive, and negative feelings that are weighing her down, comfort her instead of judging her. If she’s mired in doubt and feelings of despair and worthlessness, don’t let any of your words or actions reinforce those emotions. Experiencing depression and suicidal ideation are common reactions to a miscarriage, and though your friend might feel entirely at fault, comfort and reassure her, rather than encourage those thoughts.
Buy Her Flowers
It’s true that we buy flowers for funerals, but we also buy them for weddings, birthdays, and other joyous occasions. A miscarriage is both a tragic loss and a precious acknowledgment of life. Buy your friend flowers to brighten up her space and bring color into her home. They won’t take away the pain or make her feel better overnight, but they’ll be a physical reminder of your friendship and help her to know she’s not alone. If she was far enough along that she had a due date, you can also mark it on your calendar and remember to send flowers on what would have been that baby's birthday as well.
A miscarriage is both a tragic loss and a precious acknowledgment of life.
Help Her Spouse Too
While it’s your friend who has lost her pregnancy, recognize that she’s not alone in her grief. While all of your attention and energy may be focused on her, offer words of encouragement or other forms of support to her spouse who’s lost a child as well. The dad is often forgotten in the pain of loss that the mother feels. Remind him that even though the season he's experiencing is painful and hard, he's not experiencing it alone.
Validate Her Experience
When grief is the elephant in the room, it can feel like all the air’s been sucked out of it. You might feel like the miscarriage is a topic you should tiptoe around, but that won’t help your friend. Refer to the baby as a baby, not as a miscarriage. If your friend knew the sex, refer to the baby as she or he. If she had a name picked out, do the same thing. Ignoring or pretending that what’s happened hasn’t happened doesn’t change the circumstances of the situation, nor will it take away any pain. What can help your friend is validating herself, her grief, and her child.
Women who have experienced miscarriage feel pain and rejection when others minimize their experience and their loss. Comments like “Be grateful for the children you do have” are extremely hurtful and only serve to dismiss the death of a child who was already loved. No matter how early the miscarriage was or how many other children your friend might have, affirm that her lost child was precious and valued, and worth acknowledging, mourning, and remembering.
A loss of life is always a tragedy, but it's especially so during the excitement and anticipation of a pregnancy. Know that you can’t take away your friend’s pain or grief, but you can make sure that you’re there for her. Show up ready and willing to help her through this, and everything else will fall into place.
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