A miscarriage happens in an instant or over days, however, its lasting effects can continue through the years. I am now blessed and wonderfully busy with four amazing kids, but pinches of sorrow revisit me every year: on the anniversaries of the day I discovered I was pregnant, the day I lost my child, Mother’s Day, and the day I would have given birth. I view these days of grief and my consuming mother’s joy as two branches of the same tree, as intertwined reminders to be present and grateful.
What would have been, could have been, proved the most challenging to reconcile. I found it tough to cope with my grief over my miscarriage 18 years ago, along with the dreams of giving birth to and knowing my child, in part because I had virtually no support at the time.
My husband did not want to talk about the baby. In fact, for months he denied she had ever existed, and this distressed me deeply until I realized how much he hurt. He lost a child, too.
Family members and friends were often silent after they expressed their condolences. I desired more, expected more, but did not know how to ask others for what I needed. I did not have the emotional strength to ask. I stewed in the silence until I realized they did not know what to do.
I share this advice that follows from my perspective as a woman who has miscarried, to help you support your family member or friend who has miscarried. These are the things I would have expressed 18 years ago, if I only knew:
Your family member or friend needs to talk; she may tell you her story over and over. Be patient. She is processing. Be attentive. Connect with your eyes, gestures, and touch. Be compassionate. Know when to remain quiet. Listen, listen, listen.
I experienced denial, bargaining, anger, sadness, guilt, and shame. I felt hollow and adrift. My arrival to acceptance took many, many months.
Accept all feelings. What she feels are part of her grief process. Validate your friend or family member’s emotions and feelings by having conversations with her about her miscarriage and about her dashed hopes and dreams. Acknowledge her spouse or partner; be sure to ask how he is doing.
Your friend or family member was pregnant. The baby, regardless of its gestational age at the time of the miscarriage, was real. Acknowledge and respect her sense of loss. She may have named the baby; refer to the baby by name if she did. Just hearing you say the baby’s name validates that it existed; this can help her heal.
Grief takes a toll on the mind and body. Accompany your friend or family member on a walk in a beautiful area. Watch a happy or funny movie with her, and encourage her to laugh by laughing yourself. Make dinner for her and her spouse or family. Hold her hand or put your arms around her shoulders when she cries. Inquire about her sleep, activity, and diet.
Grief has a way of hanging around; it ebbs and flows, sometimes more pronounced during an anniversary or a milestone. A card, hand-written note, or time spent together talking communicating your remembrance will be much appreciated.
Supporting someone who is grieving can be emotionally and physically taxing. Be sure to take care of yourself. Have someone you can talk to, eat well, drink a lot of water, exercise, and get plenty of sleep.
Judy M. Miller is a freelance writer living in the Midwest with her husband and four children. She is a Certified Gottman Educator, and the author of “What To Expect From Your Adopted Tween” and “Writing to Heal Adoption Grief: Making Connections & Moving Forward.”