Miscarriage, which is usually defined as the loss of a pregnancy before viability, can be extremely difficult for the pregnant person, as well as everyone else involved. If you’ve experienced a miscarriage, then you know what it’s like for you, but if you have not and then find out that someone close to you has lost a pregnancy, it can be hard to know what to say. Read on to learn about the emotional and physical toll of miscarriage, as well as ideas of how to be supportive, whether you’re a friend, family member, or employer.
The first thing to know is that miscarriage is extremely common: about one in five known pregnancies result in a miscarriage. In a study published in the Lancet in May, researchers describe what they call “the epidemiological, physical, psychological, and economic costs of early pregnancy loss.”
In addition to physical consequences of miscarriage, which can include bleeding and infection, there are also psychological and emotional consequences. People who’ve experience miscarriages are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Recurrent miscarriage—where someone experiences more than one miscarriage—can be a predictor for complications during future pregnancies, such as preterm birth, placental abruption, and stillbirth. Miscarriage also results in economic costs, both on a large scale in terms of associated healthcare and the impact on the workforce and often on a personal scale as well.
So how can you support a loved one or acquaintance during or after a miscarriage? The first thing to do is to be a good listener. Make yourself available to listen as often as works for you and validate any feelings they may be having. It’s not uncommon to feel a wide variety of feelings about a pregnancy loss from rage to sadness to relief. Reassure your loved one that all of their feelings are normal and okay to feel. If you have personal experience with miscarriage, it might be appropriate to share how it was for you, but be careful. Your friend’s experience may be different from yours and how you feel or felt may not be relevant or helpful. Check out this blog post from The Pulse about things not to say to someone after a pregnancy loss.
Another thing to do is to provide support for the family experiencing the loss in the form of goods and services. Meals, house cleaning, care of older children, dog walking, and money may all be appropriate, depending upon your relationship with this person. Try to be specific with your offer, so that it’s not too hard for the grieving person to accept your help. For instance, tell them you would like to bring a specific meal (check out The Pulse’s recipes section for great ideas) and then ask whether Tuesday or Thursday night would be better. Offer to leave the food on the porch if they aren’t excited to see anyone in person.
Finally, let your support be ongoing. If people share about a miscarriage, there’s often a large outpouring of support at the beginning that fizzles out quickly. Be willing to continue to be a listening ear, months or years after the loss. The baby’s estimated due date is often particularly hard for people after pregnancy loss because it is a reminder of what could have been. Make a calendar reminder for the due date and send an email or text—without the expectation of a response—on or around that date.
In a commentary published on The Conversation on June 3, researchers Stephanie Gilbert, Jacquelyn Brady, and Jennifer Dimoff describe the state of support for pregnancy loss in workplaces around the world. While some companies and countries offer weeks of paid leave for employees affected by miscarriage, still more make no acknowledgment of this issue at all. While pregnancy loss results in feelings of grief and bereavement for many people, it is rarely discussed in workplace policies, even in companies where other forms of bereavement are addressed.
Gilbert, Brady, and Dimoff outline four ideas about how workplaces can be supportive of employees who have experienced this type of loss, but these ideas could be adapted to personal relationships with loved ones as well:
- Communicate what options the employee might have with regard to company bereavement policies, government assistance, or sick leave.
- Train managers in best practices for accommodating and supporting employees after their returns to work.
- Legitimize the loss both informally and with formal policies that recognize miscarriage and include it in wider bereavement policies.
- Emotionally support employees by normalizing disclosing a pregnancy loss and receiving subsequent support.