It’s hard to know what to say to someone who’s endured a loss. Miscarriage can be a difficult topic to address–while it’s not uncommon for pregnancy to end in miscarriage, especially in the early weeks, it’s a painful subject that many people don’t know how to respond to. Avoid blundering into common phrases that can leave hopeful parents-to-be feeling worse, and learn what is actually helpful to hear after a miscarriage.
“At Least You Know You Can Get Pregnant”
For one, you don’t know what it took for this pregnancy to happen in the first place. This couple may have been trying for months and years before getting a positive pregnancy test, only to lose the pregnancy they yearned for. Maybe they had to undergo expensive, invasive medical treatments to achieve a pregnancy, and now they won’t get to hold a baby in their arms.
Even if you feel 100% confident that this couple conceived without trouble, this response minimizes the pain of this time in the couple’s lives. They wanted this pregnancy and this baby, not just confirmation that pregnancy was possible.
“At Least You Weren’t Further Along”
Generally speaking, when someone is grieving, it’s tactless at best to insist on looking for a silver lining. Why assume it’s more painful to lose a pregnancy at 11 weeks instead of 25 weeks? For many expectant parents, bonding starts early. It’s hurtful to hear that someone thinks you’re less entitled to be sad about the loss because you didn’t reach this or that milestone.
“It’s Not Like It Was a Real Baby”
Part of the pain of miscarriage, in fact, is that the emotions are real, but there’s little or nothing concrete to attach those emotions to. The couple going through the miscarriage may never see their hoped-for baby’s face, or hold the body. They may or may not get answers to what happened. There won’t be pictures, and depending on when the loss happened they may or may not have a birth/death certificate. The developing baby may or may not have had a name (as you may imagine, it’s also deeply insensitive to ask if the couple will use the intended name “for the next baby”). But all of the hope and excitement of the pregnancy, and the grief over its end, is raw and real. Treat it that way.
“Everything Happens for a Reason” or “It Wasn’t God’s Plan”
First, if you don’t know a couple’s relationship to faith or religion, it’s best not to assume. It can be alienating and uncomfortable for a well-meaning person to project beliefs that the couple doesn’t share.
What’s more, although these statements are usually meant as comfort or encouragement, they can easily have the opposite effect. Hearing that a much-wanted pregnancy wasn’t “God’s plan” seems to imply that the miscarriage was. This invites upsetting questions about why such a painful event happened, what the couple did or failed to do to “deserve” this, and so on.
What Should I Say?
Friends and family of a couple who lost a pregnancy want to be supportive. Making space for the couple’s emotions is a good rule of thumb. It’s okay to admit you’re not sure what’s right to say, and then try one of the following:
- “I’m sorry.”
- “I’m thinking of you.”
- “I’m here if you’d like to talk.”
- “Take all the time you need.”
Follow the couple’s lead. Some people may want a deep, detailed conversation, while others may prefer a distraction. Some couples memorialize the pregnancy and lost baby, and some may wish to let go of as much of the experience as they can. All responses are valid. Supporting friends and family through miscarriage on their terms is the best way to do the right thing.