Miscarriage. The word alone kind of stops you in your tracks. Never mind having to breathe it aloud in front of others, all the while trying not to cry. Even a month later, my miscarriage stings.
But sadly, what usually makes matters worse, is how other people speak when they learn that you’ve miscarried. I realize that 99% of this is done because people care… they want to be positive, helpful, and kind. In reality though, many of these words — even those said with good intentions — wind up making a woman sad or angry all over again. So, as a bit of a public service announcement, I thought I’d put together a guide of what you should and shouldn’t say to someone who has miscarried.
(My friend Ashley of The Grits Blog wrote a very similar post to this about what to say or not to say when someone is trying to get pregnant — Check it out too
1. “Well, at least you know you can get pregnant.” I realize that this, like many others on this list, comes from a good place. But knowing that I can “get” pregnant doesn’t have anything to do with the pain I’m feeling now. That’s like having your dog die and then someone saying, “Well, at least you can raise a dog.” While true, it doesn’t do anything to staunch the pain you are currently feeling and it implies that the person should be overflowing with gratitude instead of mourning their loss. Stay away from this one.
2. “Be thankful you weren’t further along.” In a way, you’re right. I am grateful I was only in my first trimester, but said above, that doesn’t really “help” ease my sadness or anger. In fact, it implies that there are strict “levels” of sadness and that my case somehow doesn’t qualify as “bad enough” to feel the way I feel. No one wants to be told, especially during their grief, that they aren’t justified in it. No one.
3. “Did you miscarry naturally? Did you have to have a D&C? How did you know it was happening?, etc.” This category is basically for all those inquisitive types. In a way, I get it. If you’ve never gone through a miscarriage, as woman, you might genuinely be curious. Or maybe you know a few stories from friends and you want to compare… But listen to me closely when I say this: It is beyond rude to ask every detail. Seriously, this one completely baffles me. If someone wants to share the details with you… they will. They will do this without prompting and they will do it in their own time. In fact, telling the entire story to a few friends of mine has been very cathartic for me. But just because I’m open to telling Jane Doe about my experience doesn’t mean I want to tell Jenny Sue. Nothing has made me more irrationally mad to date than people asking me super personal questions about my experience. Nothing.
4. “It wasn’t really a baby yet, so that’s better.”
Look, I’m married to a scientist. I get it. A “baby” isn’t biologically more than a mass of cells until past a certain period of time. I also understand that not making it out of the first trimester means, more than likely, that what I carried wasn’t healthy and due to something beyond my control, like a chromosomal abnormality, it would never have survived either in the womb or outside of it. But to me… to those like me… emotion beats logic and reason in this particular case. I already know
these things. My doctor has told them to me. Logically, I understand all of this. But emotionally? Well, that’s another story. So while you might think this is comforting, it isn’t. So save us all a biology lesson and don’t mention this.
5. “Don’t worry. You can have another baby.” or “You’ll forget all about this when you have a happy baby in the future.” Let’s revisit the dog scenario shall we…. If you lost a pet, does getting another one take away all the pain of losing that one? Of course not! But somehow we assume that simply because a mother never got to meet her child, all of her pain should vanish when she successfully carries a pregnancy to term. Newsflash — it doesn’t. Saying these things only remind the woman that most of the world will never recognize her loss for what it truly was… devastating. So keep these types of comments to yourself.
6. “Did you know….” After a miscarriage some people find comfort in knowledge. A lot of women will scour the internet and online forums to ask questions about other miscarriages and absorb every bit of data they can. Most women will, in fact, have a conversation with their doctor about the health implications of a miscarriage. In this conversation, their doctor — a medical professional — will tell them all the stats, the research, and the odds moving forward. Because most women are already armed with this type of knowledge, they don’t need to hear it over and over again. For me personally, it got really annoying for people to keep telling me all the pieces of information they dug off the internet about miscarriages. They would tell me the most likely cause of my miscarriage and tell me that my odds of carrying my pregnancy to term were high. While all of that may have been true… I already knew it! And as rude as it might sound, hearing it for a 50th time from someone who is not a medical professional is absolutely no help at all. Again, I realize that some people may jump to these types of stats to comfort a woman but know that she has likely heard it all before… lots of time and probably from people better qualified than you. So instead of giving her a fertility lecture, just try to be comforting and supportive in other ways.
1. “I’m sorry you are going through this. Let me know if you need anything.” This is beyond nice to hear when you are in the thick of things. It’s nice to know that someone is sad that you are having to deal with such a rotten hand of cards. Of course there isn’t anything that anyone can DO to make it better, but just hearing that someone cares enough to want to help is a Godsend.
2. “If you ever want to talk about it, I’ll listen.” Can I get an Amen on this one? One of my closest friends has been wonderful and letting me talk when I want to and always on my own terms. She meets me for drinks when I need them and she picks up the phone and calls me when she suspects I need to vent or cry. But she never prys or insists that I tell her every detail or feeling I’m having. Instead, she let’s me know that she is there to listen and that alone makes her my “go-to” for support. If you can be this rock for someone… be it! It is by far the BEST thing you can do.
3. “I have my own miscarriage story or have heard one from a friend that I will share if you ever want to hear it.” Sometimes, hearing that other people have gone through the same thing and come out of it for the better is very comforting. However, you aren’t always in the mood to see the light at the other end of the tunnel. Like with any mourning, sometimes you just need to absorb the sadness for a bit. So, I personally think it is best — if you have such a story to share — to always ask whether the woman wants to hear it. Honestly, somedays, hearing miscarriage stories have been helpful and healing for me. On other days, they’ve have driven me into a very dark place when prior to the stories, I was actually feeling much better. The major difference between how it pans it is usually my attitude and frame of mind when listening to the story. So, if you have something to share, always given the listener an option to pass until another day.
So there you have it friends — six things to never say or do and three things I believe are perfectly permissible. On a related note, never ever, ever, EVER — spread someone’s else bad news. Honestly, I was a little shocked in this process that this even happened, but it has. If someone tells you that they’ve suffered a miscarriage, just assume you have been told that in confidence. There may be an unspoken rule that you can tell your spouse, but please don’t assume that the woman who shared it with you is necessarily telling the whole world yet. She might be, but she might also like to keep it quiet, or perhaps share with individuals on her own terms. It is never your right to tell her other friends, or yes… even her other family members. Geesh! I would think this one is self-evident, but apparently not.
So, have you ever accidentally said the wrong thing? Or, if you’ve suffered a miscarriage, what was the worst thing said to you?