A loss of a child is considered one of the deepest pains, regardless of a child’s age. The pain of what would have been is often the most difficult to embrace and work through. Family and friends often feel helpless when someone close to them experiences a miscarriage because no one has any control over it or can prevent it from happening. When a miscarriage occurs, society’s attitude is to not talk about it, in fear that it’s too upsetting. However, not talking about it only makes it harder to move on. A miscarriage leaves a woman in a state of physical and emotional readiness for a baby that will never be. Grief is a natural process which has no exact time frame and is experienced in unique ways by different individuals. Supporting a grieving person does not mean you can take away the pain, but you may be able to help lighten the stress by being more aware and well informed.
What do I say? How can I help?
Often parents who are experiencing a miscarriage turn to the baby’s grandparents, other family members, friends and professionals (including nurses, clergy, and health care providers,) but can’t find the words to express the kind of support they need. As a supportive person, you may feel helpless, threatened or vulnerable. You may even want to avoid dealing with the loss or wish the parents would hide their grief. You can turn these natural feelings into support for the grieving family or friend.
How Can Family and Friends Show Support?
- Listen, Listen, Listen! A person who has experienced a miscarriage may need to tell his/her story repeatedly. Show you care by your attentiveness, gestures, and eye contact.
- Be prepared to talk about the baby. Hearing others say the name helps a grieving person heal. Know when to be silent… sometimes it is best to say nothing at all. A grieving person may just want someone to listen.
- Be aware that grief has physical reactions as well as emotional reactions on the body. Physical reactions include: poor appetite, disturbed sleep patterns, restlessness, low energy, and other pains. Emotional reactions may include: panic, persistent fears, nervousness and nightmares. Encourage your friend or family member to call you or reach out when they experience these feelings.
- Encourage the grieving person to express pain and stress. By working through feelings such as anger, guilt, sadness, doubt and frustration, the normal process of grief and healing occurs. Continue to encourage communication. Understand that grief is an individual process that is bound by no exact time frame. This frame of time involves finding ways of living with memories and the pain associated with the loss.
- Reassure the grieving person that their feelings and reactions are normal and necessary for healing. Remember that specific dates or events such as the anniversary of the loss or the expected due date, may trigger an emotional response. Encourage communication during this time. Perhaps a card or small remembrance.
What are some suggestions for visiting someone at the hospital or at home who has experienced a miscarriage?
Just by acknowledging the family’s experience and expressing your own feelings of sadness are acceptable. Sometimes when people say “I just don’t know what to say,” is the most helpful thing anyone can say. Other helpful suggestions include:
- Talk about the baby by his or her name.
- Talk about the hopes and dreams you had for the family and the baby. The parents want to know others share in their hopes and dreams, too.
- Read literature about miscarriage and bereavement.
- Make or buy something in memory of the baby to keep yourself or to give to the parents.
- Offer help with housework, cooking, child care, etc.
- Be sensitive to unpredictable emotional reactions by the grieving parent.
- Understand that sometimes a grieving person may want to be alone.
- Offer to keep baby memorabilia until the family is ready.
- Offer to return maternity clothing or other baby items.
What are some things I shouldn’t say or do?
Following a miscarriage, family and friends sometimes say or do hurtful things without meaning to. The following are some potential hurtful words and actions that you might want to avoid when supporting a grieving person:
- Not acknowledging the loss can be hurtful because for many parents it is important to have their experience recognized.
- Asking about how one partner is doing and not the other can be hurtful. “How are you, and how is your partner?” shows you care about both of them and you acknowledge they are grieving in their own way.
- There are no competitions in grief, each person’s loss must be respected for the sense of loss and sadness it has for them. Therefore, certain sayings can be hurtful such as: “It was only a miscarriage, you’ll get over it,” “You’re young, you can have another one,” etc.
- Don’t try to rush the grief process. This only causes more pain and feelings of confusion, loneliness and inadequacy.
Support is NOT:
- About giving advice.
- Criticizing what you have heard.
- Minimizing the miscarriage e.g. “That’s okay, you were only three months.”
- Using cliches e.g. “It was God’s will” or “You’ve already had one healthy child.”
- Talking about your own story of loss. Some identification may be helpful, but keep it to a minimum.
- Not allowing the person to express emotions such as guilt, shame, and anger.
- Taking over completely may cause potential feelings of helplessness and powerlessness.
- Fixing it (you can not take the grief away).
How might a grandparent feel about a miscarriage?
As a grandparent you may hurt twice when there is a miscarriage; for your child who is hurting, and for the grandchild you will never know. It is possible for memories of other pregnancy losses in a grandparent’s past to resurface at this time which may make grief emotions stronger. The following are suggestions for ways grandparents can cope with the loss:
- Allow yourself to talk about your feelings with a family member, friend, or counselor.
- Allow yourself to grieve; you have also experienced a loss.
What about brothers and sisters?
If there are other children, they will most likely be affected by a miscarriage regardless of their age, and knowledge of the pregnancy. Following a miscarriage, children are often overlooked during time of grieving. It is important to recognize that children grieve according to the stress and loss they feel, as well as to what they see happening around them. It is important to explain to children on their level about the miscarriage in honest, appropriate, terms they can understand. Children process grief differently than adults and may ask questions, express fears, and act out in various ways to get attention. Young children may be more clingy, easily upset and distressed. Older children may be aggressive, disruptive or unusually quiet. Ways to help include children:
- Encourage children to ask questions, and express their emotions.
- Give children who are old enough, the option of being involved in the grieving process. For example, saying good-bye, drawing a picture, planting a tree, etc.
- Remain patient.
- Stuck For Words — by Doris Zagdanski
- Good Grief — by Granger E. Westburg
- Coping with Grief — by Mal McKissock
- How can I help?: Suggestions for People Who Care About Someone Whose Baby Died Before Birth — by Martha Wegner-Hay
Also remember, you as a supporter of someone experiencing a miscarriage may need to have someone you can talk to. Supporting others through bereavement may be physically tiring and emotionally draining.