This is a post that I’ve been wanting to write for a long time. In January 2019, a little over a year ago, my husband and I miscarried twins at 10.5 weeks of gestation. Going through the nervous excitement of early pregnancy, absorbing the shock of sudden loss, and then wading sluggishly through the Grief that followed has fundamentally changed who I am and how I move through life. I eventually want to tell the story of how everything unfolded – the nitty gritty stuff like ultrasound anxiety, phone tag with the midwives and Husband’s Choice maxipads – but for now, I want to ruminate a little on grief and share some thoughts about how to be a friend to someone going through this poorly-understood but utterly devastating loss.
When I found out I was pregnant in November of 2018, I was fairly clueless about the whole process – I didn’t know the difference between a doctor and a midwife, for example. I knew what a miscarriage was, but I had no idea that approximately 1 in 4 and maybe even 1 in 3 pregnancies end in a miscarriage. Even if I had known that, it never occurred that it might happen to me.
Having the miscarriage was an awful, isolating kind of grief. We couldn’t think of any friends who had been through this. Most people felt awkward around the subject and/or offered unsolicited advice that really stung. And for the most part, I could understand – I would have been the same way before my own loss. I believe everyone had the best of intentions – but good intentions can still hurt. Here I want to share some thoughts about how (in my opinion) to support a friend who has gone through a pregnancy loss. In other words, what makes a response helpful or unhelpful?
The Journey of Grief
I’m going to backtrack a little and talk about grief first. This is an illustration of the grief journey that I’ve found to be extremely helpful. When someone experiences a crisis or a huge loss, there are two paths they can take. Many of us start out on the false bridge, looking to bypass the unpleasant villages of denial and anger and no hope. These so-called negative feelings feel icky and endless, make us feel unproductive, and make it hard to pretend that everything is ok. Unfortuntely, the false bridge doesn’t go anywhere – it’s a dead end.
The only way to get to the village of new beginnings is to take the long, winding road – the road of life, which means spending significant time camping out in denial and anger as well as no hope, sometimes even making a second or a third visit.
I think that everyone’s specific ‘road of life’ will look a little different. For me, I had to ask for some grace at work and at school so that I could take a break (and be okay with taking a break). I was kind to myself whenever I started crying in public because I saw a pregnant woman or even a baby. I swore at God. I worked to accept over and over again that I couldn’t control how long the sadness or anger would last – but I committed to feeling my feelings (most of the time, anyway).
Now, to some people, this might seem self-indulgent, irresponsible, and immature. In fact, I sometimes felt guilty for feeling so sad, and habitually tried to invalidate my pain. I had a strong internal voice that yelled at me constantly: But I have this, and that, and a roof over my head, and a loving husband, and therefore I shouldn’t feel this way, other people suffer so much more, etc, etc, etc. I want to gently challenge that voice. Gratitude and grief can co-exist. It’s also ok not to feel grateful/happy for a while. My own personal experience is that the best way to heal from pain is through. It might take longer than you want, but the village of new beginnings exists, and you will get there.
So what does this have to do with helping my friend?
In a nutshell, some of the most unhelpful comments are ones that try to hurry a grieving person onto the ‘false bridge’. Some examples (most of which have been said to me):
“Oh, it’s more common than you think.” – no big deal, your pain is unwarranted, you should get over it
“At least you’re young.” – again, your grief is unwarranted
“You’ll get pregnant again.” – well, losing a baby isn’t the same as losing a sock…
“I was sad too when my dog died, but ____ helped me.” – our grief isn’t the same, and your solution isn’t what I need right now
“God is so sovereign. He will comfort you.” – this is called spiritual bypassing, and is just as common as it is unhelpful and even toxic
“Just enjoy the time with your husband.” – I will…thanks
“At least you weren’t showing yet.” – placing conditions on when a lost pregnancy is allowed to be mourned
“At least you won’t have to deal with a baby yet, they’re so exhausting!” – err, why did you have one?
Let me reiterate: I honestly believe that almost all of these comments were made with the best of intentions, but I think we can and should want to do more than being well-intentioned.
Here are some responses that made me feel heard, loved, and supported:
“That is so devastating. I am so sorry.”
“I don’t know what to say, but know that I am here to support you.”
“I love you.”
“How can I help?”
“How are you coping?”
“I’m here if you ever want to talk.”
“I don’t know much about this, but if you want to share, I’d love to learn.”
See? Simple, sincere, honest. When in doubt, you can even express your doubt – that will be far more appreciated than ignoring your friend or dodging the subject entirely.
This might sound surprising, but I really wanted to talk about my miscarriage. I wanted to process what had happened, how much pain I was in, how scary the blood was, how lost I felt, everything. But I rarely felt like it was okay to impose on a conversation, even with my close friends. I was waiting for some kind of signal from them that they were willing and able to listen to me. Please don’t worry that bringing it up will somehow upset someone – they’re already thinking about it all the time, and probably about to burst from keep all their raw emotions and thoughts bottled up inside.
Anyway, I hope this was helpful! I’m happy to say that I have found my village of new beginnings, and no longer feel the daily sting of loss, even though I still think about my babies every day. As always, please reach out with thoughts or questions, I’d love to hear them!