Losing a pregnancy can affect expecting women and couples in a thousand ways, even if they don’t talk about their feelings. But as a friend or loved one, it’s important that you offer support. Unfortunately, some people choose to say nothing when they learn of a friend’s pregnancy loss, and it’s no surprise why. If you look online for guidance, you’ll find laundry lists of what to say and what not to say. That can be overwhelming and confusing when you’re already at a loss for words.
Rather than share another long list of guidelines, I’d like to offer a few supportive statements to help empower you to support a friend who’s lost a baby. Miscarriage is more common than many people realize. It can be uncomfortable to talk about, but it’s time to destigmatize the conversation and support each other.
Things you can say to be supportive
I’m sorry you’re going through thisThis statement recognizes that the loss happened and that you know it had an impact on your friend’s life. It’s a good way to start the conversation if your friend hasn’t yet opened up to you about it. Unfortunately, many women and men don’t want to burden others with their pain. But holding it in and not dealing with that grief aloud can be emotionally devastating over time.
If you’ve experienced pregnancy loss personally, it’s OK to share that if you’re comfortable discussing it. This doesn’t take the focus off of your friend. Rather, it shows that you can relate to the experience and that you’ll understand when your friend is ready to talk about the loss.
How can I help?Nothing will take your friend’s pain away, but you can help by taking on some of the day-to-day responsibilities. If the family has other children at home, offer to take them for a day or an overnight visit so the parents have time to process and grieve. Bring over dinner, or offer to help with household chores or errands. If the friend is a colleague, offer to handle some of his or her work tasks for a few weeks.
I will caution you not to offer your help if you don’t intend to follow through. Sometimes people overpromise and underdeliver, which can make the situation worse for everyone.
Use the baby’s nameFrom the first heartbeat on a sonogram, many couples start picking out names and guessing who in the family the baby will resemble. If pregnancy loss occurs, these couples have lost an important part of their family.
If you know your friend felt this way about the lost pregnancy, use the baby’s name when you talk about the loss. Your friend likely will appreciate that you remember their connection with the baby and that you take the family’s feelings seriously.
Related reading: Finding support after losing a baby: Lindsey’s story
A few statements to avoid
It’s not your faultWhile it’s true that many women blame themselves when miscarriages happen, this statement is inappropriate for everyone who’s suffered pregnancy loss. For some couples, this thought never crosses their minds.
If your friend hasn’t alluded to the idea that the loss was her fault, avoid this statement. You don’t want to plant that seed or insinuate in any way that her actions in any way played a role in the miscarriage.
Be glad it happened earlyWhether pregnancy loss occurs in the first, second, or third trimester, there’s no appropriate point at which grief is allowed or disallowed. This statement is hurtful, not helpful. Just don’t say it.
Next time will be betterThis statement makes too many assumptions. The loss of one child can never be “made up” by having another. This statement effectively says that this baby wasn’t important. And you might not know what it took to get pregnant or if the couple can get pregnant again.
In times of stress and grief, it’s incredibly important to be thoughtful about your words. Often, as many of my patients have shared, people are afraid to say anything because they don’t want to make their friends cry or relive emotional pain. But by avoiding the conversation, you send an unintended message that what they’re going through isn’t significant or doesn’t warrant grief.
If a friend or colleague is struggling with the emotional toll of pregnancy loss, support groups can be extremely helpful. Look online and in your community for groups your friend might join, and offer to attend with him or her. While everyone’s grieving process and timeline is different, encourage your friend or colleague to seek the support of a counselor if their grief continues to affect their daily life after some time has passed.
Above all, please don’t be afraid to say something – don’t fear your friend’s emotional response or your own. Tears shed during the grieving process can help your friend heal. It’s OK to be the one to start the conversation. Your friend might worry about burdening you with his or her emotions, but that’s what friends are for – to support each other when times are tough.