Knowing what to say to someone who just had a miscarriage can be difficult, especially when they’re close friends or relatives.
Here are important points to consider:
Table of Contents
- Start by being present
- Acknowledge the pain if it is expressed
- Try to focus on what the person is telling you
- Don’t be afraid to ask, “how can I help you?”
- Validate their feelings
- Seek professional help if necessary
- Validate their emotions
- Never force them to look on the bright side
- Be willing to be with them
- Emphasize improved self-care, self-awareness, and self-advocacy
- Offer your help
- Let them feel their loss at their own time and pace
- Keeping it simple is often the most compassionate approach
- Be mindful of what this loss is doing to the couple
- Validate the emotions the griever is experience
- Share actionable information about pregnancy
- Your presence speaks volumes
- Tell them that you want to hear their story when they are ready and listen to what they say
Dr. Maria Constantini
Reproductive Endocrinologist | Fertility Doctor, RMA Network
Before saying anything to a person who has suffered a miscarriage, it is important to remember two important facts.
First, one must recognize that a pregnancy loss is real to a person whether it happens one week into a pregnancy or 3 or more months later. It may feel like an invisible loss to others, but to the person experiencing it, it can be life-changing.
Second, whether the grief process is silent or not, you must assume that the person is grieving, and everyone experiences that differently and at a different pace.
Start by being present
How do you start? You start by being present. Don’t presume to know how that person feels or suggest to them how they should feel. You can start with a simple statement as “I’m here for you”.
You may not need to say more than that at first. You may simply need to be a patient listener. The key is to tune into where the person is at. If you go with an agenda, you may miss what the person needs or shut them down. Be open and ready to respond to the needs of the person.
You may need to simply listen, or you may need to talk about the baby that was to be, or maybe just about the loss over and over again. Be prepared for and welcome that, as it is a sign that the person is remaining connected to you and trying to heal.
Acknowledge the pain if it is expressed
Don’t minimize it with statements such as “don’t worry, you will get pregnant again”. Would you ever say to a parent who lost a child “don’t worry you have another child”? Of course not. Think of them as a parent who lost a child, because that is what it feels like.
A miscarriage is the loss of a promise or a hope of a child and it takes time to heal from that loss. One never forgets that pain, he/she simply learns to live with it. That is what healing is. If you understand that, then what to do or say will come easier.
Try to focus on what the person is telling you
You may feel helpless and worried about not knowing how to help the person, but remember that those are your feelings, try not to have them cloud your judgment. Try to focus on what the person is telling you, even he/she is asking for space. Respect that, so the person will feel heard and respected.
Don’t be afraid to ask, “how can I help you?”
The person may not know either, but they will see that you are trying to find a way and they will feel less isolated. You can ask them if they want to do something together or they want to go somewhere. You can offer them to have a small ceremony if they want. You can offer them to look for support groups if they want to.
Validate their feelings
Ultimately, be sensitive to the fact that grief is an individual process that involves unique physical and emotional experiences. People need to be validated. Reassure the person that it’s a difficult process that takes time and that it is natural to feel the way they do.
In fact, even more than that, remind them that feeling all the emotional and physical sequelae of grief is not just natural but also a necessary ingredient to achieve healing and well-being. There are no short cuts in this process.
Seek professional help if necessary
If you are worried that something does not feel right, and the person is not getting better or moving along the way they should, please reach out to a professional as the person may be experiencing clinical depression. They may need more help than you or another friend or family member can offer.
So, if you see a friend or family member who had a pregnancy loss remember you are dealing with a parent who lost the hope of a child. If you think of that, the words will come. Be real and kind and the person will feel that. I always say to my patients “you have a right to feel sad”, give that time, they have earned it.
Because each person’s circumstances and conditioning are different, there aren’t really a collection of tried and true phrases that feel supportive or meaningful to all people who have had a miscarriage.
There are, however, ways of approaching people that tend to be more helpful, as well as some that feel less helpful.
Validate their emotions
One of the most important things we can do for someone who has endured a pregnancy loss is validation. Validate their emotions. Be present with them where they are today.
A validating statement might sound like, “It makes sense that you feel so sad. It’s impossible not to dream of the future with your child when you’re pregnant, and losing your baby and the future that you hoped for with them naturally comes with a great deal of grief.”
Never force them to look on the bright side
Many people will try to rush others through the healing process with statements like, “You can always try for another one,” or “At least you weren’t that far along in the pregnancy.”
Any attempt to get someone to look on the bright side invalidates their emotions and can make them feel hesitant to share in the future. This feeds into the pervasive cultural silence around miscarriages that leaves so many parents feeling like they have to suffer in silence.
Be willing to be with them
Some people will rush to pass the parent a tissue, get them a glass of water, or tell them to go take a nap when what they really need is to have someone sit and listen to them talk about their experience and their feelings. They need someone to be comfortable with their discomfort, and willing to just be in that space with them.
Both “at least” and busying one’s self with doing rather than being present, are a reflection of the discomfort that person feels with the parent’s strong emotions.
If friends and family members can find the courage to not push away their own big feelings, it will be easier to not try to push away the big feelings of the parent who has had a miscarriage.
Their willingness to be in the moment – especially the hard, sticky, uncomfortable moments – could make a world of difference for someone grieving the loss of a pregnancy.
Emphasize improved self-care, self-awareness, and self-advocacy
Following a loss, most women quickly realize if they waited until they felt 100% better before trying again, they’d wait forever. Practicing improved self-care, self-awareness, and self-advocacy can help women better navigate the inevitable sharp curves on this journey.
Grief following perinatal loss remains widely misunderstood and often minimized by society. Grief is not reflective of the length of gestation or time spent with a baby, rather, it’s reflective of the depth of attachment.
Grief is not experienced as linear and contrary to other types of loss (e.g., adult death), time is not considered a friend. If a woman is going to consider when and how to pursue another pregnancy, the reality of a limited reproductive window adds additional stress and pressure.
Another pregnancy or baby is not automatically a “reset” or a “happy ever after,” and once a woman completes a healthy full-term delivery, the challenges don’t end. Attachment and bonding can be complicated, and it may be difficult to reconcile feelings about the new baby with the one that was lost.
The COVID pandemic adds more weight to the existing reproductive and mental health challenges these women face by increasing their sense of isolation, loneliness, and despair above and beyond the other uncertainties they face baseline. And, it has robbed them of any sense of control.
Christine Scott-Hudson, MA, LMFT, ATR
Licensed Psychotherapist | Marriage and Family Therapist | Author, “I LOVE MYSELF: Affirmations For A Happy Life”
- It’s not your fault.
- I’m sorry you are going through this loss.
- I love you.
- I’m here to listen, to hug, or to pray.
- This is sad news and I’m sorry to hear you are suffering.
- Be very gentle with yourself.
- Take care and focus on your healing.
- I’m here if and when you need to talk.
- If you want me to just sit with you, I will.
- Can I make you something to eat?
- Can I babysit your other kids?
- Can I walk your dog for you?
- What can I do to help make things easier?
- Don’t worry about the dishes, the mail, the laundry, class notes, the meeting, work, etc, for now, please just rest and get better.
- Grieving is a process. It is going to take time.
- I’m so sorry you are going through this loss.
- I’m here for you.
Offer your help
Give them a journal and a pen. Give them comfort foods. Bake them cookies. Make them macaroni and cheese. Drop off their favorite coffee. Bring them a casserole. They may not be up for cooking.
Let them feel their loss at their own time and pace
Try to avoid platitudes like “God works in mysterious ways” or “It just wasn’t meant to be.” That’s hurtful. Try not to talk about how they’ll “still have a baby someday!” It is tone-deaf and unhelpful. Let them grieve. Let them feel their loss before spiritual bypassing, trying to be Pollyanna or “good vibes only.”
They are really grieving and suffering a deep loss. Give them permission to feel all of their feelings. Try not to be too inquisitive or pushy. Let them heal and talk at their own pace. Grieving takes as long as it takes. Let them process their feelings in their own way, in their own time.
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapy Supervisor
The most important response is to recognize someone’s loss after a miscarriage, the same as you would any other loss. They are going through grief and it’s often helpful to acknowledge that.
Keeping it simple is often the most compassionate approach
You can say phrases such as “I’m so sorry for your loss,” “I’m sorry to hear the news,” “I’m here to talk when you are ready,” “I’m thinking of you”. Keeping it simple is often the most compassionate approach.
As the support person to someone who has experienced a miscarriage, it is important to remember it’s ok to be uncomfortable, and it is not your job to take the person’s pain away. It is only your job to offer support, empathy, compassion, and love.
You can also be honest and transparent that you may not know what to say and do, but that you are there to be of support and help and may need some guidance. Remove the pressure from yourself about saying and doing the perfect thing to help, and remind yourself of your humanness.
The most important thing we can do is show up for people as we are, not try to distract or take away their pain and sit with them in all the messy parts of their grief. Allow them and yourself to take time to figure all this out, including needs and not being ok. It is ok to not be ok.
Be mindful of what this loss is doing to the couple
Relationships can struggle through a miscarriage. One partner often feels the need to be strong and take care of the other, and both can start to feel alone. Ask about both people and how they’re doing, and make sure to use open-ended questions.
Remind them that they are both allowed and need to take the time to grieve as a couple and that it’s ok to fall apart together.
Dr. Katy Huie Harrison
Author | Owner, Undefining Motherhood
What I most want people to know when talking to people who have experienced miscarriage is that they cannot make it better.
Validate the emotions the griever is experience
The most important thing for people to remember is that their job is to validate the grief the loss mom is experiencing, as she is regularly bombarded with statements that make her feel like she shouldn’t grieve as much as she is.
When people say things like “At least you know you can get pregnant,” the use of the word “at least” minimizes the experience in the listener’s mind. Searching for such silver lining is common in speaking with people who are grieving, but it can be extremely hurtful.
For someone who’s being extremely careful about what they say, the best thing they can do is validate the emotions the griever is experiencing, thus counteracting the other messages the loss mom is likely receiving.
To validate someone’s emotions, responses can be simple. My favorite, for someone who has never experienced such loss, is simply, “I’m terribly sorry for your loss; I can’t imagine what you’re going through, but I’m here.”
These simple words make the loss mom feel less alone, and they allow her to feel whatever it is that she needs to feel. Allowing people to experience their feelings is so important.
Founder and Inventor, Proov
When I was experiencing miscarriage after miscarriage, I kept hearing ‘well, it just happens’ from my doctors. While I can appreciate that they were probably trying to make sure I knew it wasn’t my fault, I found this so frustrating. I wanted answers. I didn’t want to just hear ‘it happens’.
When I talk to women today who have been experiencing losses, I try to share information that is a bit more actionable.
In about 70% of cases, the egg and sperm just didn’t join up correctly and there is a genetic issue that makes the embryo incompatible with life. There is nothing you can do about that.
But in about 30% of cases, losses may be preventable with the right medical support. So while I of course tell someone who has had a miscarriage ‘I’m so sorry for your loss’, I also encourage them to make sure they have a supportive doctor who listens and helps get to the bottom of what might be causing their losses, especially if there is more than 1.
Certified Wellness Coach | Holistic Health Practitioner
Unfortunately, I have experienced five miscarriages. Oftentimes, people want to say something to help during the grieving process.
Your presence speaks volumes
In some cases, the best thing to say is nothing at all your presence speaks volumes. It’s okay to have silence. When a person does speak offer positive affirmations reassuring her worth as a woman.
Refrain from telling a woman she will be okay. Instead, ask open-ended questions. How are you feeling? Are you up to going out today? Give the woman the control in leading the conversation.
Author | Founder, Your Angel Wings
What to say (and do) to/for someone experiencing a miscarriage:
- “I am so sorry.”
- “I love you (or I care for you).”
- “I am not sure what to say, but I am here for you.”
- “I don’t know what it’s like for you, but I am here to listen.”
- “I am praying for you. (or what specifically can I pray for you?)”
- “I am sending you a huge hug.”
- “Can I bring you dinner tonight?”
- Send them flowers, mail them a card, or send them a “thinking of you today” text
- “It is so good to see you. How are you?”
- “When and if you are ready to talk, I would love to bring you coffee or a bottle of wine.”
- Send them a free, hand-knitted pocket prayer square/remembrance gift.
What NOT to say:
- “Everything happens for a reason.”
- “At least you already have a child (Or be grateful for what you have).”
- “Just relax and quit worrying.”
- “You can always try again.”
- “You must be so upset.”
- “It wasn’t meant to be (or it’s not the right time).”
- “At least you weren’t further along.”
- “I don’t know how much more of this roller coaster I can take.”
- “Have you been tested for…a, b, c?”
- “Maybe you should consider adoption.”
- “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.”
After a few months have passed, you could consider saying these things to your loved one or friend who experienced a miscarriage
- “Have hope.”
- “Don’t give up.’
- “I am praying for you.”
Founder, Side Hustle Mom
The best thing that anyone said to me after our miscarriage is that the life of our baby mattered and that our grief was valid.
Before our miscarriage, I just assumed that those in mourning did not want to talk about their grief or think about their loss, but that was not the case for us.
Tell them that you want to hear their story when they are ready and listen to what they say
Cry with them. If you have never lost a child and cannot imagine what they are going through, tell them that, or – on the other hand – if you have and are comfortable sharing your story, do it.
There is a misconception that losing a child in utero is less painful than other hardships (after all, you never really knew the baby, right?), but it is by far the hardest thing that millions of people will experience, and having that grief validated is vital for healing.
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