A month ago, we shared a dozen incredibly touching personal stories of miscarriage. And with Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day rapidly approaching (on October 15th), we thought it only right to look at the other side of the coin: Folks watching their friends suffer a miscarriage. What does one say or do when something so heartbreaking happens? We tapped Jessica Zucker, an L.A.-based psychologist and writer who started the #IHadAMiscarriage hashtag a year ago, to offer some advice and info, not only for those aforementioned friends, but for the women experiencing the loss firsthand.
What is helpful to do/say when you find out a friend has miscarried?
-Ask her how she’s doing. Don’t assume to know.
-Tell her “I’m here.” “I’m sorry for your loss.” “You did nothing wrong, this is not your fault.”
-Send a pregnancy loss card.
-Be consistent in your care. Don’t fall off the face of the earth a month after her miscarriage. She might still want support even after several months, depending on the circumstances. Call, text, send notes, show up.
-Maybe she’d like to spend time with you and not talk about her loss. Sometimes connecting, but not specifically about the loss can feel good. Maybe doing something fun and light provides the distraction she is craving. Feel her out.
What should you not do?
-Don’t disappear. Even if you “don’t know what to say,” saying something is better than saying nothing at all!
-Don’t compare losses.
-Don’t say “At least you know you can get pregnant.” This doesn’t help her in the immediate aftermath of having just lost a pregnancy.
-Likewise, don’t say “It wasn’t meant to be. Everything happens for a reason.” “At least you have a healthy child already.” “It wasn’t really even a baby yet.” “You can always adopt.” “As soon as you get pregnant again, your grief will wane.”
-Some more of Zucker’s ideas on what to say/not to say are recapped here.
How can women going through this loss find support?
-Look into psychotherapy or grief counseling. Grief knows no timeline. And people can experience a lot of feelings no matter how far along they are in the pregnancy when it ends. Having a place to process the feelings can help normalize the experience and can help you make sense of your emotions. It is normal for feelings to pop up at various times, so it is helpful to keep this in mind. Rushing through loss is not helpful (and doesn’t actually work).
-Connect with friends who have experienced pregnancy loss. Everyone has a different experience, but it can be very powerful to share your story and hear that you are not alone in your feelings.
-Writing can be an excellent way to process pain. Whether this is in a personal journal or for the masses, writing can be a healing tool. It is a way to explore your story and your feelings in a way that sometimes talking doesn’t do.
-Support groups can be helpful. Some people find groups help dissolve feelings of isolation, while others might not want to hear the stories of others. Respect what works for you and what doesn’t.
-Discuss your feelings with your partner/spouse. It can be tempting to clam up sometimes, and that’s okay. But try to communicate with your partner about your feelings and about theirs, too. It is an important time to remain connected and provide mutual support.
-Express feelings rather than holding them in. Whether it’s anger, sadness, disappointment, fear, bewilderment, loneliness, shame, or guilt, sometimes we hope that by pushing things aside, they will go away. Feelings don’t usually work this way. So, it’s best to acknowledge your feelings as you’re going through them and trust that feelings do change, with time. Turn to trusted friends, family, a therapist, or anyone else who you know will take good care of you during this vulnerable time.
-Research states that a majority of women feel a sense of guilt, shame, and self-blame after a miscarriage. It is important to process any feelings that surface and attempt to understand where they come from. Practicing self-compassion can be very helpful during times of sorrow.
How common are miscarriages?
“Approximately 15-20 percent of clinically recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage, defined as a pregnancy loss earlier than 20 weeks of gestation. Pregnancy loss after that point is called a stillbirth, and about 1 in 160 pregnancies end in stillbirth. Miscarriage is the most common complication of pregnancy. A majority of miscarriages take place within the first trimester (up to 13 weeks). Second trimester miscarriages (between 13 and 19 weeks) happen in 1-5 percent of pregnancies. It is rare for miscarriages to take place after this point in the pregnancy.”
Is there anything someone can do to prevent a miscarriage?
“There is nothing one can do to prevent miscarriage if it is a chromosomal issue, which is the case for 60 percent of miscarriages. For other medical issues, sometimes women are put on bed rest early on, and by doing this they are attempting to prevent the loss of the pregnancy. Other ways to prevent a miscarriage include taking at least 400 mg of folic acid a day, beginning 1-2 months before conception, if possible. Also, eating well, managing your stress levels and your weight, abstaining from smoking, drinking, drugs, and secondhand smoke, avoiding radiation, harsh chemicals, and medications that aren’t pregnancy safe, avoiding risk of injury to your abdomen, and making sure you are in good overall health. Finding out why you had a miscarriage might help prevent a second miscarriage.”