Odds are good that someone close to you has lost a baby during pregnancy.
Maybe it’s your sister or cousin. Your old roommate or best friend from college.
Especially if you haven’t experienced loss like this, you may find yourself wondering what to do in the face of such sad news. What does miscarriage mean, and how can you reach out during this painful time to let them know you care?
Miscarriage is the loss of a baby in pregnancy before 20 weeks gestation (after 20 weeks, the loss is called a stillbirth). One in four pregnancies end in miscarriage, often during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, and often due to chromosomal abnormalities.
While miscarriage may be common, that doesn’t make the shock, sadness, or grief easier to bear. Both parents — the father and the mother — often experience miscarriage as a tremendous loss.
Especially now that technological advances allow parents to find out about pregnancy much earlier than in generations past, they may have been planning about life with their new baby for weeks or months before they get the devastating news that the baby has died.
Miscarriage is not only the loss of a child, but also the loss of a parent’s hopes, dreams, and part of their identity. It can challenge their understanding of faith, their view of God, and their outlook on life.
So what can you say or do when someone you love is suffering?
People often avoid talking about miscarriage. Grief is taboo as a conversation topic, and we’d rather encourage each other to look on the bright side. What’s more, miscarriage can be shrouded in shame, secrecy, or silence.
But grief gets worse when we feel isolated. While no one can take away the pain of a loss like miscarriage, we can share the weight of the grief when we help carry it together.
Start simple: “I’m so sorry. I’m here for you.”
Even admitting that you don’t know what to say is okay. They may be struggling with what to say or do, too.
The important thing is that by reaching out, you show your friend that they are seen. Their loss isn’t overlooked or brushed aside. Small words of care and concern can make a big difference in their pain.
You’ve acknowledged the life of their baby and the death of their child. They won’t forget either.
Remember that the word “compassion” means “to suffer with.” Sitting with someone in their suffering — without trying to fix them or rush them to cheer up — is a huge gift of compassion.
If you’re nervous, take your cue from their response. Your friend may want to talk about the miscarriage. Or they may want to go out and talk about anything else.
Simply saying something and listening if they want to share is a gift of love.
People often ask, “Let me know what I can to do help!” But when you’re overwhelmed by grief, it’s nearly impossible to think about what you need, let alone ask for help.
So show up in practical ways. Take the lead and offer to drop off groceries or bring dinner. (You can even say, “I’ll leave it on the doorstep and text you so you don’t have to chat if you don’t want!”)
Send a card or flowers. Shovel their sidewalk or mow the lawn. Offer to watch their other kids for an hour or two. If you’re long-distance, send a gift card for pizza, local takeout, or a meal delivery service.
Any practical help can ease the stress of early grief. And a tangible reminder of their baby or your love for them will likely be something they treasure for years to come.
Don’t forget the dad, too. Fathers are often overlooked when everyone from doctors and nurses to friends and family asks about the mom first.
But even though both parents don’t experience the physical pain of miscarriage, the emotional toll can impact men as much as women. Reaching out to a male friend or co-worker who has lost a baby acknowledges that he is grieving, too.
Say (or do) something later
Set a reminder in your phone for the day your friend had their miscarriage. Each year on that date, reach out and let them know you remember.
Especially on the first anniversary of their loss, a card or other gesture can help them get through a difficult day. Even a quick “thinking of you today” text might mean the world to them.
Because miscarriage often happens before a woman looks pregnant or may have shared news of her pregnancy, it can become a complicated grief, a loss unacknowledged by society but unforgotten by those who endure it.
People often assume parents have stopped grieving after a month or two, especially if they go on to become pregnant again. But the grief of miscarriage can linger for years.
Many parents who have lost babies decades ago can still tell you exactly how old that child would be today. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day often become bittersweet holidays, even if they have other living children, because the world does not remember the child they could never forget.
So when you show that you continue to remember the life of their baby and the loss they have suffered, you give them the gift of acknowledging their love for their child over time.
Grief isn’t something to “get over” or “move on” from. It remains even as new life grows up around it. Yet the smallest gestures of support can make a big difference.
Say something. Do something. Repeat as needed.
Compassion starts when we are willing to sit in the dark and share another’s suffering — when we reach out and simply say: “I’m here for you. You won’t be forgotten. You aren’t alone.”