Understanding and Supporting Pregnancy Loss: Do’s and Do Not’s

*This post was originally posted here but I felt really strongly that this series needed to be re-posted in support of National Infertility Awareness Week.

 

Yesterday I introduced you to three people whom I love dearly who allowed me to interview them on the topics of miscarriage, pregnancy loss and infant loss. Today they are going to help us understand some DO’s and DO NOT’s when it comes to supporting a loved one through this trial.

During this time of loss, what did loved ones do to support you?

 

Brooke

In a physical sense, my Dad carried me to bed and gave me a Priesthood blessing which is the best support anyone can receive. My sweet husband was thousands of miles away in Ukraine, but he wrote to me almost hourly and called on Skype as often as I felt well enough to talk. My little brother and sisters who live at home were so gentle and sweet to me. What I loved was that they weren’t afraid to talk to me about it. Each of them came to me separately, at different times, and told me that they loved me and were so sorry. They had heard my screams during the final moments of the miscarriage, and instead of shying away from me and feeling shame or embarrassment, they completely embraced me. Other family members and friends sent emails and text messages, all of which I loved. I felt like the love that everyone was sending was helping to fill in the hole inside of me.

 

Kim

Lots of meals brought in. I asked for lots of help. I was recovering from a serious blow physically and emotionally. I called my bishop and Relief Society president. Had I not been a member of any church I would have called my friends and neighbors. They brought meals, cleaned, sent cards and flowers. One of my good friends gave me a statue of a mother holding a baby which I cherish, another friend brought me a teddy bear that I still sleep with sometimes to this day. We call it ‘peanut bear’ because that is what the nickname of the baby was…”peanut”. Those are small tokens but when times are hard we hold them dear.


Laura

Most people were kind and supportive, even if they didn’t say or do the right things. My mom flew out at a moment’s notice and stayed to help me recuperate after surgery. Friends provided meals when I got back from the hospital. Lots of people, including strangers, contacted me to express their condolences. Others sent gifts or offered to watch my daughter. People were very worried about me, and I could tell they wanted so badly to comfort me, even if they had no idea how to do it. I tried my best to focus on their intentions and not over-analyze their words.

 

What do you wish people had done to support you? What would have been helpful?

 

Brooke

I know that everyone was trying to be supportive in the best ways they knew how. However, I felt like some family and friends were pretending like nothing had happened. I didn’t want to lament or anything, but it was awkward when people would call and talk about everything BUT what had just happened. It would have been helpful if they would have begun conversations or emails with something like, “I’m so sorry about what happened. I’m here to talk if you want to, but I don’t want to talk about it if it makes you uncomfortable”, then go on about whatever else they were going to talk about.

 

Kim

Loved me. (Most people did.) Never minimize the loss. Especially for me when I was struggling with my faith in that regard, if someone would have said, “It was for the best.” I would have smacked them…and people did say that virtually. It was not okay. To me, it was a life, my life…part of me. I saw it moving, it’s heart was beating and for me, in that instant there was a life. I miss that life. I miss those 17 weeks I spend sick and tired and fat. I do not want that minimized. What would have been helpful? More ice cream…more shoulders to cry on. More hugs, more understanding. More bathroom scrubs. More babysitters for me time.


Laura

I felt like people fell into two camps: Those who pretended like nothing happened because they didn’t want me to feel upset or awkward, and those who persistently asked questions about my emotional state. Depending on the day, I loved or hated either group. Is that fair? No, but neither is infant loss. Knowing I was expecting the impossible (a perfect response to my exact sentiments on a given day), I tried to be understanding of others. The best response was when people just let me know they were there to talk when I felt up to it. Also, it was important to me that they still include me in regular activities and conversation. And while this may sound shallow, gifts are always great. They’re a tangible way of saying that you care and can provide distraction. (I highly recommend books, magazines and food for that reason.) For those with existing children, the gift of a few hours alone is also priceless. I often wanted a weekend by myself just to process things, but with a toddler, that was impossible.

 

What are some DEFINITE no-no’s that friends and family should avoid saying or doing? Can you explain why those things are hurtful?

 

Brooke

  • Telling me why I miscarried as in: you were too stressed out, you shouldn’t have been so active, you need to just relax and take a vacation, maybe this is the Lord telling you to stop trying for a while, maybe you need to learn patience, etc. This is hurtful because most of the suggestions either imply that I did something wrong or that my miscarriage was caused by my spiritual immaturity. My doctor is far more qualified than anyone else to tell me why this has happened.
  • Cracking jokes about it. This just makes me sick. It’s only happened once and it broke my heart.
  • When someone else you’re close to finds out they’re pregnant or something like that in the midst of your miscarriage, it is really hard to separate their good pregnancy from your bad one. A HUGE don’t is: Do not get angry or upset if the person that has just miscarried isn’t acting excited about the other one’s pregnancy. Just know that they’re doing their best and that all they need is love and patience.

 

Kim

  • “It was for the best.”
  • “There was probably something wrong with the baby anyway.”
  • “You can have another baby.”
  • “You already have another child, can’t you just be thankful for that blessing.”

 

Well, for one, no one can really know what went wrong. Was it something that I did, did not do? Is there something wrong with me physically that is harming the baby? No one knows that answer, and you may never know. I don’t care if there was something wrong with the baby…that was may baby that I loved and hoped for and adored…don’t minimize that. That is like saying to someone who wears glasses, “You didn’t need your left eye…there was something wrong with it anyway.” No one knows, and especially in my circumstance that there will be another baby. To this day I still feel like someone is missing from my life, from my heart, from my soul. Even with my faith, I am LDS…I am still uncertain. I still don’t always feel I will get to see my baby again. Is that awful? I think that comes from everyone and their opinion…sometimes you just have to keep your opinions to yourself and just say, “That sucks. I am so so so sorry for your loss.” Because that is all you can say. The thing that infuriates me the most is when people say, “Why don’t you appreciate the children you already have?” Because…straight up, I had a dream. My dream was four beautiful children. That is a dream that will probably never come to reality. It is a great loss to my heart and soul. Besides, a statement like that is saying that in some way I am not grateful for my children, which could not be further from the absolute truth.

 

Laura

As I mentioned, people are generally well-intentioned and don’t mean to hurt you. They are at a loss for what to say and often make something up just to feel like they’ve tried. However, it’s better to admit that you don’t know what to say than to say something that could be offensive.

Here are some other pointers:

  • Don’t judge grief – Everyone situation is unique and everyone will grieve differently, so it’s best that you just share your love for that person. Do not applaud them for “being strong” because that person may become afraid to open up on bad days for fear letting you down. It also perpetuates the idea that those who struggle after tragedy are weaker than those who appear to recover quickly. Odds are everyone is hurting inside, but not everyone is comfortable exposing their pain publicly.
  • Don’t hypothesize – Do not try to make sense of their loss. Don’t tell them it was meant to be. Don’t tell them that it was a fluke. Don’t tell them it was because of something they did or didn’t do. Let the parents come to their own conclusions, medically and spiritually. When you hypothesize, you are minimizing their loss.
  • Don’t rank tragedy – Every loss is a loss, whether it was days after a positive pregnancy test or moments after delivery. Most consider each additional week of pregnancy lost a bigger tragedy, but that’s not necessarily so. In my experience, a woman who discovers she is pregnant instantly loves her unborn child and creates a mental future for them. Losing that dream is devastating at any stage. Some struggle more with early miscarriage than stillbirth, and vice versa. It just depends, so refrain from assumptions.
  • Don’t compare – Comforting someone should not include any one-uppers. That means you should tell them about a friend who had it worse. That means you don’t compare an experience you had with the death of a grandparent or another life obstacle. You don’t make people feel better by emphasizing the positive. You make them feel misunderstood, marginalized and weak.
  • Do use the right words – Medically, a miscarriage is when a pregnancy ends before 20 weeks. However, I don’t feel like I miscarried Zella. After all, we held her, named her—we even blessed her per our religious tradition. I prefer to call it pregnancy loss or infant loss. Carefully listen to find out what someone prefers. Do they refer to the baby by name? Do they include the baby in their family head count? Was it a miscarriage, genetic disorder or stillbirth? Know the facts and try to remember them. I love it when friends refer to Zella by name because it makes her feel more real. And I’m touched that my extended family knows her birthday and counts her among the family, even though I generally don’t include her in our head count. (Mostly because it just gets confusing. Although I do remind my kids that Zella never talks back to me.)
  • Do remember – I was shocked by how many people, including close friends, forgot about our experience within weeks of it happening. They’d ask questions like, “When are you going to try for another one?” Or say things like, “You sure spaced them far apart.” I had to remind them we had tried for another. Often they would backtrack, but sometimes they would brush it off like Zella’s pregnancy didn’t count. Not cool.
  • Do teach people – Generally, you should avoid overanalyzing what people say, because it is very easy to be offended when you are emotionally fragile. However, where possible, you should let people know a better way to do it. (“You know, I really feel for your friend who had seven miscarriages, but as this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done so far, so I’d prefer not to compare.”)
  • Do share your experience – Pregnancy loss is sadly very common, yet so many people feel alone. Reach out to others and share your story. Give them hope that there is life after tragedy without preaching.

 

I personally feel like the emotional pain of miscarriages, pregnancy loss and infant loss is something that people don’t seem to understand as a form of infertility.

From many of the people I have talked to who have survived pregnancy loss, they often feel ashamed at the loss or like others are blaming them/treating them like they did something wrong to cause the loss. Many of them feel unheard. If you were able to say something, anything in defense of women and families who are overlooked in this situation, what would it be?

Brooke

You have just been through something horrific. Don’t downplay it in your heart. Accept the love from everyone around you and let it carry you until you’re strong enough to carry yourself again. Ignore the criticism and “advice”. Don’t answer your phone or respond to emails if you don’t want to. Rest. Let other people watch your kids for a while. Remember that much of your anger and sorrow is amplified by your hormones. You didn’t make this happen. Find a way to believe that. Dismiss thoughts of guilt as soon as they come.


Kim

Having been there, and knowing those feelings exactly…understand that you may know in your heart you did nothing wrong…of course you did not, but you need to understand that guilt may never go away. I think that is normal. I think learning to memorialize the child in some way, especially if you were not able to see them or bury them is very important. I think it is just something in our culture that is still a bit taboo, like a baby isn’t a baby until 20 weeks or until they breathe…those things are silly and foolish and should be changed…a baby is a baby when you, deep in your heart feel it is a baby, your baby. Don’t be ashamed. Talk about it, share it, blog it…shout it to the world. EDUCATE people. If you aren’t strong enough to do that, guest blog it…ghost write it, do something, I promise it will help you feel so much better and get through it.

 

Laura

No matter the situation, there is a part of you that feels like damaged goods. Every time I go to a doctor’s appointment, I have to rehash my medical history, as if Zella was a science experiment. I have to deal with people who think I either overreacted or under-reacted to our experience–or just avoid the topic altogether. I have to endure people who want to make themselves feel safe from loss by suggesting something I could have done to avoid the situation. But in the end, it’s no one’s fault. Medically speaking, infant loss happens, often for no obvious reason. Spiritually speaking, infant loss is one of life’s many hardships that teach us compassion and love. No one is immune from tragedy. Everyone will walk in darkness at some point, so they should focus on being a bright light rather than assigning blame. Don’t let them do it, and don’t do it to yourself.

 

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Tomorrow we will be talking about what grief looks like during this difficult time.