Content warning: Miscarriage, pregnancy loss
Miscarriage can be a traumatic and confusing life event, and supporting someone going through that experience can be just as tricky to manoeuvre. However, with around one in five pregnancies ending in miscarriage, it's good to know how to chat to someone who is going through it.
Every miscarriage experience will be different, and some people grieve more than others following a miscarriage. There is no right way to deal with it, but there are some classic triggers that you can be aware of if someone you love is going through it. Being more conscious of these sensitive sore points will help you offer the best support possible.
Don’t discuss whether it was a "real baby"
Often, if the miscarriage was early on in the pregnancy - perhaps before the 12 week mark - people sometimes feel that saying something like “it wasn’t even a real baby yet” can be helpful.
In reality, it can alienate people from their feelings and make it seem like they are irrational or crazy for grieving over something that wasn’t “a real baby”. It does the exact opposite of validating the grieving person’s feelings and can prompt a feeling of loneliness - as if no one understands why they are upset.
Although an embryo isn’t technically a baby yet, commenting on this after a miscarriage can be a huge trigger for grieving parents. It’s important to remember that not only are they grieving the loss of an embryo or foetus, but they are grieving the potential life that it represented.
Be aware that talking about pregnancy may be painful
If you’re talking to someone about your own experiences, be aware that talking about pregnancy, trying for a baby, or even having a baby or child can be a very painful experience for someone who has just miscarried.
This doesn’t mean you can’t talk about it, but it might be more mindful to ask whether they are comfortable with you talking about it before you begin. Being more sensitive and aware during this time will go a long way.
Always be aware that some people who are dealing with a pregnancy loss might find it hard to congratulate you on your new baby, attend a baby shower, or baby birthday. Try not to take this kind of thing personally, it's natural that they would find those occasions really hard, so try to be supportive.
Be conscious that they may feel guilty
Often, one of the heaviest emotions surrounding miscarriage is guilt. Women can feel that they have failed to carry their baby, which can be incredibly hard to process.
Being conscious of this guilt is crucial to supporting your loved one. Avoid using language that is loaded with negative meanings such as “failed”or “lost”. Respect their feelings.
You also need to be aware that they might not be feeling sad about their loss, and this can trigger feelings of guilt as well. There is no "right" way to grieve a miscarriage: some people will feel okay with it while others may feel depressed, so it’s important to keep that in mind too.
Don't brush it off as a small thing
Although miscarriages are surprisingly common, this doesn't make it any easier to deal with, and you never know what others are going through behind the scenes. For example, this study found that 1 in 6 couples are dealing with infertility, so while some people may have a miscarriage after trying for a short time, others will have gone through months and years of fertility treatments to get to this point.
Struggling with infertility can be incredibly upsetting, and when it finally ends in miscarriage, it can be devastating. It's important to bear that in mind when dealing with miscarriage and not brush it off as a small thing.
While it might be a small thing for some couples, for others it can be a really big life event.
Don't remind them that they're "still young"
Immediately after someone has gone through a miscarriage, the last thing they want to hear is that they're still young and have time to get pregnant again.
Encouraging someone to try for another baby can be overwhelming in the aftermath of losing a child, so try to avoid commenting on their likelihood of being able to conceive in future. This is probably something they are already worrying about or feeling judged about, so bringing it up is not going to help the situation.
Be conscious that miscarriage is a physical process too
Whilst it's crucial to appreciate the mental strain that a miscarriage can bring, it's also important to acknowledge the physical stress that it puts on the body.
Losing a baby can cause physical pain and may even require an operation in hospital. After a miscarriage, women are usually suffering from irregular hormones and exhaustion from losing blood, so remember to offer support on the physical front, as well as the mental side of things.
Most women will have gone from being pregnant, where everyone wants to help and offer support with physical tasks, to having no acknowledgement of the physical struggle. Remember to check in with them about how their body is feeling and offer to help with physical tasks (heavy lifting, shopping etc.).
Know that delayed grieving is a thing
Sometimes, straight after a miscarriage, women can enter into a kind of "survival mode" where they are almost in denial about what has happened. As such, the grieving process can be elongated and may only begin months or years after the miscarriage has occurred.
It’s good to be aware that miscarriage can be something that affects people for years, so being conscious of potential triggers can be necessary long after the initial event.
This guide is by no means an exhaustive list of everything to be conscious of around miscarriage, however it can offer some guidance for those seeking to support a loved one going through miscarriage.