How to Help Someone After Miscarriage/Pregnancy Loss
Loss is a difficult part of life that we must unfortunately all be touched by, but the loss of a pregnancy or child is one of the deepest, more intimate, most soul shattering losses and also one of the least talked about or discussed kinds of loss. Statistics show that at least every one out of four pregnancies will end in loss, but some estimates which count the pregnancies which may end before someone realizes that they* are pregnant, push that number closer to 80% of all pregnancies. This is a staggering number, but how often do we openly share about it? I offer this list in the hopes that by bringing some of the hurt to the light, it ultimately will make the heaviness easier to carry for those who inevitably have to walk this road. Thank you for taking their hand and walking with them. I’ve included some potentially helpful practical and spiritual/metaphysical support resources as well as my favorite, heart healing poem at the bottom of this article. Without further ado…
Remember that there is no “right way” to experience loss or grief.
Everyone grieves differently, period. Some people need to talk about it. Some people don’t want to or can’t. Some people need to be with others. Some people may need space. Respect what each person needs as an individual, and if you are close with both parents, recognize that they might also be grieving differently and have different needs.
Not sure what those needs are? ASK.
“How can I support you?”, “How can I help?”, “What do you need?” – these are easy ways to figure out what would be truly helpful for each person. Be prepared for the fact that they might not even know what they need. If this is the case, you can be more specific in your questions such as, “Would it be helpful if you had company or would you prefer space?”, “Would it be okay if I dropped off a meal? If you aren’t feeling up for company I can leave it by the door.”, “Do you want to talk about it?”, “Do you need help with the kids? I can come there or pick them up.”
“Let me know if you need anything” is a beautiful, well intentioned thing to say that few people will ever actually take you up on. Be specific. Ask what would be helpful. Ask how you can be of assistance. Let them know that if they just need someone to sit with and not talk to, you’ll be there. If they need something dropped off at the door, no problem. Let them know that you are ready and willing to support them without any additional effort on their behalf, as they already have enough going on right now.
On that note, help take things off of their plate.
As mentioned above, they may not feel up to cooking, the normal household duties or even the regular tasks of family life. Consider dropping off a meal (or several), making them a meal train (with their permission) or getting them a gift card for take out. Remember with food that many people have dietary limitations, allergies or restrictions. Check in before dropping of a meal or setting up a meal train. Ask if they could use help around the house or if you could gift them a day from a housekeeping company. Or, if you have a relationship where you are close enough and it would be okay, just throw the dishes in the dishwasher, run the broom over the floor or toss the laundry in the wash. It will likely be hard for them to ask for or accept help, and if you have a relationship where it would be okay, these small gestures could mean the world. If they have other children, ask if you can take them out for a day of fun or if you could come over to help take care of the kids while they rest, take a shower, journal or just have time for themselves. The fact that the world keeps going even when someone’s heart is aching can be a cruel and unjust thing. Getting back out of the house and returning to dealing with ordinary things like getting gas, going to the bank, picking up groceries, dropping off the kids or running errands can feel extraordinarily difficult. Ask if you can take over some of these things for them or if they just need company to make it feel less hard.
Remember that there is no time stamp on grief.
Grief can take as little or as much time as someone needs, and if I’m being honest from personal and professional experience, maybe grief actually never goes away, no matter how long ago it happened or how young the being was or how much peace you’ve made with it. Time can absolutely soften the sharp edges of grief but it does not necessarily mean the grief will ever truly not be there, and this is okay. It is okay to grieve. Grief means that love transcends loss, and that is a painful and beautiful truth. Do not rush someone through their grief or make any implication that they should be more healed than they are, no matter how long ago it happened. Recognize that they may very well grieve for the rest of their life.
Be mindful of what you say.
“God needed them more”, “God needed another Angel”, “You’re young, you still have time”, “It’ll happen someday”, “You can try again”, “This hurts, but at least it wasn’t (insert whatever you think would be “worse” here)”, “There must have been something wrong”, “Tiime heals”, etc.
As good intentioned as you may be, do not say anything that implies that God, the Universe or someone or something wanted or needed their baby more than they did, or that their baby is replaceable and their grief so easily forgotten by eventually having another. Also, try to avoid the temptation to talk about all of the ways it could have been worse or all of the reasons that they have to be grateful. While those things may be true, this situation is what is real for them and hurts for them, right here in this moment. Be here with them, now. Sometimes just sitting with them, listening and breathing with them can speak volumes.
Talk about their baby with them.
Sometimes in our world we try to avoid that which causes us pain. This is a natural human instinct for survival, but sometimes our instincts aren’t actually what creates and holds space for healing. Let them know that you are open to talk about their baby with them whenever they want, whether that is now or anytime in the future. Let them know that their baby was real to you too, and important to you also. Let them know that their baby matters. You can ask if they have chosen to name the baby, and if they have and they choose to share the name with you, refer to them by name. It’s okay to mention their baby even long into the future. We fear bringing it up and upsetting someone, but letting them know that you still think about their baby will mean so much to them.
When they talk, listen without interrupting what they are saying, and listen deeper beyond their words. This is called HOLDING SPACE.
In our society we tend to think in advance of what we want to say or what we think we should say, and then wait with bated breath for an opening in the conversation to say it. But, often when someone pauses and inhales it is because they are gearing up to go deeper, or summoning the strength to say something hard. Remember that to speak one’s truth takes courage. When there is a lull or a pause in the conversation, focus on your own breathing. Take a few long inhales and exhales before speaking. Make sure you give them time to go as deep as they need. You can also watch their body language. If you pay attention, someone will show you when they are done speaking. They may look at you expectantly for your response. Their body language will show a sense of completion with the statement. Someone who is about to go deeper may avoid eye contact, may be on the verge of emotion, may be breathing deeply to call on their courage, may look reflective or introspective and may show tight or tense body language. They may exhibit anxiety cues such as touching or rubbing their face, eyes, mouth, neck or heart, or biting their lip. Listen beneath their words. Their body is speaking to you, too. If they are having a hard time saying something, you can subtlety remind them to breathe by consciously taking a deep breath yourself, and let them gently know that it’s okay to go deeper if they need to.
Remember important dates and holidays.
I can not stress how important this is. What day did their baby pass? What was their baby’s intended due date? What holidays are coming up? These dates will HURT. Check in with them, please. Ask them how they are doing and if you can do anything to help. Maybe ask them if it would be helpful if you participated in some kind of remembering ritual with them or ask them if it’s okay if you light a candle in their honor and in their baby’s honor.
The first year is typically the hardest. A pregnancy is counted in weeks, and they will likely be acutely aware of where they would be in their pregnancy in terms of weeks and trimesters. They will likely dread their due date. Reaching out and saying, “I know this time of year might be hard, but I am thinking of you and your little one”, could be much needed light in a very dark time for them. The first Mother’s Day or Father’s Day after the passing or after the due date, when their baby should be with them, will likely be very tender, when everyone is celebrating and they are filled with grief and what should have been. Holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas and others, which are meant to be full of food, joy, love, gratitude and gathering might feel flat and dull for them, even though they will likely force a smile and try to partake in the festivities. Let them know that they are loved and seen.
The anniversary of their baby’s passing (most people will opt to call this the birthday, regardless of how young the baby passed) will likely affect them every year. The most assistance and support for any kind of loss is typically right after it happens but inevitably, people go back to their daily lives. Someone who has experienced loss may not ever feel like the person they were before the loss. Their life may never go back to “normal” – they will adapt and grow around it, the way that a tree can grow around an attached chain. But, as normal as the tree looks and as much as it continues to grow and live its life, the chain, the grief, is still there. Telling someone that you still think about them during a certain time of year can be heart warming, especially if someone is judging themselves for not being “more healed” in the ways they think they should be.
Thank you for taking the time to read this list. I truly hope that it helps bring some healing to those in your life who may be experiencing this ache. I wish them peace and many blessings. Thank you for being a wonderful friend/loved one. I invite you to add to this list by contacting me if you have other suggestions or ideas.
*I have used they/them/their pronouns to indicate that these guidelines may be helpful for someone who has experienced pregnancy as well as their partner, because partners absolutely need support as well. I have also chosen this language to be inclusive, as pregnancy loss can happen to anyone with a womb. There are many who have a uterus but who do not identify as female. There are also intended parents through surrogacy or adoption whose lives can be affected by the ache of loss, even if they were not the ones carrying the sweet babe themselves. Grief is a human condition, and everyone’s grief should be honored.
Powerful Healing Spiritual/metaphysical resources:
And my favorite poem for loss, love and healing:
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)
- e.e. cummings