October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. Behind the pink and blue ribbons everywhere on the internet, women are grieving and coping with their loss. How can you support your friend during a miscarriage or early pregnancy loss? What can you do if your friend is facing what feels like her very darkest days?
For practical answers to this question, I turned to our resident experts: women in our online community who have experienced the loss themselves. The responses I got fell naturally into four underlying themes, so I’ve listed them as these 4 P’s to keep it simple. When grieving with a friend, you should not have to carry a complicated mental checklist with you.
When I lost my first baby after several weeks of ambiguous doctor appointments and weekly blood draws, I was spent. Mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted. The single most meaningful thing my friends did in this time of loss was to show up on my doorstep. They picked up pizza from our favorite local pub, brought paper plates and drinks, and put it out on the kitchen table while I just stood there weeping.
That night, over greasy pizza, we cried together. They prayed for my husband and me. We even found a way to laugh a little – time with them is never without some good old-fashioned fun. They were fully present for the whole evening. 28 years later, I don’t remember the cards, flowers, or books people sent me. I remember their presence that night and their healing power.
Sitting with a friend in her hurt tells her you are there FOR her. It says you are not afraid to do this hard thing with her. Shanna said, “Just BE there! I think people were so scared of saying the wrong thing they just avoided me altogether… just having someone there in case I want to talk would be amazing!”
Being present with a friend who has had a miscarriage does not require that you be eloquent or profound. In fact, the general consensus was to avoid talking too much. I’m not big on the “what not to say” posts that are everywhere on social media these days. But if you are supporting a friend through a miscarriage or early pregnancy loss, a little bit of “what not to say” is warranted.
Avoid platitudes and “at leasts” (“at least you know you can get pregnant” is NOT helpful). And religious sentiments should only be used if you know for a fact that the person will appreciate hearing them (in my case they made me shut down because it showed me the person didn’t really know me at all). If you don’t know what to say, just stick with a hug and “I love you.” ~ Carolyn
Listen quietly when your friend wants to talk about her loss, even if you feel uncomfortable. Offer an open heart and open ears to hear her pain without judgment or without trying to “fix it.” Your quiet acceptance of her hurt is a significant gift – too many underestimate its impact unless they have been through deep pain themselves.
Laura offered this advice from her own experiences of loss:
(Be) someone who will listen without offering platitudes, without becoming uncomfortable when the tears inevitably start to fall. Someone who is okay with just listening and maybe offering a simple, “I’m so sorry your baby is not here with you.”
However, the power of being quiet is perhaps made even more significant by knowing when to speak impactfully, as Carolyn gently pointed out:
…if your loved one named their baby, it means a great deal for that name to be said out loud so they know people are remembering the baby.
Even the most necessary and practical elements of the day can be forgotten when your friend is drowning in the grief of a miscarriage. If she is floundering to care for herself or her family, you have an opportunity to rally your “village” and tangibly show your care and support. There are many apps and tools out there to help you arrange for meals, laundry support, and grocery shopping to lift those mundane tasks off her shoulders.
Many times, when you are going through a challenging experience, you will hear folks say, “let me know if you need anything.” The weight of reaching out for help like that might be too much for your grieving friend, as Karen expanded:
…I appreciated people who gave me a concrete offer I could accept or decline, with absolute acceptance of my answer or mood.
(For example) I’d like to bring you dinner next Thursday. I’m going to take you to a movie Friday evening. I’ll pick you up Sunday afternoon for a coffee/ice cream. We’re going for a walk Saturday morning.
That way I have a definite plan I can decline, or just do nothing and let it happen. Take all the pressure off the griever to make decisions and express themselves. It’s hard enough just to be that person let alone express it.
If your friend walks through the devastating loss of her early pregnancy while still trying to parent her other kids, the need for practicality is essential.
An offer to watch children while they go through the physical and emotional pain would be an amazing gift. My daughter was 10 months old and had colic and it was almost unbearable parenting her while going through a miscarriage. ~ Janettee
Supporting your friend who has endured a miscarriage or early pregnancy loss is a process. What she needs from you in the immediacy of the loss will likely differ significantly from what she will need from you later as she figures out how to move forward. Be patient with her process. Recognize that grief is not a linear path nor a clear-cut trail forward.
Karen pointed out,
It can be hard to respond when people asked me to “just tell them what I need.” I didn’t know what I needed, or what I needed wasn’t socially acceptable to ask for…
If your friend is a particularly close one, she might appreciate a daily check-in. Ask her how she is and if she’d like you to text her tomorrow. “I’m thinking about you today” can be a thoughtful gesture in a text message. Either way, the goal is to remind her she’s not alone.
As your friend begins her healing process, you can love and support her in these four tangible ways. Finding her new path forward from this loss might just feel a little less overwhelming once she knows you are there to stand with her through it all.
If you’ve experienced a miscarriage or infant loss, how did your “village” carry you through the healing process? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.