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8 Things Not to Say to Someone Who Had a Miscarriage and What to Say Instead

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Many people aren't sure how to react when a friend, family member, or coworker suffers from a miscarriage. Here are some tips from a psychologist and therapist.

Nearly 1 in 5 people of childbearing abilities will experience a miscarriage in their lifetimes, making the issue relatively widespread. It's "one of the most common forms of trauma that many women go through, but it's often unrecognized and unreported," says Cecille Maria Ahrens, a therapist and licensed clinical social worker.

Given that miscarriage isn't often discussed, many people aren't sure how to respond when someone they know loses a pregnancy. What you say will naturally depend on your relationship with the person, but there are some general guidelines to keep in mind. Below are suggestions for supporting and talking to someone who's had a miscarriage, whether it's a friend, family member, or coworker.

8 Things to Say When Someone Has a Miscarriage

1. Keep it general

Less is more, Ahrens says, especially if you don't know the person well. She suggests validating the person's experience, perhaps by saying "I'm sorry that happened." She explains: "If you don't know what to say, I always tell people [that] you can start with that. You can say, 'I'm not really sure what to say or how to help but I want you to know that I'm here for you.'"

2. Listen and follow their lead

People often avoid the topic of miscarriage altogether out of desire to avoid discomfort. This is a mistake, as it invalidates the person's experience, says Tarra Bates-Duford, PhD, a licensed marriage and family therapist. "The best thing we can do is listen. Listen, don't offer advice, but really listen and validate their feelings," Dr. Bates-Duford says. And if the parents had named the baby prior to the miscarriage, "it's important to use that baby's name."

3. Check in even if they seem fine

Miscarriages often happen before people share that they're pregnant. If a friend seems to be having a hard time, it's usually fine to point out what you're seeing and offer generalized support. "A lot of my patients just before they were at the cusp of announcement, a miscarriage occurred. So often, they sit and suffer in silence," says Dr. Bates-Duford. "Perhaps that could be the encouragement that that person needs."

Along those lines, miscarriages can spark episodes of postpartum depression. If you know that someone close to you has experienced a miscarriage, says Ahrens, you can offer observations if their behavior or mood has changed significantly and encourage them to seek professional help.

4. Ask about the rest of the family

Don't only ask about the status of the person who was carrying the pregnancy. Spouses and partners are also grieving the loss. "You don't want to imply that that child was any less important to the other parent," says Dr. Bates-Duford. "You want to acknowledge that this was a loss from both of them."


5. Keep the context in mind

Pregnancy loss is painful enough on its own, but some circumstances can compound the trauma. Couples who conceived through IVF, or who were expecting a baby via a surrogate, face extra feelings of "powerless and helplessness," says Ahrens. They may have gone through an expensive and grueling process to become pregnant, underscoring the enormity of the loss —and the difficulty of trying again if they choose to do so. Recurrent miscarriages also take a particular emotional toll, and they can affect what to say when someone has a miscarriage. Of course, all losses can be difficult and you never know how someone is feeling about a loss, so it's always best to let them express how they feel without assuming.

6. Ask permission to help

Some practical things, like dealing with a nursery or baby items, may need to be dealt with after a loss, depending on the person. Offering to return baby gifts or pack away items can be a helpful gesture, but should only be done with permission, says Dr. Bates-Duford. Some people won't be able to face a baby's room they had prepared, but others would want to sit with it, and take it down themselves when they're ready. "Don't try to fix it," for the person who miscarried, Dr. Bates-Duford says. Also, if you've bought a baby gift that you haven't given yet, quietly return it. Don't put that on the grieving person.

7. Offer specific help

On a related note, for anything non-baby related, it may be helpful to simply state how you are going to help instead of asking how you can help. For instance, texting a friend that you will be dropping dinner off at their door tomorrow night or letting them know you have arranged coffee delivery instead of asking if you can help is a gesture that takes the burden off of their plate.

8. Be sensitive in future pregnancies

Many people who experiences miscarriages go on to become pregnant again. But losses can leave scars that other people don't understand. The pregnant person may not want to have a baby shower or otherwise prepare for the baby, fearing the worst will happen again.

Friends and family "may need to temper their own expectations around some of those traditions that they themselves might have been excited about because they need to support the feelings of the pregnant woman," explains Dr. Bates-Duford. If you want to buy something for the baby, don't mention it, she continued. You can always gift it later, when the happy moment comes.

What Not to Say After Miscarriage

If you know someone who has had a miscarriage and you want to offer words of comfort, here is a list of phrases you should avoid saying.

1. "It wasn't a real baby yet."

For many people, bonding with their baby-to-be happens the moment they learn they're pregnant. No matter how far along the pregnancy progressed, the baby was real, plans and dreams were formed in the family's heads, and life had already changed.

2. "At least you weren't further along."

It's true that the further along you are in the pregnancy, the more complications can happen during the miscarriage—but this phrase tries to diminish pain, and it perpetuates the idea that a baby lost in the first trimester doesn't necessitate any grief. The physical and emotional pain is very real, even in the early stages.

3. "It wasn't meant to be."

During the grief of loss, this phrase can compound feelings that you've done something wrong or that the speaker believes you're not fit to be a parent.

4. "Well, at least you can get pregnant."

Lots of people struggle to conceive, and that struggle comes with its own pain and grief. But getting pregnant is only the first step to parenthood, and someone who has miscarried is also robbed of that experience. Plus, there's no reason to compare one person's struggles to another's.

5. "Miscarriage happens to a lot of people."

For many people with a loss seeking support, this phrase is heartbreaking. Miscarriage is certainly common, but that doesn't negate the need for support, compassion, and healthy grieving that comes with loss.

6. "Maybe you should have/shouldn't have..."

It's extremely hard on a parent's heart to find out their baby is gone, and they may instinctively blame themselves. Hearing these statements from someone who is supposed to be supportive is detrimental to emotional and mental health.

7. "You'll be fine in a few days."

For some people, the grieving period is short after a miscarriage. For others, however, the sadness can last awhile and it can be complicated by several other factors. Telling someone they're going to be fine in a few days is very misleading and dismissive.

8. "Be grateful for what you have."

When someone is in pain, telling them to "suck it up" isn't exactly helpful. This phrase, often said to those who already have children and are grieving a miscarriage, is the same sentiment—just dressed up a little differently. Even if a couple has multiple children already, it's perfectly normal to grieve after losing a pregnancy.

Miscarriage at Work

As a last note, if you're encountering a miscarriage in the workplace, know that a miscarriage is a medical event that can have physical and emotional repercussions that require time away from work. In some cases, disclosure of a miscarriage will be the first time that an employee lets their employer know that they were pregnant.

Bosses and human resource professionals should minimize their requests for information, especially if it will be provided anyway on short-term disability forms or other requests for leave. A better approach, explains Dr. Bates-Duford, is to offer to help with any needed paperwork and get the process rolling.

For other colleagues, "a general, 'I'm so sorry for your loss,' would be most appropriate," says Ahrens. "You don't want to overstep your bounds. You're not friends; you're not family."



Does your hospital have a cooling cradle?

Donating a Cenotaph Cradle to your local hospital can memorialize a baby, and help families affected by infant loss in the future gain the gift of time. 

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