I heard it all after I miscarried—the assumptions, the inappropriate questions, the WebMD–worthy diagnoses. And I get it. When you learn that a friend or family member has miscarried, it’s hard to know what to do. Many, for fear of saying the wrong thing, simply say nothing at all—and I understand that too. You don't know how or when to bring it up, and you don't want to make it awkward or stir up fragile emotions (which almost always happens). But, regardless of your unease, it's better to acknowledge the loss. You never know—your friend might really need you that day.
Lord knows I probably didn't do or say the right things to friends and family who miscarried before my own ordeal—I didn't understand how devastating it could be. But two years ago, I read an article Sheryl Sandberg wrote after she lost her husband that forever changed the way I spoke to people going through grief. She said, “Real empathy is sometimes not insisting that it will be okay but acknowledging that it is not.” When a friend is hurting, you want to make her feel better—it’s an altruistic instinct. But how do you know it’s going to be okay? What if it’s not? What if she’s not? The best comments I received were from strangers who had experienced miscarriage themselves and honestly owned up to the fact that it doesn’t get easier or less painful, that there will always be a hole in my heart. That resonated so much more with me than “it gets easier with time,” because really, no one wants to hear that. I didn’t. And I certainly didn’t believe it either.
If you’re struggling with what to say, consider trying this out: “I know you’re hurting and you have every right to be. Take as much time as you need to grieve. I’m here for you every step of the way.” Or sometimes just a great big hug should suffice. But whatever you do (or don't do), it's best to stay away from the following phrases:
1. You poor thing.
I mentioned my miscarriage to a friend, and got this one-liner in response. To me, it came across as extremely condescending. I didn't stub my toe, I lost a child. Worse, it was over text. And then she changed the subject. Here’s the thing: Pain shouldn’t be placated. A conversation like that is a perfect opportunity to follow up with something like, "How are you doing today?" or "Is there anything I can do?" Better yet, let her know you’re there to talk if she needs to. If someone's addressing it, they're giving you the chance to step up and be the friend they need. Take it. You never know when you'll need it in return.
2. I don't know what it's like, but…
No buts. No assumptions. You're right, you don't know what it's like—and I hope you never do. To me, this feels like a need to fill the silence with something. Sometimes it's okay to just listen, to hold her hand, to wait a beat for the next thought to cross her lips. Maybe she’s working something out. Or maybe she just needs to sit with a friend and feel the love. One of the most memorable moments throughout this entire journey was when I saw my friend for the first time after telling her the news over the phone. She saw me, gave me the biggest hug and then just sat in silence holding my hand as I cried. She cried too. For a few minutes, we just let go, together. There was no need for words and she got that. In that moment, she got me too, and I'm forever thankful for that.
3. I think I'd be able to get over a miscarriage at (however many weeks/months your friend was), but I can’t imagine losing a baby further along.
I'm sure, on some level, this is meant to be comforting, as in, "it could be worse." And it could. It always could. But remember that she's grieving. It's not the time for perspective. Let her come to that on her own. Try not to guide her thoughts, just let her feel. When this was said to me, it made the moment about that person and pushed my feelings to the wayside. It was beyond hurtful, as if my pain wasn't valid because it was only a "short" amount of time. The loss of a baby is traumatic, no matter when it happens.
4. Did they say what caused it?
It’s a fairly innocuous question, and you may think you're showing interest and concern—but all I heard was, "Were you to blame?" And I was doing plenty of self-questioning already. I was racking my brain with "what ifs," and hearing this just added to the guilt. The cause is almost always beyond anyone’s control, so you're best just assuming there was nothing to be done and skip the question entirely.
5. Have you been cleared to have sex?
I wish I was joking, but I was actually asked this, which was way too personal and a sensitive subject at that moment. Trust me, the last thing I was thinking about was intercourse. I may have wanted to get pregnant again ASAP, but I would've preferred it to be through immaculate conception.
6. Will you try again?
Again, too intrusive. Even I didn't know yet, so how was I supposed to answer them? My viewpoint changed daily, if not hourly—it was dizzying and confusing. Best to not add to that pressure. A "how are you feeling, physically, mentally, emotionally?" would be better than any of the questions above. Stating that you're there for them, that you love them, is enough. Your presence is enough. There’s no need to search for more to say.
Natalie Thomas is a lifestyle blogger at Nat's Next Adventure, an Emmy-nominated TV producer, contributor to Huffington Post, Today Show, CafeMom, heymama and Womanista, and former editor and spokesperson of Us Weekly. She's addicted to Instagram and seltzer water, lives in New York with her tolerant husband, Zach, THREEnager Lilly and is expecting a little boy in June. She's always in search of her sanity and, more importantly, the next adventure.