What to say to someone who has miscarried
Before I was blessed with my three gorgeous children, I had a miscarriage.
I was – or at least I thought I was – 13 weeks pregnant. I’d had the nausea, the tender breasts, a little bump. We’d talked about names, we were reading the pregnancy books. We were already imagining life as a family of three. As far as we knew, everything was progressing normally.
And then we went along to our first antenatal scan and the sonographer told us there was no heartbeat. Our baby had died five weeks earlier and we’d had no idea.
We were ushered out of the scan room into a waiting room of expectant parents, some clutching scan photos of their babies, and into a side office. A nurse matter-of-factly explained that what had happened was called a missed miscarriage. This is when the baby stops growing, but the body still believes it is pregnant. She told me I could either go home and let things happen naturally in their own time, or book in for “medical management of miscarriage” a week later. I went for the latter as I didn’t know how many much longer we’d have to wait for our baby to say goodbye on his or her own accord.
I don’t think I have ever cried so much in my life as I did that day, and in the following days and weeks. I was utterly devastated.
It was hard breaking the news to other people. We’d told immediate family and a couple of close friends that I was pregnant, and they were all so excited for us. We’d had texts that morning wishing us luck for the scan and others later in the day asking how everything had gone.
People sent cards and flowers and did their best to console us. We told people who hadn’t known we were expecting about the miscarriage. Some of what people said was really kind and beautiful. However, some of it didn’t help and actually made me feel worse. I know that wasn’t their intention, but if you have no experience of miscarriage, either yourself or those close to you, it is difficult to understand the complexities of how it feels physically and emotionally, and I completely understand people are at a loss for words.
I’ve spoken to a lot of women and their partners since then, both as a friend and through writing about miscarriage as a freelance journalist (here for the Guardian, here originally for Parentdish but now on the Huffington Post and I even spoke about it on this edition of Channel 4 Dispatches fronted by Amanda Holden). People deal with miscarriage differently, and I know not everyone will feel how I felt. However, time and again women and their partners tell me that certain phrases upset them.
With that in mind, I wrote this in the hope that it will help to raise a bit of awareness.
Do say “I’m sorry”
A simple “I’m sorry” is the best thing you can say. Let them know you are thinking of them. Ask if there is anything you can do to support them. Let them know you are there for them if they want to talk about it, and if they don’t want to talk about it, then that’s fine too. And then listen to what they have to say.
Don’t say nothing
If you genuinely don’t know what to say, let the person know that. That’s far better than saying nothing at all or not acknowledging what has happened.
Don’t say “At least you know you can get pregnant.”
I found this such a hard thing to hear. A woman who has miscarried knows she got pregnant that time. She doesn’t know if she will get pregnant again. And if she does, she doesn’t know if she will stay pregnant. Maybe this isn’t her first miscarriage. Maybe this pregnancy took several months or even years of trying, of it was the result of fertility treatment and another round of treatment might not be an option.
Don’t say “Imagine how much worse it would be if it happened later on.”
Yes, it would be devastating to lose a baby later in pregnancy, but that doesn’t mean it’s not devastating now.
Don’t say “It’s really common; it happens all the time.”
Yes, one in four pregnancies do end in miscarriage and yes, lots of women experience it. For some women I know, being reminded of the statistics doesn’t make us feel any better. As one of my friends said to me, “You wouldn’t say to someone who had been recently bereaved, ‘death is very common’.” If you’ve never lost a baby it can be difficult to understand that miscarriage is a very real bereavement and grief for many women and their partners; telling them it happens all the time diminishes their feelings.
Don’t say “It happens for a reason, there must have been something wrong”
Just like the above, you wouldn’t tell someone who had been bereaved that it must have been for a good reason. You would tell them you were sorry, give them a hug and ask if there’s anything you can do to help them. Miscarriage often feels like such a personal grief because no one else really feels the loss in the same way as the woman/couple involved.
Don’t say “At least you already have a child”
All the women I have spoken to who have miscarried when they have a child/children have found it really upsetting when people act as if they should not be upset because they are already parents. Of course they are grateful they already have a child/children, but that doesn’t mean they can’t mourn the loss of this baby; the potential of this life; the sibling that will never be, or the family set-up they always wanted to create but which might not ever become a reality.
Do remember they might find things difficult for a long time
A miscarriage isn’t like a cold; most women don’t just get over it in a couple of weeks as if it never happened. Milestones such as the 20-week scan, the baby’s due date and the anniversary of the miscarriage can all be difficult, as can pregnancy and birth announcements from friends. Being mindful of these feelings, or sympathetically letting your friend know you are thinking of them, is always appreciated.
Don’t complain too much about your pregnancy ailments, sleepless nights or crying babies to a friend who has miscarried
Yes, pregnancy and motherhood can be really hard. But save that for friends who can relate. Someone who has miscarried would probably give anything to be in your positon right now, and complaining about it can be insensitive.
Do tell your friend if you are worried about upsetting them because you are pregnant or have children
If you are pregnant or have children, it’s okay to let your friend know you are worried about making them more upset. If you are announcing a pregnancy, do it sensitively and then give the friend time to process their emotions.
Don’t presume someone who has miscarried will hate all pregnant women or mothers
Some might find it difficult being around babies or pregnant friends, but a lot of women who have miscarried know how precious every baby is and will be really happy for you. Just follow your friend’s lead and acknowledge that while it might be hard for them, that doesn’t mean they’re not pleased for you.
Do ask the partner how they are
Partners of the woman who has miscarried often get forgotten about. The focus is on the pregnant woman, as she is the one going through it physically. Yet often their other halves are also grieving and going through all sorts of emotions, but feel they have to keep it all bottled up to be strong for the woman.
Don’t second guess their next pregnancy
Women who have miscarried are often likely to be anxious if they get pregnant again. They may worry about telling people in case it happens again. If you suspect a friend is pregnant following miscarriage, please don’t ask her, or make comments about her not drinking/eating certain foods. Let her tell you in her own time.
Do be sensitive about any subsequent pregnancies
It can be really difficult being pregnant after a miscarriage because you are scared it will happen again. People would excitedly talk about our baby like it was guaranteed but I worried throughout all three of my pregnancies that something could go wrong. A lot of mums-to-be have told me they felt the same after miscarriage – it can be a really anxious time.
If you would like information and support on miscarriage, visit www.miscarriageassociation.org.uk
You might also like this post: 11 reasons to think twice before asking someone when they’re planning on having another baby
Did you know Cardiff Mummy Says is on Facebook? Or you can tweet me on @cardiffmummy
Image credit: photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/39201728@N06/4584044267″>Light of truth…</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a>
Having had a similar experience of a missed miscarriage with my first pregnancy as well as an ectopic with my fourth, I was a little hesitant about reading this post. I always feel it is a minefield for people trying to support others through a challenging time that I wouldn’t want people to get more worried about saying ‘the wrong thing’ and then say nothing at all. However, I really liked the style and content of this post – I think your points are really helpful and I like the fact that you recognise how hard it is for people to find the right words. It is a gentle, supportive post that would help those suffering a loss as well as those trying to help them. xx
Thanks for your lovely comment Helena. You are right it is difficult for people to know what to say. I know I would have had no idea before it happened to me – I would have appreciated reading something like this back then, so it feels like the right thing to be able to raise some awareness. So sorry to hear of your miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy. xx
I also had a very similar experience in terms of missed miscarriage, mine had already naturally started to end so I home managed my MC, once I went back to work (who were fantastic about it, because of my work is had to tell all of them I was pregnant and it was the day after the last person was told) I realised I wasnt the only lady to have gone through this and they were very supportive BUT family weren’t, well my MIL, part of her was glad and although she longs for another baby she had no emotional support for us and really hurt us in her comments. Not many other people knew and that’s how we left it, including my FIL until much later on. We felt so alone, it stole the innocence of our relationship and I believe was the trigger for a very hard time between my husband and I that will never be fully mended. The next time I was pregnant the miscarriage took away something from that pregnancy and the next, it over complicated trying to conceive and it was my FIL I told first and I was so glad I did as he helped support us when MIL kicked off about us being pregnant. I try but I will never forgive her reactions.
I’m so sorry to hear what a tough time you had, but thank you for sharing it here. It is very difficult when people are not as supportive as you would have liked. Sounds like a very difficult experience with your mother-in-law. I can relate to your feelings of being pregnant again. I found myself not wanting to get excited in case it happened again. x
I think our relationship (me with MIL) will never be a successful one. We irritate each other too much xand times like this could have made it completely different x
This is a great post. I find it really difficult knowing what to say when people have miscarried, just like I do when people loose someone close to them as I do class it as the same type of thing. I tend to go down the route of just coming out and telling the person that I really don’t know what to say to make them feel any better but am there if they need me. It is shocking that people would actually say ‘at least you have another child’, some people really have no idea!
I wish this was around the first (or second, or third) time I had a miscarriage, so that I could email it to friends, share it with family and give it to my colleagues. I know, now, that supporting someone through a miscarriage can be very difficult, but at the time I just wished that people were more sensitive/knew what to say and what not to say. A colleague of mine told me: “at least you can now continue having fun trying!” and winked at me. I could have killed her…
Thank you for putting such a useful list together!
Oh, that’s such an insensitive thing to say. I wish I could have read something like this when it happened to me too… but I kind of feel maybe part of the reason it did happen to me is because I am in a position to raise awareness. That helps me think that even though my baby didn’t make it, he or she has had a positive impact on the world x
This is a great post and very comforting.I miscarried my second pregnancy.I had a new partner and we were so excited.However when the sonographer started the scan she frowned and dug a bit harder and I could tell something was definitely wrong when she turned the screen away.There was no baby,only an empty sac.My strongest memory of that day was driving home with my partner with tears running down his cheeks.The sight of this big strong man crying just did me in and I just didn’t know what to say.The worst thing that nearly everyone said to me at the time was “at least you can try again” and I just wanted to scream “I wanted this one though”.I was very lucky to go on and have 2 further healthy pregnancies but that awful time will always be there.xx
I’m so sorry to hear of your experience. It must have been very upsetting seeing your partner cry – although it’s good he expressed his emotions as I have friends whose partners just wouldn’t talk about it at all. I feel the same as you that it will always be there. I never take anything for granted. x
Thank you for your post on an issue that I’m sure many people feel very uneasy about. Your point that everybody handles it very differently, in the same way as grieving a death, is especially important. Therefore, whilst this is a helpful guide something that might be a ‘don’t’ in your list might be a ‘do’ for somebody else. After our first miscarriage the gynaecologist who performed my D&C told us ‘these things happen for a reason, this baby was probably not healthy and would not have survived’ helped me enormously to cope with making sense of the loss and see that this was probably the best outcome. Although nobody said it to us after our second miscarriage (having thankfully had a healthy child in between) remembering her words helped us again.
I do however fully agree that family and close friends, who are aware of the miscarriage, just acknowledging how you might feel when they announce their own pregnancies would go a long way. This was the hardest aspect of both miscarriages for me.
Thanks for your comment and I’m so sorry to hear of your miscarriages. I’m glad to hear the gynaecologist’s words gave you comfort. Sounds like she handled things very sensitively. I found it hard when friends announced pregnancies too, it was so bittersweet. Some were really sensitive telling me, but others not so much.
I’m so sorry that you went through this. I can only imagine what a sad time it is and how sensitive your feelings are. I really struggle knowing what the ‘right thing’ to say is. From my experience with some of my family and friends who have been through a miscarriage, I’ve found no couple is the same. Some take comfort in words others find upsetting and there’s no way to know until it’s too late. I’ve settled on expressing my sadness at their loss and wishing them strength. Xx
Yes, I know before my miscarriage I wouldn’t have had a clue what to say and as you say everyone is different. Wishing them strength is a lovely thing to say.
This is so sensitively written and heartfelt, I’m sure it’ll be a great help to a lot of people. You’re so strong in believing your miscarriage was meant to put you in a position to help others – what an amazing attitude.
One of the best posts about miscarriage I’ve read so far. This should be made into a leaflet & available at GP surgeries & ante-natal clinics for people to pick up & give to their loved ones & friends. Health professionals should take heed of this clear & concise list. Some of the worst things said to me when I miscarried were from the paramedic, my GP and the Sister in charge when i was taken into A&E. It took me a long time to forgive their bluntness & they were supposed to be caring for me…
It’s so sad that anyone has to go through this. I just cannot imagine it. It’s always difficult to know what to say when someone is bereaved, especially with a baby or child. I usually do not know what to say. So I say I have no words, that I am there if they need someone to listen to them and if it’s someone I know well we usually end with a hug. I’m sure it wasn’t easy to write this post but if it stops one person from saying the wrong thing then it was worth it. Thankyou.
This is an amazing article! Not just for the valuable advice but for also pointing out that years later the loss is still so real. Having a late miscarriage myself (20 wks) I’m in a similar position as yourself, eight years and three beautiful angels later this is still a very difficult topic for the public. So glad you are helping to bring it out of the shadows
Thank you so much for this post. It is so sensitively written. I am very grateful.
I have had two missed miscarriages in the last two years and my heart is completely broken. I have no one who has been able to understand and relate. The strangest thing that even some people who have had miscarriages have not been able to relate, especially if they have since been able to have children themselves. This makes me particularly sad. A friend who had one miscarriage and gone on to have two children told me things that I thought were very insensitive. Perhaps it is because she got pregnant straight away after her miscarriage and never experienced another one.
The pain, the dark and the loneliness can be overwhelming.