What to say (and not say) when someone miscarries
Since my husband and I have been very public about our experience with miscarriage, we're often asked by people, “What should I say to someone who's had a miscarriage?” Based on our experience, here are 5 things we recommend you avoid saying and 7 things we found very helpful to hear.
What NOT to say when someone has a miscarriage:
1. “There must have been something wrong with the fetus. It's better this way.” While it's true that sometimes the body will miscarry a fetus that's not viable, to someone walking through the grief of miscarriage, hearing that isn't helpful. In the throws of grief, you simply want the child you've lost.
2. “God has a plan.” I am a Christian. In fact, I'm a youth pastor. Even so, in the days following my miscarriage, I didn't want to hear Romans 8:28 or any variation of “God has a plan.” Anytime someone said that to me, I wanted to scream, “If God is so loving, then why wouldn't his plan for me have included this child?”
3. “You can always try again.” For some people, that's true. For some, it isn't. What's more, the point isn't that you can try again. The point is that you lost a child. The pain of miscarriage is real and those who are experiencing it need time to grieve before they can even begin thinking about trying for another child.
4. “My friend so and so had a miscarriage; The next year they had a healthy baby.” I know that stories like these are meant to give hope to someone who's grieving deeply. But the reality is that when you're in the midst of miscarriage, you don't know what's going to happen next. This is especially true for women who have had multiple miscarriages. Sure, you hope you'll go on to have a healthy baby. But you also understand – far better than the person telling you the story usually does – that a pregnancy doesn't necessarily result in a baby; That your desire to have a baby may not actually translate into one.
5. “What caused your miscarriage?” As humans, we want desperately to answer the question, “Why?” Even so, as much as we know about pregnancies, there's still so much we don't know. After miscarrying, my doctor told me that 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage. Most of the time, doctors don't know why. So despite people's best intention in asking this question, whenever I got it, what I actually heard was, “What did you do wrong?” Although my doctor reassured me over and over again that I did nothing wrong, for months after I miscarried, I second guessed everything I'd done during my very brief pregnancy. Take it from me: Women who miscarry already feel guilty; They already feel like their body is broken and unable to do the very thing it was created to do. They don't need more guilt (however unintentional) from anyone else.
What to say when someone miscarries:
6. “I'm sorry.” You can't go wrong with this one. Honestly. The first words my mom uttered to me after she found out about my miscarriage were, “I'm so sorry, Jen.” Upon hearing them, I wept. Her words gave me permission to grieve while at the same time reassuring me that she was there with me.
7. “This sucks.” These two words are simple and to the point. What's more, these words acknowledge that the pain a person is feeling is real – even if you don't understand that pain. As with “I'm sorry”, “This sucks” also gives people much-needed permission to grieve.
8. Stories of unresolved miscarriage. While it wasn't helpful to me to hear about people who'd had miscarriages and then went onto have other children, it was extremely helpful to hear and read stories (Like this one from Anna Rendell or this one from Adriel Booker) from people currently experiencing the pain of miscarriage. Those stories normalized my experience. They reassured me that I wasn't alone and that even though the experience sucked, I would somehow survive it.
9. “You didn't do anything wrong.” I can't tell you how many times my husband and close friends told me this after I miscarried. I needed to hear it again and again before I actually started to believe it.
10. “You are loved.” Following my miscarriage, I questioned my worth. I wondered, “Was I still a woman even if my body couldn't do the thing it was made to do?” Hearing people tell me that I was loved reminded me that even if I never had a biological child, I was still enough.
11. “I'm here for you.” Miscarriage is such an awful loss. But despite the physical pain that accompanies miscarriage, so many people don't view it as a real loss. Knowing this, initially I had a hard time talking about my experience with people because I never knew how they would react. One of the most comforting things to hear from people was, “I'm here for you.” It was even more comforting when those words were supported by actions – cards, flowers, meals, and the gift of people's presence. The Sunday after I miscarried, friends brought us dinner, alcoholic beverages, and played Settlers of Catan with us – a tangible reminder that they were indeed there for us. What's more, these same friends kept reassuring us of that – not just in those initial days, but in the weeks and months after that as we continued to grieve.
12. “You're in my prayers.” When I heard these words from people I knew were actually praying for me, I was deeply comforted. It was even more comforting to hear how people were praying for me. “Today, I prayed for peace for you.” “This morning, I prayed that you'd be able to get out of bed, go for a walk, and find one thing to smile about.” Knowing that people were consistently praying for me kept me from feeling isolated. So often, I felt like it was the prayers of others that were carrying me during the days and weeks immediately following my miscarriage.
I readily acknowledge that people grieve differently. However, since sharing our story, my husband and I have been privileged to hear dozens of other stories of miscarriage. Our experience mirrors what others have said about what's been helpful to hear and what hasn't.
The other common thread I've noticed in hearing people's miscarriage stories is this: It's always better to say something to acknowledge a person's loss. People often told me they were afraid to bring up my miscarriage because they didn't want to remind me of it. But trust me, you aren't reminding a person who's miscarried of their pain. They're already thinking about it; They're already in pain. Saying something (or even asking about their experience) simply gives them a chance to talk openly about it if they want to. Even if people choose NOT to talk about their experience, just having the chance to talk about it validates their loss – something that somehow makes it a tiny bit more bearable and eventually may even bring about healing.
So, in the face of miscarriage, choose your words carefully but please, say something. Your words could very well be a lifeline for someone who desperately needs one.