“I think I had enough support as I was surrounded by friends and family who all helped me through. However, I think that many women feel ashamed or inadequate if they have a miscarriage. They see it as a failing of their body and don't want to tell anyone. Because of this they don't receive the support that is available to them by those they love.” — April
Unlike April’s experience, many women and their partners silently suffer through the pain of miscarriage and loss.
Perhaps this is because they don’t have much support around them, or maybe the people who are around them are unable to support the grieving couple in the way they need.
Unfortunately, a well known miscarriage and loss support organisation, Bonnie Babes, was forced to close its doors in 2011, due to a lack of funding. This further reduced the vital support services available to families.
So now, more than ever, it's important to find out what we can do as friends and family, to best support those who have experienced a miscarriage. Here's what you need to know about how to support someone after a miscarriage or loss.
How To Support Someone After A Miscarriage Or Loss
The remainder of this article contains a collection of quotes, because I am not an expert on loss. However, the women I interviewed who have experienced loss are experts in what they needed.
I hope in the unfortunate situation where someone you know has experienced a miscarriage, this article can help you to get a good grasp on what really helps parents of loss… and what doesn’t.
Also, be sure to read our article on what not to say to someone who has had a miscarriage – because sometimes when we say things thinking they are helpful, it doesn’t work well with grief and may have the opposite effect. It’s not your fault – its hard to know what to say.
As one mother told me, “No one talks about miscarriage, no one wants to talk about miscarriage. It's horrible.”
It's a very tricky and distressing topic, especially when it happens unexpectedly, and you have no idea what to do or say in that moment. But it's wonderful that you are here and reading this article. Your support is a great gift to anyone who is going through a great deal of personal pain and grief.
Always keep in mind that there is nothing you can do or say that is absolutely perfect, so don't make yourself anxious or stressed. Nothing will ever take away the pain and grief of a miscarriage. But, you can be a great source of help, comfort and support along the way – which is the most important thing you could do.
“I spent a lot of time with my sisters and the women in my life and talked openly about what had happened and what i was feeling at the time. I also had a lot of support from my partner, and felt I was able to feel my emotions without having to put on a brave face from anyone. We had told everyone that I was pregnant, so our friends were very understanding and meant that we didn't have to explain why I was so down at the time.” — anonymous
What Do Parents Suffering From Loss Need?
Every woman and her partner is different, and will appreciate different (but similar) things. Some parents feel the need to debrief and talk through their grief — some a little, and some a great deal. However, others like Donna felt different.
She shared, “I didn't want to talk about it, honestly words couldn't express how I was feeling”.
Actions can be far more effective than forcing them to open up. Just saying and doing supportive things so she can hear you, but not feel any pressure to talk about it if she doesn’t want to.
What Grieving Parents Need
In order to give you an idea of the varying needs of a parent after miscarriage or loss, I asked those I interviewed to share what they would like others to know about how to support them. I also asked for any advice they could give to those supporting grieving parents. This is what they shared:
“Be there for them. Ask them how they are feeling, regularly. Don't forget what has happened. Just because they have a child, doesn't mean they don't regularly think about the one's that left them. And know that they will most likely be a wreck up until the due date and even at the time of year where their child would have been celebrating a birthday. These are valid feelings and should not be dismissed.” — anon
“It's not about saying the right or wrong thing it's about caring. You can tell when someone really cares and that means a lot. If you really feel empathy you will help them. If you feel awkward, or don't want to deal with their pain, they will be able to tell and it will hurt. The best way to help someone who is suffering is to listen to them – ask how they are feeling and really want to hear their answers. There is simply NO NEED to offer advice.” — Heidi
“Allow them to feel upset and mourn the loss of their child. Acknowledge the approximate birth day when it comes, help them through the anniversary. Be there as a listening ear, feel the emotions with them.”- anon
“Don't ignore the fathers. My husband turned around a couple of years after the first 2 miscarriages and mentioned that no one had ever asked how HE was. He felt like he wasn't allowed to grieve and he had to be strong for me and couldn't fall apart like he wanted to! I didn't realise at the time but he was hurting just as much as me.” — Kirsten
“Listen when they are ready to talk. Let them know you are there for them, but let them come to you. Hold them, if that works for them. Try not to let them bottle it up for too long. If they are not talking to you about it, make sure they do eventually talk to someone. Be wary of grief. Time did eventually move on for me and I went on living my life. However, one day I suddenly started crying and barely stopped for almost a week. I kept asking myself why I was crying, and crying so hard at that. It felt like I was grieving. Then I realised that it was the week that my first baby would have been born. I read later that it is very common for grief to resurface during this time, even if you weren't “keeping track” of it. This happened despite the fact that I was pregnant again.” — Jessie
“Give them space to deal with their grief, but let them know you are there if they want to talk/need you. Cooking some meals so they don't have to worry about cooking for their other kids is a huge help. Or throw in a load of washing if you are visiting. Go over to their house and say, “I'm here to just chill with you for the day” – watch some dumb comedy movie and just be with them. Not so much as to talk, but just be there. My Husband (bless him) hired some pathetic comedy and left me to watch it while he took the kids out. It so was not funny AT ALL, but it did make me smile once or twice and relax my tense muscles.” — Donna
“Be gentle with them, help them rest and take care of themselves. Don't try to make light of the situation, it's a death.” — Jessica
“It was suggested we should do things to farewell our babies – write a letter, light a candle, do a ceremony etc, and that helped to bring some closure and also acknowledge that little soul who came so briefly into our lives. It was helpful when people simply acknowledged the loss and that I was having a very hard time, without trying to make it be OK. It made me feel less alone and more understood. I was encouraged to have time with my feelings and that helped. I received a card from a friend saying she was thinking of me and was sorry for my loss. That act of kindness meant a lot, and it also felt like an acknowledgement that I actually was experiencing a real loss.” — Emma
“The doctor I saw gave me a poem about miscarriages. I truly wish I knew where it was. It was AMAZING, very helpful. She told me to set up a ‘baby altar' in my home. Being Pagan, it was not hard for me to create this altar, but it was hard to create an altar for my dead baby that had not left my body. I truly thought I was ‘prepared' for this birth. I knew it was going to happen, I had time to adjust and understand that my baby was not alive. I knew before it was confirmed with ultrasound that he was not living. It did not matter though, I lost it when my body finally let go.” — anonymous
Three Most Helpful Things After A Miscarriage Or Loss
In order to help you work out the best things to do or focus on, I asked those I interviewed if they could share the top three things that were done or said for them which were the most helpful. Here's what they came up with.
1. A gift to remember our child.
2. A promise to not forget their estimated due date.
3. Just letting me talk and not telling me how I should be feeling, also acknowledging to me that there was a life even though it ended very early.
1. “Let yourself grieve/cry.” Its hard with first trimester miscarriage because a lot of people don't really acknowledge that it's a baby you have lost, and I know that sometimes I felt silly getting soo upset over it because of other people's perceptions.
2. People asking me how I felt about it (not many). Just talking about it helped to get the emotions out and not keep them bottled up.
3. Most helpful ” the couple of friends that had been through the same or similar thing saying “I understand”. I felt like no one understood but having someone who's been through it say that they get it, really helps and makes you feel less alone. That is where BellyBelly helped as well, women with similar stories that you can relate to.
1. My sister came straight away to spend the day with me.
2. The experience made the bond between my husband and I stronger.
3. Hearing about other women who'd had recurrent miscarriages but gone on to have children was comforting.
1. The most helpful would have been my husband just letting me cry and fall apart as necessary. At no point did he tell me to get over it.
2. Talking to other women helped a lot as well. Sharing stories with women who had been through it and knowing I was not alone was reassuring.
3. Hugs from my children reminded me of what I already had, but they also reminded me of what I had lost.
1. My mum got me a book called Small Miracles – Coping With Infertility, Miscarriage, Stillbirth and Premature Birth. One woman had 11 miscarriages and went on to have a successful pregnancy. It gave me hope.
2. The people who were there to listen when I was ready to talk, and waited until I was ready.
3. Just being held.
1. My family helping me with my son (who was about 15 months at the time).
2. Having my family and friends allow me to go through my emotions (I asked them to let me feel rather than continuously trying to tell me “its going to get better”, “it happens for a reason”, “you can always try again” etc).
3. Having a supportive partner who talked to me about how HE was feeling as well. It was a journey that we went on together. The most helpful thing I think was having everyone allow me to feel what I needed. That meant that I didn't try to bury my emotions or put on a brave face. It now allows me to look back and feel at peace rather than feeling like I wasn't able to deal with it at the time.
1. “The most helpful for me already having kids, was having them looked after so I could just “be”. I couldn't function for a few weeks afterwards, having 2 kids that needed to go to school and a toddler was overwhelming. My Husband and a couple of close friends took over childcare until I was able.
2. One of my friends visited a few days after the miscarriage, she didn't say anything, she just hugged me and let me cry. I'll never forget that. She hadn't been in my situation before, but she just knew that's what I needed.
3. Having someone else break the news to family & friends was the other. I told my Mother, but that was it. It was too hard. Mum let family know. Husband let his side of the family know. He also broke the news to our close friends, who passed it on to whoever needed to know.”
“The three things that where helpful to me where people listened, gave me feedback and gave me a hug. The most helpful thing was letting them hold me and letting me cry.”
What To Say to Support Parents
This can be one of the most difficult aspects of supporting someone who has lost a baby. So here are some suggestions for you to get some ideas on what words are most appreciated.
- “It’s ok to feel upset or angry – you are mourning the loss of your child. Take your time to come back to “the real world” – feel what you want as you want.”
- “I am here for you as long as you need and however you need. Please let me know what you need – I will help you in that way without question.”
- “I had a miscarriage too, although I don't know how YOU feel, I am more than happy to talk to you about how I felt if you think it might help – you aren’t alone.” (if you also have had a miscarriage)
- “It's not your fault. You did nothing wrong. This is not a reflection of you. You were, are, and always will be, perfect.”
- “Your baby was a life, it just ended too early. I will remember it's birthday”
- “What a horrible thing to go through, you must be devastated”
- “I'm here for you if you ever need to talk about it”
- “It must be hard for you seeing all these pregnant woman around”
- “I don't really understand what you're going through, but please help me to”
- “What you're feeling is completely normal, you are grieving the loss of your baby”
- “It will be many months/a long time before you feel better, but that's okay”
- Basically, anything that helps you to know that what you are feeling is ok, and not irrational.
As you may have noticed, most of these comments are validating their feelings. Seeing the world through the parent's eyes, and not relating it to any experience you have been through, nor making any judgments. Never compare your own experiences to the loss of their baby — simply put yourself in their shoes and speak from that place.
“I really can't think of anything that I would have liked to hear, maybe just a simple “I'm sorry”. I wish someone would have warned me that my milk would come in even after a 9 week loss, that seemed like a cruel joke of nature. I would have liked to talk to someone that had a miscarriage, just to know I wasn't alone.” — Jessica
Want To Provide Even More Support?
For those of you who are doulas, other birth workers or if you want to provide even more support for someone special, BellyBelly has a downloadable recording available for those who care for anyone who has been through a miscarriage or loss. Spoken by Heidi Faith from Stillbirth Day, she trains doulas in bereavement support for parents. If you want to go deeper, check out the recording here, you'll find it invaluable.
If you want to read the experiences and advice from other parents, the BellyBelly Forums has a very supportive miscarriage and loss section, where support is open to all.
Thankyou to all the women who shared their heartbreaking stories and experiences. Soon we’ll have an article on men's experiences with miscarriage too.