I will never forget how I felt the first time a friend told me she had a miscarriage. We worked together and were leaving the office to get coffee one day (about 12 years ago). Before we even reached the elevators she blurted out, “I had a miscarriage yesterday.” I just stood there speechless, staring at her with what must have been an extremely odd expression on my face. I was truly shocked. In my social circle we did not talk about things like that so openly.
I gathered my courage and attempted to summon up inspiring and helpful words but good lord, nothing came. I had no idea what to say to her!
We finally made it into the elevator and she kept talking which made me more at ease. SHE had to make ME feel more at ease.
When I returned to my desk, after what seemed like hours, I started to do research on miscarriage.
What I found shocked me. Fifteen to 20% of pregnancies in the U.S. result in miscarriage, which is defined as the loss of a fetus before the 20th week. But many women keep miscarriages secret due to the shame surrounding it.
Then, about nine years later, it happened to me.
The shame is real. My first experience with my own pregnancy loss occurred days after I took a pregnancy test.
One day I was pregnant and then one day, I was not. I felt sad, empty, deflated and, for whatever reason, filled with shame. I spoke a bit about it but the responses I heard were not what I wanted to hear and definitely not what I needed.
The one response that hurt the most was from a friend who said, “Oh you are not far along at all! You will totally get over it quickly.” Yeah, I didn’t.
A year later I suffered another loss. This time I was 26 weeks pregnant. The pain and shame I felt was like nothing I have ever experienced. I was lost and in a dark place. But this time I did not want to talk about it at all. I wanted to shut out the world. The problem was that I could not shut out the world. Everyone knew we were pregnant and I had to explain to everyone that I was not anymore. It changed me forever. I became fixated on reading blogs about grief and spirituality. I fell into a deep dark hole and feared that I would remain there for the rest of my life. At the time, I really believed that the only thing that kept me out of bed all day was caring for my 2-year-old son.
The people close to me had no idea how to talk to me, just as I didn’t know how to talk to my friend at work. Some just stopped talking to me all together as if it was too much for all of us. I would walk the hallways at work and my apartment building and see the looks of people who felt bad for me, but no one said a word! Yet the weird thing was that I totally understood how uncomfortable it was for them. I remember feeling so sad and awkward back when my friend shared her news with me. I knew the people in my life wanted the best for me and I knew that they were also hurting. My loss did not just happen to me. It happened to everyone around me (my husband, my son, my parents, and my friends), but we just could not or did not know how to talk about it.
It has been three years since my last miscarriage, and with a ton of therapy and deep spiritual work, I finally want to speak about it. I am ready to share my story of shame and pain and allow myself to be open and honest about what happened so I can help others.
Based on my experience, here are some ways to speak to a friend who has recently suffered a pregnancy loss:
1. Acknowledge that her pain is real. It does not matter if she lost a pregnancy at eight weeks or 30 weeks. It’s a real loss that needs to be acknowledged.
2. Ask how you can help. It may be as simple as dropping off a meal, or taking one of her children on a playdate. After my miscarriage, a few close friends would come over and take my son out for a few hours. It was a blessing to spend some time alone with my husband.
3. Try to back off and allow her space. Make it known that you are there whenever she wants to talk or to get out of the house. In my experience, most of the time, I had no interest in talking about my feelings with anyone other than my husband. But knowing that I had a group of people to call whenever I needed to was priceless.
4. Send flowers or a card.
5. Follow up. If you do not hear from her after a few weeks, send a short email or text to let her know you are thinking about her.
6. Help her find ways to remember. You can buy her a blank scrapbook so she can use it to record her thoughts, keep pictures, etc. In my experience, at the time, I know this was the last thing I wanted! I remember shoving the ultrasound pictures in the back of my nightstand drawers. But some people process their feelings by writing or sketching, so this could be helpful to some.
7. Listen. Be there for her and just listen.