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Ten Dos and Don’ts for Helping a Couple Through a Miscarriage

When we went through our miscarriage last year I felt like many people wanted to help but were unsure of what to do or say. Since miscarriage is surprisingly common, and chances are it will happen to someone else you know, I decided to write the guide that I wish had been available for people then. What I really hope is that no one ever needs to use this guide, but if you do, I hope our experience can at least provide some comfort for others.

DO acknowledge their loss

One of the hardest parts of miscarriage is the silence that surrounds it. I’m sure that most people are afraid of saying the wrong thing, so instead they say nothing at all. Sadly, the silence can make couples going through a miscarriage feel like their grief is not worthy of acknowledgement. No matter how awkward you may feel, I guarantee they will appreciate any kind words from you.

If the thought of saying something in person is too intimidating, send a text or personal message. It will mean just as much to them. If you can’t think of anything to say, you can find sympathy cards wherever greeting cards are sold. You can also order cards especially for miscarriage here. (Warning-while most are completely uncontroversial, one card does capture the anger of miscarriage with profanity.) Don’t think you need to come up with anything especially profound, though. One of my favorite acknowledgements came from my endocrinologist, who simply said “I’m so sorry about the baby.”

DON’T assume you know the cause

The overwhelming majority of miscarriages are caused by chromosomal abnormalities. They’re nobody’s fault, and nothing could have prevented them. However, even when confronted with these facts, most women are going to have a hard time not blaming themselves. Nothing makes this harder than when someone incorrectly assumes they know the cause of someone’s miscarriage.

A few people have assumed that my type 1 diabetes caused mine. I understand why they might think so. Uncontrolled type 1 diabetes can lead to miscarriage, but the key word is uncontrolled. I worked extremely hard to maintain the best control I could possibly have during my pregnancy, and my endocrinologist has assured me that in no way did my type 1 diabetes contribute to my miscarriage. Even so, when someone assumes that it did, I have a hard time not blaming myself.

When something bad happens, people want a reason why. It helps them make sense of the tragedy while also distancing themselves from it. Bad luck can happen to anyone, but a miscarriage caused by a chronic disease? That only happens to other people. The hard truth is, there is no reason why for most miscarriages. Please, don’t try to make sense of them by assuming anything about the mother. You might make yourself feel better, but you’ll only make her feel worse.

DO send food

We send food for births, and we send food for deaths, but, oddly, when the two events are combined, we send nothing. The first week after an ultrasound indicated that my pregnancy was not viable was the strangest week of my life. I still had pregnancy hormones that were increasing, so physically I felt sicker, and emotionally I was a wreck. I did not want to even think about raw food, let alone prepare it. I actually deleted the recipe I planned on making that first night from my Pinterest board because I was never able to look at it again without feeling sick. My husband took over cooking dinner that week, which was the best thing he could have done.

In the two days following my D&C, I could barely sit up, so cooking was definitely out of the question. When I returned to work, just getting through the workday required all my energy. My mom sent us casseroles that entire week, for which I’m still grateful. Not everyone has family members willing or able to cook for them, though. If you can send a couple a casserole, you have no idea how much you will be helping them. If you don’t cook, consider a restaurant gift certificate. Just $10 for a fast food restaurant will make their lives easier.

DON’T pressure them into attending events

Miscarriages are physically and emotionally grueling. You might think that attending an event will help the couple get their minds off things, but it likely will require energy that they just don’t have. Pretending that everything is okay for a few hours might be too much to ask of them at the moment. If small children will be in attendance, you might even cause them more pain. Unless you can guarantee that no insensitive comments will be made (which you can’t), don’t make them feel obligated to attend any events. Instead, simply say “We’d love for you to attend, but we understand if you’re not up to it yet.”

DO send flowers

If you’re looking for a tangible way to acknowledge their loss, flowers are a lovely choice. My husband’s co-workers had flowers delivered to our house the day after my D&C, and my co-workers had flowers waiting for me at my desk the day I returned to work. The flowers brightened what were otherwise very difficult days. Not only did they let me know others were thinking of me, but they also provided me with something beautiful to look at during a time when the world seemed very harsh.

DON’T complain about your children

They don’t expect to be treated with kid gloves forever, but at least for a few months try to be sensitive to their situation. They would love to be commiserating with you about sleepless nights and tired arms, and hopefully one day they will be, but until then these conversations only remind them of what they lost. Even now, when someone complains to me about how hard parenthood can be, I can’t help but think “At least your child is alive.”

DO share your own story

If you’ve had a miscarriage and you feel comfortable discussing it, sharing your story can be one of the most reassuring things you can do for a couple who has just experienced one. In the last few months I’ve learned that many of our friends whom I thought had “perfect” lives actually had miscarriages, too. Ironically, until I found out about their own experiences, I constantly compared myself to them and wondered why my life couldn’t be more like theirs. All of them have living children now, so in addition to making us feel less alone, their stories also gave us hope for the future.

DON’T say “when you have kids”

Just because their baby died doesn’t mean it never existed. It was real, it was loved, and it was their child. I want to scream “But I do have one!” every time someone says this to me. The only phrase I’ve found to be even more insensitive? “If you ever have kids.”

DO remember that they are still grieving

Five months and a new pregnancy later, I’m still waiting to feel like myself again. It took three months just to make it through the day without feeling like crying, and that’s coming from someone who hates to cry. It’s hard not to think about what our lives would be like now if we were still expecting our summer baby. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day have taken on new meanings, as has the month of June, when our first was due. Each couple is going to have their own hard days to overcome, and those days may be further away than you think. Unfortunately, just because time passes does not mean the pain of miscarriage is gone.

DON’T think that a new baby replaces the one they lost

Pregnancy after miscarriage is complicated. Being happy about the new baby can cause guilt for not being sad about the first, and being sad about the first can cause guilt for not being happy about the new baby. Despite their happiness, a new baby does not mean that a couple is not still grieving for the one they lost. While a new pregnancy may help, it’s not the new baby’s job to help a couple overcome any grief. A new baby is its own person, and it is solely wanted for itself.

After we announced our second pregnancy, one of our friends wrote that she thought our first baby probably helped God handpick its sibling. I’ve remembered her words often throughout the last few weeks as I’ve juggled the happiness and sadness of pregnancy after miscarriage. Here, in a world in which they will never know each other, I find great comfort in the idea that both of our children were once together in the presence of God, happily fulfilling the roles that He always meant for them to play.

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