It’s a sad fact of life that miscarriage, defined by the NHS as the loss of a pregnancy during the first 23 weeks, is quite a common occurrence. They estimate that around one in eight pregnancies end in miscarriage. This is among women who know that they are pregnant; many more happen before a woman is even aware she is pregnant. Obviously in the light of these figures, it’s fairly likely that this will happen to someone in your family or circle of friends and colleagues.
When a friend has had a miscarriage, it can be difficult to know how to support her, but the sensitive support and advice of friends can really help to comfort someone suffering this loss. Conversely, thoughtless remarks can cause lasting pain. Here are some tips for offering a friend advice after miscarriage, to help you understand which responses can help to ease the pain, and what to avoid.
How to support your friend after miscarriage: Five Tips
- Recognise the loss
Recognising the pain that your friend is suffering is paramount. Almost the worst thing you could do is to say nothing, even if you don’t know what to say. Try starting with a simple, ‘I’m sorry’. Many women and their partners feel a genuine connection with their unborn child, and the loss is every bit as much of a bereavement as any other. Finding the appropriate words can be difficult, but many women feel that acknowledgement of their loss, rather than brushing over it, is all the comfort they need.
- Be prepared to listen
As well as offering advice after a miscarriage, be prepared, at least at the beginning, to take a step back and just listen. Let your friend know that you understand the need to talk about it. Sometimes women and their partners feel the need to go over what has happened more than once. This tendency towards repetition is part of the grieving process and can’t be hurried. Be patient, be kind, and just listen.
- Accept negative emotions
After a miscarriage, some women can feel resentful, guilty and angry. These are also part of the natural response to bereavement, and even though it can make offering patient support more difficult, if you can remain calm and sympathetic even in the face of heightened emotions, you’re being supportive. You can reassure your friend that her reactions are normal and necessary, but don’t use this as an avenue to try to suppress her expression.
- Offer simple acts of kindness
A bunch of flowers, a box of chocolates, or the delivery of a pre-prepared meal: any of these can help to show your sympathy. Don’t forget that there are often two parents involved, too. Your friend’s partner could feel that their role is to support, and that they have to ignore their own grief and loss. A hug and a sympathetic enquiry about how they are doing could go a long way.
- Offer practical help
Bereavement may not be an illness, but it can look like one. People often experience loss of appetite, trouble sleeping, and a high level of stress. Offering practical help around the house or with picking up shopping or any caring duties could all help to alleviate your friend’s pain.
What to avoid after miscarriage: Five More Tips
- Banish the words ‘At least’ from your vocabulary
Sometimes not knowing what to say can lead to thoughtless words of ‘comfort’. Any sentence that begins with the words ‘at least’ will probably turn out to be unhelpful. For example:
‘At least you know you can get pregnant.’
‘At least there’s plenty of time, there’s always next time.’
‘At least it was early so it wasn’t really a baby yet.’
‘At least you have other children.’
All of these have the ring of the ‘Cheer up, it could be worse!’ style of sympathy, which is not comforting at all. It can feel to the sufferer as though you are belittling their loss and grief, rather than recognising it.
- Avoiding empty platitudes
Very much in the same vein as the ‘At least…’ approach to support and sympathy, it’s probably best to avoid platitudes altogether. Remarks such as ‘Perhaps it wasn’t meant to be’ or ‘Maybe it was for the best’ or even an attempt at humour such as ‘Think of all those sleepless nights you’ve been saved’ will not feel at all friendly to someone in need of sympathy.
- Don’t turn up unannounced
Even if you are very close with your friend, you should probably check before dropping in. Sometimes after a shock to the system people need to be left alone, but, equally, don’t fall into the trap of non-communication. An email or a phone call to check if she’s OK, and up for a visit, would be thoughtful.
- Be sensitive to the presence of babies and children
It may be that your friend is relaxed about being around other pregnant women or women with small children, or it could be that it is too painful just at the moment. See how she feels before suggesting a stroll to the park or bringing your own children to visit. The same goes for sharing news of a pregnancy: of course, in this situation you can’t keep it secret forever, but make sure to be sensitive when announcing your news.
- Avoid unsolicited advice after a miscarriage
You may be brimming with ideas for practical help and what needs to be done, but it’s not the right time for unsolicited advice to take the place of sympathy. When your friend is ready to seek help, she will let you know. Then, and only then, you could suggest a counselling service such as the one available from the Miscarriage Association. At IVI, we also offer our own psychological support service. If, when the time is right, you want to help your friend get in touch with IVI to find out about the help available, you know where we are.