What to Say When She’s Not Expecting

In the past few weeks, I’ve had several friends and family members bring up the subject of miscarriage. Sadly I seem to be the resident know-it-all on pregnancy loss in our family because of my own experiences with miscarriage and infertility.  Over the years I’ve also had many people ask me what to say to someone who has suffered the loss of a pregnancy.  It can be an awkward time for the couple who are grieving the loss of a child and awkward for those who want to do something but don’t know what to say or do.  This recent post about miscarriage made me think that other’s might need a some guidance in this area.

 The loss of a child is perhaps one of the single most devastating and sad experiences a family can go thru. In the same vein, when a couple looses a pregnancy similar feelings of sadness and loss are present. Unlike the loss of a child, when a couple experience a miscarriage there are no formal rituals of mourning, no graveside to visit and no pictures by which to remember this child. Many times this couple goes home from the hospital or the doctor’s office with empty arms and a lot of unanswered questions.

 After my first miscarriage I wanted someone to talk to, someone to tell me everything was going to be ok, and that eventually I would get off the topsy-turvy roller coaster of emotions I was on. I had no idea what was going to happen to me, if I was going to be able to become pregnant again or even if I wanted to be pregnant again. I felt very alone, very scared and very angry that this was happening to me.

 Here are some of the things that helped me during those dark days, and some things that I wished I would have had to get me thru: 

  • Offer your condolences sincerely. There is no need to make flowery speeches and use meaningless clichés. Speak from the heart; let this sister know you are sorry for her loss. An important point I would also like to make is, say something.   Silence from friends and relations during this time can be just as damaging and saddening as the miscarriage itself. If you don’t know what to say, just say you’re sorry for her loss. That means more than you know.
  • Avoid comparing her experience or experiences to those of others you know.  This minimizes her grief and her experience. Her loss is her own, treat it as such.
  • Ask her how she is, but let her answer in any way that she feels comfortable.  Some women will want to talk and share all the details, some will not. Respect that, and give her the space she needs. I would also like to point out that if you have suffered a miscarriage, you are within your rights to politely tell people when something is none of their business or you would rather not talk about it. Do not feel like you have to share your medical history, trauma or drama with anyone other than your husband.
  • LISTEN! I cannot say it more simply than that. Listen to what she has to say if she feels like talking. Be the kind of friend you would like to have in a crisis.
  • Never break a confidence. If she has asked that you not mention her miscarriage to anyone else, don’t. If you feel you need to share this news with the Relief Society President, then ask her permission. The last thing a woman who has lost her pregnancy needs is to become the grist for the ward rumor/gossip mill.
  • Never, never, never, never give unsolicited advice, never. An in-box full of “medical studies” and snake-oil cures is not what any woman needs. The only medical advice that should be given and taken is from qualified medical professionals with whom she has an established relationship. If you have gone thru a miscarriage, you know what this sister is feeling and experiencing. Again, help by listening, by observing and by being the kind of friend you would like to have.
  • Realize that everyone grieves differently. Some women are able to come to terms with their loss quickly and can move on. For others it might take a while. With this said, however, it is not wise to let grief become consuming. Know that each day gets better, the harshness of this loss will wane and life will feel normal again. If you observe hopelessness, severe depression, post-partum depression, or an inability to function, encourage her to seek professional help. I had no idea that I would experience post-partum depression without actually having a baby. My sister finally said something to me, and I was able to get some help.
  • Don’t expect the sister who has miscarried to want to attend baby-showers, see new babies or participate in things where “baby-dust” is present. I had my second miscarriage the day my friend had a baby. When she asked when I was coming to see her, I just said I couldn’t right then. Holidays like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Christmas, the baby’s due date or would-be birthday might also be hard. Treat these days with care, invite her, but understand if this sister chooses not to participate or would like to be excused, this includes family functions as well, she should be. 
  • Follow the spirit. If you feel prompted to, call, stop in and visit or send a card, just do it! There were days when I longed for a true friend, for someone to talk to, but I felt I had no one. How much better off I would have been, had I known I could rely on someone.
  • Don’t forget about your sister, your friend, you cousin or the sister in your ward who has had a miscarriage. The body heals quickly, but sometimes the spirit and heart take longer. In the months that follow a miscarriage, remember to continue to reach out, to care and to show compassion. Be that friend you would like to have.
  • Never ask, “When are you going to try again?” or “Are you pregnant again?” or similar questions. The sister who has miscarried might still be grieving, might be going thru medical tests or just might not want to try again so soon after a loss. Questions regarding family building are personal and private, if the couple wants you to know, they will let you know, otherwise, it’s none of your business.
  • In the end remember the admonition of Alma and our commission as saints to “mourn with those that mourn, and comfort those who stand in need of comfort” (See Mosiah 18: 9). Let that sister know she can count on you to be a listening ear, a friend she can trust, and someone she can rely on to help her thru her loss.

12 thoughts on “What to Say When She’s Not Expecting

  1. Very good advice. I can tell you from personal experience that a relatively early miscarriage is a different experience than a later miscarriage, at least for my wife and I, who have suffered several miscarriages

  2. Thank you Joyce, your advice helps are good for any grieving situation. I did not have a miscarriage, but a early stillborn. I could not hold a baby for over a year. When I did, I shed a few silent tears. A good source of comfort to me, was a book I picked up at Deseret Book entitled ‘Gone to Soon: The Life and Loss of Infants and Unborn Children’ by Sherri Devsashrayee Wittwer

  3. What a beautiful post. I’d just add that I spent some time researching miscarriages and that there is really nothing the mother can do to prevent one in pretty much all cases. Miscarriages just happen. Pass the message around. There was a billboard in my city with some fuzzy message about preventing miscarriages and, well, it made me angry because of the implication that a miscarriage is the woman’s fault. It just isn’t. It isn’t, it isn’t, it isn’t. That’s all.

  4. Thanks for all your comments.

    I’d like to point out too, that part of the discussion on the MMB post was that many times women who have miscarriages suffer alone, and that shouldn’t happen. I wrote this, actually three years ago, when we were still trying to have our son, in the hopes that some one might be inspired to do the right thing. I never really found the support I wanted during my trials, so I made a commitment to seek out others and give them the support I so desperately wanted. My hope in reposting this here is that someone who is suffering will know she is not alone.

    Joanna, I have that book you suggested. In fact, I just passed it, along with all of my other books on fertility issues, on to a family member who was going thru a miscarriage, with the instruction that when she feels she is done with the books, she is to find some one that needs them and pass the books on to that sister with the instruction to keep passing my books on.

    Another great book for couples dealing with general fertility issues as well as miscarrariage is “Fertile in our Faith” by Krista Oaks,( you can get it at Deseret Book online). Sister Oaks also runs a great support group from her website http://www.2ofus4now.org . I was a memember of the support group for a few years, and the support and help I received from the people in the group was incredible.

  5. thank you for this great post. I too, have walked that road alone. I have felt abandonned (I guess I have been too) by most people, and have discovered that very few people have the heart to mourn with those that mourn. To this day I dont think I have had support. I lost my little girl of cancer 2 years ago. 9 months later i got pregnant and had a miscarriage at 13 weeks. Pretty close to the date of Audrey s passing. I have one little girl left. She almost 9. So I ve pretty much been infertile for 8 years. Unfortuately I believe when these circumstances are gathered into one life, and people feel the need to say critical comments and even worse, to have absolutely no consideration for the existence of these trials, another kind of grief takes over. As much as I have found the peace i needed to accpet my beloved daughter s death, I hurt because I feel that friends did not care, family acted as if nothing happened, people have been nosy and gossipy instead of supportive. I too, knowing what is so desperately needed in times like that, I have decided that I would do my very best to show the love and empathy others will need. thank you again, I needed to feel a little less lonely.

  6. Lucie- Thank you for telling about your experience. I am so sorry for your deep losses. I think we LDS are often unprepared to deal with grief (ours and others). Some individuals misunderstand despite the solace in knowing, we will see our loved one again; the intense grief and pain is still there. We grieve for the loss of the future. It is not just that particular young person we miss , it is for life experience that will never be, such as grandchildren that we will not have; other experiences such as weddings, missions they will never have WITH US, while in the earthy flesh.

    The gospel of course, does not teach absences of trials means “more righteous”. Somehow some have attributed the absence of trials to be an example of God’s love for us/others. We are all visited with loss, thru death, at some point of our lives. Unless we suddenly die at a young age, all will go thru the “valley of the shadow of death”. Some people experience a multitude of losses as a younger adult. This does not mean they are less righteous than others who do not experience loss until later on in life. We need to learn how to “mourn with those that mourn”. This concept is an important part of our earthly mission. In learning how to grieve properly, we can help not only ourselves, but others. Perhaps we LDS, need the structure the Jews have in mourning; or showing empathy is part of the higher law of “love God and others”. If we understand how to love others; we would instinctively understand to mourn with others is our charitable duty.

    May God bless and comfort you among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

    We will not understand why until the next life. ALl we can do it just like what you have said show love understanding for other’s grief.
    God Bless you

  7. Lucie, I am very sorry for your daughter’s passing. And for the loss of the pregnancy after. I can’t even imagine the depths you’ve been in. You have all my sympathy and if I were near, a big hug too. 🙂

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