Helping Your Loved One Through Loss
The loss of a child is a trauma that no one should have to go through. This loss is uniquely experienced after a miscarriage when a mama was not able to meet her baby earthside at all or for very long. As an outsider to the pregnancy, you may find it difficult to know how to react. Whether or not the pregnancy "felt" like a baby to you, it probably did to your friend. With that in mind, let's look at a how to support someone through miscarriage.
Validate the mother’s experience.
Many women experience miscarriage differently. Sometimes the scientific literature surrounding pregnancy can make a mother feel that her sense of loss is being minimized. Regardless of views, both parents’ emotional experience should be prioritized.
A sense of hurried grief can be amplified with a miscarriage
because others cannot sense the loss as intimately as the mother.
Now is not the time for facts, information, or trite comforts (“you can always try again”). A very early miscarriage at any point within or after the first trimester could be perceived the same by different women. Love rarely has logic and it is biologically in the child’s best interest for a mother to bond early. That’s the main fact to keep in mind as you let your friend or partner know that what she is feeling is real, it is painful, and you are there to support her grieving process however it manifests.
In her world, she is a mama with empty arms. She knew her baby, felt her baby’s effects on her body. This is real. So hear her pain and sit with it. It will be uncomfortable for you to see and hear but oftentimes the best comfort is simply being there. It may seem overly simple; on the other hand, it can be so hard to see the someone you love going through so much pain. Don’t check out. Tune in. Hold her, sit with her, let her cry whenever she feels like it. If she is having a good day, support that as well. Nothing quite says you care like staying present to her pain and experience.
Help out in a real way.
No matter the grieving process, there is almost always a way that you can show up to make her life easier. A miscarriage is not only emotionally draining, but physically draining as well. It is unlikely that she is going to have the energy to maintain day-to-day obligations. Don’t discount the incredible blessing it can be to have practical support such as:
- bring meals, groceries, snacks
- offer transportation and a warm hand during a follow-up doctor visit
- get out of the house on a coffee date
- weed the garden
- mow the yard
- walk the dogs
- run a load of laundry
- clean the kitchen
- babysit other children
Respect the boundaries of your relationship, of course, but consider how you can take something off of her plate (and do it in such a way that it doesn’t require more effort from her!). If she has other children, taking them out for a few hours (or days!) can give mama space to grieve without editing her emotions for her children. These kinds of gestures mean the world to those who are experiencing a loss.
Listen to her fears.
Fears may be immediately apparent and articulated or they may be more subtle and take longer to manifest. If you and mama are having a conversation, listen to her anxieties. It may be helpful to offer that most women have successful pregnancies after a miscarriage. She might be afraid that she lost her pregnancy because of something she did; remind yourself and her that even doing everything right may not make any difference. She needs to know that her fears are okay and valid but don’t encourage them to run wild.
This is possibly the most important piece of supporting someone through a loss of any kind. We often feel as if there is a statute of limitations on our grief and feel that we cannot let others know that the pain is still there or can still be triggered. This can be amplified with a miscarriage because others cannot sense the loss as intimately as the mother. For a close friend who you know felt extremely connected to their unborn child, checking in with them on the due date and on the anniversary of their loss could help them continue to find closure. Whether it’s a gift, card, or even a sensitive text message, your thoughtfulness creates space for her experience.
A note to partners experiencing miscarriage:
There is no right or wrong way for you to experience this loss. Some partners are devastated by the loss and others are able to release it because they had not quite made a connection with the unborn child yet. You should grieve in whatever way seems appropriate to you. Do try to show the emotional impact of the event to your partner as it can provide much-needed validation for her own experience. If you are not dealing with much grief, stay sensitive to her needs and feelings. Avoid dismissing her experience with ideas that my seem hopeful like, “We can always try again” or “It was still early.” More than likely, she knows these things already and is looking instead for someone to hear that her now baby is what is missing from her life. If the two of you feel your relationship is suffering dramatically, it may be a good idea to seek out therapeutic support. Loss is tough on a relationship but it does not have to dissolve your connection.
Tell us… In what ways have you supported someone through loss or felt supported? Did we miss anything?
About Jennine Estes, MFT
Think of me as your relationship consultant, I'm your neutral third party that can help you untangle the emotions and help you figure out what's really going on. I am a Marriage and Family Therapist in San Diego, CA. Certified in Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples. Supervisor. I write relationship and self growth advice for my column Relationships in the Raw. Creator of #BeingLOVEDIs campaign. MFC#47653