Tuesday, July 19, 2011

After a Miscarriage: Things NOT to say

Last week I promised some guidelines that will help you help a loved one work through their grief after a miscarriage. I'm going to start the list off with some things to avoid doing when your loved one is grieving the loss of her child. These things are easy to do, and are based on either false assumptions or thoughtlessness.

While these are gleaned from personal experience over the last month, I didn't necessarily experience the "negative" side. My friends and family were extremely supportive of me throughout this season, and I truly couldn't have asked anything more of them.

If you don't have time to read through the rest of this post, the gist of it can be had in one statement--remember that she just lost a REAL BABY and treat her accordingly. Most of the inconsiderate things people say would never have left their mouths if they had ever seen and held the baby themselves. Mama's bond with their babies much earlier than anyone else. As soon as a mama finds out she is pregnant she forms a bond of love with her child, a bond that doesn't just "go away" when she miscarries.

When your loved one has had a miscarriage DON'T:

1. Talk extensively about how the loss made YOU feel.

Just as a pregnancy announcement is greeted with joy amongst friends of the new mama, news of a miscarriage can be grieved by more than just the parents. The mama probably understands this, but at the same time she’s working through her own grief. It's important to her to know how you feel, but she may not have the emotional reserves to be told every little detail of your grief.

2. Tell her miscarriages are usually due to a genetic problem and her child wouldn’t have survived anyway.

It is surprising how often this is said. While yes, this is a possibility, is it really one that needs to be told to a mama in the midst of grieving? Frankly, this to me seems about on the same level as telling a mama at the funeral for her 1 year old child, “It’s just as well he died now, because he most likely wouldn’t have turned out well, or would have gotten into trouble, or would have died sometime soon anyway.” Is this a possibility? Sure it is. But who would dream of saying that? In most cases there is no way to know why the miscarriage happened, particularly if it is a first miscarriage, and this kind of speculation just isn’t helpful.

3. Quote statistics.

This is the only one on this list that might be helpful in some situations. If the miscarriage is early, and the mama doesn’t know that the majority of miscarriages happen within the first 8-10 weeks of pregnancy, perhaps the knowledge will help her concerns about future pregnancies. All the same, I don’t recommend mentioning this. It isn’t something that helps with grieving, and you can assume that someone else has already mentioned it to her if she happened to be ignorant. Leave the statistics to those people who don’t know how deal with a grieving mama—there are plenty of those people in the world already (and she’ll probably be hearing this more than once).

4. Talk about another friend of yours who had a miscarriage.

If you haven’t had a miscarriage yourself, it can be very tempting to share the bit of experience you’ve had. But talking about a stranger’s recent miscarriage probably isn’t something the mama wants to do, particularly if it is in detail. On the other hand perhaps you would have mentioned your friend’s miscarriage anyway. You mentioned it not considering the fact that the mama you are talking to had a miscarriage of her own recently. It probably came up naturally in conversation (to you) but to the mama before you it may have come as a slap of reminder about the grief she is still working through herself. Don’t be awkward about it, but when you realize the mistake please do change the subject or at least avoid giving gory details or talking about “how hard it must be” on your other friend. It is hard. And the mama you’re talking to knows exactly how hard it is.

5. Avoid any mention of her miscarriage.

Right after the miscarriage occurs this can be downright confusing. The mama has the difficult task before her of spreading the news that she is no longer expecting. It can be easy to forget who’s been told and who hasn’t—often this is clarified by a cheerfully ill-timed inquiry about the baby. If you make no mention whatsoever of the miscarriage it puts the mama in the awkward situation of trying to figure out if you know or not in order to head off a potentially painful and awkward situation. If you don’t want to talk about it or hear about it, simply say “I’m sorry to hear of your loss,” to let the mama know you’ve heard, give a hug and move on.

6. Feel obligated to talk about it.

This may seem opposing to the previous point, but it really isn’t. Give a hug, say you’re sorry, and if you don’t know what to say after that just be quiet!! In this case it’s better to shut up than to talk stupid.

7. Assume an earlier miscarriage means less grief and pain than a later miscarriage.

Assuming an early miscarriage is less painful than a late miscarriage is the same as assuming that loosing a newborn is less painful than loosing a one year old. When that pregnancy test came back with two pink lines the mama started dreaming. She planned nursery colors, wondered if it was a boy or a girl, and sat in awe that there was a microscopic someone in her womb who would someday be a person, entirely separate from herself, who she could know and love. Her entire perspective on life was radically reworked. From that point on the mama will grieve the loss of her child as she would grieve the loss of any other family member—regardless of whether the loss happens at 6 weeks, 6 months or the day of the due date.

8. Assume ANYTHING about her emotional state.

Within the grieving process it is completely normal for a mama to have up days, down days, and pronounced mood swings during both. There will be days that her baby is on her mind constantly, and days that she barely even thinks of the loss. Her grieving process may look different than what you expect, even if your expectations are based on personal experience. Two days after she finds out she may be happy, content and trusting God. Four days after she finds out she may be dealing with spiritual attack, depression, and difficulty even reading her Bible—much less “trusting God” with anything. This is a normal occurrence and will pass with time.

Next week will be a more positive look at things that you can do for your loved one that will help focus her on the Lord and work through her grief in a healthy way.

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