“How are you doing?”
This seems like a simple, well-meaning question, but Stephanie O’Leary, PsyD, clinical psychologist and author of Parenting in the Real World, explains that it has a loaded answer for any woman who has recently experienced a miscarriage. “The honest answer is likely somewhere between horrible and devastated, but posing the question puts your friend in a position to either cover up her feelings or delve into emotions that can be overwhelming,” she says. Instead, she suggests trying to communicate your support and your sympathy directly by saying, “I’m so sorry about your miscarriage.” “This is a concrete way to express your intentions that can be managed with a simple ‘thank you’ reply from your friend,” Dr. O’Leary says. If you prefer written communication, here’s how to write the perfect condolence note.
“Women have miscarriages all the time.”
While it’s true that miscarriages happen more often than most people realize—in approximately one in six pregnancies—now is not the time to talk statistics. “Even though your attempt is to normalize your friend’s experience, this statement may come across as dismissive and cold, neither of which you intend,” says Dr. O’Leary. “Plus, your friend is likely uninterested in statistics and other people’s situations based on her own grief.” Instead of trying to provide empty reassurance, Dr. O’Leary says it’s best to be honest and sincere, even if that means saying nothing at all. This is what all women need to know about infertility and miscarriage.
“I completely understand how you feel”
“If you’re asked about your experiences, share, but be mindful that what was beneficial for your cathartic process might not work for someone else,” explains Mayra Mendez, PhD, LMFT, a licensed psychotherapist and program coordinator for intellectual and developmental disabilities and mental health services at Providence Saint John’s Child and Family Development Center in Santa Monica, California. In addition, she warns not to press your friend to move on and get over the loss. “Instead, encourage seeking help and talking to others and professionals if necessary.” If you know of helpful websites, support groups, or hotlines, feel free to suggest them, but allow your friend to decide when and if she is ready to reach out for help. These tips can help with emotional coping after a miscarriage.
“Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”
Even if you are this person’s very best friend and closest confidante, miscarriages are extremely personal. It’s quite possible that your friend wasn’t planning on sharing this information with anyone ever, though she clearly had a change of heart and decided to trust in you. Be humble and grateful that she is opening up to you. “Remember that it is up to the woman or couple to decide when and with whom to share this information,” says Laurel Steinberg, PhD, New York-based relationship therapist and professor of psychology at Columbia University. “Something to say instead: ‘Please know you can always come to me whenever you need to talk.'”
“It probably happened for a reason.”
Suggesting that the pregnancy may have been compromised from the start or that there may have been something wrong with the baby is not something your grief-stricken friend wants to hear. “The reason for a miscarriage is either impossible to identify or an indication of larger issues related to fertility and health,” explains Dr. O’Leary. “Any attempt to validate using science or medical facts will serve to create anxiety and possibly cause tension in your friendship.” Instead, stick to feelings of empathy and offers of support. (Don’t fall for these myths about miscarriage.)
“I’m sure you’ll feel better soon.”
“This is something many people say when they are uncomfortable with the level of emotion being expressed or the topic at hand,” explains Dr. O’Leary. “But it also sends the message to your friend that you’re struggling to accept her in the here and now, when things are messy and raw.” Instead, she suggests offering true support by letting her know you’re here if she needs someone to talk to, someone to distract her, or if she doesn’t know what she wants but just needs someone to be around physically. “This acknowledges that coping with a miscarriage is a confusing, overwhelming process and that you’re along for the ride no matter what.” Here are some gentle ways to heal emotionally after a miscarriage.
“I find that it’s easier to cope with loss when…”
Coping is a personal process unique to the individual grieving, explains Dr. Mendez. “Explaining loss and sadness away impedes grief resolution and management from evolving and may lead to profound and enduring symptoms beyond the typical grief process and require a higher level of intervention,” she says. Instead of pouring out advice, acknowledge the emotions of loss and sadness. “Allow space for communication and talk about the experience and feelings and provide a calm and non-judgmental listening ear.” Here are some thoughtful ways to comfort people who are grieving.
“Don’t worry, you can try again soon.”
Telling your friend not to worry invalidates how she is currently feeling, and, experts say, it’s hedging a bet on her future fertility—something totally out of your (and possibly her) control. “Some women have mixed feelings about trying again, and there may be medical issues at play that you’re not aware of,” says Dr. O’Leary. “Instead, if the topic of future pregnancies comes up, stick to listening and lending a shoulder to lean on without adding too much in terms of advice.” If you’re being asked for reassurance, O’Leary suggests keeping your response simple, such as says, “I’m sure you will make the right decision when the time comes.”
“You will forget one day.”
The reality is that your friend will likely not forget that she lost her baby, as normal and common as miscarriage might be. To her, it is personal and life-changing and something she will have to cope with for life. “Insinuating that she’ll someday forget is like telling her not to honor the memory of the fetus that once lived inside of her,” says Dr. Steinberg. “She may also want to hold onto the happy memories she did experience for whatever period of time she remained pregnant.” Instead, let her know that you’re praying for good things to come her way in the near future. Here are more little ways to be a truly good friend.