Someone you love has lost a pregnancy, her baby. You don’t know what to do. Or say. Or how to act. You’re wondering how to show your love for your daughter. Your sister, or your friend you adore so much she’s like your sister. You never had a miscarriage, or lost a baby and have no idea what’s the “right” thing to do or say.
As a psychotherapist and Licensed Clinical Social Worker specializing in Maternal Mental Health, I see clients struggling with miscarriage, pregnancy loss and infant loss in my private practice in San Diego, CA. My professional and personal experience has taught me that there is no one “right” way to console a grieving loved one. That being said, I do have some suggestions to share that seem to be universally appropriate. There are always exceptions of course.
How to help
1- Be Present
Even if you can’t be present physically, don’t shy away. Make your care and love known in some way. If you are local or want to jump on a plane to be with her—do it! When you get there, to her house, to her couch where she sits with tears in her eyes, her heart torn wide open. Just sit. Just be there right next to her. Hold her hand if it’s the right thing to do. Hug her. Let her cry. Or let her be mad and curse the world. You don’t have to say much. Being emotionally present will let her know just how much you care.
2- Show acts of love
Bring food, send flowers. It doesn’t really matter what it is. The act of giving shows her that you’re thinking about her. If you don’t have money to spend, come and cook the food in her fridge, clean her home, send a card. The point is to let her know you feel her pain and you are there for her.
3- Honor important dates
Mother’s day, the baby’s birthday or due date, the day she found out the pregnancy wouldn’t last. These are important dates for grieving mothers. Even months after, when the calls have ceased, the flowers have wilted, these dates will come and bring a torrent of emotions with them. Acknowledge these significant moments; she is thinking about them more than you will likely know.
4- Verbally acknowledge the loss
Many many women have shared with me that the worst thing someone can do is say nothing. Ignore the loss. You might feel this is unthinkable, that someone could move on with life without a single word of love, empathy or care, but it happens. And it’s devastating. If you’re not sure what to say, check out my guide below.
Listening seems so obvious, but I can't stress how important it is to truly truly hear her out. It's normal to think about your own losses when you hear her pain, but avoid sharing the details of your own experience during this sensitive time. Let her know you're there for her. Listen to her and nod your head, acknowledge her pain. If you're not sure what to say, take a look at the guide below.
6- Remember: tone trumps content
A few words on tone before jumping into the what to/not to say guide below. HOW we speak often has more impact on the way our message is received. If you stumble and say something you "shouldn't" have, it will blow over if you've said it with empathy and love. If you're callous and try to be funny and say the wrong thing-- it might not go as well. This is a time for honesty, for being vulnerable and being real.
I’m hoping you noticed that the answer to each of the above scenarios comes back to expressing your empathy and care for her. Why? Because that’s the bottom line. You’re sorry your daughter/sister/BFF is dealing with this. You can combine any of the recommended "what to say instead" statements. Make it feel natural. Find your own way to express your empathy. But that's the key- empathy. It’s important to squash your own burning desire to know what her next steps are, or to inquire about what went “wrong”. Let her guide you. Pay attention to her and she will let you know when she’s ready to share more.
These tips and guide are intended to support and strengthen relationships. What has been helpful for you? Please share your experience in the comments below. And please, let me know what I’ve missed!