What not to say to someone who has experienced a pregnancy loss

So far, I have not had a miscarriage or stillbirth, so I [thankfully] don’t have any personal experience with this. But I’ve heard some doozies of what other people have said to women who have lost babies. I’m sure others can add to this list:

  • “It was meant to be.” Yeah, okay, even if so — HOW DOES THAT HELP??
  • “You can always try again.” But she can never have this baby. Or, maybe she can’t just try again. What about that?
  • “It wasn’t really a baby.” Perhaps said with an early miscarriage; perhaps said about an ectopic pregnancy; perhaps said about a baby that was lost due to genetic problems. But even if said about a “blighted ovum” pregnancy… IT STILL HURTS. The pregnancy, the baby, was very real to her, even if only in imagination and anticipation. That loss is not diminished by thinking or knowing that there was a problem with the baby, nor by there not actually being a baby. Perhaps the hurt may even be made worse by this kind of statement, if the woman begins to feel bad for feeling grief over this very real sadness that others minimize!
  • “Well, at least you’re okay.” Maybe she’s not “okay.” Maybe she’s “okay” physically, but tormented mentally and emotionally. Did you ever ask her if she is “okay” or did you just assume it?
  • “It was just a miscarriage. It happens all the time. Get over it, already!” I can’t even think of a comment after this, because I just want to punch somebody in the face, and I’m not usually given to violence.
  • “Shouldn’t you be over this by now?” A milder variation of the above statement. Everyone grieves differently. Some people need more time and space than others.
  • “At least it was early, before you really got attached to it.” Ever hear of the process of pregnancy — fertilized egg burrows into the uterine lining, part of that becomes the placenta, the rest becomes the baby, joined by the umbilical cord — by definition it is an attachment! Again, why assume that the mother was not attached to her baby? Many women plan pregnancies even months in advance, so perhaps have been “attached” to the idea of a baby for longer than some women are even pregnant, and then lose not just the baby and those few weeks and months of pregnancy, but lose all those months of anticipation and hope as well!
  • “God had a reason for this.” I will say that I agree with this statement, but not with the timing. It may help some people to hear this, but quite honestly when it was said after I lost my father in a car wreck I wanted to smack the speaker. Not because I didn’t believe it, but because it just plain hurt, and hearing this did not help.
  • “This is because you…” or “If only you hadn’t…” Even if correct, it’s probably not the right time, and you’re probably not the right person to say it. Wait until a better moment, and also think before you speak. Think first of how accurate your statement likely is (because you know one glass of wine is probably not going to cause a miscarriage), and secondly, if your statement is correct (“shooting up with cocaine was a dumb idea while pregnant”), make sure the person can hear you and also make sure that the person hasn’t already come to that conclusion on her own. Because if you tell her that she caused her miscarriage when she already knows it, you’ll be rubbing salt in her wound. Now, if you lovingly say that and keep her from future miscarriage and pain… then that may be okay, if said in the right way, at the right time, and with the right spirit.
  • Any comment about somebody you know or heard of having an abortion, or anything you read about somebody abusing a child. This also applies to women who are struggling with fertility. I still remember clearly one blog I read, when I first started reading blogs a year and a half ago, written by some L&D nurse who had to take care of some teenager having her second child (or perhaps after-care for a second abortion), when the nurse herself couldn’t get pregnant. It was all she could do to maintain a minimum of care and good attitude, because she really just wanted to throttle the girl, because this girl was throwing away that which the nurse desperately wanted and couldn’t have.

What others can you think of to add to the list?

What can you think of that would be helpful to say? The only thing I can think of is, “I’m so sorry for your loss. I’ll be praying for you.” Perhaps also, “What can I do to help?” or “Can I make supper for you tonight/tomorrow?” or “If you need to talk, I’m here.”

15 Responses

  1. I have been guilty of saying some stupid things with pregnancy loss. I have learned the hard way. My sister went through two very painful losses after infertility treatments. I dear friend lost a baby at 23 weeks. For me the best thing to say is that you are there for them. LISTEN to what they have to say, be supportive. Sometimes saying nothing is the best thing.

  2. Yeah, it’s hard — sometimes you don’t know what to say, but just feel like you “ought” to say **something**… and end up with “foot in mouth disease.”:-/😉

  3. I had a friend who lost a baby at 20 weeks. The next time she was pregnant someone had the nerve to say to her, “Are you going to lose this baby too?”

    Like she had any control over that.

    I know I have put my foot in my mouth on occasion. I try to listen and express love and just be there.

  4. I found out at 12 weeks pregnant with my first child that I had an empty sac. The ABSOLUTE worst thing someone said to me was that it wasn’t really a baby- that conception never occurred- it was just an egg that implanted. Oh, and that was a doctor acquaintance that said that to me!

    She meant no harm, but it did serious damage to my heart. I felt as though people thought I shouldn’t mourn because they didn’t believe I really ever had a baby. 12 weeks is a LONG time to think you’re going to have a baby and then to have someone say you never had one in there at all. Very hurtful, and from what I’ve seen now, not accurate.

    I also can’t stand it when people call loosing a baby between 17 -29 weeks a miscarriage. I’ve never experienced a loss like that, but I can’t even begin to imagine the pain. It’s not *just* a miscarriage at that point- you’re delivering a developed little person. Call it something else- the baby was born too premature, or died in the womb- anything other than a miscarriage. That word just doesn’t even begin to describe a 2nd.-3rd. trimester lost.

    The best thing to do? Bring a meal (maybe even an extra one for the freezer). Take flowers, or a gift basket, a card.

    And make sure you don’t forget about her. She may need time to be alone, but it doesn’t mean she wants her friends to completely ignore her.

  5. You already have four beautiful children.

    There was likely something wrong with this one.

    You are almost 40, you know that russian roulette game. You just got a bad spin this time.

    Maybe it was God telling you to stop having kids.

    Well, it’s a blessing since you have so many, you guys cannot handle another one right now.

    You have been staying home with 4 kids…you really should take this opportunity to think about what else to do with your life, you’ve kind of wasted your degree (said by a family member the night before my D&E).

    I’ll schedule your D&E (OB never asked if I wanted induction, which I had a hard time requesting anything at that time but later regretted the D&E).

    When I asked what happens to the remains, the OB said, “you don’t want to know.” Really, I wanted to ask for the remains but never got the courage.

    This is the kind of stuff was said to me. It was a 16 week fetal demise. Baby turned out to have no genetic abnormalities. It was a boy, and we named him Christian James. Will never forget it and some of the things said).

    Helpful things said:

    The OB did say a lovely thing, after my 2nd loss in a row I was upset that the nurse had said “well, it was so early at least it wasn’t a baby” and I told the OB. She said, “but it’s your child.”

    A friend still says she remembers my 3 babies in heaven.

    It’s important to mourn.

    The doctor who did the D&E talked to my husband and said he had been through this with his wife. He really let my husband know how hard it is, and that he understands. This doctor ended up being there at my last birth (missed the actual moment of birth but caught the placenta)…and he said, “I am glad we met today under happier circumstances.” I was impressed he thought to say anything.

    I received meals and cards, gifts, and plants from friends. It was very uplifting.

    I went through a few books…”Threads of Hope, Pieces of Joy” which is a bible study and it helped me personally. I also read “Empty Arms” by Pam Vredevelt.

    The nurses let me take a letter in with me to the D&E. I wrote to my baby and they were to keep the letter with him. When I woke it wasn’t with me, so I felt at least it had been in the room when he was removed.

  6. Actually, most of the first part of what not to say were exactly my thoughts and sentiments with the two miscarriages I experienced within 6 months. It was not a baby at all, nor was it going to be, things happen for a reason, and I’d rather not be pregnant if it’s not going to be a baby. So I am not sure that those are things not to say. What is hardest for me is not the miscarriages at all, it’s that I’m getting older and in my heart I want two more – and it feels like that my window of time for doing so is narrowing, and it’s frustrating and the most upsetting thing. The rest I really believe, but I also am not looking forward to the next prenatal exam I have, because it feels like it will be a 3rd miscarriage.

  7. “It was all she could do to maintain a minimum of care and good attitude, because she really just wanted to throttle the stupid girl, because this girl was throwing away that which the nurse desperately wanted and couldn’t have.”

    Just because she’s a teenager and having an abortion doesn’t mean she’s a ‘stupid girl’. Young pregnant women, whatever final choice may be, deserve respect and to be treated kindly. This comment really turned me off to this blog. Sorry.

    • I was trying to capture in a few words the pain and emotion and feeling that the nurse related on having to take care of this girl, not my personal feelings.

  8. One I got for our miscarriage (at 8 weeks): “Well, you weren’t really pregnant anyway.” i.e. you have to be further along before you’re “really” pregnant.

  9. Never start with “I know that you aren’t Christian, but…” because anything you say about God after that point isn’t going to offer comfort… ESPECIALLY if it is “I know you aren’t Christian, but maybe this will make you realize you should be. If you were, your baby would be with God now.” I cannot begin to tell you the level of hurt and anger those words churned up in me.

    In fact, if you are speaking to someone of a different faith than you, don’t mention religion AT ALL.

    After multiple losses never say “You must be getting used to this now.” Nor should you say, “I don’t understand why you even keep setting yourself up for this kind of heartache.”

    The best thing anyone said to me was “I’ve been through this, but that doesn’t mean I know how you feel. I’m just so sorry you are hurting right now. Know that you are in my thoughts and that I’m always here to listen.”

    The worst thing anyone said was at the hospital, after an ‘ambiguous’ ultrasound to explain the cramping and spotting I was experiencing with a multiple pregnancy. I had gone to empty my bladder and experienced a HUGE gush of blood and tissue. Scared that I might be hemorrhaging, I called out the nurse who had assisted the u/s tech. She glanced in the toilet and SHRUGGED, then said “nope, no saving a pregnancy after that. Oh well.” Seriously?!?! “OH WELL?!?!” That still devastates me 14 years after the fact. (I later found out that there were three placental sites, which is why the bleeding was so heavy. As of the ultrasound, there were two obvious losses but one still looked viable, hence the ambiguity.)

    Another ‘good’ thing that a friend (who shares my faith) said to me was “Your path is your path, but if I could, I’d walk this part for you to spare you the pain.” I thought that was very compassionate and sweet of her.

    If you feel like you have to say SOMETHING, but you don’t know what to say, just be honest and say “I wish there was something I could do or say to make this better/easier, but I know there isn’t and that sucks.”

  10. More responses on both what to say and what not to say are on this blog post.

  11. […] While you miss out on all the prayers and emotional support by never telling, you also get to miss stupid things people may say. For my part, I do not regret telling everyone I was pregnant, even though I do have the occasional […]

  12. One thing I’ve noticed about “what you shouldn’t say to a greiving person” is that many of the things are at least partially true, or absolutely true, but what we need to realize is that it is not our place to say them.

    Take the “it was God’s will/plan” statement. This is a very true statement, and one that I would find comforting to TELL MYSELF in my grief.

    However, someone else saying that very true statement would be hurtful and devistating, because it smacks of callous indifference, not compassion. I definitely agree with you that the timing is off, but I also think the PERSON saying it is off. Many things are great things to let the grieving person say, but not to say to try to comfort them.

    My friend lost her baby weeks before she actually miscarried, and to her, she was that many more weeks pregnant than she “really” was. That did not change the fact that she was grieving the loss of 8 weeks of expectation. It should not have been brought up as a comfort to her that the baby had been dead for awhile.

    I’m reminded of the book of Job. There are so many things his friends say that are absolutely true. Yet God rebukes them for their lack of compassion. Just because something is true does not mean it is the right time or that you personally should say it. My thought is that the grieving person alone should make those “at least . . . ,” (and the like) statements.

    • I like how you put it — “the wrong person to say these things.” Since writing the above, I have had a miscarriage, and found myself saying the same things to myself — the things that (as you said) would have been hurtful to hear from others.

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