Miscarriage. It’s common, yet somehow a dark mystery, a distant grief, a great unknown…until you have one. And then even though it’s common, it’s very uncommon to you. If you’re like I was and know little about miscarriage—and certainly not how to understand and help a friend who’s miscarried—read on.
Everyone’s miscarriage looks different.
Although I’ve heard many birth stories in detail, I hadn’t heard details about a miscarriage. When a friend’s husband felt comfortable enough to ask for the details after my miscarriage, I was relieved someone finally wanted to know.
I bled for a day and scheduled an ultrasound for that evening. I had to know. The next day, we put my daughter to bed and then I went into labor. It was a mini, mildly intense labor. After a couple hours of contractions, our little baby came out. She was the size of a jelly bean and had two eyes and a tiny spine. I held her and said goodbye, then we wrapped her in a soft piece of T-shirt. We named her Liberty, and she stayed in our freezer for a short time. I bought a tiny box for her, and we buried her under the oak tree at our family lake house.
I wasn’t prepared for it.
I didn’t know that miscarrying would release all the same motherly instincts as my full-term baby did. I felt the need to nurture, protect and love that baby. How could I protect and nurture a baby when I had no idea where she was? I believed she was safe with God in heaven, but where is that exactly? Did she feel pain before she died? Did she think her mother hadn’t taken care of her? That I hadn’t provided a home where she could safely grow and thrive?
This was my experience.
I was terribly sad for weeks, and realized that my depth of sadness was mine alone. Not even my husband could feel the same sadness. After all, I’m the only human that ever sensed that baby’s physical presence. I couldn’t expect friends and family to feel attached to that baby like I did. They never knew her. To them, in a way, she never existed. She was only words; someone to anticipate meeting.
This was an odd grief. It felt much more severe than the worst breakup, but much less severe than if I lost my 2-year-old daughter. I grieved the loss of an anticipated relationship, which is quite different than losing a beloved relationship.
I tell you this not because my story is unusual or exceptional. I tell it because it’s a miscarriage story, and perhaps it will help you understand something about the person you love who’s going through this. Every mother’s story is different, and every mother’s response is different. Some are angry, some are sad, some are unaffected, some are afraid to try again.
Below are some practical ideas to consider when someone you know is grieving a miscarriage.
- Bring food. I’d accept food even on my best day. When I’m grieving and you bring food, you’re an angel.
- Call, text, write, whatever. Communicate that you’re aware of what happened and that it’s hard, and that you aren’t going to ignore it or me just because you don’t understand it or it makes you feel awkward.
- Remember the due date (bonus points!). My sister-in-law gave me a simple birthstone necklace when my baby was due, and that was amazing.
- Ask questions, but be sensitive. Know your friend, observe her, and act accordingly.
- Offer anything you think may be helpful, but don’t get offended if she declines.
- Apologize for making her cry. Of course she’ll probably cry. When you apologize, it makes her feel like she shouldn’t cry. Count it a privilege to be one of the few who walks beside a woman during this time in her life. She won’t forget it.
- Assume that her next pregnancy is a replacement for the baby lost. It’s not. I cried tears of gratitude over my next positive pregnancy test, and I’ve cried tears of sadness over that lost baby as I’ve held my new baby in my arms. No life loved can ever be replaced by another love. It’s two separate children in that mother’s heart, not one covering another.
- Talk about the purpose in it. At least not right away. And if you do, let her be the one to bring it up.
- Talk about how common miscarriage is. 100% of people will lose someone they love, yet that’s not a comfort when it’s your loved one that’s gone.
To the mother who’s grieving her lost baby…
Know that you are deeply loved. Friends and family are thinking of you even if they don’t know how to tell you or what to say. Give them a chance to love you and to love your baby. I’d also encourage you to choose a physical way to remember your baby. I found surprising closure in digging a hole in the dirt, placing that box at the bottom, and covering it back up. And then having one final ugly cry. At that point, I knew it was done and that it was time to walk forward, carrying a very tiny, very deep footprint on my heart.
And to the mother who’s grieving her lost baby, hear this: You did not fail.