How to Talk to Someone Going Through Pregnancy Loss
Pregnancy loss is one of the hardest things a person can go through. The grief, sadness and anxiety it causes are real and difficult to manage. While you may be able to provide comfort by listening and offering support, there are some things you should never say to someone who is going through this, and things you can say that can be helpful.
Below are a few suggestions for how to talk to someone going through pregnancy loss, (as well as some things to keep to yourself).
Grieving is a very personal experience
It's important to remember that grief is a very personal experience, and there are no right or wrong ways to grieve. If you've experienced a miscarriage or pregnancy loss yourself, rather than sharing your own experiences, or implying your situation was the same, or worse, suggesting how someone might grieve, instead, offer support by simply letting them know you're there for them, and you love them.
Ask how they're doing
One way to start a conversation with a grieving person is by asking how they are doing, feeling, or coping. You could enquire about their:
- Mental health
- Sleep patterns
- General energy level
- Concentration skills
- Relationship status with a partner or family members
By asking how someone is doing, you're giving them the opportunity to talk, if they feel like talking. Asking them how they're doing in particular areas of their life gives them the option to choose to share how they're coping. Their answers could also highlight where they might need a little assistance.
Ask these questions in a friendly manner, so you don't make them feel like they're being interrogated, but at the same time, be cognisant that they may not want to talk at all.
And that's OK.
Choose your words carefully
When talking to someone who has experienced pregnancy loss, it’s important to choose your words carefully. Even if you mean well, some things can come across as insensitive or offensive.
- Here are some tips for communicating in a way that shows respect and sensitivity:
- Don't ask questions that are too personal. For example, asking: 'did you miscarry naturally (or surgically)?' or: 'is there anything left of the baby?'.
- Don't say anything that may make the person feel uncomfortable sharing their experience, or force them to talk about what happened.
- Be cautious about what you say and how it might affect them emotionally. For example, saying something like: "you're so young, you have plenty of time', makes it sound like a baby is simply a commodity and they're replaceable, rather than a unique little person.
- Avoid telling them how they should be feeling—it's okay to let the grieving person know when you're concerned, but avoid telling them what emotion they should be experiencing e.g. grief or sadness over their loss. You don't know what they're feeling at the moment - you couldn't possibly know how they should be feeling, and if you do get it wrong, and they aren't feeling the way you think they should, this could make them feel worse about themselves and the situation.
Keep condolences simple
When you're trying to comfort someone going through the grieving process, it's tempting to say something like: 'I know how you feel', but you don't, and saying something like that can detract from their situation and bring the focus to you, which again, can make them feel worse.
It's more helpful to keep your condolences simple and honest. Sometimes the right words are just: 'I'm sorry for your loss'.
Acknowledge the baby - don't ignore the situation
When a parent or a friend dies, the natural response is to say: 'I'm sorry for your loss'. But when someone experiences pregnancy loss, too often people don't think about the human life that was lost - that a baby has died. People just say 'I'm sorry you’re going through this', without acknowledging the baby.
So, acknowledge that this baby was someone real and not just an abstract concept. If appropriate, you could ask them how they will keep the baby's memory alive, and what you can do to help support that.
Avoid triggering words
There are certain words and phrases that you should avoid saying to someone who is grieving a pregnancy loss.
Don't use harsh words like 'miscarriage' or 'stillbirth', or call the baby a 'stillborn baby'. Instead, use more inclusive, gentler language such as 'pregnancy loss' or 'baby loss'.
Do not compare their loss to your own or someone else's experience
This is a tricky one. While it may seem like you're helping, saying things like 'I know how you feel', or comparing your own experience to theirs, can be hurtful.
You want to be there for them, but it's not your job to tell them how they should feel, nor is it appropriate, even if you've gone through a miscarriage before, or lost your own baby at birth or later on, to compare their loss to your own experience.
Just because they're going through a similar situation, doesn't mean their baby loss experience will be the same as yours.
They have the right to have their own feelings and reactions. Do not make comparisons between your situation and theirs. In fact, don't even compare one loss with another—just say: 'I'm sorry for your loss' without saying anything else at all.
What NOT to say to someone who lost a baby
‘I know what you're going through’
No, you don't know what another person is going through. Even if you've experienced miscarriage too and your experience was similar to theirs, it still doesn't mean that they are feeling the same way you did, or need the same type of support you found helpful.
The best thing to do is listen and be patient. Don't try to relate or empathise with a grieving parent who has lost a pregnancy, as it could come off as insincere or condescending.
If they want to talk about their loss, let them lead the conversation; if they don't want to talk about it yet, that's fine too.
‘It was for the best’
A common response when a baby dies due to health reasons is: 'it was for the best'. It is never appropriate to call a child's death 'for the best'.
While this may feel like a way to ease someone's sorrow, it is totally the wrong thing to say. If anything, it could reinforce their pain and guilt at losing a baby.
‘At least you have your other children’
Reminding grieving parents of their surviving child isn't helpful. Yes, they may have other healthy children to look after, but that doesn't lessen the pain they're feeling at the loss of this particular baby.
Pregnancy loss can be a devastating experience. Whether you’re close to someone who has just lost their child e.g. a family member or close friends, the important thing to remember is that everyone reacts differently, and there are no right or wrong ways of coping with grief.
If someone you know is struggling with this issue, try to be patient and supportive as they work through their feelings. Offer them support and understanding as they face this difficult time. Be kind, be compassionate, and try not to say anything that could trigger further pain.
And if you don't know what to say, simply acknowledge that they're going through something difficult—and offer your support in any way you can (even if it's just talking).
In this article, our fertility nurse Buki discusses coping mechanisms for dealing with the grief of pregnancy loss.Read post