What NOT to say to a woman who has miscarried. And why.

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I just want to say that I get that anyone who takes the time to say anything prolly means well. I don’t take that lightly. But so many people say such boneheaded things, and then when I say “that doesn’t make me feel any better,” they feel as though they won’t have done their job of cheering me up until they’ve gotten me to agree with them that this stupid boneheaded thing is true and somehow comforting. This takes the whole exchange from Un-Fun to Really Painful for me, and only makes them feel better.
Don’t be one of these people. I’m certain you don’t want to be.

“God has a plan.”
First off, I don’t believe you that God had anything to do with this. Secondly, thinking that God wanted my baby dead is hardly comforting, if I did believe you.

“You’re young.”
When you were a kid and your dog died, did the idea that you could look forward to a long life with lots more dogs make you feel any better? Young has nothing to do with it. This is a loss that will never be replaced.

“It happens a lot.”
This is comforting coming from a woman’s doctor, and a woman’s doctor only. We like the validation from the doctor that we did nothing wrong. We do not need it repeated as if our loss is dwarfed by everyone elses. “I’m certain there was nothing anyone could do,” is acceptable, maybe.

“Everything happens for a reason.”
That “reason” behind many things in life is that life is unfair and cruel shit happens. Pointing this out hardly makes me feel better.

“It just wasn’t the right time.”
Humans would be extinct if we all waited until there was nothing wrong with this world to have children. It wasn’t the “right time” to have your children, and it wasn’t the “right time” for you to be born. This doesn’t make you meaningless.

“It often means that there might have been something wrong with the baby, so this is for the best.”
This is a tricky one because there ARE people who take comfort from this. I would never want to take that comfort from them. There is no wrong way to grieve (except perhaps kicking puppies). But you are best avoiding this subject altogether because a lot of people are like me, in that we don’t care. A blind baby or a Downs baby is better than no baby at all to me, and so miscarriage is simply our worst case scenario and it doesn’t get any worse than this for us.
If the woman brings this up herself, fine. If not, don’t say anything like it, because to her, it will be a belittlement of her attachment to her child.

What to say?

Anything along the lines of “This is awful and unfair and I know what this child meant to you and I’m sorry that nothing can replace him or her.”

I know it might feel like much, but I can promise you that these few words are worth more than a whole book’s worth of other words.

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34 responses »

  1. When I miscarried my husband didn’t believe I was ever really pregnant to begin with. I was easily 12-13 weeks and didn’t even know I was pregnant (I know that sounds stupid, but I have always had a bizarre cycle and missing my period for three – sometimes even six – months wasn’t uncommon. I had no other symptoms). I was grieving the loss of a baby I never even knew I had and my husband had the nerve to tell me he didn’t believe me or my ER doctors. Because we hadn’t known in the first place I didn’t tell my family because I didn’t want to hurt them. I had to deal with it without any sort of support system and I was devastated and scared. He is now my ex-husband.

    My baby would be four this year.

  2. How bout, “I’m sorry. That sucks.”

    My wife and I didn’t talk about the miscarriages to anyone, hardly even ourselves, until long after the fact.

  3. That is a crap thing to have happened. So sorry for your loss.
    I certainly hope nobody said any of these ‘what not to say’ things – how horrible!
    Are you and Brady still together?

  4. Thank you, and sadly, yes. I’ve heard all of them. It could be worse, a friend actually got “I guess you gained five pounds for nothing.”

    Yes, we are. Why? *wink* You interested? In me or him?

  5. (I got these comments out of order)

    Valeri – God, I’m so sorry. That must have been (and be) AWFUL.

    Dave – “I’m sorry, that sucks” is a perfectly acceptable response. And I’m sorry about your miscarriages. It’s not fair.

  6. Yep. I’ve been there. I know your pain and there are really only a couple of things you want to hear. C’mon people, is it that hard?

    In case of pregnancy. Congratulations are in order. That’s it.

    In case of miscarriage. Sympathies are in order. That’s it.

    Gifts, hugs and smiles are always appreciated.

  7. I’ve said this to you in person, but feel compelled to write it, not just for you, but for me as well…I know the pain of losing a child, but I can’t imagine what you’re going through. How one grieves is a very personal thing, despite what one shares, though I’m fairly certain at some point we both felt the same, though our situations were different. The loss of something so attached to our very being is something that is never fair, can never be replaced or forgotten. In its very essence we lose a part of ourselves that can never be healed. I can assure you that it never gets any better or easier, but you learn how to continue on…we are very resilient creatures when necessity demands it. Yet, it will always hurt as much now when you think of it as it will later, but you”re surrounded by people who love you; who are willing to disclose or do whatever you may need. Including myself, I love you.

  8. VJ,

    I’m so so sorry to hear about your loss. It must be devastating. I think you are incredibly brave to be so open about it.

    ~I’ve never written a note on here before but I love reading your blog. Your curiosity, energy and openness to all that life brings are an inspiration to me. I too feel sure that you would have been (and hopefully will be) an incredible mum.

    Bryony (Sven’s wife)

  9. My big hugs and anger at the fates have not changed from a few posts ago. And please don’t take my “you’re making me cry” statements as directed negatively at you. I’m sad for your sadness and that this baby doesn’t get to grow up with her crazy parents and crying because the world is missing out on a fabulous new person. I feel really honored that you are sharing your story with me.
    Since I “met” you through L.M. Montgomery, I feel safe in adding a suggestion of a whole book of words: Anne’s House of Dreams. Immediately after my miscarriage, I immersed myself in quiet goofiness (watching children’s movies with my Mister) and inappropriate humor (talking about the worst medical euphamisms like “the tissue was analyzed and it was a product of conception that was removed from your uterus” and horrible joking discussions about how I was not to be alarmed if a blood clot the size of a small apple fell out my vag, but if it was bigger than a softball I was allowed to be concerned) but after some time I really needed some quiet catharthic grief, and I re-read the Anne books all the way until she loses her first child. I cried so long and hard for her but cheered (not as hard to do while sobbing as one might imagine) when she yelled at somebody that this was not God and that God did not intend for a child to be born and ripped away. She explained so beautifully part of what I was feeling (then I got all mad at the Leslie/Owen story lines and cried again about Captain Jim, but that’s beside the point).
    Now that I’ve written that, it looks horribly like I’m telling you how to grieve. I’m not intending to. I certainly don’t feel that I’ve done it any “right” way (although I did not kick any puppies), but we share a twisted sense of humor (the sushi on a rollercoaster is so much funnier than the softball sized blood clots, I so wish I would have thought of it), a love of the Blue Castle and a desire to make people happy. I know there’s nothing in my experience that can make you better. You’re already fabulous and the situation is horrid. But if my experience can make you laugh or if you can say, “yes that Anne told off those ‘God’s will’ folks really well” then I my day will be a touch brighter for making yours so.
    Big hug.

  10. i was talking to a friend the other day whose father is dying and she was feeling guilty for feeling this way about such sentiments. i told her those banal sympathetic words DON’T help and sometimes it’s ok to feel like breaking shit. you should feel that way. people like to not think (period) but especially before they speak. but you, take care, please. i’m thinking about you, for whatever that’s worth, as I’m sure a lot of people here are.

  11. I love you. I’m so sorry you’re hurting, so very much. I’m sorry Brady is, too. I wish I could give you some small measure of comfort, but I don’t think it’s fair to try beyond telling you that I love you, and am here (far away, but here) for you if you need me, and for whatever you need me for.

  12. It’s good that you posted these thoughts. Everyone has a tendency to talk bollocks in response to sad and inexplicable losses and pains. A bit like how people say at funerals, “It’s what he would have wanted”. I’m always tempted to reply, “No, actually, when you think about it, he probably did want to die at all”, or “it’s what he would have wanted…if – what? If he’d lived long enough to attend his own funeral BEFORE he died?” It’s better not to say anything, and to listen, and to hug.

    **Listens**

    **HUGS**

  13. I’m so sorry to hear about your loss…when i first read about your pregnancy i was happy and excited for you and now hearing this is really really sad and really not fair..My sincerest sympathy goes out to You and Brady… :((..*BIG BEAR HUGS*

  14. I remember when my mother in law died my 8 year old Baby Twinkie asked, “mom why do people always tell you they’re sorry for your loss? They didn’t kill gramma, did they? (insert a shaking of head NO from me here) Then why are they sorry?”

    *(not that this has anything to do with your pain) it’s just something that popped into my head because of what Johnny said..

    My only point being that really isn’t anything “right” one can say when a person is grieving.

    Like Shehulas said, everybody grieves differently.

    Having said all that, I am soooooo sooooo SOOO sorry for yours and Brady’s loss. BIG HUGS full of comfort to you both.

  15. (Still getting these slightly out of order so pardon my sporadic response)

    Facsmiley – Thank you. I’m sorry you understand.

    Sammers – I don’t know what I would have done without you. I love you.

    SleepyJane – Right back atcha, kid.

    Bryony – (I know how you are.) (I mean that in the none creepy way.) Thank you, angel.

    Sparkly – You’re right, I need to re-read that book. And don’t get me started on those euphemisms. Actually, I will get started on those in a post. And I understand about the jokes, there is no joke too horrible for me.

    Rebekah – It’s people like you, who understand, that make the world better.

    ‘Rez – Having you helps more than I think you know.

    JonnyO – I love you for understanding.

    Karen – Thank you, kitten.

    Twink – Thank you, duckie. I can feel the hugs from here.

  16. I heard all those things when my dad died in his motorcycle accident too…people just don’t get it–not when it’s a grown adult or a little one in utero–they want to say something so badly that they don’t realize how much it’s not helping. i’m mentally hugging you and saying nothing.

  17. I work in womens health and face this situation rather regularly and STILL have no idea what to say. I know all this things NOT to say (your list is spot on) but have no real idea what to ACTUALLY say. There is not one way to grieve and there is no one way to say “I’m sending warm comforting feelings your way, but only if you are ready to be open to them and actually want them in the first place and I totally understand if you don’t and also understand if they don’t help anyway”.

    I guess I could say that, but it sounds dopey.

    I am sorry. It’s unfair and sucks and I’m just so sorry.

  18. Veaj, you make my day brighter every single day and I am so glad to have you in my life. I am so so sorry that this happened and it breaks my heart that I will never get to know this child, who I know meant so very much to you and Brady. Having said that, I just want you to know that you have always been an inspiration to me because of the way you live your life and seeing you go through this with so much grace only adds to the affection I have for you. I hope you know that I will always be here for you in any way that you need and that I love you.

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