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What to Say When She’s Not Expecting

Over the past few weeks I’ve had several friends approach me and ask what they can do or say for a woman who has suffered a miscarriage. This put the idea into my head that perhaps there are many people out there who do not know what to say to a woman in this situation.

The loss of a child is perhaps one of the single most devastating and sad experiences a family can go through. In the same vein, when a couple looses a pregnancy, similar feelings of sadness and loss are present. Unlike the loss of a child, when a couple experience a miscarriage there are no formal rituals of mourning, no graveside to visit and no pictures by which to remember this child. Many times this couple goes home from the hospital or the doctor’s office with empty arms and a lot of unanswered questions.

After my first miscarriage I wanted someone to talk to, someone to tell me everything was going to be OK, and that eventually I would get off the topsy-turvy roller coaster of emotions I was on. I had no idea what was going to happen to me, if I was going to be able to become pregnant again or even if I wanted to be pregnant again. I felt very alone, very scared and very angry that this was happening to me.

Here are some of the things that helped me during those dark days, and some things that I wished I would have had to get me through:

  • Offer your condolences sincerely. There is no need to make flowery speeches and use meaningless clichés. Speak from the heart; let this sister know you are sorry for her loss. An important point I would also like to make is, say something. Silence from friends and relations during this time can be just as damaging and saddening as the miscarriage itself. If you don’t know what to say, just say you’re sorry for her loss. That means more than you know.
  • Avoid comparing her experience or experiences to those of others you know. This minimizes her grief and her experience. Her loss is her own, treat it as such.
  • Ask her how she is, but let her answer in any way that she feels comfortable. Some women will want to talk and share all the details, some will not. Respect that, and give her the space she needs. I would also like to point out that if you have suffered a miscarriage, you are within your rights to politely tell people when something is none of their business or you would rather not talk about it. Do not feel like you have to share your medical history, trauma or drama with anyone other than your husband.
  • LISTEN! I cannot say it more simply than that. Listen to what she has to say if she feels like talking. Be the kind of friend you would like to have in a crisis.
  • Never break a confidence. If she has asked that you not mention her miscarriage to anyone else, don’t. If you feel you need to share this news with the Relief Society President, then ask her permission. The last thing a woman who has lost her pregnancy needs is to become the grist for the ward rumor/gossip mill.
  • Never, never, never, never give unsolicited advice, never. An in-box full of medical studies and snake-oil cures is not what any woman needs. The only medical advice that should be given and taken is from qualified medical professionals with whom she has an established relationship. If you have gone through a miscarriage, you know what this sister is feeling and experiencing. Again, help by listening, by observing and by being the kind of friend you would like to have.
  • Realize that everyone grieves differently. Some women are able to come to terms with their loss quickly and can move on. For others it might take a while. With this said, however, it is not wise to let grief become consuming. Know that each day gets better, the harshness of this loss will wane and life will feel normal again. If you observe hopelessness, severe depression, post-partum depression, or an inability to function, encourage her to seek professional help. I had no idea that I would experience post-partum depression with out actually having a baby. My sister finally said something to me, and I was able to get some help.
  • Don’t expect the sister who has miscarried to want to attend baby showers, see new babies, or participate in things where baby-dust is present. I had my second miscarriage the day my friend had a baby. When she asked when I was coming to see her, I just said I couldn’t right then. Holidays like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Christmas, the baby’s due date, or would-be birthday might also be hard. Treat these days with care, invite her, but understand if this sister chooses not to participate or would like to be excused, this includes family functions as well, she should be.
  • Follow the spirit. If you feel prompted to, call, stop in and visit or send a card, just do it! There were days when I longed for a true friend, for someone to talk to, but I felt I had no one. How much better off I would have been, had I known I could rely on someone.
  • Don’t forget about your sister, your friend, your cousin or the sister in your ward who has had a miscarriage. The body heals quickly, but sometimes the spirit and heart take longer. In the months that follow a miscarriage, remember to continue to reach out, to care and to show compassion. Be that friend you would like to have.
  • Never ask, “When are you going to try again?” or “Are you pregnant again?” or similar questions. The sister who has miscarried might still be grieving, might be going through medical tests or just might not want to try again so soon after a loss. Questions regarding family building are personal and private, if the couple wants you to know, they will let you know, otherwise, it’s none of your business.
  • In the end remember the admonition of Alma and our commission as saints to “mourn with those that mourn, and comfort those who stand in need of comfort” (See Mosiah 18:9). Let that sister know she can count on you to be a listening ear, a friend she can trust, and someone she can rely on to help her through her loss.

{ 14 comments… add one }

  • facethemusic August 23, 2007, 4:33 pm

    Wonderful, wonderful Eden!!
    This is so important– so often, people don’t know what to say, or how to say it.
    I know for me, saying “I’m so sorry for your loss” FEELS shallow to me. Not because I don’t really mean it, but because it doesn’t express how my heart really does ache for them. So my tendency is to try and speak with more expression of my sympathy, in less “generic” terms than ‘I’m so sorry for your loss” but then I worry about upsetting them. Like, if they’re not crying at the time I express it, they WILL be by the time I’m done. Then it’s like, am I helping or hurting the situation? But then I learned an important lesson.
    My brother and sister-in-law lost a child at age 2 in a drowning accident. As the first anniversary of his death apporoached, I thought about sending them some flowers with a personal note– just to let them know that I hadn’t forgotten and was thinking of them. But I wasn’t sure it was the right thing to do. I worried that it might upset them.
    Like, what if when that day came around and they didn’t WANT to think about it? What if they were going to try to keep really busy that day and go out to a movie or something so that they wouldn’t have to think about it? Then they’d get my flowers and I’d interrupt their “coping mechanism” and they’d be in tears or something.
    Then as the day got closer, I heard a call to Dr. Laura about a similar kind of thing, where she said in so many words, “Sincerely doing something kind to let someone know that you’re thinking about them is never the wrong thing to do.”
    And I thought, you know– they MIGHT go out to a movie, they MIGHT try and not think about it– but they’re GOING to be thinking about it. And I’m sure they WILL be in tears. Dr. Laura’s right. Just send the flowers!! The next year I sent a card.
    Then I started a little tradition. Now, every year on the anniversary of his death we always donate to a children’s charity in his name. And it’s become a nice little family tradition. My brother and his wife have really appreciated that, and DID, by the way, call to thank us for remembering him and sending the flowers. So I was glad I did it!!

  • angeleyes2blue August 23, 2007, 4:57 pm

    This is great! When I experienced my miscarriage, I felt EVERYONE did/said the wrong thing. Only my brother and sis-in-law offered support. They did so in silence by sending flowers and saying they were here for me and loved me. That was the best response I could’ve received. My own mother whom I’m very close to said “at least you know you can get pregnant”. Responses from ALL my in-laws was “oh”. I called my bishop to explain what happened because he and his wife had experienced loss and I felt he would understand. He asked if he could share with the RS president and I agreed. The next day, I got phone calls from every single one of the RS committee and presidency with condolences. I was mortified. The bishop hadn’t shared, but the pres did. Then she came over and told me she knew how I felt because her daughter hadn’t been able to get pregnant in over a year. Woah, enough rambling. Obviously I have some unresolved issues with my experience, but until next time…

    GREAT article Eden!

  • facethemusic August 23, 2007, 5:30 pm

    Welcome to MormonMomma, Angeleyes!!

  • agardner August 23, 2007, 8:00 pm

    This is really great, thank you! Having never experienced miscarriage myself, it’s hard to know what to say when someone close to you experiences it. One day I sent out a generic email to my husband’s brothers and sisters (kind of an update on us, how’s everyone doing, what’s new, etc.) since we moved far away from everyone else. One sister replied with something like, “I’m sure you must be wondering when we will be having another baby…” and then proceeded to tell me that she had miscarried a few years ago (we did know about that one) and then again last year (we didn’t know about that one, nor had we known about the pregnancy yet, although she was 5 months along). Anyway, she went into quite a bit of detail about this miscarriage – about how she had to deliver him and they were able to hold him and everything. I really wasn’t sure how to respond, especially via email since we were thousands of miles away (or by phone, although we rarely talk on the phone to any of his family). Anyway, I kind of felt like she was reaching out to me by sharing this, but I really wasn’t sure what to say.

    I replied back that I was really sorry she had lost the baby, and how hard it must have been. I did share a couple of medical things with her – now I know that was probably wrong…although she seemed to be opening herself up so I mentioned it. Both my sister and sister-in-law had multiple miscarriages and it ended up being the same, quite fixable solution (a hormonal thing) – that they found on their own and no doctor had checked out yet. So I did share that with her in hopes that the doctor had either already checked it or she would suggest that he did. It might have been the wrong thing, but since 2 people I knew had that problem and doctors hadn’t checked it in their cases, I thought it might be helpful. Before I do anything like that again I’ll wait until they specifically ask (although she had mentioned in her email how they just didn’t know what was wrong and the doctor told her just to keep trying).

    Anyway, this was great. I think it’s especially helpful for those in leadership positions (RS presidents) for how to handle situations like this in their wards. As Angeleyes story illustrates, it’s not always handled well, even though people are well meaning, I am sure. I had a similar experience when I had a pregnancy complication and ended up in the hospital for over a month. Several women in the ward who I hardly knew called me to tell me how they had this or that problem during pregnancy so they could understand what I was going through…but it wasn’t the same, and while I’m sure they were well-meaning, it wasn’t all that helpful or consoling.

    We really need to follow the spirit in situations that are sensitive like this so that we know the best way to handle it.

  • Alison Moore Smith August 23, 2007, 9:28 pm

    I just spent some time sharing a really nasty response I once got when I miscarried. I guess that means it wasn’t meant to be share.

    So, I’ll just ad the other stuff:

    Great article. Thank you so much! With every one of my five miscarriages I was almost always treated as kindly as people knew how. That was a blessing.

  • ChanJo August 27, 2007, 12:27 am

    Thank you for this article. I think we could all learn from it. Can I pass it on to my relief society president for reference? I will keep your name on it of course.

    This site is such a great resource and your writers are so good. Keep it coming.

  • east-of-eden August 27, 2007, 8:08 am

    Sincerely doing something kind to let someone know that you’re thinking about them is never the wrong thing to do.”

    This is probably the one time I will agree with Dr. Laura. But, facethemusic, honestly, saying I’m sorry is never a shallow thing. Personally, I never have wanted to hear more or less from anyone. As for your SIL and the loss of her child, I’ve never lost a child, so wouldn’t know how to approach the situation, other than to say, be sincere and speak from the heart.

    Angleyeys (now I’m thinking ABBA songs and it’s only 7:45!!), my mom had a similar reaction to my miscarriages…just “oh” she and my sister never really knew what to do or say with me, until my sister told me I had PPD. I had to find other women who had gone thru similar expereinces to really get the support I needed. As for the RSP and telling everyone…..BAD! Have you talked to her about this? She should know better than to tell a bunch of people. I had a similar experience, I told a friend about our first m/c and she proceeded to tell a bunch of people. One night I came home to find my answering maching full of well meaning, but almost total strangers who knew my situation. I traced the source of the leak back to my friend and I had a very, very frank discussion with her about keeping confidences. I learned my lesson on that, that you have to be very specific with who you tell things to and then making sure that they don’t tell a bunch of other people. Find someone you can trust, and don’t veer from them.

    I kind of felt like she was reaching out to me by sharing this, but I really wasn’t sure what to say.

    Agardner, your SIL was reaching out, and felt comfortable in telling you. Like I said in the essay, just listen and follow the spirit as to what to say and do. All you have to say is ‘thanks for sharing this with me, I know this must have been a hard situtaion for you to go thru, and is there anything I can do for you?”

    ChanJo, feel free to pass things along to your RSP.

  • Alison Moore Smith August 27, 2007, 8:54 am

    The problem we all encounter with delicate (I’ve used that word twice today, which is so NOT me!) situations is that we can’t divine what is wanted or expected. I truly know people who get offended if you mention it and those who get offended if you don’t. Eden brought up a great example about telling everyone. When I miscarried, I told EVERYONE and, in fact would have appreciated a friend who spread the word for me, so I wouldn’t have to. Let me explain:

    When someone dies, you have a funeral. It’s in the newspaper. Everyone knows and no one is offended if you pass the info to others in the ward or neighborhood. If you get a casserole or a card or flowers from someone you barely know, well, I have never seen offense at that. When you have the funeral, close friends attend, but sometimes there are distant friends, acquaintances, even those who don’t know you at all but who were sometimes influenced by the deceased. (Think President Faust’s funeral.) Most of the time, everyone accepts that behavior.

    When I have miscarried, I have felt that I lost a baby. And I wanted it to be recognized as a similar loss to when someone dies. I know it’s not full term, but it was a great loss and I didn’t get to have the benefit of the funeral or the other customs to gain love and support and lifting from others. So when others, through the grapevine or whatever, spread the info (as they would for another death), I was able to get a measure of support and comfort. People acknowledged my loss and tried to be kind and loving.

    So, in this case, Eden and I feel entirely differently about a particular act. She felt it an intrusion of privacy, I felt it a loving gesture. That’s the problem. We are all so different in our feelings that it’s really hard to know what a PARTICULAR person will need or want. People are really just grasping at straws.

    There isn’t a right and wrong here. I learned that while we try to do the best we can to serve and help, we also as RECIPIENTS of the efforts of well-meaning folks it helps to try to accept other’s methods of giving love, even though at times the efforts are awkward or don’t fit our preferences. It really can be tough to know what’s right!

    Eden has such great wisdom here. It has helped me to be able to see another perspective on an issue I’m too familiar with.

  • east-of-eden August 27, 2007, 2:41 pm

    When I have miscarried, I have felt that I lost a baby. And I wanted it to be recognized as a similar loss to when someone dies. I know it’s not full term, but it was a great loss and I didn’t get to have the benefit of the funeral or the other customs to gain love and support and lifting from others.

    I felt the same way, I guess however, I just was so confused as to how I felt at first and I didn’t want a bunch of people in my face all at once. I’m like that, I like my privacy, and people make me nervous sometimes. I guess too, living in a small town, where our whole town is our ward boundaries, I have been very cautious as to what I wanted out, because you can’t just move away and be done with these people, the people in my ward are going to be here for a long time, so will we. I’ve also seen how gossip flys around here–it’s not pretty at all.

    In my case, I had requested confidence, and that was broken, that’s why I suggested that confidences should never be broken, unless life and limb are at stake. Some people are very free with their information–that’s great, but then there are some who are not–like me. I’m learning to be so more and more, and it’s been a long time since I’ve miscarried, and I think that’s the only reason I can blog about it now–a year ago I would have been in full no comment mode.

    There isn’t a right and wrong here. I learned that while we try to do the best we can to serve and help, we also as RECIPIENTS of the efforts of well-meaning folks it helps to try to accept other’s methods of giving love, even though at times the efforts are awkward or don’t fit our preferences. It really can be tough to know what’s right!

    I agree too, there is no wrong or right. However, if you feel someone has stepped over the line, you need to let them know–politely of course, and I did that with my friend. It’s all about communication–good effective communication.

  • Alison Moore Smith August 27, 2007, 3:09 pm

    Posted By: east-of-edenSome people are very free with their information–that’s great, but then there are some who are not–like me. I’m learning to be so more and more

    And that’s the thing. You don’t necessarily NEED to be more free with it. It’s just a difference and sometimes navigating those differences is hard.

    Posted By: east-of-edenHowever, if you feel someone has stepped over the line, you need to let them know–politely of course, and I did that with my friend.

    Absolutely. Otherwise, they may never really know. I think you handled it just fine and, of course, if we’ve been asked to keep something confidential, we should.

    FWIW, by, “There isn’t a right and wrong here.” I was referring to the feelings of the person who had the miscarriage. It’s not wrong to be more private and it’s not right to be more open. It’s just a preference and we need to try to figure out–the best we (imperfectly) can–to address the needs of the particular person we are dealing with.

  • Keryn August 29, 2007, 9:19 pm

    I’m a bit late to commenting on this, but I wanted to say thank you to everyone who shared their experiences. Just a week ago I found that a woman I work with in the ward just miscarried. I ran into her the other day. Normally I would have probably just smiled sympathetically or something, but I thought of this post and screwed up my courage and told her how sorry I was for her loss. It wasn’t an easy conversation, but I’m grateful she felt like she could open up to me, even for just a few moments.

  • east-of-eden August 30, 2007, 7:15 am

    Welcom Keryn….

    Good for you! Good for you! I’m sure your courage to talk to this sister will have really made her day and helped her feel not so alone.

  • mlinford August 30, 2007, 2:29 pm

    I love hearing stories like Keryn’s, especially when they result from discussions of women trying to help each other. Love it.

  • Lisa December 12, 2013, 7:15 pm

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Figuring out what happens weeks after a miscarriage is confusing to me.
    Lisa recently posted…Bye Bye Baby- Pregnancy #2My Profile

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