Your friend, expecting to have a baby, has miscarried. What do you do? What do you say? Knowing how to form the right words (are there any right words for this?) can feel nearly impossible. You want to help, to be there for her, but you’re not sure how. This is normal. Miscarriage is yet another common occurrence that people feel deeply uncomfortable discussing, if only for fear of making the person who is suffering feel worse. When a friend or someone you love experiences a miscarriage, there are many ways in which you can comfort her (and many ways that you shouldn’t).
Hold space for her grief
Everyone grieves differently. For some women, a miscarriage very early on in pregnancy may not feel like a huge loss. For others, the loss of a pregnancy, no matter how early, can be devastating. What’s important here is not how she grieves but the space she has in which to do so safely. Meditation teacher, Lynn Hauka, shares “holding space for another person is incredibly profound. When you hold space for someone, you bring your entire presence to them. You walk along with them without judgment, sharing their journey to an unknown destination. Yet you’re completely willing to end up wherever they need to go. You give your heart, let go of control, and offer unconditional support.”
In theory, this sounds great, exactly the kind of support you want to give. But how, in a practical way, can you hold space for a friend who has had a miscarriage?
- Listen more than you talk — providing an ear for your friend, should she desire it, will help her much more than you spouting off things you intend to be helpful. You may find that she wants to talk about how the miscarriage happened, her disappointment and sadness, or even her relief (especially if the pregnancy was unplanned or undesired). Let her speak fully, honestly, and without judgment.
- Sit in silence — maybe your friend doesn’t want to talk and, instead, wants someone there being quiet with her. Allow for that, too.
- Create a container — this container is not physical, but emotional. Create a safe space in which her emotions are held sacred, unburied by your own emotions. Holding space means giving the other person space to feel what they need to feel. Use time with her for this, and time afterward to sort out your own feelings.
Validate her feelings and experience
Having a miscarriage can bring on a rollercoaster of feelings—guilt, shame, sadness, emptiness, relief, anxiety—and all of these feelings are valid, whether you understand them or not. What your friend needs, more than understanding, is acceptance of the way she is dealing with her miscarriage.
Your friend may want to lay in bed and cry. She might want to go to the movies, an entertaining distraction for her feelings. Or, she may want to go about life with as much normalcy as possible. While you may not understand what she wants, remember that it’s not up to you.
By accepting her needs, you validate them, reassuring her that it’s ok to feel how she feels, or do what she needs/wants to do. When someone feels validated, they feel nurtured, which is likely what your friend needs.
The only thing not to validate is self-blame, something that many women who have had miscarriages do. Your friend may feel like the miscarriage is her fault but it couldn’t have been—the majority of miscarriages are caused by a damaged egg or sperm, not anything she did. Reassure her that her miscarriage was in no way her fault.
Choose your words with intention
While listening is ideal, there will be times when you want or need to speak, offering your condolences and support. Comforting her with your words requires thoughtfulness and intention on your part. Don’t worry about being poetic or profound; sometimes the most meaningful words are the simplest.
You can (and should) say, “I’m sorry for your loss”. This can serve to help your friend understand that you do recognize her miscarriage as a loss, validating her feelings that it was and is. Saying, “Is there anything I can do for you?” and “I’m here for you”, backed up with action, can also be helpful, showing her that she’s not alone.
If your friend opens up to you about her experience, you may not know what to say and that’s ok. Tell her, “I wish I knew what to say but I don’t. But I’m here for you and I love you”. Your honesty is far better than trying to feign expertise or wisdom.
In every word you say, be mindful about how it can be perceived and the intention behind it. In a situation like this, it really is the thought that counts.
How not to comfort a friend who had a miscarriage
While holding space, validating her feelings, and being mindful of your words can go a long way in providing comfort to a friend who has had a miscarriage, there are several things that you should avoid doing or saying.
- Don’t say “At least…” — fill in the blank with anything you can think of—”you have your health”, “your other children are healthy”, “you weren’t that far along”. There is no “at least” when you’re grieving a miscarriage.
- Don’t say you’ll be there and not show up — we all have those friends who say “I’m here for you!” but, when needed, are nowhere to be found. If you’re not going to be there when she needs you, don’t say it. Instead offer your condolences and leave it at that. A sincere apology is better than a false promise.
- Don’t try to cheer her up — cheering up is not what someone needs after a miscarriage. They need time and support. Try not to confuse the two.
- Don’t have expectations of her grief — even if you’ve gone through a miscarriage and recovered quickly, she may need more time to process and accept her loss. Avoid projecting your expectations on to her.
Comforting a friend who had a miscarriage can be one of the most challenging parts of friendship. Just remember that her grief and her process of recovery is about her and her loss, not you or your friendship. Often, it’s less about what you say and more about what you do that provides real comfort.
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