RESPONDING TO PREGNANCY LOSS
Today started like any other day. It’s officially spring and in true form I am watching water droplets stream down my windowpane, washing away the last traces of winter. [That is until the weekend as snow is on it’s way. #CanadianProblems]. The boys are down for their nap and I am enjoying a few moments of solitude with a mug full of freshly brewed coffee.
It was an ordinary day until I realized that today is the four-year mark of my first miscarriage [March 31 & April 1 2012- felt like a cruel April Fool's joke]. I call her “Lily,” although truthfully I don’t know for certain if she was a girl. I don’t mean to sound melodramatic, but the fact that this milestone only dawned on me now is a good thing. The first anniversary of my loss was incredibly painful. For weeks prior I had kept mental tabs on this dreaded date that loomed ahead. I had a mother’s heart, but empty arms. Fast-forward a few years and although there is still a lingering ache for “Lily” and “Max,” healing has taken place. There will always be a chasm in my heart for my babies that left too soon and a wondering of “what if.” However, I have come to a place of acceptance. I know my first two babies were “fearfully and wonderfully made,” by their Creator. I know they were loved deeply. I know I will see them again someday as they are with Jesus. And I know they have left a lasting impact on my life for the better. Although their absence is painful, I wouldn't trade being their mama for anything!
Of course I say this now after time has passed and giving birth to two beautiful boys. I no longer have empty arms. Miscarriage is sadly all too common, but not often discussed. There’s a lot of secrecy and shame that shrouds an experience that up to 1 in 4 expecting couples face. I think part of the reason for the silence, is that people don’t know how to respond appropriately. I want to write about what to say to someone who has experienced miscarriage, and perhaps more importantly- what not to say.
1. DON’T DOWNPLAY IT
Although miscarriage is common, that fact does little to ease the heartache that comes along with it. In my experience, the emotional aftermath of a miscarriage continues long after the physical symptoms subside. I read a statistic that states this experience increases one’s risk factor of depression by up to 270% especially for mothers with no children. I can attest to suffering for a period after my first loss. For us we didn’t just lose a fetus, nor was this simply “nature taking its course." We lost our child. Don't confuse grief with cheering up. Grief is a powerful emotion and part of the healing process.
2. LISTEN- BUT DON’T FORCE THE CONVERSATION
When I lost “Lily,” I was very open about it. In retrospect, I question whether that was wise. With “Max,” I only told a few close confidents and I found that easier as I customized my support system.
In the weeks and months following my loss, I had well-intentioned, but misguided folks ask how I was really doing. I appreciate the sentiment, but when I am at the grocery store and am forced to discuss my deepest sorrow, forgive me if I don’t want to have a heart-to-heart right there and then. On more than one occasion I would awkwardly fumble my way through an answer before leaving the store quickly as I felt a lump form in the back of my throat.
If we wish to talk about our loss, please listen. We aren’t looking for answers from you. We are simply are trying to work through what’s happened in order to move forward.
3. DON’T ASK FOR THE NITTY-GRITTY
In addition to listening, don’t ask for a detailed play-by-play of someone’s miscarriage. If we choose to share the details, that’s fine. A few times, I found people asking in-depth questions to the point where it wasn’t helpful at all. All it served was for me to relive a painful memory.
4. PHRASES TO AVOID & USE
AVOID: "This is God's plan." "Everything happens for a reason." "At least you know you can get pregnant." "Time erases pain." "It wasn't meant to be."
USE: "I’m so sorry for your loss." "I don’t know what to say." "I’m here if you need anything or ever want to talk."
4. DON'T AVOID- DO CONNECT
During my bout of depression, I tended to isolate myself. I am so grateful to friends who didn't let me slip through the cracks during this time. I realize it can be hard to know what to say, but your presence speaks volumes. If you need an ice-breaker, these PREGNANCY LOSS CARDS by DR. JESSICA ZUCKER, are a good place to start.
5. ENJOY YOUR CHILDREN
Before announcing my pregnancy with Dylan, a friend confided to me that she was expecting her second baby. From the start she prefaced her news by saying, “I know you’ve had a miscarriage, but… “ She was sweet to consider my feelings, but it uncomfortably shifted the focus off her exciting news and onto me. Was it hard sometimes seeing babies and pregnant women? Absolutely as it was a reminder of what I lost. But that had nothing to do with them and everything to do with me. Even in my darkest moment, I recognized that life was worth celebrating- perhaps even more so.
6. AVOID ASKING & HINTING ABOUT PREGNANCY
This isn’t directly related to miscarriage, but it’s important nonetheless. Someone may experience loss and won’t broadcast it. Someone may be trying to conceive and month after month goes by without seeing that "+" sign. Someone may be rushing to fertility appointments, getting painful FSH shots, exploring surrogacy or adoption options...etc. You just don’t know. Quips such as "You better get on it," are hurtful, stressful, and insensitive to those who are experiencing loss and/or infertility. Many people are facing struggles that we know nothing of, so be kind. Mind your own womb.
I want to close by saying THANK YOU to everyone who supported and prayed for my husband and I. My faith, coupled with loving friends and family helped us navigate that difficult season. If you have or are going through a miscarriage, please feel free to talk to me. You are not alone.