At the end of February, I lay on an exam table knowing exactly what I was seeing on the ultrasound screen well before the nurse practitioner said, “Heather, I don’t have good news.”
Though most of our acquaintances and friends didn’t know we were expecting, we did choose to share the news of our miscarriage with those around us, including church friends, coworkers, and my students. Their condolences were a blessed comfort. We did, however, receive enough unhelpful comments that I’d like to share a few ways not to minister to a grieving mother.
1. Don’t tell her “God’s plan is best.” Two of my female students selected a card for me that stated, “I know you trust God, so I won’t preach to you.” How perceptive these fifteen year olds are! Reminders of God's will being perfect, though true, don't ease the pain of loss. Instead, they suggest the would-be-comforter wants to maintain a distance from the actual difficulty of the loss, and they come across as condescending to women who have a mature faith already.
2. Don’t instruct her about how common miscarriage is. Babies, no matter how early on in their development, should never be reduced to statistics. We wouldn’t tell a woman whose baby has died of SIDS, “You know, SIDS deaths are more common than you might think."
Though 85% of women who’ve miscarried will eventually give birth to healthy babies, the fear of repeat miscarriage is strong. Don’t strengthen that fear by reminding her she may go through this loss again.
3. Don’t remind her how blessed she is for already having x number of children or that she’s got plenty of time to have another baby. Each baby is an individual, loved and wanted for who he is and will become. Living children or future children can never replace that unique lost life.
4. Don’t assume she has had a D&C or assume that the physical process is complete. Many women choose to go through the process naturally, for a variety of reasons. These women need continued support not assumptions that a miscarriage is akin to a menstrual period.
Of course, some people are acutely aware that they may make a blunder in attempting to comfort a grieving mom and commit probably the worst error: they say nothing. I offer a few suggestions for those who want to do something but aren’t sure what’s appropriate:
1. Do send cards or flowers. Condolences appropriate for the death of a child are appropriate for the loss of a pregnancy. The cards we received from students, coworkers, and family not only strengthened us in the moment, but they also gave us some keepsakes to include in a scrapbook along with our baby’s ultrasound picture. Walking into my classroom and finding cards and bouquets of flowers validated my feelings of loss. Seeing the effort my students went through to comfort me told me they cared about me and my unborn child.
2. Do respect the mother’s choice, whether it be for a D&C or a natural miscarriage. This is a choice made by a woman in conjunction with her husband and doctor. She doesn’t need outside criticism piled atop the tremendous emotional burden she’s already carrying.
3. Do offer to bring her family a meal or to watch her other children. The physical and emotional strain of a miscarriage is exhausting and a D&C is a surgery requiring general anesthesia. Lightening her burden of caring for her family will give her time to rest and care for her own health.
4. Do remember that her pain isn’t gone in a day. I chose not to take time off work after learning I’d miscarried, but walking into work that first day was daunting. Finding a card in my mailbox and a friend saying, “You are a brave girl to be here” went a long way: I knew people were rallying behind me. A week later, nothing meant more than a dear coworker saying, “I want you to know I haven’t forgotten.”
Miscarriage is an extremely painful reality for many women. With sensitivity and acknowledgement of the loss, we can help bring comfort and strength to women who so desparately need compassion and understanding.