In April 2014, I was 11 weeks pregnant with a little one we call Baby. Only four weeks earlier, my husband and I had watched Baby’s healthy heart flicker on the screen, and I was still experiencing awful morning sickness. We had no reason to believe anything was wrong.
We sat in the doctor’s office waiting room and planned our public pregnancy announcement while I nibbled on saltines. But after that appointment, we faced a different announcement. Our Baby had died, and most people did not even know we were pregnant.
We had followed the conventional wisdom that you should keep pregnancy a secret until after the first trimester, or 12-14 weeks of pregnancy, after which the risk of miscarriage drastically reduces to less than 1 percent. The wisdom implied that if you tell people you are pregnant too soon, you might have to tell people you miscarried.
But keeping the miscarriage private seemed impossible. Not only was it really difficult to convince co-workers and friends I was suddenly sick, I did not want to keep Baby’s death a secret. I was mourning the loss of my child. I did not know how to do it alone. I needed support. I needed to be known. I needed my loss to be recognized. I needed love.
Although early pregnancy loss is still misunderstood, it has become more common to talk about miscarriage. In recent months, public figures such as Joy-Anna Duggar Forsyth and Meghan McCain have beautifully and bravely told their miscarriage stories. As more voices like theirs rise, the need to be equipped to provide more personal support to families is apparent.
So the question then is: What can we do for our friends and family suffering this grief?
Start By Learning More About Miscarriage
First, we must all learn more about miscarriage. We have cultural norms for how to respond to many other tragedies, such as the death of a loved one or a cancer diagnosis, so why are we so paralyzed about miscarriage?
One reason might be that the long silence about miscarriage has perpetuated misinformation. This misinformation clouds our understanding of what a family might be experiencing and dilutes the urgency to help. Even the word “miscarriage” is vague and not always used precisely, as it is sometimes applied to all forms of pregnancy loss.
A more accurate use of the word refers to pregnancy loss before 20 weeks of gestation (after this point, a fetal death is referred to as a stillbirth.) Doctors and other medical professionals might use the word “spontaneous abortion” to describe a miscarriage. “Early pregnancy loss” is also a clear way to talk about miscarriage.
Many other terms relate to miscarriage, and it is important to know the difference between diagnoses such as ectopic pregnancy, molar pregnancy, chemical pregnancy, and missed miscarriage. Understanding treatment options, such as a dilation and curettage (D&C) or a natural miscarriage, is also important.
Accurately understanding the medical terms matters. Equipped with this knowledge, we are more prepared to care for families. Unfortunately, miscarriages are very common, so it is likely that anyone could become a support person for a loved one.
Practical Ways To Help Right away
If a family is experiencing a miscarriage, talk to them or other loved ones to learn more about the specific situation and their needs. Just like birth, every miscarriage is a little different, so these specifics will matter.
Some questions one could ask include: Has the mother already delivered the remains? Will she need a surgical procedure? Is she waiting to deliver at home? Are there any concerns about complications? All these questions might help you identify her specific needs.
Understanding the tragedy is only the first step. Even if you are not in the position to ask all of the intimate details, there are many options for providing support for a family suffering loss.
Provide a meal. Whether you make it from scratch or send carry out via a delivery service, the family will be thankful for the relief. Prepared freezer meals to save for the future are great too!
Offer to babysit. Navigating daily activities with other children might be very difficult. At times, the family may be in dire need of child care. There will be follow-up doctor’s appointments, potential surgery, or maybe a home delivery or natural miscarriage. Being available to care for children might be a welcome relief.
Sit, listen, and encourage. Bring coffee, and let her talk about whatever she wants to talk about. Nothing can beat listening to her, but also offering encouraging and thoughtful words can help her know she is not alone. This goes for fathers, too — be sure to check in on him.
Provide resources and supplies. Depending on her medical situation, she may need a variety of supplies. If she has not yet delivered the fetus, she might need sanitary supplies following a scheduled or emergency D&C or for an anticipated natural miscarriage. Also, many organizations have burial supplies or comfort items available.
Offer financial support. Miscarriage can be a major medical event, and the family might incur crippling medical expenses. Potential medical costs include doctor’s appointments, ultrasounds, emergency room visits, hospital stays, ambulance services, surgical procedures, and fetal testing.
Connect the family with emotional, mental, and spiritual support. Find local and online support groups, or look into other forms of support such as books, pastoral support, or private counseling. The family might know they need help but don’t know where to find it. You can be the missing link.
Give a gift. A small gift to mark the life of the baby will be treasured by the family. Send flowers, write a card, or send a personal memorial item.
Attend memorial events. If the family decides to have a funeral, burial, or memorial event, and invites you, attend. The gestational age of the little one lost does not change the truth that miscarriage is the death of a person.
Support a pregnancy loss organization. Many nonprofits exist that support women and families following loss. This is also a great way to care for families who have lost a baby, even if you don’t personally know anyone walking through this grief.
Remember the family. The days and weeks following loss can be very difficult, but many families know that grief lingers. Support people have the opportunity to continue to care for parents by remembering their loss. Certain days such as Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, due dates, anniversaries, and other holidays might trigger feelings of grief.
Other, less public, difficulties can include the return of a mother’s menstrual cycle, pregnancy announcements of friends and family, and future pregnancies. Remembering families during these times can remind them that they are not alone in their grief.
The Power of Community
Miscarriages are very common, but the frequency of the tragedy does not reduce the weight of death. Just as with any death, early pregnancy loss is the loss of a unique and infinitely valuable life. This is an incredible grief to bear, and might make parents feel isolated as they reckon with the loss of not just any child, but their child.
While we cannot take away the source of their pain, we can come together to make a lonely place feel not so lonely. We can legitimize the feelings of loss and give parents a space to grieve the loss of the unique soul they called theirs. In this, we truly love our neighbor by bearing burdens.