3 Ways to Support Women Who’ve Experienced Miscarriage or Stillbirth

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Several weeks ago I wrote a post about depression and grief after a miscarriage or loss. To be honest, I was actually surprised by how much reaction it got. Having not experienced infant loss myself, it hadn’t really hit me how many women go through it, how deeply affected they are, how it easy it is to say the wrong thing when trying to support them, and how confused they are about where to find the help they need. My eyes were opened.

I just read a piece written by a mom who has already been through postpartum depression and has just recently had a miscarriage. My heart aches for her. Here is a bit of what she wrote:

“I feel like I have this black pit in my insides and it’s slowly consuming more and more of my being. I just want to come out on the other side of this without losing too much of myself. I feel like I’d finally come out of my postpartum issues and I lost a little piece of myself with it, but I also gained. I have Colin. But now I feel like I’m losing all over again and this time I have no reward for survival.”

Ugh. I always feel like I don’t know exactly what to say to a mom who has had a miscarriage or lost her baby. How to show support. How to avoid blowing it by saying the wrong thing. I came across this really helpful post from the Share blog entitled “What Do You Say?”, which describes exactly what NOT to say:

“After each of my miscarriages, I was truly shocked and amazed by the words that came from my friends’ and loved one’s mouths…things like: ‘You’re young, you’ll have more babies!’ ‘At least it happened early.’ ‘There was probably something wrong with ‘it,’ you should think of it as a blessing.’ (Oh, really? A miscarriage is a blessing? How exactly, I wanted to ask.). My favorite, ‘It’s been a MONTH already! You need to get over this!’ …

I am routinely stunned and horrified by what parents who have had later losses tell me…like the mom who was told after her daughter was born still at 20 weeks, ‘At least you hadn’t done a nursery yet.’ Or the mom who shared with me that her grandmother told her after the full term stillbirth of her third child, ‘Oh well…you didn’t need another baby anyway.’ Or the many parents who are told ‘Count your blessings! You have other children!’ as if that makes the death of one okay. Or, ‘It wasn’t meant to be.’ The ‘ors’ could go on and on.

Oh gosh. Have I said something like this to someone who has had a miscarriage? Somewhere along the way? To be perfectly honest, I bet I have, or some milder version of it, while fumbling for the right words and trying to put a good spin on a horrible situation. Why do we feel that we have to put a spin on it at all? Why can’t we just say “I’m sorry. I’m here for you. I love you.”? It’s as if we want to make it go away for the person who is hurting, to brush it aside, to lighten the load. As if by saying the magic words she will be set on the speedy superhighway to recovery.

The Silent Grief website offers an article on how to help a friend who has gone through a pregnancy loss. They suggest doing a lot of the same things I’d suggest when trying to help a friend who has postpartum depression.

1. Offer to do errands or bring a fresh and nutritious meal. I’ve often heard it said that in this situation you shouldn’t take no for an answer, since many feel so uncomfortable accepting help and are likely to say they don’t need any. Say “I’ve made this for you and I’m going to bring it. When would be the best time to drop it by?” rather than “Would you like me to bring some food?”

2. Be a good listener, allowingher to share her story and feelings. Don’t judge. Don’t decide for her when she should get over this or how she should be reacting to it. It’s her loss, not yours.

3. Make sure your support is ongoing, not just during the first few weeks. Fight the urge to move away from her because it’s so hard to see her suffer and it’s so hard to be around such pain. Keep reaching out.

For those of you going through this right now, please check out my piece on the difference between grief and depression after a loss. It includes a list of specific resources that support women who have had miscarriages or stillbirths. Please consider visiting them so that you might be able tointeract with those who truly understand what you are going through. You are not alone.

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About Katherine Stone

is the founder & editor of Postpartum Progress. She was named one of the ten most influential mom bloggers of 2011, a WebMD Health Hero and one of the top 25 parent bloggers using social media for social good. She also writes the Fierce Blog, and a parenting column for Disney's Babble.com.

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  1. Thanks for posting the blog about the things people say, It's true and scary what people think is an acceptable way of supporting someone. You would never say hey it's great so and so died now instead of later, it just wasn't going to work out. So what makes it acceptable with the loss of a pregnancy? Thanks for the other resources as well. I have loved your blog for a while, and referenced it a few times from my postpartum blog, . Keep up the great work.

  2. Hi!
    I wanted to really comment on this one. I have never had a miscarriage, though I have known those who have. For one of my friends we had a ceremony and a kind of funeral. It seems morbid, but she said later that acknowledging the death in the way that we did helped her through the process. People tend to want to sweep miscarriages under the rug and forget they happened, but to the women it happened to they can't do that.
    One of the things we also did for this friend (it was a group of us that did this) was make little dolls and gave them to her. She could then bury them (her miscarriage was really early so she didn't have anything to bury or mourn over that was tangible) or keep them, whatever she felt she wanted to do with them. We had her write a letter to the baby to say whatever she wanted to say.
    I think acknowledging it and not trying to make it out like "she needs to get over it already" is what women need. Having so many people tell them that they shouldn't be mourning is just going to make it worse.

  3. Thanks for this post. I especially appreciate the quote you had of the woman who has a child already.
    I lost a baby at 14 weeks last month and it is so hard. I have an older son and went through a long drawn-out nasty bout of PPD with him. I had only been back feeling like myself for a few months when I got pregnant again. I had a really hard first trimester, and with all the first trimester nastiness was wondering whether the depression was returning. And then I found out the baby had died.
    I think it's particularly hard to miscarry after PPD when you're on anti-depressants. There is always the lingering question about whether that affected anything. It is already easy enough to feel like it's your fault. Do you go off ADs after a miscarriage so that you remove that question from future pregnancies, thus leaving yourself wide open to depression's return in a vulnerable time???

  4. Thank you, thank you, thank you for keeping this discussion going. After I lost my son Kye at 20 weeks, I was absolutely devastated. It's been a year and a half and to tell you the truth, I'm still devastated. Just last night I had a major "melt down". I was volunteering at the Foodbank and the lady next to me was talking to her friends for over an hour about her new pregnancy (only 8 weeks along). Saying how rare it is to have a miscarriage, how she didn't like the prenatal vitamins so she wasn't taking them anymore, etc. etc. I've met women who didn't take their prenatal vitamins at my support groups. Their stories are devastating. Suddenly I couldn't listen to it anymore and physically left to go to the bathroom in tears. I'm not sure miscarriage is something that one can ever "get over". It is a dead baby after all whether other people want to acknowledge that or understand it.
    Suffering from PPD after the loss of a child only makes your grief that much deeper, longer, and simply awful. Seek help. It does exist!! Even if the only help you can receive is through online support systems. Miscarriage makes you feel an incredible burden of guilt. It's impossible to realize that it is most likely not caused by something that you did or didn't do. You can't get over it. All you can do is integrate the loss and sadness into your being and learn to have a new normal that includes being the parent of a dead baby.

  5. During my last pregnancy I went into early labor while out of town at a jazz concert. My husband and I left the concert (in Kansas City, Kansas) and went to the hospital where the contractions slowed down. It was easily one of the hardest times of my life.
    The hospital was absolutely wonderful. They have a specialty in high-risk pregnancies, so they are very sensitive toward pregnancy loss.
    One nurse visited with me for a long time, explaining the various things available to mothers who have lost their babies. I will never forget it.
    Some of the nurses spend their free time making tiny clothing. She explained that many times families are disturbed that there is nothing to bury a premature baby in.
    As I was so afraid and vulnerable, I remember feeling a deep respect and appreciation for the facility and people around me. That sensitivity was worth so much.
    Many Postpartum Support International coordinators are familiar with local pregnancy loss groups. If leaders of those types of groups have anything like the skills of the staff of that KC hospital, women are in good hands.

  6. To any moms that are suffering a loss; I have been through it, I know how painful it is, I don't know your exact pain, as no one will, but I will say this, you can survive it, it takes a long time to become even okay, it did me. I still cry over my first one, and that happened 2 years ago. I felt/feel like a failure. I know it isn't my fault, but I can't help feeling that way. You may be feeling something similar. There is no one "right way" to grieve, especially when it is your child (or anyone else for that matter), whatever you are feeling, it is NORMAL.
    If you feel like you are a danger to yourself (I would have tried to kill myself, if I didn't have other responsibilities), get help, please. You in no way brought this on yourself nor do you "deserve it" (I have told myself that as well). I know you loved your baby with all of your heart, I still love mine. If you get help and your "help" tells you that you should be over it, or that you shouldn't think of your child everyday, tell them to shove it, and find another person in that field. I will think of my children that I have lost every single day for the rest of my life, and there is not a damned thing wrong with that.
    I have suffered 2 stillbirths, one full term and one early, I have been told many of the things above and some even worse.
    After my first one, a neighbor told me the day of "Well it is better you didn't bring another kid into this messed up world anyway" I wanted to physically hurt her. My aunt told me that "now he is safe, he is in God's hands", knowing full well I am atheist, and it made me feel like she thought I wasn't capable of taking care of my own kid. It may comfort some people to bring religion into it, but others it doesn't, my advice is not to bring it into it at all, unless the mother has already sad something about the baby being in God's hands or care or whatever. I had a really terrible doctor to top it off, I still say to this day, I would have been better off going to veterinary clinic than that doctor.
    I had a second stillbirth a month ago, my body didn't pass it, and after the doctors found out they gave me options, they also had every OB in the building come in to make sure, because of my past. There was 7 doctors shoved in this tiny room with me. They all told me with sad looks on their faces that my baby had passed (I knew from the emergency ultrasound), and how terribly sorry they were. They gave me 2 options, either I could get induced and have the baby like I had others, or they could send me to a specialist. I chose the specialist.
    They scheduled me for a D&E (basically an abortion, same process, but without having to do stuff to the baby). I am so glad no one referred to it as an abortion, I would have probably freaked out bad. Since it has happened, it is just me and my partner dealing with this, no one even acts like we had a loss. It makes me mad that no one acknowledges this child's life, or how hard it is to lose a child of any age.
    I was blessed to have a very compassionate doctor, she is a researcher normally, but agreed to take me because her second specialty is surgery. I haven't got any answers yet, but I feel confident that if I am going to get answers, it will be because of all the hard work she is doing with all of my samples and because of a natural curiosity she has.
    If you are in Ohio, and you experience anything like this go to OSU in Columbus, if you can, the people that dealt with my case was the "Gyn 1 Clinic". Everyone was very compassionate, even when I broke down and cried like a baby. The anesthesiologist was great and so was all of the nurses, and all of the people that took what seemed like gallons of blood. I do not have even the tiniest complaint, except possibly wait times in the clinic because of the emergencies that come up.
    First time I went up I was there for 2 hours, all but 10 or so minutes of that was with doctors and staff.
    The second time I went was for surgery, I signed in and I was whisked away, a nurse took my history again (after the first visit), I got into their little gowns, and I was off and rolling (in my bed) to a huge room with other patients waiting for anesthesia and others coming back from it. I think I may have waited 1/2 an hour all together, talking with the aneshesiologist, doctor and waiting on them to come back with the medications you need. They answered every single question, down to the specific drug cocktail I was being given to knock me out. I was wheeled back to the surgery room and I got on the table, I was the first surgery of the day, so they all had their morning buzz of coffee, lol, and talked to me like another human being. No one had that "I'm the doctor, you're the patient, you know nothing and I am God" thing that some have. You can request a nurse to sit with you the entire time you are coming out of it too.
    The third time I was in the room for like 1 1/2 hours waiting on a doctor.
    As scary as everything was, and as bad of a situation as it was, they made things better by treating me like I was a sister or cousin, like I was human, and not just a tally in their book. I cannot recommend OSU enough, if you are in the same situation as I was.

  7. i am going through a hard time right now, with so many things.
    i had 3 miscarriages in the past year.
    and have been so miserable. i don't remember a day go by i hadn't cried.
    but lately i noticed getting very attached and been having separation anxiety to people who i don't know if i even like…
    i am always an attached person and i have separation anxiety but not like this with people who i dont know or like.
    only last night it hit me that maybe it has to do with the miscarriages…
    ive been trying to seach such thing on the net but cant really find anything, and was wondering what you think