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How to help and care for a friend after miscarriage or stillbirth

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How to help a friend after miscarriage

Losing a baby to miscarriage is the most heart-breaking thing that has ever happened to me – my darkest hour followed by my most desperate days. It’s opened me up to a whole new world in which the reality of life’s fragility is so much more real, and a world where my eyes have been opened to hurting parents all around me with hopes deferred and dreams dashed. But it’s also opened me up to a world where I’ve seen over and over friends—and even casual acquaintances—that genuinely want to help.

And as much as they want to help, loving, well-meaning friends often feel awkward and don’t know how to relate after such a tragedy. (What if I say the wrong thing? What if I get in the way?) That’s ok—we who have lost babies know the tension and we understand there is no cultural blueprint for dealing with the death of a baby, especially when there is no body to bury.

I sincerely hope you never need to use these suggestions for a bereaved parent in your circle. But if you do, never underestimate the power you have to minister profoundly through simple gestures and supportive friendship at this time. You can help a family in crisis find the difference between grieving with despair and grieving with hope as they process the loss of their child within a caring, supportive community.

How to help a friend after miscarriage

1. Don’t be silent.

In our effort to give people personal space we can inadvertently leave them feeling uncared for. Losing a baby is one of the loneliest events a woman might ever experience and she and her family need to know they aren’t forgotten in their pain. Send a hand-written note,  make a phone call, or drop off flowers. At minimum send a text or write an email. She may not answer the phone or return your text straight away, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t appreciated. Don’t be silent just because you feel awkward. Instead, just say “I’m sorry” or “I’m thinking of/praying for you” (if you actually are). Even those simple statements can touch people deeply as they are reminded that they are not alone. You can also say, “I don’t know what to say.” Even that—combined with a hug—can be comforting as you stand in solidarity and identify with their pain.

2. Be available to listen and talk… or not.

There is no way to know exactly what a parent will want or need as she deals with her grief moment-by-moment. She may want to talk it all out or she may not want to delve deep in that moment. She may find comfort in hearing your own story of loss or she may rather you quietly listen. Follow her lead as she sets the pace of conversation and continue to gently make it known that you are available for whatever she needs.

3. Give her permission to feel whatever she’s feeling.

Grief comes in waves—sometimes in the form of questioning or anger or sadness or blame or a thousand other ways. As she learns to navigate those waves, your friend might also struggle with comparing her pain to another’s (“but she lost her baby at birth” or “I only had one miscarriage but she had three” or “she was farther along than I was,” etc.) and then feel guilty because she feels worse than she thinks she “should.” Help her to know thatwhatever she’s feeling is normal and that her pain is just that – hers. It is what it is – no more or less than it “should” be. In the thick of grief after babyloss it’s important for parents to feel validated that the life and death of their little one was more than a “pregnancy loss” – it was the death of a child and the death of a future together. Grieving loss of that magnitude will take time and that’s okay – there’s grace for the process.

4. Refrain from offering pat answers or religious clichés.

A grieving parent doesn’t need to hear things like: “God will never give us more than we can handle” or “now you have an angel in heaven” or “at least you know you can get pregnant” or “that baby was too special for earth” or “God will give you another baby when it’s time” or pretty much any form of “there is a reason this happened – it must be for the best.” When a parent is grieving the death of a baby, it is more than we can handle. That’s why we need you and that’s why we need God to carry us. We cannot do it alone – it’s too much, too hard. And if that baby was “too special for earth” does that mean that we were not special enough for the baby? (See how that might unintentionally heap false guilt on a bereaved parent?) We don’t want an angel in heaven, we want a baby in our arms. (I’m not saying you shouldn’t bring up heaven, especially if you share a common faith, but do so with a heightened sensitivity.) Although every woman is different, most need to grieve the loss of one baby before deciding she can face her fears and set her heart on trying for another one. Take care that you don’t try to minimize the pain by encouraging her that she can try again before she’s ready or not to worry because “time heals all things.” Even though all of these types of sentiments are well-intended they can be damaging for a grieving parent and cause even more confusion and pain during an already murky time.

5. Give practical help.

One of the most common things for women who have just lost babies is that they feel emotionally and physically exhausted. Helping with simple things like meals, laundry, watching the children or doing school runs (if applicable), cleaning, etc. can minister so deeply. Some days she needs all her strength just to make it out of bed. An important tip: Instead of making a general offer such as “let me know if you need anything,” make your offer more concrete: “I have a dinner planned for you, what night works best?” or “I have set aside some time to clean your bathroom, may I come later today or would sometime tomorrow be better?” As much as the general, all-encompassing offer is appreciated, it’s actually very hard to articulate and ask for specific help when it’s most needed while being tossed around in the waves of grief. To put it simply: general offers can be hard for a family to cash in on, so get specific and then follow-through.

6. Don’t assume that someone else is looking after them.

Especially for those that seem to have lots of friends, a large workplace, or attend a large church, it can be easy to assume that someone else is looking after a grieving family… even if that’s not actually the case. No one intends to let things fall through the cracks because of faulty assumptions, but it happens. Be mindful that you don’t miss an opportunity to support a family after a loss because you think it’s already covered by someone else. They need you now more than ever. (This becomes especially true if their own family is far away or if family relationships are already strained.)

7. If you are a person of faith then please pray, pray, pray.

When we lost our baby we felt so covered in prayer for those first few days. It’s hard to describe, but we felt a tangible presence of God that we’re convinced was directly linked to the prayer of saints. Also, offer to pray for the mother and father in person when you see them during a visit, at church, etc. or pray for them out loud over the phone. Don’t fall victim to the mentality that it’s “just prayer.” Prayer is powerful and critical and brings life and change, hope and encouragement, healing and comfort. Not only will a family need concentrated prayer after a fresh loss, but they will also need prayer well beyond those initial first few days. Weeks and months later they might need prayer more than ever—the mother in particular—as the reality and finality of the loss sinks in.

8. Don’t forget dad.

Although it’s typically different to the way a woman grieves, men have their own process to walk through after losing a baby. Often he’s busy with work and supporting his wife emotionally as she grieves (as well as other children) and so it may appear that he’s perfectly fine as he tries to maintain the status quo for the sake of his family. I guarantee you that he’s grieving too. Hugs, small gestures of generosity (like a coffee or a favorite snack dropped by his workplace), and heart-felt prayer can go a long way. In addition to caring for the mother, ask yourself if there are small ways you can ease dad’s load, validate his pain, or demonstrate your support to him in a personal way.

9. Give her grace around other pregnant women and babies.

When I first miscarried I found it so healing to be around my friend and her adorable newborn. She had wondered if she should avoid me while my grief was so fresh (to protect me from more pain) but I wanted to be around them and of course my friend was delighted! At the same time I found it very difficult to be around pregnant women, especially those who would deliver close to my due date. After a period of time it didn’t affect me as much and I found it easier to feel genuine joy (without jealousy) when I heard pregnancy announcements or saw bellies swelling with life. Then, about six weeks or a month before my due date, a new wave of grief came and it became extremely difficult to be around pregnant women again – those newly pregnant and those about to burst. There’s no way of knowing what capacity your friend will have for being around pregnant mothers and babies and it will likely vary over time. This is another area where you have to let her take the lead, but it’s also one that you should consider initiating gentle communication about if you’re unable to read her signals or if she’s gone quiet. Let her know that you understand if it’s too hard to attend a baby shower or visit a friend in the maternity ward and ask her what she is and isn’t comfortable with. (And then don’t judge her response or try to talk her out of it.)

10. Mark your calendar.

Anniversaries and other important markers are extremely difficult for bereaved parents. Mark your calendar with the baby’s estimated due date, the date they received a horrible prognosis, the date of the miscarriage or stillbirth, and/or the date of the funeral. As those dates approach, extend special kindness, send a card or flowers, drop by a meal, or make a purposeful phone call. If they have named their baby, mention their little one by name or use it when you write a card. (You have no idea how validating and comforting it can be to see that others recognize your baby as an actual person with a name and an identity.) Do something to remind them that you miss their baby too, that you are still sad for their loss, and that you want to support them any way you can. Knowing that her baby and her feelings of loss are not forgotten will be a special comfort during those ‘marker’ dates.

11. Buy her a little gift or assemble a care package.

While it’s not about buying something expensive, it will mean the world to your friend to receive a thoughtful gift that communicates “I see your pain and I care.” Consider buying your friend a book on miscarriage, a gift certificate for a day spa, or another comfort item such as chocolates or a bottle of wine. (I’ve written an entire post about this if you’d like more gift ideas or how to create a care package for a friend after miscarriage.)

A million little ways to love one another.

Obviously there are far more ways to help a grieving family than the ones I’ve listed here. Each family will have unique needs and will be blessed in different ways depending on their family structure, life circumstances, and personalities. As a friend you are positioned perfectly to discover those if you’re willing to take a little initiative and willing to not always get it exactly right.

As you step out in faith and generosity of spirit, your friends will be ministered to in their time of grief. Practical, emotional, and spiritual support during this most tender of times can fortify a friendship like nothing else, and love offered will find its destination among those that are hurting.

Thanks for wanting to help carry us through our pain.

Love,
Adriel xx

p.s. You can read more about my experiences with pregnancy loss and miscarriage here or visit my Miscarriage and Loss Resource Page, which I continually update with resources. You might also be interested to read Why I Believe in Early Pregnancy Announcements Despite the Risk (and Fear) of Miscarriage.

Find more here:

Support After Miscarriage—Stories, Resources, Community

care package ideas for miscarriage & loss

 

Caring for a friend after miscarriage or stillbirth. (I hope I never need this.)

31 Days of Women Empowering Women at AdrielBooker.com

This post is part of 31 Days of Women Empowering Women.

 

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38 Comments

  • Reply Katherine 10 October 2013 at 3:46 am

    After I lost my mom when I was 25, a friend came over and told me what her pastor had said to her, when her dad had died: “However you feel is how you’re supposed to feel”. That has been so true. Grief is not linear. It is not one big trajectory toward feeling “okay”. What feels manageable or even exciting one week might feel like too much to bear the next. That’s just grief.

    Keeping that in mind as you support a friend through loss is helpful. I mean- it has been helpful for me and seems to resonate as true for others when I pass it on to them. There’s something freeing about knowing that it is okay to feel joy one minute and deep sorrow the next. It’s all part of grieving a loss, I think.
    Katherine recently posted..Thoughts on MarriageMy Profile

    • Reply Adriel 10 October 2013 at 2:13 pm

      Absolutely Katherine. I think that was the biggest surprise to me in wading through my own grief – the realization that it’s not linear at all. I guess I had always imagined you moved through the stages of grief graduating from one to the next, as if grief is something to be conquered. That’s why I always go back to the wave metaphor – there’s a regularity (especially at first) in how the waves come but then things can be calm for a while before a big one can come out of “nowhere”, blindsiding you again.
      Adriel recently posted..Baby Umi: She Should Have Been Dead | 31 Days of Women Empowering WomenMy Profile

  • Reply Becca 10 October 2013 at 3:37 pm

    I have a big question on my heart right now about how a community can walk through the pain and joy of life and really do it together – honouring loss, celebrating life in ways that include all and neglect no one …even when someone else’s joy may resemble the loss we grieve … I struggle with a sort of survivors guilt I think – quite literally and also with healthy children when I have friends with none, when I have a wonderful husband and some friends are single but desiring marriage … I think u are right that acknowledging someone’s loss (or infertility or undesired singleness, divorce or financial despair) is part of walking forward together. often we just don’t know how to talk about it so we don’t. But giving pepe space to share if they want is so important … Xx

    • Reply Adriel 12 October 2013 at 11:59 am

      I have some of the same questions Becca, though not the survivors guilt (which I know comes from a very deep place for you). I’ve been incredibly grateful for the internet and the support I’ve found there. In some ways I think people feel safer reaching out across the internet, even to “strangers” to support them and offer solidarity in the pain. There’s such a power in connecting with people who have walked a similar path to you and the internet makes the possible connections infinitely greater in number than just reaching out in our immediate circles. I’m grateful for that ability, but sometimes wonder if it takes away from the here-and-now relationships around me. Or maybe it doesn’t take away from them, but it can highlight (amplify?) when those relationships around you aren’t filling the particular void. But to be honest, if I was to look back over the last period of my life (first with Judah, then Scarlett) and imagine it without the internet and the support that came through the channels available to me, I would have had SO much less support. That’s not a criticism to those around me, but more a comment on the struggle of relating around these “big” topics on a day-to-day level without the safety of distance between our words and the sender/receiver. Something I think about a lot, actually. I am so grateful for the “community” and friendship I’ve found online, but I do sometimes wish that we (myself included) knew how to better facilitate community in our home environments. And yes, give people space to talk about the hard stuff, like you said – divorce, singleness, infertility, etc. included. Both grief and hope deferred are powerful emotions and can be very difficult for people to know how to walk into, much less facilitate for others. I want to grow in this too.
      Adriel recently posted..Malala Yousafzai and her quest to empower girls through education (Celebrating the International Day of the Girl) | 31 Days of Women Empowering WomenMy Profile

      • Reply becca 12 October 2013 at 4:48 pm

        i think it’s awesome that the online world has been so supportive for you – that’s definitely better than having a lack of support. hopefully we can grow little by little in our face to face communities – but i think the nature of grief is extremely lonely because it’s so incredibly personal and no one can fully understand what another person is truly feeling/experiencing. i guess online support is one of the many blessings of the internet.
        becca recently posted..Rachel, Weep No MoreMy Profile

  • Reply Joy @ The Mama Minute 10 October 2013 at 8:53 pm

    I got this post in my inbox and at first I was just going to skip it, thinking it wouldn’t really apply to me… But what you’ve written doesn’t just apply to grief in those specific situations but grief at any point in life, no matter the cause or situation. These are beautiful, practical words of wisdom – thank you for sharing them.
    At a time when I was really struggling in my marriage I remember feeling so frustrated at the friends who would use Christian cliches in the hope I’d find reasons to stay hopeful… All I wanted was for them to accept me in my brokenness and weakness and stop trying to facilitate the healing… I trusted that the healing would come eventually but in the right time – God’s time – but I needed time to be broken. Having said that, I’ve been “that friend” many times, trying too hard to pull my friends through a rough patch and not having the humility to accept that isn’t my role.
    I had no idea how to respond when my friend had a miscarriage. I had no idea the pain her and husband went through and she was very closed about it all. To this day I don’t know if what I did/say was what they needed; I felt ignorant and useless. That experience made me realise that at some point it is important for us to acknowledge/thank/direct those who did try to help us through our brokenness – even if it is long after the event when we’ve healed.
    Joy @ The Mama Minute recently posted..Ted Talk Tuesday: How great leaders inspire actionMy Profile

    • Reply Adriel 12 October 2013 at 12:05 pm

      Oh Joy, I’m so glad you’ve shared. Yes, I think many of the things I shared can stretch way beyond caring for someone who’s lost a baby. As Becca said in a comment above, perhaps the bigger question is how do we facilitate space and healing for people to share and journey and live out there pain in the midst of us? There are no easy answers and yet we need to keep asking the questions, keep exploring. Although I’ve not been in a period of marriage like you describe, I can imagine what you’re saying – just hold me, don’t try and fix me. It’s hard as a friend though, isn’t it? We want to FIX people’s problems. (Raising my hand here.) It takes so much more intention to accept that that isn’t our role and to instead humbly continue walking together and creating space for one another. I love your conclusion at the end there – realizing how important it is to thank those who really have journeyed with us. It’s easy to get lost in the “me” when you’re hurting so thank you for that reminder and exhortation. Wise words Joy. xx
      Adriel recently posted..Pro Choice. Pro Voice. Pro Girl Declaration. | #31Days of Women Empowering WomenMy Profile

  • Reply Lisa @bitesforbabies 10 October 2013 at 9:02 pm

    What a raw and touching post! Firstly, my condolences…and secondly, I wish I had read this a LONG time ago! I have many friends and family members who’ve suffered from a miscarriage and its always that touchy subject where you don’t know the right thing to say (this all happened BEFORE I had children so it was even more difficult for me to relate). Thank you for sharing your story and for posting these “tips”
    Lisa @bitesforbabies recently posted..Bye-Bye “Bottomless Pit!”My Profile

  • Reply Missy A Kitchell 11 October 2013 at 2:33 am

    Loss, and the grief that it brings is so intimately personal. Thanks for sharing so honestly and poignantly. I too have discovered that grief doesn’t just fit into steps to be accomplished. Sometimes you think you are on the road to being “whole” only to feel like you have taken a plunge right back to where you started. But each time that happens, a bit of headway is made. Thanks again…

  • Reply Krystle 11 October 2013 at 6:10 am

    Well done my friend. This is so perfect and right on the money. I hate that you know that. I hate that I know that. Hugging you from here.

  • Reply Julie 11 October 2013 at 12:51 pm

    I lost my baby to a miscarriage last spring. The “due date” is just around the corner and this is a really tough time. Thank you for sharing this. I have passed it along to my friends.
    Julie recently posted..Hello Fall – 4 Pack Peebles Farm TicketsMy Profile

  • Reply great advice | Hello My Name is: Tubeless 18 October 2013 at 8:34 am

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  • Reply Naomi 23 October 2013 at 12:39 pm

    I have 3 beautiful children. But to get them I have had 3 first trimester miscarriages, and in July this year we had a late miscarriage losing a little girl at 19 weeks. Thank you for this blog. It would have been great to have handed this out to our family, church family and friends! We had many, many people say “Let me know how we can help”, but I was in such a fog I just didn’t know what would help or when would be best. I couldn’t think straight to coordinate all the offers with our normal routine. It was just too hard. I found with the concrete offers I didn’t have to think so much or organise and they really did help. Eg I can mind your kids these days, I can bring a meal this night. Some people bought groceries too. I know the support was there but it wasn’t very accessible if that makes sense? It’s also a very lonely place and I would have really appreciated more friends checking in on me. Maybe it’s not too late to send your list to people?!

    • Reply Adriel 8 April 2014 at 4:32 pm

      What heartbreak you’ve endured Naomi! I’m so sorry for that, truly. I wish I had had a list like this to point friends to in our time of grief.. But I didn’t. Hence the reason I’ve written it for others. I hope it can serve many friends and family members and coworkers as they support those in their circles who have lost babies. Bless you Naomi. I hope you never, ever have to endure another loss like these again. x
      Adriel recently posted..The promise of Easter and meeting our little ones againMy Profile

  • Reply Ana 14 January 2014 at 5:27 pm

    I had to come back and read this…I am clinging to many of these, riding the waves of grief, and searching for joy in the everyday. I cannot explain the peace I am given from my boys, their extra squeezes during the day. It leaves me breathless with wonder and pain, but peace and comfort.
    Ana recently posted..The child that would have been.My Profile

  • Reply Griffyn 20 May 2014 at 2:11 am

    Hi
    I think this is helpful in that we’re talking about this emotionally fraught topic. One of the team members of my colleague/friend just miscarried her very wanted baby. This caused my friend and I to talk about the miscarriages we’ve had and how unprepared we were for the emotional and physical effects this has. It is hard to know the right things to say, but I think just acknowledging their feelings and thoughts is the best step. Thanks for having the courage to raise this.

    • Reply Adriel 31 May 2014 at 9:10 pm

      Yes, it is so hard to know what to say – but as you say, acknowledging that it is hard is just so, so important. Thanks for taking the time to feedback. I’m sorry you’ve experienced miscarriage too.

  • Reply Among the fields of gold (Losing my baby in Italy) - Adriel Booker 5 July 2014 at 7:39 pm

    […] to respond. (If you want to help a family grieving the loss of a baby, I’ve written some ideas here. Though not an exhaustive list, it may help trigger your heart and hands into compassionate action […]

  • Reply Kathryn 23 January 2015 at 1:43 pm

    Adriel, I just read this piece and it is just excellent. I love how you speak out of experience, grace, and love, and cover so many perspectives. I direct a ministry for families experiencing pregnancy loss and I would like to put a link to this article on our website if you are okay with it. I also shared it on our Facebook page. Our website is http://www.hannahshope.us and I was thinking it would be great for our “RESOURCES” page.

    Thank you!

    With Hope,
    Kathryn

  • Reply That time I was pregnant in Hawaii - twoOregonianstwoOregonians 28 February 2015 at 9:17 am

    […] resources and encouragement: The Compassionate Friends For great suggestions: How to Care for a Friend (and Her Family) After Miscarriage or Stillbirth For the song that played on repeat in my head for many weeks: Watermark’s Glory […]

  • Reply Melissa 3 April 2015 at 6:40 am

    I just read this after finding it on pinterest. A friend lost her baby a couple of weeks ago. I check on her via phone. Me and kids were all sick so I haven’t been able to go see her, but this really opened my eyes on what all I’ve been doing wrong. :-/ I’m so sorry for you loss and everyone who has posted. Hopefully more people will see this and be more helpful to those who have experienced the loss of their babies.

    • Reply Adriel Booker 12 April 2015 at 7:51 pm

      I’m so sorry for your friend’s loss. It’s wonderful that you’ve been checking on her by phone and that you are open to learning more about how you might help her. You sound like a lovely friend. All the best.

  • Reply Why I believe in early pregnancy announcements 18 April 2015 at 6:06 am

    […] or to wonder if the measure of your grief is justified or ‘normal.’ I know what it feels like when friends don’t reach out because they have no idea what to say. I know what it feels like to stare at an empty fridge and wonder why it isn’t full of casseroles […]

  • Reply Gina Miceli 15 August 2015 at 8:35 am

    Thank you for #4! This is so true for any kind of loss, whether it be miscarriage or the loss of any loved one. So many people want to make everything have a “reason”, but doing so in a persons darkest hours easily leads them down the path of questioning their faith or becoming angry with God. Who wants to hear the loss of their child was part of His “plan”? No mother should have to hear that. I see and hear it offered as a condolence time and time again and my heart breaks every time for the woman having to hear that.

  • Reply Christy 20 August 2015 at 8:18 am

    Thank you so much for sharing this. You did a wonderful job putting such a hard subject into words.

  • Reply Tracie 2 September 2015 at 4:14 pm

    I know you wrote this years ago, but I found it when trying to deal with the struggles of my own pregnancy loss. I’ve browsed around most of your posts regarding your losses and it has made all the difference in the world to me. Thank you for sharing everything.

    I experienced my loss in April at 10 weeks – it was my first pregnancy – and am now 11 weeks pregnant. I thought once I was pregnant again the pain of the miscarriage would suddenly go away. I could not have been more wrong. Mixed in the moments of excitement of our newest little one are moments of grief for our first love and this post just gave me a moment to have a good cry and I can’t tell you how much I needed it.

  • Reply Sands Australia 19 November 2015 at 12:23 pm

    Thank you for sharing. Our experience of working with families who have had the tragic experience of losing a baby through miscarriage, stillbirth or newborn death is that it is such an isolating and lonely time, thoughtful and sensitive support from friends and family really does make such a difference.
    We at Sands know how devastating it is when a baby dies as all of us have been through the experience ourselves. We understand the pain. We offer information support, information and education to bereaved parents, their families and healthcare professionals following a miscarriage, stillbirth or newborn death. Visit http://www.sands.org.au

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