What not to say to a friend after a miscarriage (And what to say instead)
Have you ever felt awkward or wondered what to say after a friend has lost a baby through miscarriage (or other forms of pregnancy loss such as stillbirth)? Have you been afraid you’d say the ‘wrong’ thing?
The following suggestions are based on my own experiences of three miscarriages and that of many others who have shared their experiences with me since I’ve been writing openly about pregnancy loss for the last five years. There’s so much room for variation in what grieving parents need and desire and there certainly are not one size fits all remedies to bring comfort, but I hope you find the following helpful anyway.
Below you’ll find suggestions on what not to say, helpful things you can say instead, and some other ideas and things to consider. These could probably be three separate articles, but for the sake of ease for you I will leave them all together and you can skim to the section to find what you’re looking for. (You might also be interested in: Caring for a Friend after Miscarriage or Pregnancy Loss or Thoughtful Ideas for a Care Package to Give a Friend after Pregnancy Loss)
If you read no further than this, let me just say: the ministry of food is always a good idea. Bring a home-cooked meal, bake a pie or a plate of cookies, drop off homemade soup, or send a favorite take out dish. That, and write a card. Hand written cards are always a yes.
Having a miscarriage is similar to giving birth and losing a loved one all at once, so treat your friend like you would if she was simultaneously dealing with postpartum hormones and emotions and dealing with grief. Because she is.
NOTE: I have also reworked this into a facebook live video so if you’re prefer to watch instead of read, you can do so here on facebook or scroll down to the bottom of this post to watch the video.
Things NOT to say to a friend after miscarriage, no matter how well-meaning:
- God doesn’t give us more than we can handle. (Uh, if this were true, we’d never actually need God.)
- It must have been God’s will. (Or any variation of God allowing/willing/orchestrating it. Even if this is your theology, it’s probably not the best time to share it. Consider timing.)
- God needed another angel. (Does God “need” angels more than we need our babies? This sounds cute, but is problematic.)
- Your baby is in a better place. (Perhaps it’s true, but that doesn’t make it appropriate to say. Your friend just wants her baby with her. I’m not saying you can’t mention heaven if you think that will be comforting to her, but pair it with the acknowledgement that the here and now loss hurts too.)
- At least you know you can get pregnant. (Please, no “at least” statements. Ever. These only serve to minimize her present pain.)
- At least you were only X weeks along.
- At least the fetus didn’t have a soul yet.
- At least you have X other healthy/living children.
- You can always try again.
- Your baby must have been too good for earth. (Will she interpret this has her or her home not being “good enough” for her baby?)
- I know how you feel. (This one isn’t terrible, but a better variation of this might be: I’ve experienced this too, and I can imagine what you might be going through.)
- God has a plan/purpose. (Of course he does, but consider that death was never part of his plan or purpose so maybe there’s a better time for this theological discussion and debate. Or perhaps modify your statement with something like: Even when nothing makes sense, it doesn’t erase God’s good purpose and intent for your life.)
- You can trust God. (Well yes, but… again, timing. Save this one for a better time.)
- He (God) gives and takes away. (Or any variation of this scripture. This is taking the scripture out of context and it’s not helpful.)
- God works all things together for the good of those who love him. (A beautiful scripture, but this isn’t the best time for it. It’s also missing some of the intent of this scripture, which I’ll try to wrote more about another time or you can read further in my book, Grace Like Scarlett, where I unpack this scripture in context.)
- Your baby is an angel now. (Sorry guys, but bad theology in the form of ‘encouragement’ is never helpful or encouraging. Babies don’t magically becoming angels when they die—this is nowhere in the Bible.)
- It must have been for the best—your baby probably would have suffered, had health issues, etc. (Again, maybe. But let’s focus on empathy, not dissecting or explaining just yet.
- You seem really normal/happy/fine—aren’t you upset that you lost your baby? (Please remember that each person grieves differently. This is true from person to person and loss to loss if she has suffered multiple losses.)
- Have you thought about adoption? (Good gracious, adoption is a beautiful thing but this isn’t the time to make this suggestion.)
- Time will heal everything. (Again, choose empathy, not empty clichés.)
- You’re still young—you have plenty of time to try again.
- Let me know if there’s something I can do. (Although this is said with the best of intentions and with absolute sincerity, people in the thick of grief rarely know how to make good on the offer and formulate requests for help. Instead of vague offers, offer concrete suggestions. I will offer a few below to help spur your ideas.)
Things to say when a friend shares/announces they’ve lost a baby:
- I’m so sorry.
- I can’t imagine your pain/shock/heartbreak.
- This is devastating news.
- My heart is with you.
- My heart is breaking for you.
- It hurts because it matters.
- Losing a baby can feel so lonely—please know I am here for you.
- I’m praying for you. (You only get to say this one if you really are.)
- I’m dropping a meal off on Tuesday. If your meal is already sorted for that day, you can put it in the freezer. (Bonus: Bring it in something that doesn’t need to be returned.)
- What’s your favorite take-out? And would you like me to bring it around for you tonight or tomorrow? (Always offer with concretes when possible.)
- Can I take your kids for an afternoon? I was thinking tomorrow, unless there’s another day that would suit you better? (Again, offer something concrete, not abstract or vague—give a time and date.)
- Can I do some school runs for you? Which days would be most helpful?
- How is your husband? Does he need anything?
- I’ve experienced losing a baby, too. I know every experience is different, but please know you can ask me any questions you’d like.
- I can’t stop thinking about you guys. Please know how sad I am with and for you.
- I love you.
- I’m crying with you.
- I don’t even know what to say, but I love you so much (or I’m just so sorry).
- I’m praying God will bring beauty from these ashes. Or: I’m praying God would draw near to you in your broken-heartedness. (This is an example of a ‘good’ use of scripture. Choose scriptures that relate to hope or comfort or the steadfastness of God. This is probably not the best time for scriptures related to God’s will/purpose.)
- Is there anyone I can call/contact for you to make sharing the news a little easier?
- I’d love to hear what happened if it’s something you need or want to talk about, but if you prefer not to talk about it I understand that, too.
- Please don’t feel pressure to write/text back, but I want you to know I’m thinking of you.
- May God’s peace surround you.
- Please know I will miss your baby too.
- Take all the time you need to grieve.
- I’m available if you need to vent or process. I promise not to judge you, but to just listen. (You only get to add that last part if you really mean it.)
- We’re grieving with you.
- I hope you already know this but it’s worth saying again: This isn’t your fault.
- Would you like to be added to an online support group I found really helpful after my miscarriage/stillbirth?
- No words are adequate; I’m just so sorry.
Other ideas to bless your friend after pregnancy loss:
- Drop off something at hubby’s work that’s specifically for him—coffee voucher, comfort food, etc.
- Drop off movie tickets or a hard drive full of movies they can borrow for a while.
- Bring flowers.
- Drop off a homemade pie or a plate of cookies.
- Drop off a bottle of wine or specialty coffee.
- Drop off a new journal and some nice tea.
- Give them massage vouchers for a bit of self-care.
- Send them a link to a song that spoke to you when you were hurting.
- Drop off or order them a book that helped you when you were hurting or that you think might be a comfort for them.
- Send a hand-written card in the mail.
- Plant flowers in your garden in honor of their baby and tell your friends you’ll think of them whenever you see it in bloom.
Lastly, a few extras that don’t fit into the above categories:
- If they’ve named their baby, use his/her name whenever possible. In cards, in texts, when speaking.
- Mark the day they lost their baby on your calendar, as well as the due date if you know it. Put a reminder in your phone for those days so you will be reminded to pray and reach out to your friend again.
- Put a reminder in your calendar to check in on Mother’s Day or send a hand-written card. This might be especially important for women who have no other living children because suddenly they feel like an invisible mother that the world doesn’t recognize or affirm.
- After the initial shock wears off, understand that grieving is a long process. Ask your friends how they’re doing two weeks later, a month later, or six months down the track.
- Don’t hide baby news from your friend, but do be sensitive. She may not want to come to your baby shower. She may need to hide your photos in her social media news feed for a while. Don’t take this personally—this is about her grief and not her affections for you.
- If you become pregnant and a close friend has lost their baby, consider telling her about your pregnancy privately before you announce publicly. It may still be difficult for her, but she’ll know you’ve thought of her and she’ll appreciate that you took the time to consider how she might feel and acknowledge that her emotions might be a little complicated surrounding the news.
- Recognize that subsequent pregnancies (if she’s able to get pregnant again) can be really difficult and treat them tenderly.
- Think carefully about how and when to ask your friend if she’d like to have more children. (There’s no right or wrong way to do this, but your thoughtfulness in acknowledging the sensitivity will go a long way.)
In closing I want to say this: Thank you. Thank you for being the type of friend who wants to help. Thank you for caring enough to learn, to listen, to google “how do I help my friend after miscarriage?” and to not take it personally when your friend struggles to connect or articulate her grief. Responding to others when they’re in pain is hard and awkward and it doesn’t necessarily get easier the more we “know.” Culturally, we are pretty terrible at this sort of thing. But I am confident of this: When you reach out to help a friend in need, you are helping her know she’s not alone and there is nothing she needs more when she’s heartbroken. (Yes, even if you make a mistake or two along the way.)
Please don’t say nothing. Tell her her loss matters. Tell her you care.
Additional resources for miscarriage and pregnancy loss:
Grace Like Scarlett: Grieving with Hope after Miscarriage and Loss (book by Adriel Booker)