“Just drive past Abhidi’s stand. I don’t want to talk today”
It had been a few days, but my body was still recovering from the miscarriage and procedures in the hospital. I felt too tired emotionally and physically to talk with my friend who sold fruit in our neighborhood. We met because I pushed Eva past in a stroller every morning and Abhidi started giving her pieces of fruit. Now it was a daily routine. She loved playing with Eva. After a few of these meetings she and I started talking. I knew her daughter as well. Abhidi and I had shared tea and many stories.
Our family was driving to Sunday fellowship. I just wanted to get there because I didn’t feel like conversing with a bubbly personality that day, no matter how much I liked her. But when she saw our little blue car bumping down the dusty road, Abhidi quickly walked out and tapped our window. She reached into the back to give Eva some fruit, but her serious expression was unusual so I knew she had something important to say.
“I heard about your baby. I’m sorry. This happened to me too. It hurt my body and my spirit (the words she used for hurt and spirit implied that it struck a blow to her whole being). Our lives are hard. We live down here in the world with pain and sadness. The gods are up there. They don’t feel it. They don’t understand.”
What a rare moment to hear someone share how she truly felt about her gods when it came to the difficult moments in life. It took courage for her to say that– especially to a foreigner. But her raw honesty also meant the world to me. We looked at each other. For a moment there were no cultural barriers and our hearts understood one another. Loss: a shared human experience. This connection brought a new depth to our relationship. She’d been there. She wanted me to know and to tell me I wasn’t alone. After a soft pat on my arm, Abhidi walked back to her fruit stand so we could go.
Miscarriage affects every member of the family, but people often consider the mother first for obvious reasons. She bears the physical pain and emotional wounds of having lost a child her body was nurturing. A very intimate loss. But the rest of the family hurts too. I know because Daniel and Eva did. One or two other fathers were brave to share with Daniel how they felt when their wives lost babies. Our friends were supportive as we learned how to help Eva.
I plan to share ideas on being there for fathers and children who experience miscarriage, but I’m going to begin with mothers.
People are complex. Everyone’s story is different so please don’t think that what helped me will work for everyone. But here are some thoughts.
Be Present. I didn’t want to feel alone, but I also didn’t know how to say it since I knew people were busy. It helped if people called to ask when we could get together. If you’re worried the family needs privacy, ask if they feel like company and if so, when you can get together. The effort and thought will probably be appreciated.
Friends came to sit with us in the hospital when I was recovering. Sometimes they could stay for a few minutes and sometimes not, but they dropped in so we could see their faces and know we were thought of. Everyone from our house fellowship came. South Asian friends we had known a few years visited often. I liked this. It’s good to ask the family whether they want company in the hospital, but we did.
For around six to eight weeks following the miscarriage, I noticed that not feeling alone mattered even more. A few friends made plans to stop by and chat over tea. A sweet woman in our small, close knit community organized meals to be brought to us every other evening for a week.
Some couples asked to come over and we didn’t make specific plans at all. Our children hung out in Eva’s playroom while we watched an episode of something on Netflix, talked, or played a game. The conversation didn’t have to be about the miscarriage. When we felt safe or needed to say something, we brought it up. If we didn’t, no one pressed us. Of course these times together couldn’t happen every day and I didn’t expect that, but they happened consistently and it really helped.
A friend who had also miscarried took me out to dinner. We ate comfort food and conversed about everything from local power outages to ideas on dealing with our children’s occasional tantrums. For a few minutes she shared heartfelt words on taking time to heal and working through grief properly. This resonated with me and she gave me freedom to say whatever I needed to. Then we moved on to dessert and other topics ex-pat ladies enjoy discussing.
On my first Sunday back at house fellowship I felt overwhelmed during worship time and didn’t want to be around a group of people. I quietly slipped through the door. Another woman came out to ask if I was ok. When I said yes, but that being with everyone at the same time felt like too much, she quietly sat beside me. She had lost children. I knew she understood. We shared a few minutes lounging in the sun together. Not talking. Perfect. After about ten minutes she went back inside after giving me the gift of her relaxed, supportive presence.
I went to my family’s favorite coffee shop the first morning I felt like getting out of the house. It took a while to get up all the stairs. I’d only been out of the hospital for a day or two. I was sore and winded. But when I made it to the top step my friend was there, pulling me into a hug that lasted for a minute or two. She said she was so sorry and that she was happy to see me. She had never miscarried, but didn’t let it create awkwardness or stop her from loving me. We had coffee together. Sometimes she put her hand on mine while we were talking. That afternoon meant so much because I needed human touch.
Be Careful with Words. Sometimes people seemed compelled to make me feel grateful; as if experiencing grief made me unthankful or unholy. As if God would be disappointed in me for being sad. But grief is a natural human reaction to loss. Of course I knew I would heal, adjust, and even have new blessings in my life. But it was frustrating and hurtful when someone took it upon themselves to rush that process or to list “could’ves, should’ves, and ought to’s” from the Bible. Or by spouting cultural platitudes. I especially like Google’s definition of platitude: “a remark or statement, especially one with moral content, that has been used too often to be interesting or thoughtful.”
Words that caused more damage for me:
“Come on now. Don’t be sad. You know you’re going to see your baby again.”
That my baby was with God was a truth I already knew, but needed to accept in my own time and way instead of being slapped in the face with it. It felt like correction. Like I didn’t have permission to feel the way I did. It came across as self-righteous, though I’m certain the person who said it considered it helpful.
“It’s better that it happened now than later when you had a real baby”
My thoughts in the moment? “What about the pro-life bumper sticker on your car? You speak out against abortion as murder, but I guess miscarriage isn’t the loss of a real person.”
Even if it’s not what you intend, saying something like this communicates the loss is somehow less than other losses. Please don’t ever say it. My Judah and Hosea were very real babies and I have ultrasound pictures to prove it.
Speculating about what I could have done differently to prevent the miscarriage or what I should do differently next time.
I was on bedrest. In both pregnancies. I obeyed my doctors in everything because I wanted my babies. Who would do otherwise? Advice, ideas, and opinions on what I should have done differently, no matter how well intentioned, felt like hearing, “It’s your fault.” Or that I wasn’t smart enough to listen to my body’s needs. It felt harsh and judgmental coming from anyone, but especially from those whose families only had healthy pregnancies. The one that felt most abominably rude and untrue to me was, “If you had only been in America…” Because miscarriages never happen in the USA, right? I think this person felt that because I was living as an expat, my life was a less “civilized” or a less “healthy” option than hers. When someone has miscarried, anything you feel you might have to say about why it happened or what you would have done differently… just don’t. It feels like you’re trying to assign blame. It will not help your relationship.
Sharing opinions on why God did this or why He let it happen
My thoughts at the time:
“I have friends with ministry doctorates who wisely aren’t say things like this. They are showing their humanity by giving comfort. If they don’t know why…then why are you processing it out loud with me? You don’t know why this happened. Neither do I, but it probably had something to do with actual medical problems. And amazingly God was still sovereign and overseeing my life when the miscarriage happened. The uncomfortable reality is we are not going to be able to understand the why of many things in life, but I do need you to show comfort and grace to my family during this time. So do that instead”
“You should be happy and grateful for what you have”
I already knew that. Of course I was thankful to have Daniel and Eva. I am sure people said this thinking it would help to remind me I had reasons to be happy. But what it communicated instead was that my sadness meant I was doing something wrong. And I wasn’t. Again, grief is a natural human reaction to loss. There were occasions when Jesus was angry or sad. He wasn’t sinning, so why was someone trying to make me feel like I was? It also communicated that I couldn’t be real with that person. A mistake I do not often make twice. In addition, trying to force happiness and gratitude sends the message that the loss is not a big deal. After weeks or months, most moms will begin to know a new kind of peace and gratitude after miscarrying, but let them find that with God in their own time. It probably won’t happen in the way you think it should, but it will happen in the way that mom needs it. Pushing won’t help. It will actually hurt your relationship.
“You can have another one”
Maybe. Maybe not. So don’t say that. Also, the baby I lost was a human being, not an interchangeable car part. It wasn’t possible to get another one like him and I wanted time to grieve and say goodbye. This remark was usually meant to be encouraging, but it was insensitive. Can one child replace another? Which of your children would you feel most comfortable living without?
Words that helped:
“I’m praying for you”
“I’m thinking of you”
“I want you to know that I will always remember your son along with you”
“You are not alone”
“You are loved”
“It’s ok to tell me how you really feel. I won’t judge you”
“You can cry if you need”
“What are some ways I can help your family right now?”
“I don’t understand the best thing to say or do. Can you explain what you need right now?”
Ask How You Can Help with Practical Things & Then Actually Help
In our community in South Asia no one said, “Let me know how I can help”.
They said, “How can I help you this week?”
I named specific ways and people helped.
Close friends took care of Eva for a few hours when Daniel and I needed time or had a follow up doctor’s visit. During the first week of my recovery friends brought homemade food or picked up pizza for us in the evening. I appreciated both. A few times friends called to say they were at the grocery and wanted to know if they could buy anything for me. I had restrictions on what I could lift so people helped when Daniel couldn’t be home.
Make a phone call. Ask how you can help and give specific times in the week when you are available. Then give the specific help your friend asked for. We can’t always guess what others’ needs are. And we want help to be meaningful. So if you want to help…ask how.
I’ve barely scratched the surface, but I wanted to give a few simple ideas. Moms who have miscarried will always carry grief, but the first two to three months are a very difficult adjustment. They need you. Even if they are not sure how to say it. Be present. Be careful with your words. If you are not sure what to say, a simple, “I’m sorry” is best. Ask specifically how to help and then make time to do it. If you’ve lost a baby before, spending time with a mother who has recently miscarried will help her know someone understands. No matter your own family circumstances, be there and be willing to listen.
©2017 Chrissy Winslow – All Rights Reserved
Thanks for Reading!
For the next post in this category I will share some thoughts on helping father’s who have experienced miscarriage.
*This article is similar to what I have written. While I personally would not feel comfortable sending a letter to family and friends after miscarrying, I do like the thoughts the letter at the end of this article expresses.
*If you don’t feel like reading the whole thing, skip to the end and read the short letter written by Christine Beauchaine, BellaOnline’s Miscarriage Editor