I have had less than a weeks' worth of experience in dealing with other people's reactions to my miscarriage, but I already feel I could write a book about reclaiming tact in dealing with this subject. I must preface this by saying, I realize that most people just don't know what to say to someone who has suffered a miscarriage and their comments aren't meant to harm. Despite these good intentions, thoughtless comments DO harm, so there's still good reason to stop them from coming out of other's (and maybe our own) mouths.
As I reflect on these unintentional barbs that have been thrown my way, I recall that marvelous quote by Albus Dumbledore: "sadly, accidental rudeness occurs alarmingly often." If you or someone you know could benefit from this article, please share, so that accidental rudeness might spare a few more victims...
1) These things happen/ the body has ways of riding itself of not good pregnancies / it was probably because of a chromosomal abnormality: I appreciate that the medical reason for a lot of spontaneous abortions (i.e. miscarriages) is something medical, though possibly unknowable, especially at very early stages, like I was. Despite this, God is the author of life, so no, I don't think my body just sloughed off some dead cells and oh well, life goes on. No. Life begins at conception, that was my child, and he died; please don't talk about him like he is medical waste and we are in a Planned Parenthood clinic, where you're trying to make me feel better about my abortion. Would you ever say to the mother of a child who died of leukemia, "Sometimes this just happens, natural selection takes it's course and the weak must die..."? No, because that would be thoughtless and rude. The same applies here.
2) Well, look on the bright side - you CAN get pregnant! : I have heard this a lot, especially since Tom and I were so concerned we couldn't get pregnant or wouldn't be able to for years. Now, yes, this sentiment is another one that has a grain of truth - we are of course happy to know that our reproductive organs seem to be working properly enough that we can actually get pregnant. But this look-on-the-bright-side mantra tends to gloss over our grief, and the reason for it: we lost a child. Losing a child means that we should be able to mourn the loss. Religious people especially seem quick to hurry us on to joy, as if grief isn't a holy enough emotion, as if Jesus did not weep over the death of Lazarus (even though Jesus knew he was about to bloody resurrect him!). Yes, I can get pregnant, and in fact I did and my child died - if that makes you feel uncomfortable, just murmur a polite "I'm so sorry" and walk away; I promise I won't mind.
3) I'm sure you'll get pregnant again: Yes, and I'm sure that you DO know the future and that you would really like if it I told you after your grandfather died, "well, thank goodness, you've got another one!" You are not omniscient and children are not interchangeable. My fertility is not up to you, and if I should happen to never get pregnant again I'm sure you'd feel rather silly about your rose-colored promise. Likewise, and we're coming back to this point a lot!, when a miscarriage occurs a child has died. That child will never be replaced; they are gone, forever. Try to think of the unborn child as if they were born, or maybe even 8 years old or a grown person, and then try to say the same phrases to the parent: if it sounds stupid then, it still sounds stupid here.
4) Just try to put this out of your mind / forget about it: I know you're shocked when you read this one - nobody would actually argue for outright repression of grief would they? Well, yes actually, it happened to me before Christmas Mass. It came from a person I love dearly, but upon hearing our news she said, "just try to put this straight out of your mind - just forget about it!" And then went on to say some of the other horrible things listed above. I think some people are afraid of grief, of sorrow, of the horror of losing a child - and so they tell you to have reactions that would make them feel more comfortable. But again, if this person's grief makes you uncomfortable, then just say something polite and walk away - we really will understand.
5) Don't get too stressed - it'll prevent you from getting pregnant again! : This is part II of No. 4 above. The woman told me to forget about the miscarriage because the stress of it would prevent me from getting pregnant again. Marilyn Shannon in her excellent book "Fertility, Cycles, and Nutrition" addresses this misconception quite adequately, but I will summarize: my daily stress, unless it rises to the level of PTSD or medical shock, will not be adequate enough to make me stop ovulating, thankyouverymuch. Telling me to relax and not to think about the fact that I just lost a child will actually stress me out more, and maybe cause me to go into real shock from how many cotton headed ninny-muggins give out conceiving advice just because their wombs are hyperactive and they get pregnant when their spouse sneezes on them. I already got pregnant, I'm hopeful I can do it again, and even if I can't, pseudo-doctors with poor bedside manner are the last group of people I will seek out for reproductive help.
In summation, if you know someone who has suffered a miscarriage, the best thing to say is "I'm sorry for your loss." The parents know there are no words - they likely have none themselves - in the face of such a mountain of sorrow. To recognize that they are truly grieving a real loss, their child, and that you are sorry for them, is the greatest comfort. If you happen to be Christian, offering prayers is very kind, and if you are Catholic, offering up Masses and rosaries means very much. Otherwise, just offer your humanity, for when grief robs us of all our well meaning words, that is the only thing we have left.