Monday, December 26, 2011

Top 5 Things NOT to Say to Someone Who's Miscarried

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.


  1. Just want to say how sorry I am for your loss and the additional crosses of well-intended but thoughtless words. Know you are being prayed for and may God hold you close.

    You are one of 3 bloggers I follow who miscarried this year and, from their own words, I know all of them are struggling in pain right now. Praying for all of you.

  2. Hugs! The "put it out of your mind" one would have really, really made me upset.... Hugs and prayers... I was pestering Saint Philomena with chaplets earlier in the week for both of us... In fact, in order not to be a liar, I'm going to have to use Philomena as a middle name if we are blessed with another girl... I'm really bad like that, trying to bargain with saints for naming rights. Hoping I got a smile from you, even if it's just a little one! Let's get together this week.

  3. Thank you both for your prayers and your sympathies. I'm probably at the point already where I mostly laugh at these things, because I can't believe that I hear them as much as I do! It definitely has made me a more compassionate person.

    Cam, Philomena for a middle name?!?! Why not a first name!?! I'm still bargaining with Tom to let me use Athanasius or Polycarp for a first name... ;)

  4. Martha, we are so sorry for the loss you and Tom suffered. What an amazing gift that God blessed you with a little one for a period of time. I know that doesn't make it easier but please know Chris and I are praying for you both during this difficult time. Separately, thank you for writing this blog. We've had other friends who have miscarried and it's hard to know what to say and how to comfort them. Thank you for taking the time to write this. Again, we'll be praying for you both.

  5. Thank you so much for your kind words, Morgan. I hope this helps you, and anyone, that is faced with comforting a couple facing such a loss. I am sure I didn't know what to say before I experienced one either...

    Thank you for your prayers - I am sure they are sustaining us both.

  6. Hugs Martha! I'm so sorry to hear about your loss. I hadn't read your blog in awhile, so I had no idea what had happened. I had a miscarriage on Christmas Day, 2003. It's hard. We'll pray for you. Hugs.

  7. Oh, and one more thing to add to your list. Lectures about how "Back in the day, we didn't even know we were pregnant that early and this is why you shouldn't take a pregnancy test so early or tell anyone so early. Wouldn't it have been better if you had never known blah, blah" are insensitive. (and I actually wasn't that early...I had known for several weeks when it happened).

  8. Thanks, Amelia for your kind words; I haven't gotten that last comment yet - that's a relief! I definitely wouldn't know how to respond to that one!

  9. So sorry for your loss and that you have to put up with such rudeness. Prayers for you and those you encounter! Hopefully they'll have the right words to say or enough intelligence to just stay quiet!

  10. I am sorry you experienced the loss of a pregnancy, I can't imagine what that feels like. I have unfortunately never been pregnant. But I do have to say one thing, I agree that people say all the wrong things. But a miscarriage is not an abortion. We don't know why it happens, and shouldn't even try to speculate. I to abort is to remove, you did not remove your baby. I medical challenge occurred and your body couldn't properly carry that baby for what ever reason. I have a friend who carried her child full term although they knew Jack would not survive when he was born. I have never ever seem someone experience such a difficult decision. Months later she still struggles. We were so happy when she got pregnant. It's a really sad story. But my point is that Jack wasn't healthy and he dies, they chose not to abort their baby. So to say a miscarriage/ still birth/ or a baby not surviving out side the womb is an abortion is not accurate. What ever your views, and mine are different, and abortion is the choice to rid the body of the pregnancy. You, nor my friend made that choice. It's a loss and its sad, and I am sorry for that. But it was a miscarriage due to medical reasons which we don't know. And I feel if you are hoping others who are dealing with the same situation read this as part of their healing I think it's important to not imply that it was an abortion.

    1. Hi Anonymous :)
      Respectfully, 'spontaneous abortion' is the medical term for a miscarriage - it means the body ended the pregnancy. It does not imply fault. It can be used interchangeably with miscarriage. There's nothing partisan about using the term; it's just another word for miscarriage. I hope if anyone reading this who has experienced a miscarriage knows that I used the term just to clarify, in case their doctor used it with them. It is not related to 'elective abortions,' which are what we commonly think of when we use the shortened form 'abortion.'

      Good for your friend for bravely carrying Jack to full term; I know those choices must be so very hard, but I think they are important - it's important to show life at every stage is precious and worthy of being honored.

      Thanks for commenting,


Comments make me feel like I'm not just talking to myself or the government (because I know the government secretly reads my blog). Help me feel less crazy - comment away!