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When I’m Sorry Doesn’t Cut It: What to Say to a Friend Who Had a Miscarriage

Miscarriage

“I don’t know what to say.”

Those few words are some that may pop into your head when you hear that a friend had a miscarriage. It’s often coupled with “I’m so sorry,” or “How are you feeling?” But, unfortunately, more often than not, people don’t know what to say so they choose to stay silent. Silence can be incredibly painful for women who’ve experienced pregnancy loss and it also can make women feel very alone…

The thing to remember is everyone’s journey is different, we were lucky to have a fellow mama, Nicole Prince, share some of her story with us. 

Nicole’s Story

She is the mama of an active toddler, Clay, and was due with her second little boy, Leo, in October. Nicole was a couple months into quarantine when she began to miscarry. 

She lost Leo at 17 weeks and 2 days. 

Nicole became one of the 2% of women who lost their babe in the second trimester.

“It was a total shock,” she said. “I kept thinking, “this can’t be happening…this thing that is every mother’s worst nightmare is actually happening to me.”’ — Nicole Prince, Mama

That disbelief Nicole describes above is not uncommon. Clinical psychologist and maternal mental health specialist Dr. Emma Levine said women’s reactions to a miscarriage can range from instantaneous deep grief to a desire to recover quickly and start trying for another baby (the two can also go together). But, for the women who are struggling after a miscarriage, having people to support them can be one of the most important ways to heal. 

But how?

How She Felt Supported, Even During Quarantine

We asked Nicole to share what words, phrases and most importantly, actions, were helpful from friends and family after her miscarriage. She said that the two weeks after the loss they received an outpouring of support from friends and family.

“Since [the pandemic] made it difficult to see people in person, we had food deliveries, flowers and special packages coming multiple times a day. A few friends sent toys and books for our toddler, Clay, which was so thoughtful and helpful. Others set up meals for him so we didn’t have to think about getting groceries and sent us gift cards for dinner.” — Nicole Prince, Mama

For Nicole it was the thought that mattered and the acknowledgment of her loss that helped her feel supported. While she still carries her grief with her, she said there were a few things in particular, beyond the traditional things people do after a loss that were very special to her.

The simple messages of support were amazing, even people just saying how sorry they were. Thoughtful gifts also were deeply appreciated, beyond flowers and food deliveries, things that really honored Leo. She received earrings with his birthstone from family and another friend gave her a weighted stuffed lion (Leo means lion) so she’d have something to hold while she slept. These gifts were not grand but they were thoughtful and honored Leo in a very special way. 

Many of us have the belief that if we don’t know what to say or don’t have anything helpful to add that it’s better just to say nothing at all. Nicole said the silence is much more painful than someone not having the “perfect” words. 

“The hardest thing after our loss was when people didn’t say anything…I totally get that it’s a sensitive thing, but anything—a text, a note, an email—is appreciated and treasured.” – Nicole Prince, Mama

Acknowledgement Over Silence

People often assume that women who experience a miscarriage don’t want it brought up, and for some people that is true, but there are also many women who wish people would remember their baby with them. Saying the baby’s name and really acknowledging, validating, and honoring that life and loss. Nicole said she fell in the camp of the mamas who wished people would ask about him, talk about him and grieve with her. 

“I craved people asking about his birth story, I loved to share it all,” she said. “It made him feel more real.” — Nicole Prince, Mama

Dr. Levine acknowledged that every woman is going to process a miscarriage differently, but no matter how they are coping, the best thing you can do as a friend is simply to be there and offer space for them.

What to Say and What NOT to Say

“I encourage women to make it clear that they are available to support their loved one in whatever way may be needed, while also making it clear that there is no pressure or expectation to process the loss.” — Dr. Levine

A helpful script to use if you’re unsure what to say can be:  “I see that you are in pain, and I want you to know that I am here for you.  If you’d like to speak or process this loss, I am here, anytime, whenever you are ready.”’ 

Dr. Levine also shared a few well-intentioned phrases that can actually be triggering or insensitive to someone who’s just had a miscarraige. These include:

  • “You’re young, you still have time to get pregnant again.”
  • “It wasn’t meant to be.”
  • “At least you have your other child / children.”
  • “At least you weren’t too far along.”
  • “Everything happens for a reason.”

It doesn’t matter if your friend just experienced a miscariage or if it’s been several months since it happened. If you take the time to offer space to just be there for them, they will likely be incredibly appreciative. 

How to Show Your Support

At a time when you may feel at a loss for words for someone who has lost their baby, you can show your love and support by taking action instead. Here’s a few ways to do just that:

  • Arrange a delivery. Whether it’s meals, flowers, or something as simple as a card. A little can go a long way.
  • Give them something to honor their loved one. Honoring them can come in many different ways. As mentioned above, Nicole’s family gave her an earring with her baby’s birthstone in it and a friend gave her a stuffed lion that represented Leo’s name for her to hold in bed.
  • Take a load off their shoulders. Offer to pick up the groceries (or have them delivered), run errands or take the kids off their hands for a couple of hours. This can help them manage the overwhelm of keeping up with things as usual while giving them the space they need to cope.

If you or a friend are struggling after pregnancy loss, it may be beneficial to speak with a maternal health mental specialist or take a look at our glossary of Providers to find the best support for you.  

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