The Experience of Miscarriage
There really aren’t words to describe the hopeless devastation that is miscarriage. But if I had to choose one, it would be heartbroken.
Deep down inside, it feels like something is broken. And no matter how many people want you to move on and get over it, sometimes you just can’t rush the process.
My husband and I decided not to tell many people about our pregnancy in the first trimester. We wanted to make sure everything was “okay” and then we would release the exciting news in some cute, Instagram-worthy way, of course.
But the downside to waiting is that a lot of people don’t know that you were ever pregnant, let alone the loss you are walking through. And in order to bring them into the light, you have to tell them both sets of news at once: “I was pregnant. Now I’m not.”
Telling Your Story
In the wake of discovering that we had miscarried [Read my Miscarriage Journey here], sharing it with others was more than I could fathom. So many questions swirled through my head…Do I want this person to have a window into the depths of my soul and the darkness of my grieving? Can I trust them with my heart? Will they blame me? Do they understand? Will they support me or tell me to get over it?
Miscarriage is a deeply emotional, deeply meaningful, and deeply personal experience. It’s truly heartbreaking.
And every time we share it with another person, it exposes a level of vulnerability. It’s a risk. But ultimately, it’s something that needs to be shared and SHOULD be shared. Because the more we take the stigma out of miscarriage grief, the safer the topic will become and the more people will understand and know how to respond.
50 Moms & Dads Speak Out
When I finally got up the courage to tell some people about the miscarriage I had just walked through, I was surprised that some of my closest friends and family responded in ways that hurt me deeply.
I guess I didn’t really know what I wanted them to say, but “You’ll get pregnant again, don’t worry” and “There was probably something wrong with it” definitely weren’t on the list. Unhelpful comments like these caused me to shy away from sharing the truth of what I was walking through because, honestly, my heart couldn’t handle people’s attempts at fixing me or making me feel better. I just needed permission to not be okay for a while.
As I got ready to write this article, I began to wonder what kinds of comments other moms and dads had experienced as they walked the grief journey of miscarriage. So I put out an ask on social media for those who felt comfortable sharing the things that hurt them most.
I was shocked.
Over 50 moms and dads contributed to the conversation with a flood of hurtful sentiments that were spoken to them in the midst of their pain, many of them from close friends and family. Like me, those words have hung on in their hearts and minds years after the miscarriage.
Every example given in this article is something that was actually said to someone who had a miscarriage. No exaggerations needed.
Where People Get it Wrong in Their Responses
So why do people respond to miscarriage with such hurtful, insensitive comments?
The root issue is that we are uncomfortable with other people’s pain. There. I said it. We don’t know how to handle it, so we use a number of strategies and pithy sayings to quickly move past the situation without having to address the elephant in the room.
We try to fix the situation. Or explain it. We minimize it. Or try to cheer the person up, as if a cliche’ statement about how “It was probably for the best” ever really cheered someone up in the history of the universe.
What Grieving Parents Need Most
But the truth is, no matter how fancy your words are and how well-crafted your sentence structure, you are not going to take away the deep pain of the mom or dad standing in front of you who just said goodbye to the tiniest person they have ever loved.
And you don’t have to.
Because what moms and dads (and families) need most following the loss of their little one is the unconditional love and support of a community who truly cares and is willing to make space for their pain and grief.
The more you try to remove the pain and discomfort from the conversation, the more you end up communicating that you care more about your own comfort level than truly comforting the heartbroken person in front of you.
What If I’ve Said Hurtful Things?
Let me clear something up about the heart of this post. This is not an “Open Letter to Insensitive People” to show them how wrong they are in responding to miscarriage.
Quite the contrary.
Because we’ve all been there. We’ve all said things with a heart to be helpful that ended up being the opposite. The funny thing is, almost every single one of these comments represented in this article were spoken from someone who was genuinely trying to help.
I sincerely believe that the friends and family members and even strangers who spout off hurtful comments are not doing it maliciously (most of them, at least). They just aren’t sure what to say and do the best they can in the moment.
My sincere heart is not to point out anyone’s insensitivity, but rather to offer some helpful alternatives so that the next time you encounter someone who is grieving, you have options that will communicate your heart in a helpful and healing way.
Here are 9 Things NOT to Say to Someone Who Had a Miscarriage (and What to Try Instead)
1. “It’s okay, you’ll have another baby.” (Minimizing)
When we don’t want other people to be in pain, sometimes we try to minimize the experience. But what this really does is communicate to the person that the pain they are walking through doesn’t matter. It suggests that they are making a big deal of nothing.
This urges people to stuff their pain and not truly heal. Instead, try acknowledging the reality and the validity of the loss.
Other Examples of Minimizing:
- “It wasn’t even really a baby yet, so don’t be upset.”
- “You’re young. You can try again.”
- “You’re not ready for a baby yet.”
WHAT TO TRY INSTEAD: “I’m so sorry this happened. Every baby’s life is precious, no matter how long we have them here with us.”
2. “My cousin had a miscarriage and it was way worse than yours.” (Comparison)
The heart behind comparing experiences is that it will help you connect to the person in pain. Unfortunately, what it actually communicates to them is that their grief is small compared to yours, or that random person you know. Hearing someone else’s terrible story is not helpful. It just negates the pain the person is walking through and can even cause fear or anxiety.
Other Examples of Comparison:
- “I know exactly what you’re feeling.”
- “I had a stillbirth and that’s worse than your experience.”
- “My friend had 5 miscarriages before she finally got pregnant.”
WHAT TO TRY INSTEAD: “I know everyone’s story is different, but I want you to know that if you want a listening ear, I’m here. I’ve experienced miscarriage too and it helped me to have someone who has been through it to talk to.”
3. “There was probably something wrong with it, anyway.” (Explanation)
This was the most hurtful thing that was said to me personally. When things happen that we don’t understand, people have a hard time admitting that there might not be a logical explanation for it.
So instead, we come up with some theory to help the person in pain, and us, to move past it. But what this can do is suggest that the person is better off having experienced the miscarriage, which is not your place to judge and simply not helpful.
Other Examples of Explanation:
- “It probably wasn’t a miscarriage, just a bad period.”
- “Caring for children with special needs can be expensive.”
- “At least it wasn’t a baby yet.”
WHAT TO TRY INSTEAD: “I don’t understand why things like this happen, but it breaks my heart to know this happened.”
4. “You shouldn’t have exercised so much.” (Guilting)
This is an advanced version of explaining it away, yet much worse. It’s basically telling the person that it’s probably their fault that their baby passed.
As someone who has walked through miscarriage, I can tell you that I wracked my brain for every possible thing I could have done differently to prevent my miscarriage. I blamed myself up and down, as many moms do. The last thing we need is to have someone else suggest that it’s our fault. Even if it WERE our fault, please hold those statements to yourself.
Other Examples of Guilting:
- “Maybe it’s because you’re older.”
- “Maybe it’s because you took medicine.”
- “Didn’t your mother ever tell you what happens when you have sex? You either end up pregnant or with a miscarriage.”
WHAT TO TRY INSTEAD: “You’re a great mom. I can see how much you love your little one.”
5. “Are you going to try again?” (Probing Questions)
When people don’t know what to say, sometimes they try to connect through questions. But the hurt and grief are so raw and real at this point, that probing questions are very difficult for a mom or dad who lost their baby. Just give them space to grieve without asking personal questions.
Other Examples of Probing Questions:
- “Did the doctor say what was wrong with you?”
- “What caused the miscarriage?”
WHAT TO TRY INSTEAD: “Is there anything I can do to help support you right now? I’d be happy to pick up some groceries for you this week or watch your kids so you can take a break as you walk this grief journey.”
6. “Don’t Think About It.” (Unhelpful Advice)
People want to fix the pain. It comes from a good place. But giving advice at this point, whether you’ve experienced miscarriage or not, just isn’t helpful. We need permission to rest and grieve and not be okay.
We need practical support more than advice. Offering to help in a specific way takes the pressure off. Avoid things like “How can I help?” and suggest one or two specific things you’re willing to do.
WHAT TO TRY INSTEAD: “Can I bring you dinner this week? Would Tuesday or Wednesday work better for you?”
7. “Maybe this was for the best.” (Positive Reframing)
I know the heart behind this is helping someone see the positive side, but let me be honest. There is no positive side. When you lose someone you love, there is no positive side for you. And suggesting there is one just steals the opportunity to truly enter into the grief so that real healing can take place. What we need to hear most is that our baby is worth grieving over. And that it’s okay for us not to be okay.
Other Examples of Ultra-Positivity:
- “You can always try again.”
- “At least you already have another child.”
WHAT TO TRY INSTEAD: “You’re not alone. We love you and we loved your baby too. Take all the time you need to grieve.”
8. “God wanted another angel in heaven.” (Questionable or Unhelpful Theology)
Another thing people like to do in response to others’ pain is to bring the focus back to God. While this sounds like a good idea, the way it plays out can be very damaging if we’re not careful. The way death and life and God’s will and human sin interact in Scripture is not quite so black and white as it relates to miscarriage.
Theological one-liners can avoid the complexity of the situation and even push grieving parents farther away from God rather than helping them lean into His goodness. So as tempting as it may be to give a theological explanation for what happened, PLEASE refrain. This is not helpful at this time.
Instead, focus on the fact that God cares deeply for both the baby and the grieving parents and walks with them in their grief.
Other Examples of Unhelpful Theological Statements:
- “God didn’t want you to have a baby that had something wrong with it.”
- “Jesus took it. He had a reason.”
- “Do you have sin in your life? This wouldn’t have happened otherwise.”
- “It wasn’t God’s timing.”
WHAT TO TRY INSTEAD: “I’ll be praying for God’s peace to comfort you as you grieve.”
9. Nothing at all. (Silence/Avoidance)
Interestingly enough, of all the hurtful comments that moms and dads shared with me, the one thing that hurt many people the most were when people said nothing at all. While everyone’s story and experience looks different, we all need love and support through the process. Walking through miscarriage can be all-consuming. We have doubts, fears, guilt, confusion, and deep sadness that we are sorting through.
You don’t have to have the perfect response, but acknowledging the reality of our baby and the grief we’re walking through is the most important thing to us. So even if you don’t know what to say, say something.
WHAT TO TRY INSTEAD: “I’m so sorry this happened. I love you.”
I want to reiterate that this article is in no way meant to shame people who have said hurtful things to grieving moms and dads. We ALL say things that aren’t helpful sometimes, especially when tragedy strikes and there are no good words to express what’s going on.
But knowing the kinds of things that are hurtful is the first step to choosing helpful responses instead. The most important thing to do when you’re not sure what to say is to try to imagine yourself in that person’s shoes. Then run your statement through that lens of empathy and asking yourself, “Is this statement truly going to express my love and support, or is it just trying to make me feel better?”
If you’ve said some variation of these things to someone you love in the past, consider going back to them and apologizing. It’s never too late to take responsibility for something insensitive you’ve said and show your support. It can be as simple as:
“Hey, I just read this article about things not to say to someone who had a miscarriage and I realized that, I may have said some things to you that hurt more than they helped. I’m sorry.”
The next time you encounter someone who is grieving, remember that it’s not your job to fix them or explain things or even cheer them up. What they need most is to know that you care about them and you are willing to be present in the midst of their pain.
On behalf of parents who have walked through miscarriage everywhere, thank you.
Was this article helpful? You may also enjoy reading…
- 5 Steps to Emotional Recovery After a Miscarriage
- A Miscarriage Journey: Your Baby Matters
- How to Change Your Husband in 4 Simple Steps
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