Our Silent Grief part 2 of 3
As I've travelled this path, making this journey, I've not only been delving into depths of myself but also I've seen sides of people that I probably would've never seen if it weren't for my miscarriage. Taking a step back for a moment, I am able to see that there is a full range of reactions when others respond to their friend, neighbor, family member, or acquaintance, whatever I am to them, going through a loss of a pregnancy. I've shared before that as a society, talking about miscarriage and infant loss is rather a taboo. And as part of my process, I've been really thinking about and exploring the whys of that. I never realized it before now, until I went through it myself, how taboo of a subject it is. Why?? I think that it's multi-layered. Miscarriage is one of these things, like many experiences in life, that until you've been through it, most of the time you don't know what to say or do. And even given that, no two women experience the same thing. I had a first trimester loss, but I honestly would be at a loss for words if I were talking to a woman that lost her baby during the second trimester or if she had a stillbirth. It makes us feel uncomfortable when we don't know what to say or do to help someone feel better. Many of us aren't comfortable with those 'awkward silences' in other situations, throw in a tramatic event like a miscarriage that you can't relate to in any way, and that is downright unbearable for some. This is only one layer of the uncomfortableness aspect of consoling a friend that had a miscarriage. Most people are also uncomfortable talking about a person, a baby, that they did not know. There aren't the typical cliches that you can always fall back on: "At least she had a long life," or " He's in a better place." Of course there is always the classic "It wasn't meant to be," which I'm sure every woman on the planet that has shared the boat I'm in right now has heard at least once. The people that say these cliches aren't ill-meaning, they say it out of not knowing what to say, and I'm sure they care about the woman that is suffering, but the fact is that those words don't make her feel better. Are there any healing words to say?? I know that every mama's needs are bound to be different, so these things may not have the same effect on all women in every circumstance. But there are definitely a number of statements that can be very hurtful, even though they are not meant to be that way. I have found through all of this that people can be so insensitive, almost as if they say things just to say them or before they think it through. Yes, there are things you can say to a miscarriage survivor, but first I'm going to give you some advice as to what NOT to say. Now before I get into it, and any of you doubt that any one would say such a thing to a woman that just had a miscarriage, I personally heard each and every one of these (or a variation of it). What NOT to say to a woman that has had a miscarriage: 1. Avoid cliches. Statements like "It was for the best." or "it wasn't meant to be." Best for whom? And if it wasn't meant to be, why did an egg implant in the first place? Why do I have to go through this then? This kind of statement doesn't make anyone feel better. 2. "God has another plan." or any reference to God or a higher power in general. This also falls under the cliche category, for the same reason, it's not comforting. And whatever 'plan' is in store for her, it doesn't diminish the pain she is feeling right now. 3."Be thankful for your other children!" or anything referring to living children. Grieving for the child that was lost doesn't effect how a mother feels about her other children. I have five healthy boys and I am extremely grateful, but that doesn't mean that by wanting another child I am taking it for granted or not showing my gratitiude. 4. "You can always try again." Of course she can, and many women do go on to have a baby after their miscarriage. Often it is one of the final pieces in their healing process. But she will never forget or not miss the child that she never got to know. 5. "You know you are older now and you might have to take care of yourself better, not do so much next time." This can also be expanded to anything referring to the mom's age. Everyone's situation is different, so I will just speak of my own. This statement was said to me, by a well-meaning person, one that suffered miscarriages herself. She was grossly misinformed. First of all, what she didn't know, was that I WAS taking care of myself. I was listening to my body when I was extremely fatigued going to sleep early. I was taking it easy, as much as I could. We are moms after all, and we can't just put our feet up all day. For my personal experience, whatever 'went wrong' did so very early on, before I even got the positive pregnancy test. So no matter how well I took care of myself, it wouldn't of mattered. Blaming the woman's age lends to the idea that it was the woman's fault, and it never is. 6. "At least it wasn't a baby, only a fetus." or " at least you weren't further along." As soon as a mama sees that second line, there is a baby. Planning, thoughts, hopes and dreams are immediate. There is a baby to that woman, no matter what the technical terminology is for that gestational age. 7. "Maybe you can't carry girls/boys." I couldn't believe it when I heard that one. I have 5 boys, and naturally I would love a little girl. But I accept what God is going to give me. I wanted to have another BABY. I was not 'going for the girl." And to imply that my body can't carry one gender or another is so hurtful. 8. "At least you didn't know your baby." Yeah, that's kind of the point. I didn't get to know him or her. I was never given the chance. I am grieving that loss. I am grieving for the baby that I never got to meet, never got to hold, never got to sing to sleep. I am grieving that I didn't get the chance to do all of the things that you do with your children. It doesn't make it easier. 9. "I know what you are going through." or "I know what you are feeling." Now most people wouldn't dare say this unless they have gone through a miscarriage, but even then, while not horrible, its still not comforting. Your experience is inherently different from hers. If you have had a miscarriage, instead of saying something like this, tell your story, how you coped with things like seeing babies or pregnant bellies while out, what you did on your due date. Tell the woman how you made it through your grief. Let her know that there is hope and she will make it through too. 10. "Maybe your body/God is telling you something, you've had so many miscarriages." Or " You should be used to it by now." Now this last one I didn't hear myself, but I know women who have had many miscarriages and have been on the receiving end of statements like this. First of all, the first one again puts the blame on the woman, not what you want to do to a person full of plumetting hormones, in a fragile state to begin with. The second statement is unbelievable. You never get used to it. Every miscarriage hurts as much or more than the last. It's not something you can get used to. ****Amended additions**** made 11/2/12 As I've talked to other women, they have told me things that people have said to them after their loss, and they have given me permission to share them here. 11. “Be glad you don’t already have any children to know what you are missing.” This was said to a woman that did not have any children yet. She has since been blessed with two children but she had miscarriages before their births. Like all of these statements that I have listed, it just makes me shake my head. So I guess this women never met a child in her lifetime, doesn't know what they are like, never interacted with them, never dreamed from the time that she was a little girl about becoming a mom, never wanted children once she met her husband, never talked to friends or family about their children. Women that want to become mothers may not know how it feels to love someone with your whole heart, unconditionally. There are strong feelings that come with becoming a parent, and I don't think you can empathize with them until you are a parent yourself, but there still are hopes, dreams, and a yearning to have a child. A mama that only has angel babies, still has those feelings, and is also mourning the loss of the baby that she never got to hold or to witness their awe-inspiring growth from a helpless newborn to their own little person. When you lose a baby, what matters is THAT life that was lost, not any other. 12. "Well, at least you have two children. My wife lost all of hers." A mama that I know online told me that she recieved this comment from a man whose wife had a few miscarriages and then they decided to stop trying. This wise mama had two children at the time, and lost this pregnancy and she knows that this man didn't mean for his words to be hurtful, but of course they were. This sort of statement doesn't even make sense to me at all. It's almost like a person that is an only child saying to someone that has lost a sibling but still has living siblings "Well at least you have 2 sisters left, I had none." Again, she lost a baby, and what matters is THAT life that was lost. 13. "Well, maybe you were never really pregnant." This lovely mama lost her baby at 7.5 wks and received this comment from her sister, with the best intentions. Words from this strong mama: "I KNOW she thought that would make me feel better. But it felt awful to have her not only not acknowledge my pain, but to say that basically it was maybe all in my head and I was feeling this way for no reason (by the way, I had already been to the doctor and had the miscarriage confirmed via blood tests). Then, I'm sitting there explaining to her all the reasons why I knew I was miscarrying: signs, symptoms, lab tests, timing. It was one of the worst moments of my life feeling like I had to convince her that my baby had died. NEVER say that to a mother. It doesn't make them feel better, no matter how early the miscarriage was. It doesn't give hope. It was awful." 14. Do not talk about the "whys". Why it may have happened. A lot more women than I expected told me that they received a comment about this shortly after their miscarriage. The two most common 'reasons' that I heard while listening to other women's stories were references to the mama's age, or if she has other children, especially if they are younger, that those children still need her. I've talked about the age thing before, so I won't rehash it here, and as for other children needing her, our children always 'need' their mamas, my 14 year old still needs me still. If I waited until my children didn't need me any longer before getting pregnant with my next child, I would probably only have one or two kids by now, not five! I believe the reasons why a miscarriage occured is something only the woman herself can explore. Only she knows everything that is impacting her life. It may be something she'll never know. So what should you say? What should you do? ~Say "I"m sorry." It always works. A friend told me that she just didn't know what to say to me. She knew, even well-meaning statements may not be very comforting to me. Know that there is nothing that you can say to take the pain away. You can not fix it (pay attention husbands!!). She has to go through this. It may take time, and some days will be better than others. ~Give her a hug. ~Make sure she knows that it is not her fault. Say outright, "You know that this isn't your fault, right?" ~Listen to her and let her express her feelings. Just listen. ~Let her go through it, and make sure she knows that you are there for her, really there for her. She can cry, talk or maybe she just needs to be held, and that's ok. ~Ask her if there is anything you can do for her. -If she had to have surgery or if she just needs to rest for a few days, offer to cook dinner or take her other children for the afternoon. ~Make sure she knows that it is ok to grieve, at her own pace. The pain doesn't go away in a week, or even a year. ~Let her know it is a real loss. Don't be afraid to say "baby." If it was an early loss, and a medical managed miscarriage, she may have heard words like embryo, fetus, or tissue describing her baby. Saying the word 'baby' validates that she is greiving for someone. It is a real loss and we should not expect moms to recover from it in a week, a month or even longer. It takes time like losing any other member of your family. I felt really strongly to blog about this because I was astounded by how many stupid comments I got after I miscarried. From people that I know care for me. It comes down to this, we don't usually talk openly about death in general in our society. So talking about the death of a baby that we never met is only done in whispers. I want to take a step toward talking about miscarriage openly. It happens to 1 in 4 women. It means you most likely know t least one woman that has had one, and you might not even know it. That's a lot of silient grief. Break the silence. And now you know what you should and should not say to these women. :) If you have gone through a miscarriage and have anything to add, please leave a comment. And if you would like to share your story, feel free to do that as well. Thank you for sharing lovely mamas!!