Monday, December 9, 2013

Things NOT to Say to Mothers Coping with Miscarriage

(NOTE: I am coming up on the three-year anniversary of the day that the perinatologist told me my babies had passed so I've got miscarriage on my mind. Read my first ever miscarriage post here.)

Pregnancy loss can be incredibly isolating even as it introduces you to the secret community all around you made up of people who've had to cope with miscarriage and even stillbirth. You want to talk about miscarriage but there's a good chance that people get really uncomfortable really fast when as soon as you open your mouth. And if you want to talk about it six months or a year or two years later, it's seen as weird that you've been holding on to the experience for so long.

Now, three years out from the experience, I don't generally talk about things like how if someone on my Facebook feed announces they're having twins I unsubscribe from their updates or how sometimes I look at Bo and think about how he wouldn't exist if that hadn't happened (or how it had to happen for me to have ended up with him). Because I would never want to wish him away.

miscarriage - pregnancy loss

I don't even talk to my family about how I still get sad because the last time I did the mister segued into a joke because that's just what he does when someone around him is hurting.

When you're actually in the process of miscarrying, however, people generally do suck down their discomfort and talk to you or at least let you talk while they listen. Unfortunately, some of the things people say in the wake of a pregnancy loss are bound to bring on the angry tears. Here are just a handful of those things - i.e., the things you should never, ever say to a mother who is dealing with a miscarriage:

"At least you didn't lose a baby."

Depending on who you're talking to, especially if you're talking to someone of faith, that thing you might have perceived as a clump of cells was very much a real baby. Not born yet, sure, but with its own place in the family nonetheless. Not to mention a soul. Variations include "It wasn't really a person" and "You never met the baby so what's the big deal?"

"Miscarriages happen for a reason."

So do cancer, SIDS, and house fires but I sure wouldn't say that to someone going through any of those things. I get that it's the speaker's attempt to be comforting, but frankly the only person who was allowed to tell me my miscarriage happened for a reason was my maternal grandmother - and that's because she was a geneticist. Variations include "Mother Nature takes care of her mistakes."

"It was God's will."

Sure, maybe. Or maybe it was a random glitch in the Matrix. First, you might not know a woman's beliefs as well as you think you do, so saying this could turn out to be incredibly offensive for a whole host of reasons. And second, hearing that God selected you to bear the burden of a miscarriage, killing the baby you so wanted, might not be all that comforting.

"At least you weren't further along."

Tell me, when is far enough along to grieve? When you can hear a heartbeat? When it's shaped like a baby? When it was close to being viable but not quite? Frankly, your life and your outlook on life changes dramatically as soon as you find out you're pregnant, and then you live through changes to your body, the rush of hormones, feeling the baby move, and other powerful experiences - even when you miscarry relatively early. Variations include "At least you didn't feel the baby move yet" and "At least you never met it."

(Some may find it disturbing to read but I came across an article about a couple who chose to take pictures their miscarried baby lost around the time I lost the twins. It was pretty eye-opening to see what my babies actually looked like since I passed on taking home the remains.)

"Maybe you shouldn't have.../Maybe you should have..."

Nope. Nooooooooo. Just don't even. This is pretty much the worst follow up to the suggestion that miscarriages happen for a reason.Screw you and your hypotheses.

"This is better than having had a child with a disability."

Unless you know for sure that a baby would have had a disability and you know FOR SURE a woman's stance on things like abortion, caring for the disabled, etc., these words should not be uttered because they imply that she might have loved a disabled baby less than a "perfect" one.

"It's for the best."

Is it? Is it really for someone outside of a family to say whether any given baby should or should not have lived? Yes, some chromosomal abnormalities and other issues are incompatible with life. Some require people to ask some people intense questions about quality of life. But no one should presume to tell a mother she wouldn't have given the baby she lost the best possible quality of life. Variations include "It wasn't meant to be."

"Be grateful for the child/children you have."

We are. Screw anyone who implies that we aren't. Children are not interchangeable. Grief is not ingratitude.

"You'll get pregnant again soon."

My perinatologist actually said that she was sure she'd be seeing us again soon right before I was like, hey, could you hook me up with an IUD? Because not everyone who miscarries WANTS to get pregnant again soon or ever. Many, like me, need time to mourn because we don't feel like we lost a pregnancy. We feel like we lost a baby. Another baby can't replace the one we lost. Variations include "When are you going to start trying again?"

"At least you know you can get pregnant."

Well, sure, but it doesn't mean you know you can carry a baby to viability so fat lot of good that does you. If the person talking is someone who has suffered from infertility, then I'd say give them a pass because they've most likely had more than their fair share of hurt when it comes to family planning.

"I thought you'd be more upset about it."

That's one sure way to make the mom who has mixed feelings, ambivalent feelings, or no strong feelings at all feel guilty for not donning the sackcloth and ashes after a miscarriage. There are as many ways to miscarry as there are moms and I think it's just fine if a woman who experiences a pregnancy loss doesn't go to pieces. No need to point it out, shocked, because it's not how you'd react. Variations include "Why isn't this bothering you?"

"You'll get over it."

Kind of? You stop thinking about it so much and you can think about it without crying but it's always like a punch in the gut. The pain's there but you're not going to burst into tears. Like something was stolen from you. The family you thought you'd have, maybe. Moms don't forget and shouldn't forget, so being told to forget isn't exactly a big help.

"You need to get on with your life."

That's where I'd probably say 'Screw you very much' and walk because that's just plain rude. People get on with their lives when they feel ready and it's fine to withdraw for a while or just go through the motions after experiencing something as painful as pregnancy loss. Moms who feel a strong connection to their babies from the moment they realize they're pregnant should feel free to mourn a miscarriage without people getting all up in their business about it.

Did you miscarry and have to deal with dummies saying things like these afterward?


  1. I think it is also important to note that you shouldn't tell anyone else how to feel, period. Some people do not feel devastated by a miscarriage and telling them how sad they must be might actually make it worse or make them feel guilty for not feeling worse. Asking how they are coping or if they need to talk is much better, I think.

    I had the good fortune of having a very, very kind nurse when I went through my miscarriage and it made all the difference. She said some of the things you said not to but in just the right way and with a medical spin on it.

    She also told me that if I cried every day for a month and a half or so afterwards, that was not only okay and normal, it was good to grieve. However, she also said if I remained that sad after 2 months that I needed more help. This was good for me because it made me feel normal to be breaking down about the baby that would not be and it also helped my partner who is very much a "it's not a baby until it's a baby" kind of person.

    1. Absolutely, which is why I included the "I thought you'd be more upset" bit - I know a few women who miscarried but just weren't broken up about it the same way I was. And I think you bring up a good point re: your nurse. Some things are okay coming from a medical professional (or geneticist) that just aren't cool when a layperson is saying them. Because the intention is different? I don't know...

  2. "At least you know you can get pregnant!!!"

    That is really not helpful when one has had well over twenty miscarriages. My uterus is a killing floor, apparently. I personally find it more frustrating than deeply sorrowful, but that line just really... is not at all helpful.

    1. That is an INCREDIBLY good point. You cannot know just how many miscarriages a woman has had - and that could be like emotionally punching her in the gut. Yuck.

  3. Blergh. People actually SAID those things to you? Wow. I'm so sorry. I can't imagine how awful it was/is to hear such insensitive things. What is wrong with people? --Lisa

  4. Thank you Christa. Your comments on my blog inspired me to get my miscarriage story out. I feel better for it.


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