Posted on October 17 2016
There is no other occupation on the planet that offers as many challenges as motherhood. Some of those challenges are well known and often discussed, even celebrated sometimes, like the sleepless nights and the engorged breasts, getting peed on and insane diaper blowouts, and many other cliche struggles. These subjects are talked about openly, often with tears of laughter and exhaustion. But there are deeper struggles we mothers face, heavy burdens we carry, and more often than not, we do so silently. One of the most painful experiences for a mother is the loss of a pregnancy, and 1 in every 8 women suffers that loss. October is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, so I want to talk with you all about something that has become unnecessarily taboo - how to appropriately show sympathy to someone facing the loss of a pregnancy.
Too often, those who face the heartbreak of miscarriage feel unable to open up about their loss to those around them. Even more often, those who do are met with responses that, while the intentions behind them may be sincere, are more offensive and hurtful than anything. There is no real how-to guide for these situations, but there are some important things to keep in mind when someone does bring up a pregnancy loss. After speaking with some dear friends who have had to endure this experience, I've put together a list of points to consider before you offer your sympathies.
Check yourself at the door. No matter what you are facing in your life at that moment, nothing compares to the pain that person is feeling. This time is about them and their pain, so don't bring up yourself.
Never try to be empathetic. There is a huge difference between sympathy and empathy. Sympathy, in short, is having compassion for someone else, while empathy is trying to put yourself in their shoes. Don't say things like "if I were you I would..." Every time a friend told me about their loss, my first thought was I can't even imagine. And that is the absolute truth. I can't, and neither can you. Let your heart break for them, but don't try to put yourself in a place to understand. Their pain is not for you to understand. Nothing about what they are going through is for you or about you.
Let them talk. Although it has become such a taboo subject, everyone I talked to in preparation for this piece told me that they wanted to discuss it, but most of them didn't know how to get past the stigma. Of course, don't pry or try to force someone to talk about their experience if they don't want to, but be receptive and gracious if someone decides they feel open to talking. The more open we are to talking about and listen to the realities of pregnancy loss, the more chance we have of obliterating the stigma.
Consider everyone involved. People often forget that miscarriages also affect the father. A point that was brought up to me was that "people didn't really think about the fact that my husband wanted that baby too, and that it was just as much his loss as it was mine." Though the mother and father feel the loss in different ways, the reality is the same for both of them. Show compassion for the dad as much as the mom. If there are children who are old enough to understand in some capacity, be sure to be considerate of them as well.
Respect their perspective. Everyone is going to handle the loss of a pregnancy differently. Some people's way of mourning and remembering includes given their child a name and including them in the number of the members of their family. Others may not feel that same kind of connection or may not feel comfortable doing those things. There is no right or wrong way, and it most certainly is nobody's business but the families. However the choose to move forward is what needs to be respected, whether you agree with it or not.
Keep in mind that every persons journey through grief is different. This is not a check list to go down or a formula to make you the perfect friend. Being the perfect friend in this situation requires grace, humility, and the willingness to listen. Together, we can fight the stigma surrounding topics like miscarriage and create a world where women feel safe to share their pain when they need to.