'Don't f**k it up.' How to not make it worse when your friend is having a hard time.

This article was originally published on Laurel Pantin's Substack, Your Mom. You can sign up to her newsletter here.

When I'm out with my kids, at least once, I think: I wonder if everyone thinks I'm their nanny, because I definitely do not seem old enough to be their mum.

The subtext of that is: I don't feel old enough to have this much responsibility and I wonder if it shows.

But at 37... girl... you're old enough. It's that thing where you realise your parents, whom you thought had the answers to everything, were also fumbling around in the dark just as blindly as you are. That nobody knows for sure what to do, and we're all just trying our best.

Watch: Things you shouldn't say to people who are having an anxiety attack. Post continues below.

Video via Mamamia.

And being 37, being a friend, being a mum, being a person, whatever - there have been more instances than anyone would like recently when my friend or family member is confronted with a nightmare in the process of making, having, birthing, or rearing a baby.

In those moments I think I'm too young to be involved in anything this serious. But then again, 37, and also, let's not make this about me, shall we?


The rub, however, is that in trying to comfort your loved one, inadvertently it can become about you rather than about them in a million ways, from comparing something unrelated you've been through to their experience, to saying something so horrifying that they start to focus on how awful you've made them feel, how repulsive you are, how vile - I guess the upside there is at least they're distracted?

And despite how wrong things can go, at the heart, all of that comes from a deep desire to help. And be there! It's just not immediately obvious always how to do that.

So I asked - I went to Instagram to ask people what helped them in their most awful moments, and what just made it worse.

Here are a sampling of things that made it worse:

"Saying 'be kind to yourself'... repeatedly."

"Hearing that my miscarriage was early in my pregnancy so it didn't really matter."

"So many people were too uncomfortable to say anything, and that was way worse."

"Telling me other people's success stories. When you're so low, it's unhelpful."

"People trying to relate with experiences that aren't the same!"

"Saying, 'At least you didn't die!'"

"'Checking in' constantly. It felt like a chore to have to update people 24/7."

"'Sending strength.'"

"Citing God's will."

"Saying, 'At least you already have one!'"


And on, and on, and on. Obviously, everyone on the other side of the equation genuinely wanted to help - genuinely wanted to help lessen the torture of infertility, miscarriage, genetic or congenital complications. Or ease the tension of waiting for answers.

But talking to some friends who have and are experiencing all of those things, sometimes another person's care can start to feel like they're getting off on being the rock for you.

And then for some of us, like (I am very lucky) me, who had a relatively easy time conceiving, carrying, etc, it's really hard to know what to say. And the impulse is to withdraw, right? But there, we are right back at the thing of being so uncomfortable you say nothing.

So - what actually helped?

"'This is terrible. It's okay to feel terrible because it IS terrible.'"

"Saying, 'That must have been so f**king hard, I hear you.'"

"Letting your friend feel sad. Save the positivity and optimism for a little later."

"After my stillbirth, my mum called my coworkers to make sure they didn't bring it up."

"Just listening, it's nice to be able to talk without getting advice."

"No pressure to reply texts, 15-minute visits, homemade food."

The overwhelming response is to just listen, and try and understand how awful the thing is, and let your friend just feel awful. I personally think the worst thing when you're already having a tough time is feeling alone. But you can make someone feel like they're not alone in a million ways, the easiest way is just telling them, I'm here with you, I hear you, this is so hard.


One woman responded though with a 39-week unexplainable loss, and she said there was nothing that could help.

In loving someone, being prepared to stick with them and love them even when there's nothing you can do is probably the most you can do. Having patience for them, letting them know you love them in whatever way they're ready to receive that love, having zero expectations in return.

Anyway, I'm obviously not an expert in this arena - I'm guilty of over-checking in, of telling other people's success stories, probably of being dismissive. 

Nobody is perfect! But I know I, and you, you, you, all of us, are trying, and sometimes trying is the best we can do.

Laurel Pantin is an editor and writer based in Los Angeles who covers fashion, lifestyle, and culture. She has two newsletters Earl Earl, which covers shopping and fashion, and Your Mom, for her musings on parenting. You can also follow her on IG.

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You can download Never Forgotten: Stories of love, loss and healing after miscarriage, stillbirth, and neonatal death for free here.

Feature Image: Getty.