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"Maybe you and your partner just aren't compatible." Exactly what not to say to a woman who's had a miscarriage.

Warning: This post deals with miscarriage and might be triggering for some readers.

Several months ago, my friend told me she had a miscarriage.

She was holding back tears and after she told me about her miscarriage, she fell silent.

It was my turn to speak. I had no experience comforting someone who has had a miscarriage. None of my friends have ever fallen pregnant, let alone lost a baby, so this was new territory for me.

I started with “I’m so sorry to hear that.” But then I kept going. “Well, on the only bright side at least you’re young and know you can fall pregnant, that’s a good thing.”

I’m pretty sure I blurred out the rest of the conversation because I was embarrassed at the unhelpful sh*t that came out my mouth. I just couldn’t stop talking. Not because I felt I was an expert on the topic and must give my two cents, but because she looked so sad and was so quiet, I wanted to do and say anything that could help. And well, my dribble did neither of those things.

Watch: Mia Freedman talks to Tina Arena about miscarriage. Post continues after video.

Video via Mamamia

Six months after that conversation with my friend, I was in the car with one of my fiance’s old colleagues. She started talking about her own miscarriage and all the unwarranted (and unwanted) advice and help she was receiving from well-meaning family members, friends, and colleagues.

In short, I learned that pretty much everything I said to my friend was not what she needed to hear. Some of my comments would have been downright hurtful too.

So I reached out to a few women who have experienced a miscarriage and asked them how friends and family can support women who have miscarried. I found myself talking to Libby Parker. Libby has had 10 miscarriages (two ectopic pregnancies, no surviving pregnancies) and says she’s had many responses when she opens up about her loss. Some responses have been “beautiful and kind and some utterly insensitive.”

“After the first ectopic my partner and I decided to get married to cheer ourselves up. One woman said, ‘Well you wouldn’t want a big pregnant belly at your wedding, so that worked out well’,” she told Mamamia.

Libby explains that these are some of the worst responses she’s had:

  • “After the fifth miscarriage, a friend said, ‘At least you’re doing your bit for population growth.'”
  • “Then there was, ‘Perhaps you and your husband just aren’t biologically compatible.’
  • “Maybe it’s your weight.”
  • “A nurse after a curette laughed, ‘My god, if you want children so badly, have one of mine. I have four.’”
  • “A doctor who botched a curette which made my insides toxic and I became seriously ill said, ‘When are you going to stop doing this to yourself?’”
  • “An IVF counsellor once told me: ‘It must feel awful that his ex-wife gave him children but you can’t.'”
  • “A former boss was annoyed that I took a week off after a miscarriage. She said, ‘I get that you’re miscarrying but I’m trying to run a business here’. That was pretty callous, especially after I worked through the previous two miscarriages.”

Things you think are helpful but aren’t:

Most of us aren’t so insensitive that we’d say any of the above, but many of us may fall into the I-mean-well-but-am-not-helping camp.

And a lot of the things we say that aren’t helpful begin with “at least”. So next time you find yourself starting a sentence with “at least”, stop immediately.

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Libby says these responses to her miscarriages were said with the best of intentions but they were nevertheless insensitive:

  • “‘Just stop stressing and stop trying and it will happen.’ This hurts because it’s just not that easy. Every pregnancy is a roller coaster and impossible to relax into.”
  • “‘Have you tried: yoga, acupuncture, herbal medicine, meditation, oils etc etc etc’. I understand people are only trying to help, but it’s definitely not a cure and won’t bring those babies back.”
  • “I have stepkids so people often say, ‘At least you have stepchildren.’ My stepdaughters are the most beautiful people I’ve ever known and I love them as if they were mine. But it would have been nice to add to our little family and give them a brother or sister.”
  • “This is also relevant to people who already have kids who miscarry. The old ‘at least you have X other kids’ is not helpful. It totally discounts their grief and tries to make them feel guilty for not being grateful for the other children. Every loss is hard, regardless of what you already have.”
  • “‘At least it was over quickly/at least it wasn’t stillborn’. – Whether it’s a loss at 8 weeks, 10 weeks, 20 weeks or beyond, it’s all horrible and no one should have their experience discounted.”
  • “‘My aunt/sister/friend had exactly the same thing happen and she has three kids now and she’s totally fine.’ I am very happy for your aunty/sister/friend but this is my situation and it’s not the same.”
  • “‘I was so worried I was going to miscarry with my pregnancy. It was so hard’. Yeah, but you didn’t.”
  • “‘At least you can start drinking again’ – I mean yeah, I guess there’s that!”

Listen to how Megan Gale navigated grief and parenting on Mamamia’s parenting podcast This Glorious Mess. Post continues after. 

What to say instead:

Keeping it simple is best. Acknowledge the person’s loss, offer condolences and ask if there is anything you can do.

“When I miscarry, one of my dear friends comes over with wine, oysters, soft cheese and any other pregnancy contraband. We listen to 90s music really loud and she asks me if I want to talk about it,” Libby explains.

“Just telling us, ‘That’s really sh*t. I’m so sorry. What do you need?’ is helpful. No unsolicited advice, no success stories (because we don’t feel very successful at the time and those things feel way out of reach. Remember we are grieving and we also have a bunch of hormones to contend with).

“Coming over, making tea and warming up a wheat bag for the cramps is great.”

Libby also says if you are close with the person, recommending Netflix suggestions is a good move and offering wine helps.

If you don’t know what to say, a simple ‘I don’t know what to say. I wish this wasn’t happening for you. I’m so sorry you’re going through this’ covers everything.

And if it’s your workmate:

If you know someone at your workplace has had a miscarriage, how you should react – if at all – depends on how close you are.

The friend I mentioned above? She was horrified to have people she had never spoken to at work coming over to her desk to say how sorry they were for her loss.

“Your workmate would probably appreciate flowers, chocolates, kind words and understanding. After one miscarriage I had (where I passed out and fell headfirst down a concrete flight of stairs), one teacher workmate brought cake and a present for my husband because it was his birthday and I couldn’t leave the house. That was perfect and incredibly kind. Another workmate brought some work for me to finish. That wasn’t as great but it was nice to see her.”

“Organise flowers and/or food for your workmate and let her know you’re thinking of her. After 10 miscarriages I can confirm it’s the feeling of being alone that gets you. When you very recently had a person growing in your body with wonderful plans of an amazing future together, your body suddenly feels empty and you feel completely alone,” Libby says.

“We’re all busy, but just sending a message, email or a card can mean the world to someone suffering pregnancy loss.”

What you need to know when someone has miscarried:

You may think it’s helpful and kinder to your friend who has had a miscarriage to hide the things in your life that are going well (like falling pregnant or getting engaged), but keeping your friend in the dark will only make them feel worse – and potentially isolated.

“Just be aware that the absolute joy and excitement they felt when they first saw that positive pregnancy test, all the planning, dreaming and imagining they were doing has just come crashing down. Miscarriages are painful and traumatic. If you end up in hospital, you are often in the labour ward with all the newborns. If you miscarry at home, it is often scary and sometimes it takes a while to pass through,” Libby explains.

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“We are definitely happy for you when you announce your pregnancy, but we are grieving so please don’t block us out of your life. You may feel uncomfortable having us around but you get a baby at the end of it. Imagine how uncomfortable we are,” Libby says.

“One of the saddest things I’ve experienced is women who are pregnant or who get pregnant around the time of my miscarriages who feel too uncomfortable to tell me and who then avoid me.

“As well as it being really quite isolating, losing those friends can cause further grief. But I understand my situation makes them uncomfortable so I don’t push it. But it would be good to just spread the word that we have just lost our baby. We don’t want to lose you, too.”

Libby adds: “Please don’t stop inviting us to your baby showers and kids’ birthdays, but don’t be mad if we don’t come. It might just be too much for us and we don’t want to bring the mood down.

“Christmas and Mother’s Day are incredibly hard for those experiencing loss. Please be understanding of that and let us skip it or leave early if we need to.”

If this has raised any issues for you or if you would like to speak with someone, please contact the Sands Australia 24 hour support line on 1300 072 637. 

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

Join the community of women, men and families who have lost a child in our private Facebook group.

Feature Image: Getty. 

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