One in four pregnancies end in miscarriage.
It’s a statistic you hear all to often if you’ve been through it and one that probably doesn’t really register if you haven’t.
Losing a baby at any stage is an emotionally devastating time, with some experts claiming the grief is akin to the death of a living loved one. Complexities of the trauma can impact relationships and friendships, something Doctor Jessica Zucker knows a fair bit about.
“As a psychologist, I specialised in women’s reproductive and maternal mental health long before experiencing a second trimester miscarriage first hand,” Zucker told Mamamia.
“In 2012, I had a 16-week miscarriage at home alone. This loss gave birth to a passion that seems to increase with each passing year. I am fiercely dedicated to being part of changing culture when it comes to the conversation surrounding loss and grief.”
Following her own experience Zucker launched the #IHadAMiscarriage campaign in 2014 with the hope of normalising loss through sharing the details of her story. In 2015 she then created a line of pregnancy and infant loss cards as an antidote to the comment all too often said: ‘I just didn’t know what to say so I didn’t say anything at all.’
“I wanted to establish a way for people to connect after loss, in a concrete way, so that loved ones could support grievers in a meaningful way.”
From there Zucker set out to further expand the conversation around miscarriage, exploring the topics of rainbow babies and what pregnancy loss was like for our mothers and grandmothers.
“If we think miscarriage is shrouded in silence now, just imagine how much quieter things were in previous generations.”
Right now Zucker’s passion point is the controversial ‘12 week mark’, and all that comes with it.
“This campaign zeros in on early pregnancy and questions why we are typically advised not to share pregnancy news until we are “out of the woods” after the first trimester.”
@glowhq shares: I got pregnant with my daughter after 3 miscarriages and a chemical pregnancy. There is no such thing as “normal” after loss. And there is especially no such thing as “normal” physical pains or cramping in a subsequent pregnancy following loss. With every little twinge, I was convinced that I was about to lose, again. I trembled. _ In the first few weeks of this pregnancy I was so scared I might find blood that I didn’t want to go to the bathroom. Ever. I was terrified beyond words. I ended up with a UTI from holding my urine so long. Fear overtook me. _ This is what trauma can do. My losses rendered me ruthlessly afraid of every tiny thing I felt inside my body. _ I credit my OB with creating a context for me in which I felt safe: to fall apart and come back together again. She was available and nonjudgmental and simply extraordinary. She assuaged my fears by directly addressing them with compassion and expertise. _ I didn’t talk much about my pregnancy. It was too difficult for me to imagine having a successful pregnancy. I really wanted to be as happy as everyone else was about it, but I protected myself through not fully believing it was possible. My reproductive journey was so circuitous, I couldn’t wrap my head/heart around a positive outcome. _ I hated being asked “Is this your first?” It stung and ached and ate me alive. Now, my daughter is almost 2, and I still haven’t figured out how to answer this question in a way that feels honoring or satisfying or altogether true. _ #IHadAMiscarriage #pregnancyandinfantloss #pregnancylossawareness #miscarriage #pregnancyloss #stillbirth #infantloss #grief #loss #motherhood #1in4 // Photo by @sjvonier // Pins available in my shop.
“This age-old construct essentially sets us up for silence and isolation if things go awry. In other words, this statement translates into ‘don’t share your good news in case it becomes bad news so that you don’t have to share your bad news’,” Zucker said.
“Though we would prefer bad news not exist, it does, and therefore it is time to become conversant in talking about this difficult and often murky topic.”
Through her work Zucker has become well versed on how to help a friend through a miscarriage and can offer much needed guidance when you really don’t know what to say or do.
What not to say after miscarriage.
“First, grief knows no timeline. Grief is circuitous and though it may not make sense to other people, the griever may feel like they are on an emotional roller coaster for a while. Empathy is key. There is no place for judgement in grief.”
“Secondly, platitudes are painful. It can be tempting to say things like, “At least you know you can get pregnant”, “Everything happens for a reason”, and/or “You’re young, you’ll be fine.” The problem with these statements is that they actually don’t address what the mourner is going through and worse yet, these things might not even prove true,” Zucker said.
Zucker warns it’s also wise to shy away from comparing losses as this can sometimes accidentally minimise people’s experiences.
“No need to get caught up in, “Well, at least you have another child” or “At least your loss happened early. You can just try again.” Making assumptions about how our loved ones are feeling following loss doesn’t help.”
What to say after miscarriage.
So, what should we say?
A simple “How are you feeling? I’m here for you if you want to talk” can go a long way.”
“It is vital to remember that bypassing loss doesn’t make it go away. In other words, avoiding asking a friend how she’s doing for fear of entering into an uncomfortable conversation doesn’t mean you shouldn’t dare yourself to ask. If she doesn’t want to talk about it, she will let you know. It is a loving act to engage with her about this vulnerable and transformative experience,” Zucker said.
Below Zucker has outlined some common responses we often go for because they seem natural or the right thing to say. She’s them provided a response that will most likely be better received. Use these as a guide if you’re stuck.
LISTEN: A very raw Monique Bowley speaks about miscarriage, grief, and how friends and family can help someone who is struggling (post continues after audio…)
Here are some examples:
What to say: “How are you?”
What not to say: “At least you know you can get pregnant. It’ll be different next time.”
Be brave: Friendship provides opportunities for connecting through a wide range of life events—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Post-miscarriage your friend might be feeling vulnerable, confused, or sad. This is a chance to show up for her in a loving way, kicking assumptions and platitudes to the curb.
Asking her how she’s doing could in itself be a transformative experience for both of you. This topic is a tough one; she’s most likely having interactions with people who don’t quite know what to do or say. Expressions of empathy are what she longs for most. She wants to feel understood and heard in the midst of grief.
What to say: “I’m here for you.”
What not to say: “Everything happens for a reason. This just wasn’t meant to be.”
Be consistent: Relaying that you are a friend who plans to stick by her side for the long haul will be a breath of fresh air. She doesn’t want her experience brushed under the rug, minimized, or compared to other things going on in the world.
This moment hurts. Be with her pain. Typically, the more we honour our feelings, the sooner we witness their transformation. Show her that you’ve got the grit to navigate this disconcerting experience with her.
What to say: “I’m deeply sorry for your loss.”
What not to say: “At least you have a healthy child already.”
Be empathic: Pregnancy loss affects people in myriad ways. It can be quite significant to one person and to another, not as heartbreaking.
Find out how your friend is feeling about her situation. She may have already started daydreaming about her future baby playing alongside her/his sibling. So, having a healthy child doesn’t necessarily make this loss any easier.
What to say: “You did nothing wrong.”
What not to say: “You must be worried about getting pregnant again.”
Be compassionate: It is quite common for women to feel a sense of shame, self-blame, and guilt following a pregnancy loss.
Furthermore, women often report feeling that their bodies have “failed”. However, the research shows that a majority of miscarriages have no relationship with something someone did or did not do. If your friend shares that she is concerned that she did something to deserve this, attune to her feelings while gracefully reminding her that she did absolutely nothing wrong. She did nothing to deserve this loss.
What to say: “Try to be gentle with yourself.”
What not to say: “Maybe it’s best it happened this way because the baby probably wasn’t healthy.”
Be thoughtful: Encouraging your friend to be compassionate toward herself might be a much-needed mantra. Our fast-paced lives can make navigating grief tricky if we aren’t accustomed to slowing down.
She might feel pressured to return to her “normal” everyday routine. Since we can’t predict the length or severity of one’s mourning process, we reveal support by inviting her to be tender with herself, no matter the time frame.
Be the type of friend you imagine you would want if you were in her shoes.