How best to help loved ones deal with their loss
Nicole had already wanted to be a mom for a long time when she married at 36. When she discovered that she was pregnant just a few months after the wedding, she and her husband Charlie were overjoyed. They spent weeks planning for the future and treasuring the life growing inside her. In January, just before the beginning of the second trimester, Nicole started bleeding. She knew that there were a lot of possible causes for this, but when she went to see her doctor, her worst fears were confirmed: there was no heartbeat.
Liv and her husband had one child, a son, but they hoped to add to their family. Every month, that hope seemed further away. For two and a half years, nothing happened. Meanwhile, Liv watched those around her as they continued to have children. The sorrow was keen.
It’s likely that you know a Nicole, a Liv, or a Charlie. In fact, it’s likely that you know many of them. When you begin to talk about miscarriage and infertility, both among people with children and those without, the stories often pour out. But as with any type of grief, longing, or sorrow, it can be hard to know how to support these loved ones. Liv, Charlie, and Nicole offered some wisdom.
“I think sometimes people are so afraid of the awkwardness that they don’t say anything,” says Nicole. “Take the risk of support even if it doesn’t come out perfectly.”
It’s easy to feel a pressure to say or do the right thing, but Charlie suggests removing that barrier to connection. “I think you don’t really have your feelers out for insensitivity when you’re in that much grief to begin with,” he says. “I think what we need in a lot of these situations are people who aren’t afraid to be in our grief with us.”
For Nicole, that looked like people who offered to bring food, listen as she talked about her experience, or simply spend time with her doing normal things. As she shared, she also noticed that others offered their stories. “It felt like the motive was to make my burden lighter.”
Liv and her husband shared their struggle with a small circle of friends. One particular piece of encouragement came from her acupuncturist. “She said: ’Fertility is a web of factors and you and your body are just one strand, We strive to work with the strand we are able to affect and we know we can’t affect the others.’ It was just this beautiful freeing picture. Because I can say in my head ‘it’s not all my fault’ but the picture that I had was my own womb being unable to hold anything and now to have this other strong image of this web, that was very effective in terms of comfort.”
In the aftermath of the miscarriage, Nicole didn’t feel very capable of self care. “I think I was so mad at my body for failing me and I felt like ‘here’s my first shot at being a mom and I can’t protect this baby.’” During that time, it was important for both partners to have each other to rely on. “It’s hard to imagine going through it either alone or with someone who wasn’t as involved. We cried a lot together. He never tried to minimize it. He never pushed any kind of timeline on me.”
Although Nicole told some people, it was hard to know how to begin. “What do you say?” she asked. “I’m losing a lot of blood and my dream is dead?” She and Charlie were both thankful for people who reached out and asked what was wrong and wanted to be supportive and helpful. This experience has attuned Charlie’s instincts to those in grief. “It can be very hard to ask for, or even give a name to, that thing that you need in those times. So I think since then I try to be a little more perceptive to times when people need to be drawn out in that feeling a little and need to hear ‘wow, what you’re going through sounds really hard, do you want to talk about it?’”
There were a few hurtful comments, but they were few and far between. Nicole remembers comments about her body “warming up” and “you’ll get your chance,” which left her cold, and she and Liv struggled with the speed at which some people reached for easy answers like “everything happens for a reason.”
“When theology is spoken into these situations, too often it is to allay the anxiety of the speaker,” says Liv. “A simple, I love you, we care about you, is wonderful.”
Nicole, Liv, and Charlie all agree that the best way to support a friend in miscarriage or infertility is simply to be present and to listen. “I think you’re always grateful for having friends in your life,” says Nicole. “But it’s at times like that that you realize how valuable they are.”
[Editor’s Note: Take the Poll – Would You Support People Through their ‘Hidden Grief’]