Over the Christmas break, someone very close to me experienced the loss of their first child. Their little baby was 7 weeks old. Despite the early stage of the pregnancy, I can assure you that the sense of loss was no less painful than if the child had been much older. The grief I felt, as someone who had been so excited by the pregnancy, was overwhelming. I’d subconsciously been planning all the gifts I’d buy the wee baby, thinking about which days I’d be free to babysit after work, and whether or not I’d be able to fit a pram in the back of my Fiat 500 for when I took the child on day trips. The little one, at 7 weeks old, was just as real to me as if they had been toddling around on the carpet in front of me.
If my experience of grief after the loss was so visceral, I can’t begin to comprehend what my dear friend and her husband were going through. She had to bear not only the emotional grief, but also the physical pain and trauma of miscarriage. I was at a loss as to how to console her. I began looking up more information about miscarriages in order to better understand what they were going through, and was shocked to find just how common they are. One in four pregnancies end in miscarriage, with more than 80% of those occurring in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy(1). In fact, many miscarriages happen before the woman knows she’s pregnant. Given how prevalent miscarriages are, they’re rarely talked about, and lead to an often silent, inward grieving process. I spoke to friends and read accounts of women who’d experienced early pregnancy loss, who felt that ‘they had not just lost a pregnancy, but a future that has begun to feel real as soon as those lines appeared on the test(2). For those who have suffered a miscarriage, the fact that they are statistically common does not in any way lessen the pain of their loss.
In light of this, how do we react when those close to us experience a miscarriage? How do we approach and support them through this traumatic time?
Firstly, we should be careful what we say around those who’ve experienced a miscarriage. Phrases which we feel might be comforting, such as ‘it’s so common’, or ‘you can try again’ can in fact be harmful. There is no comfort to be had in the loss of a child, and trying to play down what has happened, no matter if it’s meant well, can feel like an invalidation of their pain and grief. In the midst of their mourning, platitudes are unhelpful. If you need help in supporting someone who’s been through pregnancy loss, you can call our national helpline, or use our Pregnancy Matters™ online services for guidance.
It’s also important to recognise that everyone grieves differently. Some are angry and weep after loss, whilst others are quietly mournful, preferring to keep themselves busy. Some lock themselves away, others crave the company of family and friends. We all process pain and trauma differently, and so should be sensitive that others may show their grief in a way that seems strange to us. Just because they’re not crying doesn’t mean their heart isn’t breaking.
Now more than ever it’s important that we join together in grieving the miscarriages experienced by those close to us. Mourning of the young life lost in miscarriage or still birth is important. Mourning itself acknowledges that something cherished has been lost, something that has left a hole in the lives of those who have been left behind. Through grieving for the child lost in miscarriage, we’re helping people to meet the circumstance of pregnancy loss with courage.