An estimate one in four Pregnancies end in miscarriage. Earlier this year mine became one of them. From the moment I knew what was happening, everything felt overwhelming. I retreated to the sofa for 48 hours to rest my body and numb my mind with Netflix while my husband filled me up with tea and chocolate. However, I knew I couldn’t hide from the world forever. I soon faced another problem: how do I tell my family and friends?
The first trimester – which is three months – of pregnancy is the most volatile. Many pregnant women choose not to tell their loved ones until the 12-week milestone has passed. My husband and I went the same way and only shared the news with my parents because I couldn’t contain the excitement. How was I supposed to tell them what happened? They loved it as much as we did and I didn’t want them to be upset or disappointed. Your dreams of becoming a grandparent for the first time would have to wait a little longer.
I also wanted to share what happened with my friends. How was I supposed to bring up the subject when they had no idea I was even pregnant? I didn’t want to bring it up out of the blue in case it would make things awkward. Likewise, the thought of pitying looks and comments – no matter how well-intentioned they may be – was unbearable.
Eventually my caution and insecurity developed. I ended up telling a handful of friends when the topic came up in conversation. The same happened between my husband and his friends. I wish I had known better approaches. I know I’m not alone, so I turned to experts for advice.
How do you start the conversation?
Sometimes, knowing how to start talking about a pregnancy loss is just as difficult as knowing how to start the discussion — and those first few words will be different for everyone. “Starting a conversation can depend on how vulnerable and open you want to be with the other person,” she explains Heidi McBain, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Licensed Professional Counselor. She suggests these openers:
- “I have devastating news I’d like to share with you.”
- “I have some news that I’ve started sharing with family and friends.”
- “I have some difficult news to share with you, and all you need to do is listen and empathize, not try to fix anything.”
Julianne Boutaleb, Consulting Perinatal Psychologist and Clinical Director of parenting in mind, notes that it’s important to have these conversations on your terms. Don’t feel pressured to discuss your pregnancy loss if the time isn’t right. “It could be about saying, ‘Now is not the time to talk about this. Can I get back to you later?’” Boutaleb says, adding, “It’s also okay to acknowledge people’s support and messages without getting into the specifics of what’s happening for you.”
A problem shared is a problem halved, and when talking about a miscarriage it’s no different. “Split [your news] Having a trusted friend or family member who understands what’s happening for you can really help,” says Boutaleb. “If we don’t have these types of people to connect with, the early stages of grief can feel very, very isolating.”
However, Boutaleb notes that repeating the event when you tell more people can also take an emotional toll. “One thing people often tell me is that narration and retelling can be very traumatizing,” she says. Therefore, Boutaleb suggests asking your partner or someone you trust to share your news with your family and friends. Remember, you don’t have to say it Everyone. This is your experience and you can share it with as many or as few people as you like.
How do you deal with unhelpful reactions?
One of the factors I found most difficult when telling others was hearing their reactions. “This is often the part of the grieving process parents find most difficult — the lack of understanding and insight into the kind of grief they feel when they lose a pregnancy or an unborn child,” says Boutaleb.
Those who experience a miscarriage often find themselves on the receiving end of comments like, “At least you know you can get pregnant” and “Oh, well, at least you haven’t gotten too far.” These were reactions I feared and, in some cases, experienced. They made me both sad and frustrated. While statements like these may not feel helpful or hurtful, “You know that [they] usually come from a good place,” McBain suggests. “People often struggle with grief and know what to say when times are tough.”
In general, I’ve been fortunate to get thoughtful and thoughtful responses from the people I shared with about my miscarriage, but for those who aren’t so lucky, Boutaleb suggests reaching out to professional pregnancy loss organizations. “They often have very well organized support groups,” she explains, “where people at different stages of bereavement can support each other.”
If you need further guidance, join online forums and ask mental health professionals about pregnancy loss resources. Boutaleb recommends organizations and websites like Share support with pregnancy and loss of infants, sand, Bandage for miscarriageand Tommy’s.
How should you respond as a loved one?
If you’re a friend, family member, or colleague of someone experiencing pregnancy loss, simple steps can help you feel better. McBain says the first is to listen. You may feel the need to talk, perhaps as a form of distraction or to cheer up your loved one, but silence is indeed golden in this case.
“Listen and be a safe place for your friend or family member,” says McBain. “Don’t try to ease their pain, but step into that hard space and be with them so they don’t feel so alone.”
It’s also important to consider the full spectrum of emotions. To outsiders, a pregnancy loss might feel like a short-term physical event, but Boutaleb says it’s important to understand that it can be harder for expectant parents to see beyond the miscarriage. “This is a bond with a little boy or girl in their mind that they’ve been thinking about and dreaming about and maybe even preparing for — not just in their mind, but by buying things for them,” she says. “All these imaginary experiences are lost.”
If you’ve gone through a miscarriage yourself and feel comfortable opening up, sharing your experience could help reassure your loved one that they’re not alone and will get through the experience, McBain says.
The emotional and physical toll of loss can mean your loved one struggling with everyday tasks. So think about how you can help. For example, adopting comfort food — from an extra-cheesy lasagna to a pint of Ben & Jerry’s — will help ease the stress of shopping and cooking, and fill your stomach and Heart. Boutaleb suggests that if your loved one has other children, you could “volunteer to look after them so that the bereaved parent can rest and have some time to themselves.”
While the physical event of a miscarriage usually lasts only a few days, the emotional pain can last much longer. So don’t forget to ask how your loved one is doing in the coming weeks. “Check in, maybe with little messages, send a card, or offer to give them a ride, even if it’s just for a walk,” advises Boutaleb. “These ongoing messages of support are really important.”
How are you getting on?
No matter how you feel after losing a pregnancy, remember that there is no standard response. “Society often leads us to believe that it’s normal to immediately cry and mourn that loss, which some people do,” says McBain. “Others might feel numb, angry, afraid, lonely, hopeless, and countless other feelings.”
Grief is not an overnight process, and several months after my pregnancy loss, the sadness hits me even harder on some days. But we don’t have to face these blows alone. Whether it’s family or friends, a stranger on a pregnancy loss forum, or a professional therapist, others will be there to support you when you are ready.
Chantelle Pattemore is a London-based author who has contributed to Fitness for men, best life, women healthand Reader’s Digest. Follow her on Twitter @journochantelle.
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