Thoughts on “weeping with…”

“Contribute to the needs of the saints… Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.” -Romans 12.

Last month we were blessed to host a memorial service for “National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.” I’m not going to say I really “enjoyed” this, because it was challenging to spend so much time focused on these sad and heavy experiences, but I was blessed by this experience and I think the others there were, too. We lit candles in honor of the babies’ lives and spent some time mourning these losses in light of God’s mercy to us.

“I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.”
“So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us. There are other forces at work, Frodo, besides the will of evil.”
– The Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien.

I’m often asked for practical advice about how to help a friend experiencing a miscarriage. I first commend you to think about miscarriage like a Christian, which means, to think of this in terms of the gospel. That is primary, but secondarily I offer the following tips.

PHYSICAL EXPERIENCE OF MISCARRIAGE.
To put it delicately, in most cases miscarriage is essentially a mini-birth. Just like a full-term delivery, some require surgical or medical intervention while others progress naturally. There are also hormonal and emotional fluctuations similar to those experienced by other post-partum women. If you are bringing food during or immediately after these events (because you ARE bringing food), she probably needs protein and iron. Bring steak, spinach, and chocolate. For some women, this is among the most physically traumatic events they have experienced; she may need to recount her “birth story,” just like someone who delivered at term. Or not.

HER FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS.
This experience brings stress and sadness for the whole family. Women usually take this harder, but I think men who mourn feel very isolated. Furthermore, many men may not realize they are grieving. Check in on both of them. Older children may be aware of this and often do not know how to process their sadness. (I remember sitting out of a gymnastics class after my aunt had a miscarriage, overwhelmed by the loss of a tiny  prayed-for cousin, not knowing what to do.) Keep in mind that this may be a huge stress on the marriage, too, and Satan is going to pounce on any opportunity to drive the family apart. A prowling lion does not have any qualms about seeking to devour someone who is empty with sadness or driving apart a couple when they need each other’s support the most. Pray often.

IDENTITY AS A MOTHER.
A mother does not forget her child. You do not need to worry about “reminding” her of grief by bringing it up. It’s there. She knows it’s Mothers’s Day, or that she should be 7 months pregnant, or that her child would be as old as the one running around in the next aisle at the grocery store. Most women identify their child with a name and a gender – be sure to follow her lead in speaking of the baby this way. It is always a gift to remind her that you remember what is most precious to her. Please be sure to tame your tongue while talking about the difficulties of your own pregnancy or parenting experiences if your children are alive. No one is saying raising children is easy, but statements like, “Diapers, crying, and stepping on legos! Life of a mom!” disregard the actual motherhood of a woman whose child died. Yes, motherhood is a hard and important job – but the mom with empty arms may have a harder road than the one with her hands full. I’ve even heard comments from overly-pregnant women like, “It’s so disappointing to not be having a baby on your due date!” Yes, but it’s not as disappointing as not having a baby on your due date because it died, I assure you. I make a point not to hold these things against others, and we can all seek merciful hearts here. But now that you know, pray about how your discussions of parenthood could seek to bless others who may be suffering instead of serving solely for personal expression. Maybe text another friend your frustration in the thick of things instead of posting a vent about it on Facebook?

NAVIGATING FRIENDSHIP.
Let’s level here: It’s awkward to have something that your friend wants and doesn’t have. Most of my best friends are single (one is even divorced), and would prefer to be married, or at least dating. I carried one of our babies longer than a coworker who shared my due-date. And really, my husband came home from Iraq alive while other people died. I know that sometimes there is hardship on the “haves” side of things… But it’s important to make sure that doesn’t cripple you from living compassionately. Remember that St. Paul’s admonition about weeping and rejoicing with others goes both ways, even though most people are only naturally inclined to do one or the other. If your friend is experiencing grief, the gospel compels and equips you to put aside your feelings of inadequacy and uncertainty to weep with her. It does not necessarily compel you to make her stop grieving. God put these commands together for a reason, and he works mightily in our humility.  (It will be easier for her to rejoice with you if you have wept with her, too, which leads me to…)

PREGNANCY ANNOUNCEMENTS. 

If you’re pregnant, I think it’s best to share your good news personally and privately – maybe an email or text message? A baby on the way is still good news. You don’t need to be ashamed or afraid, but know that it can bring up a big rush of hard, painful emotions for someone who is grieving. Give her a gracious way to avoid your public announcements and baby showers. And mostly, just remember: a sad reaction on her part doesn’t mean she isn’t happy for you – it’s just complicated. I can promise she’d much rather be happy than sad, too.
GRIEF & HEALING.
Take care not to add needlessly to your friend’s pain, but remember it is not your job to make someone else feel better. You don’t need to communicate annoyance or frustration if her grief lingers longer that you expect. She probably feels embarrassed enough without knowing her friends think she’s hanging on to this too long. Don’t take it personally if she struggles. God alone heals. Remember, too, that miscarriage is a real loss. It’s not like she’s healing from a cut on her hand; it’s more like healing from having that hand cut off. This will probably always hurt a little bit and it will probably change the rest of her life in some way, even if you don’t see it in those terms.

Finally, I’m going to go out on a limb here – it might be wise to consider these things when interacting with everyone.  Miscarriage is very, very common. I imagine those struggling with infertility would appreciate your tenderness as well.  You do not know if one of your friends may be struggling and hasn’t shared this with you. It’s always safe to assume that others carry some pain you don’t know about, so be gentle with people.

As always, I’d love to hear comments if you have anything to add to the discussion. What helped you through a miscarriage? What do you wish you could tell people about the way they helped or hurt you? Do you have other questions about caring for friends after pregnancy loss?

29 thoughts on “Thoughts on “weeping with…”

  1. Pingback: A voice in Ramah « a cheerful heart has a continual feast

  2. All of the advice I’ve seen about acknowledging miscarriage (like yours) has focused on recognizing the real grief the mother and family feels. But what do you do when that’s NOT what they want?

    One of Ben’s co-workers (with whom I am friendly) recently miscarried, and when Ben expressed sympathy, she said they wanted to treat the loss as “no big deal.” So here I am with the impulse to send food/flowers/a card, but I know she doesn’t want that. I suppose I should probably just pretend the pregnancy never happened, but I’m honestly sad and it seems weird to ignore the death of a child.

    Any advice for this situation?

    • Mmm! Good point. I said the same thing to someone in my family after my second miscarriage… and lived to regret it. My sister-in-law had a baby due in a few weeks and I think I was trying to ignore the grief in hopes that it would go away.

      I think the best thing would be to say, “I just want you to know that it’s okay if this pops up again later, and I will be here for you if you ever change your mind.” Grief doesn’t always look like sadness. Sometimes it feels like annoyance, anger, anxiety, fear, numbness, jealousy, irritability, etc., and the powerlessness of grief is really embarrassing. So she might be grieving and not know it.

      Also, she might not want to get personal with you. She might not know it’s okay to be sad.

      It is still important to affirm that you care about all aspects of her life, that she is still the person who loves biking and iced mochas and slapstick comedies (or whatever), and that you don’t think this experience has reduced who she is.

      Ultimately, however she wants to process this is okay, and it’s not your job to make her feel better. Does that make sense?

  3. Absolutely. Everyone has some pain that you don’t know about. Let’s use God-honoring sensitivity instead of quick tongues that lead to hurt and isolation.

    • I love you, Autumn! It’s a huge responsibility that this starts with us, but you’re right. Sensitivity instead of isolation. (And I have a big THANK YOU for weeping with me.)

  4. These are good, practical ideas. I think that the sensitivity idea applies to all loss. Someone once told us that people don’t know how to suffer with others, and I have found that to be true. Perhaps you have found a true friend if they are willing to enter into the ugly circle of mourning with you. I know many people who, though they have not lost a child, have lost something significant in life and the suffering that follows is very profound.

    • I think you are absolutely right, Mary! We’re pretty far removed from suffering in general (think of how many people buried multiple children and spouses, and suffered long from now-curable diseases just a few generations ago!), and it seems like most of us have totally lost sight of compassion (“suffering with”) in the meantime.

  5. abby, thank you so much for your courage and vulnerability sharing these thoughts and your experiences. i have a million questions and thoughts rattling around in me. i am weeping with you for the children you have carried and lost. i am continually amazed how many, many women/couples i know have experienced the devastation of miscarriage (it seems i know as many women who’ve miscarried as women who “haven’t”), as well as women/couples experiencing persistent, crippling infertility. i love your insight about the Lord’s pairing of rejoicing and weeping with one another. you’re right that we are unpracticed at and uncomfortable with “suffering” and “grieving” with each other. i have not known how to do this well with those close to me (including you. please forgive me friend.). i pray the Holy Spirit will instruct our hearts in how to suffer alongside, to sit and weep, to pray, to be gentle.
    two questions in particular:
    (1) a friend who miscarried recently said to me that she felt incredibly supported by women who’d also miscarried reaching out to her, but she realized her husband had little support there (guys aren’t generally as verbal, especially with that sort of thing). do you have thoughts on how men can support or grieve with the husbands and fathers who’ve experienced miscarriage? or how couples can be cared for together?
    (2) for grieving friends who are more reserved or introverted, i am hesitant to pry or question them about their experience/grieving process, etc. one friend in particular withdrew for months and even now never/rarely brings up the loss of the child (who would have been their second). do you have suggestions for how to communicate compassion, care, and support without imposing? (i love the idea of bringing meals- thank you for that suggestion!).

    thank you again for sharing so specifically and so gently from your heart. thankful for you. praying for you. love to you friend!

    • Michelle,

      I’ll keep thinking and let you know if I have other thoughts later, but I have to work all day tomorrow so I have to get to bed!
      1) Well, I’m not a man and Aaron doesn’t usually know how to talk to other people about this most of the time. He says he thinks about what is like for the babies in heaven, and he thinks he’ll experience some delayed sadness when we have a healthy baby (hopefully) someday in the future. I bet miscarriage doesn’t seem like a big deal to a combat veteran, honestly. And you’re right! Guys just don’t talk as much most of the time! I think the best thing is probably for another guy to “man up” and get vulnerable. Even saying something like, “Hey, it’s okay if this ends up being rougher than you think,” might be helpful. And even talking about the miscarriage as “your (or ya’lls) baby,” not “her baby,” and directing your encouragement and prayers for both will be meaningful, too. ALSO, IF THERE ARE MEN WITH SUGGESTIONS, PLEASE OFFER THEM TO US.

      2) I’m glad you checked out the other post! It’s never a bad time to remind someone of the gospel! And your friend might hold back out of fear that you don’t want to hear about it. Satan is telling her she is all alone and no one understands and there is no point to opening up to other people. So pray that she will hang on to truth! But maybe she’s just quiet. If you are really sure she doesn’t want to talk about it (Which is okay! it’s not your job to force her to grieve in the way you see fit!), you could still be sure to express some extra love in whatever way you think might be meaningful. Meals, a surprise Sbux gift card, a late-night girls-only Redbox and popcorn date on your couch, a phone call just to shoot the breeze? If she doesn’t like to talk in person and you really want to communicate something, think about a note, too. It’s a little less invasive because she won’t be on the spot to respond right away. Some part of her will appreciate your love and reminder that the baby mattered and you miss him or her, and that you will always think of the child as part of their family.

      It’s also okay to say, “I feel totally incompetent and I’m terrified that I’m going to screw this up, but I love you and I am so sad that this happened and I wish I could have met the baby and I hate that I can’t make you feel better and I am so glad Jesus is coming back.”

      Love to you, friend!
      Abby.

      • Just wanted to chime in with something I heard a brief message on this spring… “the ministry of presence”. Sometimes there aren’t words or actions. Sometimes sitting, enduring awkward silence or quiet tears or even a few moments of blessed distraction while watching a favorite sitcom is exactly what is needed

      • I think you’re right, Autumn. Your advice reminds me of this beautiful quote from Henri Nouwen: “When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”

  6. Great post on a difficult subject!
    I feel like people really gloss over and avoid addressing pregnancy losses. Possibly because it is the one thing many of us fear more than many other things… The death of a child. It is such a significant loss and a tough thing to go through and, from what I have seen with friends and family and patients, something that can feel very lonely, even though many, many other families experience this. It is strange how the devil feeds us lies and makes us feel isolated. Sensitivity and love, not isolation are needed.
    I have a friend who looks forward to meeting her little one again when she goes to be with Jesus and reminds others of this when they lose any loved one.
    Thanks for sharing some thoughts and practical ideas for loving and caring for people, as well as being so honest.

    • Thanks! Feel free to let me know if you have other questions. I’m not the expert, but I think it’s important to get these conversations going. It seems like we often ignore these painful topics to the detriment of those who are suffering, no?

  7. Thank you, Abby. You have a HUGE ministry, and, though I know you are not a “expert,” your words carry a kind of authority. I hear Christ in you. I am so humbled by this!

  8. My dear Abby, thank you for sharing with us. As always, I so greatly admire your honesty and courage. Thank you for reminding me to “be gentle with people.” I love you so much and am so proud to be your friend. 🙂

  9. I’ve never had a miscarriage but I lost my 19 yr old son 4 yrs ago. I post things on Facebook from time to time & try to include my friends that have lost babies. I know it caused them great pain & I want them to know I recognize their pain, as well as those of us that got to have our children for a while.

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