“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?
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…)
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?