Devastation of pregnancy loss
The appearance of a second line on a home pregnancy test is something every mother always remembers. With it comes a flood of plans for the future, feelings about life changes and excitement. She may plan a special way to tell her partner, and they may begin picking out names for the new addition to the family. Life changes. Suddenly, there's another person to think about, and a whole new future lies ahead -- full of possibilities.
For between 10 and 40 percent of couples, that dream comes crashing down, and usually there's no one to blame but nature. Tragic umbilical cord accidents can take away a nearly full-term baby, or genetic problems such as chromosomal abnormalities and autoimmune disorders can end the pregnancy in the first few weeks. Yet, whether it's a first-trimester miscarriage or a full-term stillbirth, pregnancy loss is a deeply emotional and painful experience for anyone who experiences it. There's no way to know what it's like until you go through it yourself.
Reaction of loved ones
When your friend or relative has a miscarriage, understand that they have lost a baby. To the mother and father, that little five-week embryo wasn't just a little growth on the wall of the woman's uterus -- it was a child who would have called them Mommy and Daddy someday. The pain is as real as if it were a child born at full-term. Often, well-meaning friends and relatives who don't realize this end up unintentionally inflicting additional pain with their words.
"What my friends and relatives don't understand is those babies were real for me. I saw them in dreams and would imagine what they would look like. They never recognized these babies like I did," said one woman who suffered two miscarriages at six and nine weeks.
When someone you know experiences a loss, it's easy to feel uncomfortable around them, especially if you've never gone through a loss yourself. Yet, a caring friend can make all the difference in the world for a couple who lost a baby. Read on for some guidelines on what to avoid saying and what to say.
Dos and don'ts
Don't avoid the mother. Many women who experience a loss suddenly find themselves isolated from all their friends, and very much alone. At a time like this, what your friend or relative needs most is your support. Remember that your friend is still the same person she was before, and she needs you now more than ever. Some women do prefer to be left alone for a few days to grieve, but it varies by the person. Do make sure your friend knows you're there for her if she needs you.
If you've been through a pregnancy loss before, do gently share your story if your friend seems interested. Pregnancy loss is not a topic often discussed in this society, and often a woman who loses her baby is desperate to talk to someone who knows how she feels. If you know of a support group, do suggest it to her.
Don't offer other advice, unless asked. Just listen. "I just needed people to say that they were sorry and that they were there for me if I needed them. What I did not need was advice or words of wisdom," said one woman.
Do let your friend talk about her loss, if she wants to. "I want to talk about my baby, and when I do, don't make me out to look like I have lost my mind," said one woman who lost a full-term daughter. In addition, if the baby was far enough along to know the gender, refer to the baby as him or her, not it. Your friend will be thinking of the baby as a lost son or daughter, and calling the child "it" may hurt her.
Don't say that there must have been something wrong with the baby. This may be the truth, but hearing it doesn't make anyone feel better.
Don't remind the couple they can get pregnant again. Again, this may be true, but it doesn't diminish a couple's hurt over the lost child. The baby they lost was already a beloved son or daughter, even though the baby wasn't born yet. As one woman put it, "No one and nothing could ever replace the love I have for my baby I lost. Having one baby has nothing to do with having another baby."
Also, some couples go through years of frustration and/or infertility treatment before they finally get pregnant, and the prospect of going back to trying to conceive may not be something the couple immediately wants to think about.
Don't tell the couple that they should have been more careful or offer ways to prevent miscarriage. In most cases, the loss was not preventable, and a woman may already be blaming herself. Do remind her that it wasn't her fault.
Do give your friend or relative a call on the lost baby's due date. A woman who loses a baby will remember that date forever, and it will always be a day when she is thinking of the baby she would have had. Getting through the lost baby's due date is an emotional, stressful time. Send flowers or give her a call to say you're thinking of her.
Don't say "relax, and it will happen." Most women who have experienced a loss agree this is the worst thing to hear. A woman may have been relaxed before she lost her baby -- and she still lost her baby.
If stress caused pregnancy loss, few babies would ever be born. Though you don't mean it, these words can also make a woman feel she is somehow at fault for not relaxing enough. This is not true.
Don't say that everything will be OK next time. The odds are in favor of a successful pregnancy following a loss, but things happen, and some women do experience two losses in a row.