After a Miscarriage: Responding to Your Own or Another's Miscarriage

What follows is a simple post both for the woman processing her own miscarriage and also for those close to someone going through a miscarriage.  These are my heartfelt thoughts (and hopefully helpful words) on responding to miscarriage, whether it is your own or someone else’s.

For many, miscarriage is a moment of deep feeling and loss often to be tucked away just weeks later, almost as though it never happened. 

I will never forget the moment.  My doctor friend scrolling over my belly, my husband holding one of our sons to see the screen…the other son standing nearby.  Waiting.  Searching.  No flickering heartbeat.  Me holding my breath.  My husband took the boys out of the room.  My doctor friend looked more and talked and processed with me. 

Miscarriage: the formal term for losing a little life, the medical word for the loss of a baby that will never exist outside its mama. 

Miscarriage: the aching loss so many women experience, often secretly and quietly, concealing their grief as though nothing happened.

Traditionally, miscarriage has been something only whispered about between close girlfriends.  Cried about alone.  At times, husbands holding their wives through the pain.  Other times, husbands feeling the loss yet not having any cultural context for processing the loss of a person they never actually touched. 

Yet, now, a wave is starting.  Brave women opening up about the grief of miscarriage and the importance of recognizing the life that was momentary on this earth but very real.

It’s been almost exactly a year since we lost our little baby.  Recently an older woman asked how I would keep this little baby’s story alive in my family.  I shared of things we had done to recognize the brief little blip this tiny baby was in our lives.  But there is more.  So many of you validated her little life in ways that forever touched my heart.  So for the world out there, I want to offer a few words of encouragement in regards to responding to miscarriage.  Words that encompass my own process of grief, words that share what others did to love me through that season.

When It’s Your Miscarriage

Say what you need.  During the days from the ultrasound to the actual moments of miscarrying, we had some extenuating family circumstances going on.  I didn’t know what to do in those circumstances nor how to communicate my needs well.  Going through a miscarriage is a moment in your life where you must speak up and say what you need.  Do not feel guilt about saying what you need. 

Choose comfort.  It’s a physically and emotionally draining process to go through a miscarriage.  When I did finally speak up and say what I needed, my husband helped create some quiet, alone space for us for a few days complete with wine (and pain pills on hand just in case the process became too intense).  The night I actually miscarried our baby, I had a little wine and watched a chick flick with my husband…the combination of which is my most “comfortable” reality.  We actually kept our boys home with us during those days, but my husband shouldered their care so that I could rest.  As best as I could, I rested my body, mind, and soul through the process.

Grieve.  You lost a little life you were anticipating.  A soul.  A person you now don’t get to meet.  Allow yourself to grieve.  Cry.  Journal.  Yell.  Curl up in a ball on the bathroom floor if you want to and sob until you’re done.  And the sob some more.   

Recognize that Little Life.  In whatever way fits you, find a way to validate and recognize that life you lost.  It could look so many different ways.  I blogged about my loss.  My husband and I lay in bed one night naming our little baby.  I shared the name and the story of the name with those closest to me.  I even painted as a way to remember.  These were my ways of recognizing and validating our baby’s life.  Find your own way, a way that suits you, to recognize and validate your baby’s life. 

Read This.  The following link is one of the most powerful pieces I read while processing my miscarriage and the subsequent questions of where my little baby’s soul was.  Click here to read John Piper’s “Funeral Meditations,” which he spoke in response to the loss of a baby who lived for only ten minutes on earth.  Piper’s words were some of the most helpful words in my processing.   

When It’s Someone Else’s Miscarriage

Use Sensitivity.  A woman going through a miscarriage is often emotionally fragile.  Even if she seems strong, stable, and at ease, there is so much more going on inside that she doesn’t want to tell you.  Be gentle with her heart.  It is surprising how even the smallest insensitive word can crush a woman grieving the loss of her unborn baby.

Ask first.  She will probably welcome help and care; however, just ask first.  What you want to do may or may not actually help her and/or touch her heart. 

Offer Practical Help.  Offer to take her kids for a few hours for a playdate.  Offer to bring dinner over.  You know her life and what she might need help with.  If you can help her out in some way, offer that help. 

Get Her Favorite.  One night in the midst of that emotional week, one of my closest friends texted me to see if I would like a pint of ice cream.  When I responded, “yes,” she drove over minutes later with my favorite ice cream.  I cannot even tell you how much this meant to me.  Whatever your friend’s favorite treat is, take it over and drop it off.  Grief is a time to be comforted.  So whatever comforts her, take it to her. 

Listen.  I needed to process.  With my husband.  With my mom.  With my girlfriends.  It happened sporadically and unexpectedly.  I couldn’t always anticipate when I’d need to talk.  I wrote emails with a plethora of questions to a couple of my friends who I knew had experienced their own miscarriages.  I texted one of my closest friends over and over again through those days and she just “listened” to my text messages, and in response, she expressed gentle compassion and understanding.  I cried so many times, just needing my husband to hold me.  I needed to talk about our baby.  I called my mom one morning an irrational crying mess, stressed about other complicating factors in our life at that time, and she just listened.  And then she spoke truth to me.  She settled my chaotic heart and gently (but strongly) spoke truth about those complicating circumstances, offering freedom, confidence, and perspective.  I will never forget that conversation.   When your grieving friend (or wife or daughter or sister) is ready to talk, listen. 

Validate the Life.  Because I walked through my miscarriage fairly publicly through my blog, I had the comforting reality of many, many people responding with love, tenderness and validation of the life I was losing.  When I wrote my mom and sisters, sharing with them the baby’s name, they wrote back with such tender and feeling responses.  Their words validated my little baby’s brief life.  One friend had already purchased a gift for this baby as soon as she found out I was pregnant, she texted one day and asked if it would be good for my heart or more painful to have the gift.  I asked her to please send it.  Another good friend showed up at my house weeks later with a small gift…a simple necklace with the baby’s first initial imprinted on a significantly meaningful charm.  I wore that necklace every day for months.  To whatever extent your friend opens her heart and experience to you, reciprocally validate the life she lost. 

Support Her Husband.  In those first few days of losing our baby, I was such an emotional wreck that I knew I was unable to truly help my husband process.  We were trying to connect over the loss, but it was so hard because there were so many other factors complicating our life at that time.  He called up one of his buddies who went out with him in the midst of it all.  That friend listened to Val, asked Val questions, checked on Val’s heart, and offered support.  This gave Val the strength he needed to come back and continue to hold me as I cried and grieved during those really hard days. 

Pray for Her.  She is grieving.  Pray for Jesus to be so near to her.  I could feel that people were praying for me, for Val, for our family.  Just weeks after the miscarriage, we were off leading a retreat.  And at the retreat, Val and I shared with the couple leading worship (strangers to us before the event) that we were in the middle of processing and grieving, and they stopped in one powerfully spiritual moment and prayed over us.  For those few minutes, it was as though heaven and earth touched as this couple prayed over our grieving hearts. 

Talking with Kids about Miscarriage

Elijah, our then 3 ½ year old, knew that there was a new baby inside Mama’s belly.  I knew I needed to explain the loss to him.  Yet, at 3 ½, he was only just beginning to understand death.   So, in plain but gentle words, I explained that our little baby had died.  This was followed by questions about what happened, where the baby was, and if other babies in other women’s bellies were also going to die (his best buddy’s mom was also pregnant at the time).  So, we talked through every single question.  And then whenever he would bring it up again, I would answer whatever he wanted to know, making it a safe conversation.  Months later when I got pregnant again, Elijah’s questions about babies and death and “our other baby” surfaced again.  So, we talked through it all once again. 

A much as you are able, allow your child or children talk with you openly about the baby that was lost.  Answer their questions with age-appropriate truth.  One web resource I read encouraged miscarrying mamas to use real words even with very young children…words like “die” instead of “lost,” as even those subtle differences can create fear in preschoolers trying to process miscarriage (will Mama “lose” me too?).  Recognize that for your kids this is the loss of a hoped for sibling.  Allow this loss to be part of their story, too.  Your family lost someone.  Find ways that fit your family to mark and remember the life that never actually got to join in.  For us, it’s a simple page in one of our many scrapbooks.  We pass over that page once in a while when we look at that scrapbook and it keeps that one life a part of our story. 

Miscarriage is a part of so many of our stories.  A part of our stories to process, grieve, and remember…interwoven in the fabric of our very lives.