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Comforting a Friend Who Has Had a Miscarriage

July 27, 2010 | By | 8 Replies Continue Reading

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, about 15-20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage, usually within the first 13 weeks of pregnancy. For the woman who has miscarried, this can be a difficult time emotionally, both in coping with the loss and thinking about its impact on her marriage and her ability to conceive in the future. Even among the best of friends, it’s hard for a friend to know what to say or how best to provide support to someone who is grieving the loss.

 

In 1981, Robbie Miller Kaplan gave birth to two children: a son Aaron, in January and a daughter Amy, in December. Both babies died in infancy from the same heart defect. It is her own experiences with loss as well as a passion to make a difference with others that motivated her to write a book on effective communication during difficult times.

 

Robbie is a writer, speaker, and founder of The Comforting Words website. She is the author of nine books, including  How to Say It When You Don’t Know What to Say: The Right Words for Difficult Times, available in volumes on Miscarriage, Illness & Death, and e-books on Death of a Newborn and Stillborn Baby, and Death of a Child. I recently interviewed Robbie on the topic of miscarriage.

 

Irene:

What makes miscarriages so painful emotionally?

Robbie:

A miscarriage is a death in the family and just like any death, the bereaved must grieve for the loved one they’ve lost. Miscarriages are extremely painful because the mom and dad loved their baby and yet the parents will never have the chance to have this beloved child as a part of their lives. All their hopes and dreams will never come to fruition. If they have other children, those children will never take the place of the precious baby they’ve lost.

 

Irene:

How is this compounded when a woman has had more than one miscarriage?

Robbie:

Not only is the mom grieving for her loss, but the physical aspects of pregnancy have taken a toll on her health. Her body has gone through physical and hormonal changes and she has had to repeatedly recover. If she has no children, she might also fear that she will never have children. Once she recovers from the miscarriage, if she wants to try again, she has to get healthy and strong enough to sustain another pregnancy.

 

Irene:

What can a friend say or do to comfort someone who has recently miscarried?

Robbie:

It’s important to acknowledge the loss. You should treat your friend just like you would treat any loved one who has had a family member die. Send a bouquet of flowers, write a heartfelt note, or bring a meal. One of the most caring things you can do is offer to visit and listen. Let your friend share their feelings and allow them to do the talking. One mom said the nicest thing her friend did was to repeat some of what she said back to her; that way, she knew her friend was really listening.

 

Irene:

How can you handle being pregnant when your best friend just miscarried?

Robbie:

This is a tough one. Loss is very isolating so it’s important that you keep in touch; if you stay away, you’ll isolate your friend even more. Have a conversation with your friend and be honest; share that you understand this is a difficult situation. Let your friend set the parameters; ask her to let you know what’s comfortable for her and what’s not. As much as your friend might love you, there are aspects of your pregnancy and your excitement that will bring her pain. It’s important to be sensitive to her feelings.

 

Irene:

How can a good friend ease the anxiety of pregnancy after miscarriage?

Robbie:

Communication is so important. Let your friend know you are available to listen and when she wants to share or vent, give her your undivided attention. Everyone needs an outlet, so be her outlet. What doesn’t help is making unrealistic comments, such as, "This time it’s going to be okay" or, "I’m sure this time it will work."

 

Irene:

If you are the one who has miscarried, what can you say to make it more comfortable for your friends?

Robbie:

When you’re feeling so bad, it’s a lot of pressure to try to pull yourself together to make things more comfortable for your friends. And yet most of us downplay how we really feel so we don’t make our friends and loved ones feel uncomfortable. If you have just miscarried, you might say to your friends, "There are a few things that would make me feel better if you’d like to help." And then share those things, whether it’s a cup of coffee and companionship, company to your next obstetrical appointment, or a home cooked meal. If you want your friends to support you, sometimes you need to take the initiative and let know just how they can help you.

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Comments (8)

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  1. Irene says:

    It sounds like you have gone through a very difficult time. You were fortunate to have supportive colleagues at work to help counterbalance the remarks and behaviors of someone who was pretty insensitive and self-centered.

    Can you post the passage that was comforting, if it is brief enough, so others can read it?

    Warm regards,

    Irene

  2. Amanda says:

    I realize you posted this some time ago, so hopefully you’re still reading the comments, but I just came across this when seeking advice. I’m struggling at work with a former friend who has not spoken to me for nearly two years. All because I had a stillbirth. Soon after, she became pregnant and was angry at me because “I ruined her pregnancy and maternity leave”. Out of sensitivity to me, our coworkers did not discuss her pregnancy, didn’t invite her to drop around the office while she was on leave, etc. (During that time, I also had two miscarriages). I was in a difficult place at that time, and would have thought that she would have ample opportunity outside work to celebrate, but apparently not.

    Anyway, my point being, as I searched for advice, I came across the passage in the Bible where Sarah sends Hagar away (Genesis 16). It helped me relate knowing that this problem has been going on forever!

  3. Anonymous says:

    Thanks, Irene, for addressing a subject that sometimes seems taboo in our world. When I had a miscarriage a few years ago, I was humbled and touched by the number of women I knew who had had one or more miscarriages and who generously came forward to share their own sad experiences and support.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Thanks. I think that the crux of it was that from the start of the friendship she saw me as more of an inner circle friend and thus expected more from me, whereas I saw things as more casual, and have more of a laissez faire approach to friendships generally. I don’t expect much from friends I guess having been stung in the past.
    I don’t think it’s ok to have outbursts at friends, especially not someone in the situation I was in.
    You are right, this has become a fractured friendship..

    I have lost a lot of friends over the years through the difficulties, and that has been extremely hurtful. My old college friends in particular have been so mean, it is so painful.
    It’s almost as if people couldn’t handle what happened to us, so distanced themselves as self-protection, whether consciously or not. I am trying to build up my new life, and am in fact meeting a new friend today. But I can’t help wishing there was an old friend who I could call who knew me from before who I could have a good old heart to heart with.
    I read your book and realise that it’s normal for friendships to change but for some reason I have got a bit “stuck”. I guess I wanted my old buddies to celebrate with me now that things are better for us, to bear witness to this life-changing experience, but it is now about taking a big leap forward into concentrating on life with my new baby and less complicated friendships as you say.
    I guess it is scary as deep down I now see friendships as a bit of a risk as they can be so hurtful- have really tried to make mum-friends this year – but sometimes have been rebuffed; but I guess just have to keep going. Am meeting someone else this morning so maybe this will work out.

    Thank you for listening. I hope that posting will finally help me put this to rest as my worries about friends have been on my mind a great deal, and for longer than I dare admit.

  5. Irene says:

    Thanks so much for your post and for sharing your experience!

    Best,
    Irene

  6. Irene says:

    It sounds like both you and your friend have gone through tough times
    but that, alone, is not enough to hold a fractured friendship together.
    You say that you can’t forget how mean she was to you—and that you
    felt hurt for the good part of a year. Given this past, it seems like
    there’s absolutely no reason to try to resurrect this friendship.

    My suggestion would be to "downgrade" the relationship and to treat her
    as a casual acquaintance. Be cordial when you see her but don’t ask for
    or expect anything more.
    Focus on your new baby and less complicated friendships.

    Best,
    Irene

  7. Anonymous says:

    First, thanks for writing about miscarriage. It is all too common (1 in 5 pregnancies end in miscarriage, about 1 million in the US each year), yet most people don’t know how to help. There are no magic words, but there sure are things to do and things not to do… so thanks for writing! The most important thing is acknowledgement and being there for your friend!

    To the woman who needed advice, I am sorry for all the pain you have and are going through. It doesn’t sound like this woman you are worrying about is worth it and the real issue is what will happen at a friends reception… here is my two cents, and for some perspective – I have had to “stop being (so called) friends” to a woman who was really mean to me, I too have suffered from miscarriage, and I ran into the woman I stopped being friends with at another friends reception… hope this qualifies me.

    So first, I always remind myself, that a compliment from an idiot is an insult… keep saying that to yourself.

    Second, some background: I was friends with a woman at work who I met through a mutual friend. This woman was really mean to me – she was always negative, she didn’t have a nice thing to say ever and she always put me down while she would say how great she was. Anyway, one night I had enough and I told her that we shouldn’t be friends anymore. I did it very calmly. I told her she was too mean to me and that is all. Then I left and I didn’t take any calls from her. I told our mutual friend what happened and not to get involved and he didn’t. Then when our mutual friend married we both went to the wedding. I made sure I had a good friend with me just in case, and when I saw “her” I said hello and then two sentences of chit chat and then circulated in the room… it was so EASY!!! Wasn’t worth worrying for a second. And I was even more convicted in my decision. Years later she tried to find me on some social websites, and I ignored her… I have totally made the right call! Good luck!

  8. Anonymous says:

    I need some advice on a difficult sitation on this topic.
    A few years ago, my friend and I were both expecting, but I gave birth to a premature baby who did not survive as she gave birth to her full-term baby.
    We stayed in touch, after a bit of a hiatus on her part, and she tried to be not talk about her child much. Then after lots of surgery I miscarried again 3 years later.
    That same year she miscarried again, a few months after which I got pregnant.
    I tried to be supportive to her, and kept in touch by email; I was signed off work due to pregnancy complications and only just keeping head above water. But she got very angry with me and said she felt I had not been a supportive friend, she did this when I was about 30weeks pregnant. I asked her what she did want, tried to explain about how upset I was after our previous losses and she cut the call short.
    I heard she had another miscarriage, and I sent her a gift and a nice card, and she recently offered to visit with her child.
    But something has gone wrong. I don’t think I will ever forget how mean she was to me during a time when I really did not deserve it. Ultimately I think she is a bucket drainer (as elsewhere on your blog describes it).
    I have worried about this for over 12months now. My problem is that I may bump into her at a mutual friend’s reception and am worried about the awkwardness. I also feel a bit sad as we both went through a lot of sad stuff and therefore could really “get” eachother, though she never really understood that my later loss was different to an early miscarriage.
    I could move past that, and do feel that somewhere along the lines there has been bad communication on both our parts; but that her reaction when I was pregnant, even if we patched it up now, would manifest itself at a later date over some other issue. Someone once said to me that people who get annoyed if you haven’t been in touch aren’t true friends, it’s your true friends who don’t mind if you are too busy to call and will pick up the phone like it has been no time at all.
    There’s more I could write but don’t want to make it too identifiable so will stop now. It feels like the damage is done, but how do I handle bumping into her, and is this throwing away a friendship that has gone wrong due to sad events rather than anything else (in which case worth salvaging?)
    It really spoilt my first year with my new baby, I know that might sound OTT but I worried a lot about it and now just want to make a new start.

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