As a midwife with more than 10 years of experience caring for pregnant people, I have supported many, many people through the often confusing and heartbreaking experience of miscarriage.
Some things I hear over and over from people are: “Why does nobody talk about this?” Or, “Everyone says this is so common, but I feel so alone.”
In this article, I share what I have learned about how to support someone who had a miscarriage or pregnancy loss. This is such a grief-full and tender time for people, and if you’ve experienced a miscarriage, you understand this on a personal level—and maybe these following suggestions are things that would have soothed you during that time, or could help a friend going through a miscarriage or pregnancy loss now.
Whether or not you have experienced a miscarriage in your own body, knowing how to support people through challenging experiences is a skill that most of us have never been taught. It’s common for people to not know what to do, or say, or how to support their friend, loved one, or coworker in the aftermath of pregnancy loss. Our culture doesn’t know how to navigate these complex moments of fertility-related grief.
So here are five ideas for showing up for folks during and after a miscarriage.
5 ways to support someone who had a miscarriage
1. Process your own feelings or history
It’s a very common human experience that, whether we are conscious of it or not, we project our own feelings and histories onto other people. So my first piece of advice in supporting someone through a miscarriage is—examine your own thoughts, feelings and experiences first.
For example, have you ever had a miscarriage? How did it feel? Did you receive support? Whether or not you’ve experienced a miscarriage in your own body, what are the messages you’ve received from society about miscarriages that may or may not be true? What is your own relationship with grief, children and pregnancy loss?
In order to be able to show up for somebody else, we first need to understand our own internal landscape and make sure we aren’t projecting our own experiences onto theirs.
And I’ll also add—it can be hard to support someone in a way that we never received support. If you’ve experienced a miscarriage and didn’t receive enough compassionate support around it, I’m sorry. You deserved to be supported through it. Even if it was years or even decades in the past, finding a therapist or trusted friend to process the feelings around it can still make a difference.
2. Validate their feelings, and embrace the grief
In our culture, we aren’t taught to be present with challenging emotions. It can be hard to listen to someone process grief and loss and to not say anything to try to cheer them up. However, in my experience, that’s exactly what people need during this time.
It’s essential that folks have an opportunity to process their grief, and not feel rushed past it. Saying, “Oh, you’ll get pregnant again,” can feel like it diminishes the importance of this pregnancy and the loss of it.
As much as you can, sit with them in their grief, and don’t rush them through it.
Some people may feel the grief of a miscarriage acutely over a few days and then move past it, while others may feel that grief for months or even years after the experience.
3. Offer connection, but let them lead
The gift of presence can make a profound difference to someone’s ability to feel, process, and move through their feelings.
However, we all process our emotions in different ways. Some people may prefer to have more quiet space and alone time while others will want to cry on your shoulder—all ways of processing their feelings around the miscarriage are valid.
When in doubt, ask them how they want you to emotionally support them.
4. Assure them there’s nothing they did or didn’t do to cause it
Practically everyone I’ve supported through a miscarriage has felt, on some level, that the miscarriage is their fault. We know medically that about 20% to 30% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage, and that the vast majority of these are caused by chromosomal abnormalities in the growing fetus. In spite of this widespread knowledge, it’s extremely common for people to feel guilty or that they did something to cause their miscarriage.
As a midwife, I always assure people that they didn’t do anything to cause their miscarriage. It wasn’t that they drank two cups of coffee that day or didn’t rest when they felt tired.
I often tell them this phrase: “there’s nothing that you did, or didn’t do, to cause this.” And I repeat this over and over, until they stop blaming themselves.
You may also suggest that they write this on a piece of paper and put it up on their wall to help them remember.
5. Ask how you can support them on a material level
Many people need material support during this time but don’t necessarily know how to ask for it. You can ask folks what kind of support they need, and if they don’t know, you can offer some ideas like the ones listed below:
- Offer to set up a Mealtrain
- Offer to do a household task for them like going grocery shopping or walking their dog
- Send digital meal or grocery delivery gift certificates
- Call or text them regularly to check in—without pressuring them to respond if they don’t feel like it.
- Offer a gift certificate for bodywork like a massage or an acupuncture appointment (this may help them physically process their grief)
A note on how to help someone who had a miscarriage
Everyone is different, and the feelings that someone experiences in the event of a miscarriage range depending on their situation and their relationship with their own emotions. My hope is that we as a society can develop more skills in how we relate to the experience of miscarriage. We know how common it is—and yet, our collective emotional intelligence about how to support people during miscarriage is sadly lacking.
So here’s to changing that narrative, and learning how to show up for each other, through the good and the bad.