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What to Say (& Not Say) to Someone Grieving a Pregnancy Loss

October 21st, 2022 | 9 min. read

What to Say (& Not Say) to Someone Grieving a Pregnancy Loss
Lisa Rosenthal

Lisa Rosenthal

With 30+ years experience in the fertility field, as well as navigating her own infertility, Lisa has dedicated her life to advocating for and supporting those struggling to grow their families. Her work includes serving as Illume Fertility's Patient Advocate, Strategic Content Lead, and founder of Fertile Yoga, as well as advocating for those with infertility at RESOLVE and other organizations.

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When someone you know loses a pregnancy or baby, what should you say? And what shouldn't you say to someone who is experiencing such monumental pain? Here are some ways to support those who are grieving.

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The Hard Truth: We Don’t Know What to Say

Having trained as a Grief Recovery Specialist, I know how well-meaning friends and family try to offer comfort when a loss is experienced. The love is there. The compassion is there. All their good intentions are there.

But often, the understanding of what is needed in this time of grief is not there.

In fact, we are woefully ill-prepared and undereducated as to what is truly helpful in the middle of heartbreak. We turn towards cognitive, logic-based sentiments and messages that leave the broken-hearted among us feeling more isolated and alone at a time that they need more connection from us. Not less.

Suffering in Silence

Many people who experience pregnancy or infant loss do not get adequate emotional support around these devastating events. This is often because the people around them don’t know what to say, or even worse, don’t know what NOT to say.

Infant loss, regardless of the brevity of a baby’s life, is reported to be among the most painful experiences a human being can have. Pregnancy loss, embryo loss and even unsuccessful cycles of fertility treatment can all bring up similar emotions. 

It's never easy to talk about sensitive topics, and loss and grief often bring up uncomfortable feelings that are hard to put into words. We worry so much about saying the wrong thing that we often say nothing at all.

Whether you are the one experiencing the loss or the one trying to find a way to offer comfort, it's challenging.

Note: While the terms "miscarriage" and "pregnancy loss" are often used interchangeably, there is a shift to stop using the word miscarriage, as miscarriage can imply fault of some kind. Moving away from this term and acknowledging it for what it is: the loss of a pregnancy - doesn't remove the pain of the experience, but simply validates what has happened in terms that don't blame or shame.

 

What to Know About Pregnancy & Infant Loss

A person who experiences a loss often has physical manifestations of their emotional grief. Understanding what this can look like can help us be more empathetic, patient and kind in our interactions with the grieving person.

Here are four things to look out for:

Exhaustion

Processing a loss and grieving can leave a person completely depleted.

Cognitive Changes

A shorter attention span, irritability, confusion, or lack of focus are all common.

Physical Pain

When a pregnancy is lost, there is a hormonal shift that can exacerbate or add to physical pain and even lengthen recovery times, often surrounding invasive, emotional procedures like a D&C.

Specific Preferences

If the person had begun putting together a nursery for their baby, they may want their baby’s things put away immediately. Some will want them left where they are. Don’t presume that you know better than the grieving parents, and don't do anything without asking first. Listen respectfully to what they need, even if it feels counterintuitive. Remember - they know best.


Find more resources:

Navigating Pregnancy & Infant Loss


5 Things Not to Say to Someone Who is Grieving 

None of us want to add to another person’s pain, yet sometimes the things we say in an effort to comfort them can do the opposite of what we intend. Here are a few examples of what to avoid saying when a person has experienced a pregnancy or infant loss:

  1. “They are in a better place.” Please resist pushing your beliefs on someone who is in pain. While that may be what you believe, how does that help a person whose heart is broken? Does that mean they shouldn’t feel sad or bad? 
  2. “You will go on and have another pregnancy/baby,” or “Appreciate the children that you do have.” Each loss is individual and specific. One baby or pregnancy does not replace another one. Our hearts grieve for this pregnancy, this loss, and the future we were longing for with them.
  3. “God has a plan for you.” Again, this may be your belief, and this thought may bring you comfort. However, in the midst of immense grief, this type of comment can make a person in pain angry or confused. The loss of a much-wanted pregnancy or beloved baby doesn't have to make sense - don’t feel like you have to make sense out of it for them.
  4. "It just wasn't meant to be." This one especially stings when coming from another parent whose child is alive and well. So your child was meant to be, but mine wasn't? 
  5. “I know how you feel.” Even if you have experienced a similar loss, each person's experience is unique. Everyone has their own life history, beliefs and experiences. Talk about your own loss, briefly, at an appropriate time - that can certainly be helpful as it may encourage others to share their own grief.

5 Helpful Things to Say When Someone is Grieving 

Tread lightly here and remember that ignoring their loss isn’t the answer. Yes, it’s really uncomfortable to witness someone else’s pain. Don’t know what to say? Here are a few things that you can say that are more appropriate:

  1. “I’m so sorry for your loss.” Simple. Appropriate. Empathetic.
  2. “Would you like to tell me about what happened?” Offer the person a chance to talk, cry, or share their experience can be cathartic or helpful to some. Choose an appropriate place and time where you can speak privately with them. If they want to talk, give them your full attention and actively listen. Put away everything else and simply be with them in this difficult, vulnerable space.
  3. "I'm dropping your favorite meal off at 5pm." Offer something specific and tangible instead of saying that you are available to help. Tell them that you can bring dinner, drive them to a doctor’s appointment, or take their dog out for a walk. These offers are more concrete and easy to accept than a general offer of help.
  4. "I'm here whenever you need me." Check on them regularly. Don't ask how they're doing (you likely already know), but instead, just continue to be present in their life. Grief is incredibly isolating, and you showing up for them and letting them know you haven't forgotten their pain is comforting to most people.
  5. "I can only imagine how you're feeling right now." Acknowledging how intensely difficult this time must be for them is a simple, yet powerful way to let them know that you see their pain and respect how hard this is.

What you're really trying to convey with any of these phrases is: You are not alone, even if that is how you feel. I am here with you. I honor your losses. I remember them with you. I will not forget.


Read about one couple's journey:

Pregnancy After Loss: Laura & Ben's Story


The History of Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month

The month of October honors Pregnancy & Infant Loss, and October 15th is designated as Pregnancy & Infant Loss Remembrance Day. This day and this month have special meaning to the #1in4 women who will experience a pregnancy loss at some point in their lives. That number grows exponentially when their partners or those with unreported losses are added. 

Note: October 15th also marks the International Wave of Light, where candles are lit across the world to remember lost pregnancies and babies. We invite you to join us and participate on social each year.

In 1988, former President Ronald Reagan proclaimed October as Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month to honor all of the pregnancies and babies gone too soon. While the statistics on miscarriage and infant loss may have fluctuated in the years since, the complexity of grieving them remains the same.

Robyn Bear and Lisa Brown, the founder and co-founder of october15th.com, vigorously support the awareness of these important losses. On their website, they share the history of Pregnancy & Infant Loss Remembrance Day:

We envisioned a day when all grieving parents could come together and be surrounded by love and support from their friends and families, a day where the community could better understand their pain and learn how to reach out to those grieving. This would be a day to reflect on the loss yet embrace the love. While our babies’ lives were so brief, they were also very meaningful. Yet, there was not a time to talk about them. Our society seemed to forget or perhaps, simply didn't know how to reach out.

Since October had been proclaimed "Awareness Month,” Bear chose a day in the middle of the month to become "Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.” On September 28, 2006, House Resolution #222 was passed in the House of Representatives, supporting the goals and ideals of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.

How We Remember 

At Illume Fertility, we honor Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month each October by sharing resources, offering tools to boost mental health support, community support groups and more. We do this because we know first-hand that not every pregnancy comes easily. Not every pregnancy progresses as we hope that it will.

Our entire team knows that every pregnancy loss is heartbreaking and needing medical treatment to become pregnant adds yet another layer of desperation and stress to the equation. We know that a loss at any point, including when a fertility treatment cycle like IUI or IVF doesn't succeed, is incredibly painful. 

Let October serve as a reminder to us all to support, comfort and grieve with those navigating pregnancy or infant loss. If you've experienced losses of your own, are TTC again or even pregnant after a loss, know that you deserve those things too.

We invite you to join one of our free support groups, speak with one of our counselors, connect with our online community, or find comfort in the stories of those who have struggled to grow their families and found light on the other side while still honoring the little lives they lost.


Get more self-care ideas: 

11 Ways to Manage Fertility Stress


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