Please Don’t Say These Things to Someone Who Has Had a Miscarriage

I found a great article by Julie Ryan Evans on a site called The Stir.  It’s called 8 Things Not to Say to a Woman Who Has Suffered a Miscarriage This is a powerful reminder all year but particularly at Christmas time.  Women AND men suffer at holiday time when they are struggling with miscarriage, infertility, or pregnancy loss.  Here’s a reminder:  1) You don’t have to fix it; and 2) Empathy and kindness go a long way.

8 Things Not to Say to a Woman Who Has Suffered a Miscarriage

by Julie Ryan Evans (August 22, 2013)

It’s been more than 12 years since I had my first miscarriage. There was another one after that. I’ll never forget going into the doctor’s office with all the hope and excitement in the world, only to have the doctor’s wand circle my stomach looking for a heartbeat and finding none.

It’s still something that makes me ache sometimes. I think of the life that began growing inside my body that never made it into my arms. The pain has dulled over the years as I’ve had two healthy children since, but it has hit me hard at various times since they happened, especially when people say the wrong things. Most people mean well, but sometimes their words sting. Here are eight things no one should say to a woman who has had a miscarriage.

1. “It wasn’t meant to be.”

Then why did I get pregnant in the first place? Why was it meant to be that I endure this pain?

2. “At least it happened really early.”

I don’t care how far along you are in a pregnancy; once you get the positive test result, you start planning, dreaming, and loving that little being growing inside you.

3. “Did you eat lunch meat/smoke/drink/go horseback riding/exercise too much?”

Please. My doctor and I will try and figure out what happened, but in most cases, nothing a woman did causes a miscarriage.

4. “Once you get pregnant again, you’ll feel better.”

Maybe, but it doesn’t mean the loss of this pregnancy won’t be something I mourn.

5. “Next time you should try …”

Anything that implies there was something I could have done or not done to make this happen just induces feelings of guilt.

6. “It was probably for the best.”

Yes, some miscarriages are due to chromosomal abnormalities, but pointing that out isn’t helpful. There’s no “best” in this situation.

7. “At least you know you can get pregnant.”

Yes, but I also know that my body can lose a pregnancy. It’s not that easy to just move onto the next one.

8. Nothing.

Avoiding the subject or not acknowledging that a miscarriage happened can be as painful as hurtful words. A simple, “I’m sorry, let me know if you would like to talk” goes a long way.

Have you had a miscarriage? If so, what hurtful things have people said to you?

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Face2Face Stillbirth Support Group Meets 12/17 at Partners in Healing of Minneapolis

Face2Face, the Twin Cities chapter of Faces of Loss, Faces of Hope, will start meeting at Partners in Healing of Minneapolis on December 17th at 6:30 pm. Meetings will be held on the third Tuesday of every month! Please join the kick off meeting at the new location on Tuesday, December 17th at 6:30 PM.

Partners in Healing of Minneapolis
10505 Wayzata Boulevard, #200 (2nd floor)
Minnetonka, MN 55305

**Enter the building on the west side across from Voyager Bank.




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It’s the Holidays…Again (and You’re Still Struggling with Infertility or Pregnancy Loss)

It’s that time of year again when everything is beautiful and everyone is happy.  It’s a time for pretty parties and get-togethers with family and friends.  It’s a time to be thankful for what you have.  Most noticeable is that the holidays are for children.  Lots of children.  They seem to be everywhere.

For those who are experiencing problems with infertility or pregnancy loss, it can be a confusing and difficult time of the year.  For many, the fact that another year has passed without a pregnancy or another child can be very disheartening.  Time and sensation seem altered, like walking around in a bad movie.  Even the simple act of shopping for gifts for others can be a trial.

There are a great many expectations about the holidays as well.  Many families have enjoyable traditions and rituals that can be traced back for generations.  It’s a time for good cheer and good will.  We exchange gifts with loved ones.  ‘Tis the season, put a smile on your face!  Boy, that’s a tall order for someone who is worrying about their fertility.

I get a lot of questions this time of year from my patients who are struggling with infertility or pregnancy loss about the rules of engagement with family and friends.  So often I hear that their presence is expected and even required at family gatherings.  Not only is physical presence mandatory but emotional presence is required as well. It is at holiday time that my patients come to me in tears, not wanting to ruin a good time for others but tired and resentful about having to pretend to be happy.  “We have been pretending to be okay for years,” they tell me, “and we are not.”

Sometimes acting like things are okay does work.  It offers the opportunity to be a part of a treasured group.  Since infertility can be very isolating, it can be helpful sometimes just to show up and be loved.  But often, others who know you well can tell the difference between sincerity and acting.  That can cause friction in some circumstances.  People who are grieving just don’t make very good partygoers.

I’d like to make a suggestion.  Just try this on and see how it feels to you.  Maybe the holidays are a good time to practice being an adult.  Let me explain.  We are required all day to act like adults, whether we feel like it or not.  At our jobs or our other roles, we make decisions, even difficult ones, and take responsibility for them.  We take risks and deal with the consequences of our actions.  We ask for help when we need to and we admit when we are too tired or too distressed to go any further.  Adults make their own decisions about that they would like to do, or not, as the case may be.  They choose who they would like to spend time with and under what conditions.

So why when it comes to setting good boundaries at holiday time do we forget all of our well-honed adult skills?  It’s as if we pack our adult selves away, in exchange for acknowledgment or approval.  We go along to get along.  We worry more about hurting others’ feelings than about our needs or our own distress.  Where does our ability to say “no” go?  “No” is one of the first words a toddler learns.  It helps to differentiate that child as a person who has wants and needs.  Why does “no” get replaced with “Yes (g-r-r-r-r-r)” at holiday time?

What if you are truly out of sorts and out of steam and cannot even consider attending one more social event?  What feelings does this raise for you?  Are you afraid that you will have to pay a price for your absence?  Unfortunately, in some circumstances, there will, in fact, be friction, guilt or some other manipulation that can make a person feel badly.  Is that enough to make you want to do something that you don’t want to do?  Could you suffer through it without feeling even worse?  Will your family or friends love you less because you need to do something different this year?  Answer truthfully.  It is more realistic that someone will be disappointed and miss you, if you or your partner do not attend.  Might you feel bitter or isolated, missing out on even more of your life?

Alternatively, might you get the warmth and caring that you need so badly just by showing up?  Would it feel good to be with loved ones, enjoying relationships that sustain you in good times and in bad?  Maybe it would be nice to put your worries aside, even if it’s only for a few moments.  It might be the right idea for you to be with others, sharing hope and dreams and healing some of the hurts inflicted by infertility.

What I am suggesting is that you have choices about how you would like to engage in the holiday season.  As with most things in life, it is important that you speak from your heart on these matters.  It is very important that you talk openly and honestly with your partner about what you can and cannot do.  Be prepared that you may each feel differently.  That is a very normal experience in the fertility treatment world.  You do not have to agree with one another but you must support your partner’s wishes.  It is what we count on in close relationships, that someone will have our back.  Maybe your spouse needs to explain to his family that you are just not up for things this year.  Maybe both of you need to make a pact with one another that a quiet time away developing your own ritual is in order.  The point is that you can decide what you need and when you need it.

Because this is what adults do.  We do our best to do what is right.  We try to live fair and just lives.  It’s okay to put yourself first sometimes.  Take a breather.  Let this season be a time of growth and peace for you.  You deserve it.

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When There Aren’t Words for the Grief of Pregnancy Loss (But People Keep Talking Anyway)

I am often struck dumb by the things that people say to grieving parents after a pregnancy loss. Sometimes people want to fix it for the parent who is suffering, offering something like, “You can always have another child.” As 1 in 8 couples struggles with infertility, I know that that promise is often left unfulfilled. Plus, they don’t want the replacement baby, they want the one who has died. Other times people offer religious comments like “It’s God’s will” or “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” I have seen devout people go into orbit about what God did or didn’t do with their babies. I know that after a pregnancy loss, people aren’t sure at all where God is or where God went. Another beauty is “Well, you didn’t actually meet the baby!” When a woman has felt the movement of a baby during a wanted pregnancy, she has met the baby 24 hours a day as she has tried to bring her child into the world safely. She is traumatized by every moment of loss, physically and emotionally. While men often find pregnancy abstract, most are deeply invested in their babies. They also suffer in a pregnancy loss.

One of my beautiful clients shared this video with me about what NOT to say after a pregnancy loss. It’s “Out-Grieve Me”  It’s a doozy. Your comments are always welcome.

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One of my patients told me recently about a resentment prayer that she had learned about in her 12 step program.  As I listened, I realized that I had instinctively learned to let go of my resentment toward pregnant women after I had had a preemie at 26 weeks gestation.  For quite a while after the birth of my child, I was angry beyond words. I was angry that others got pregnant easily and had easy pregnancies.  I was even angry that they got to wear their pretty maternity dresses.   One day though, I realized that none of these women had done anything to me. They did not know me and I did not know them.  It was not personal.  When I stopped taking it personally, I began to have a moment of peace.  I practiced hoping and wishing that each of the pregnant ladies I saw would have a happy, healthy, safe pregnancy.  As I did so, resentment, jealousy, and the fist around my heart released. I now hope for the best for every pregnant woman.  I feel that it is a life mission for me to send love, health and safety to each woman for a fruitful reproductive journey.

So even if you are currently filled with resentment, whether it is about reproduction or any other resentment that you have in your life, send that person your best wishes.  You may not feel it at first, and it may even feel false.  But keep doing it.  You might be surprised that you begin to feel free and more compassionate for them and yourself.

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Remember Grieving Parents Today On Infant and Pregnancy Loss Awareness Day

Today is Infant and Pregnancy Loss Awareness Day.  In truth, every day is Infant and Pregnancy Loss Awareness Day for someone who has had a stillbirth, a miscarriage, or had a baby die soon after birth.  Many will light a candle today.  I encourage you to do the same to remember babies and their grieving parents.  The pain may dull but one never “gets over” the death of a longed-for baby, no matter how much time passes.

This remembrance comes from the October 14, 2013 “Motherlode” blog in the New York Times, entitled “On National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, a Mother With a Candle to Light” By Monica Wesolowska.

Around town, people recognize me for different things. For some, I’m the woman who grocery shops on Friday mornings. For others, I’m the woman who bikes downtown. For still others, I’m the bookstore browser, the teacher, the wife of the beekeeper, the mother of the two boys with a skateboard. But rarely do people recognize me as the mother of a child who is gone.

Unlike the terms “widow” and “orphan,” no one word describes a woman who has lost a child. Without a simple term, the loss often goes unsaid. Unless you wear a T-shirt emblazoned with your children’s names or tattoo them on your wrist, you rarely speak their names aloud no matter how much you need or want to tell others. And for women who have struggled with pregnancy loss, there seems even less place to mention the love they feel for babies they will never have.

For Robyn Bear, the woman behind National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, there needed to be a place for these losses. According to her Web site, Ms. Bear began the campaign to make Oct. 15th a national day of remembrance “after having had five miscarriages with little to no support.” She wanted a day for people to grieve visibly, get the support they needed, and unite around the world by lighting candles.

She was not the first to address this need. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan had proclaimed the whole month of October as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. In 2006, Congress supported Ms. Bear’s proposal to create one day of remembrance in the middle of that month because, as stated in their resolution, “each year, approximately one million pregnancies in the United States end in miscarriage, stillbirth, or the death of a newborn baby.”

Parents who lose babies usually feel alone. Health care practitioners often are not well trained in dealing with a patient’s loss. Treatment for mothers generally ends once the physical symptoms of loss have abated. Friends and family may not know how to help. In our case, our son Silvan was severely brain damaged during birth. Knowing he would die, we brought him home to the care of hospice. Thanks to hospice, once Silvan died we received a year of free weekly visits from a social worker. Those weekly visits carried us from fresh grief to the birth of our second child. We were lucky. Most people are left on their own.

Fortunately, parents these days can find other sources of support. A brief Internet search reveals dozens of organizations dedicated to helping bereaved parents. Many of these online resources offer chances for parents to meet in person. Meetings are for more than the newly bereaved. As one friend wrote in her note of condolence to me after Silvan died, “You will never get over this.”

Though I will never “get over” Silvan — in the sense of forgetting my love for him — what has changed with time is how I live with his absence. The first year was the worst. That year I needed to tell the story of losing him over and over to make sense of it. I was also pregnant again, fending off eager questions from strangers while in agony over whether I would ever have a living child.

It has been 10 years since Silvan died. I have two more boys. I’m open with them about Silvan’s absence. Each year, we mark his birth and death in different ways. We sit on his memorial bench. We go on a silent hike. But one of the most memorable ways of remembering Silvan does not happen around his anniversaries. It happens a season later, in October, when we remember him with strangers.

This Oct. 15, we’ll light a candle for Silvan. From 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. in each time zone around the world, thousands will join us. We’ll mark International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day with a “wave of light” that symbolically sweeps across the globe. Though it’s unlikely anyone will see that wave of light, the image is still powerful.

So for anyone passing by my house this Oct. 15, I’ll be the woman with a candle in my window. Most passersby will not know my candle is for Silvan. But I’ll light a candle to remember more than my own son. I’ll light it to honor all whose lives have been too brief and all who are still here. Please join us.

Monica Wesolowska is the author of the memoir Holding Silvan: A Brief Life (with an introduction by Erica Jong) and a speaker at hospitals, book clubs, and other venues about motherhood, medicine, and grief. She teaches writing at UC Berkeley Extension.


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