Updated: May 26, 2020
It can be difficult to know what to say to someone who has gone through the life-changing experience of losing a child. Despite the best of intentions, sometimes words that are meant to be comforting are actually hurtful. Here are five things to avoid saying when talking to someone who has experienced a pregnancy loss:
1. “At least you know you can get pregnant.” or "You can always have another baby." While this may be true, it is often little consolation to losing a child - especially right after the loss. There is no guarantee of being able to get pregnant again and it’s possible that future pregnancies may also result in a loss. Additionally, many women who experience loss have increased anxiety and worry through subsequent pregnancies.
2. “It's not the same as losing a child." or "It wasn’t a baby yet.” No matter the length of gestation, losing a pregnancy can be difficult emotionally and/or physically. This is especially true in the case of late term pregnancy loss and early infant loss. From the moment the pregnancy test shows positive, there is often an immediate attachment to the baby and an abundance of hopes and dreams of a future with that child. It can be incredibly hurtful to have someone dismiss the feelings of love and connection that develop over the course of the pregnancy.
3. “Everything happens for a reason.” or “It just wasn’t meant to happen right now.” Avoid these and other empty cliche statements that often hold little or no meaning and may not provide comfort to the recipient. While turning to religion and faith are normal in such times, remember that not everyone may share your religious beliefs. Even if they do, remember that people are very fragile following a monumental loss, and sometimes their faith is shaken by the depth of their pain.
4. “It's time for you to get over this.” The grieving process is one that often extends over time and varies for each individual. There’s no right or wrong amount of time to move past miscarriage, stillbirth or early infant loss. Everyone should be given the space to mourn in a way that feels right for them.
5. Nothing at all It is difficult to help someone through a devastating loss, especially for those who have not experienced it first hand. Although it can be hard to address the topic directly, ignoring it is among the worst things you can do. One of the most important needs after the loss of a baby is simply knowing people care and are thinking about you.
Reach out in some way, even if it places you outside of your comfort zone. Do not downplay emotions, try to rationalize the “good” in the situation, or dismiss the impact of the situation. Simply start with “I’m so sorry this happened." Send a card, email, or text message expressing your love and concern. Let them know you are available to talk when the time is right and check back every few weeks. If you know the baby’s due date or birthday, consider sending a small gift or note to the parents, as it will certainly be a challenging moment for them.
Navigating miscarriage, stillbirth and early infant loss can be a learning experience for all involved. For those supporting a mother or family through such a loss, it is ok to not have all of the answers. There are a number of non-profit organizations that provide resources to help you be an emotional support system for your loved ones during this time.