When someone loses a loved one, people around him or her usually offer condolences such as, “I’m so sorry for your loss.” “He’s in a better place.” “She’s not suffering anymore.” “My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.” “May God comfort you as you grieve.” Yet, when a couple suffers a miscarriage, they are often met with some highly offensive, hurtful comments – not because people don’t care, but because they don’t know what to say.
Below are a few comments grieving couples likely do not want to hear:
- It was God’s will. In Christian circles, this seems to be the go to answer. “It must have been the Lord’s will.” “The timing must not have been right.” “You know the Lord gives and the Lord takes away.” Regardless of the intentions behind these phrases, they are not helpful or comforting. “So, you’re saying God wanted my baby to die?” Miscarriages, stillbirths, and infancy deaths never make sense. In our lack of understanding, we sometimes cling to the fact that God is in control. However, it is not comforting to grieving couples to waive the “God’s will” card in their faces. They are hurting. They are working through the heartache they are experiencing. They need to be able to do this with the love and support of those around them. Blaming God, even if your intentions are to show God’s sovereignty, is not the right approach to use when talking to those who are grieving.
- You’ll get pregnant again soon. ~smile~ In the same way that it is ill-advised to promise a woman who is trying to conceive that she will surely get pregnant soon, it is also a bad idea to say it a couple who has gone through a miscarriage. Not only do we have no power over another woman’s health and fertility, but smiling and telling a grieving couple that they’ll get pregnant again soon is not showing proper respect for who they have lost. Even if they do conceive again quickly, that doesn’t erase the pain of losing this child. Most couples going through this sorrowful time aren’t expecting others to crowd around them and weep, but they do desire that others have proper respect for what has happened. A smile, wink, and “You’ll have better luck next time” of sorts is making light of a very real, very heartrending event in their lives. How would you treat a friend who was burying his or her infant, toddler, or kindergartener? Chances are you wouldn’t smile and say “You can always try to have another!” Children aren’t replicable, before or after birth.
- At least you have other kids. Sometimes the more children a couple have when they miscarry, the less comfort others give to them. For those who have not experienced the heartbreak of a miscarriage, it may seem like couples with several other children wouldn’t take it as hard as a couple with no children, but that’s an unfair assessment. Though I don’t have definitive evidence, I can’t imagine losing a child would be any less painful simply because the couple had other children. Those children are a source of comfort and the couple is probably reminded of how much of a blessing they are, but having them doesn’t erase the pain. Not only that, but this kind of statement comes across as if you are saying “Get over it and be thankful for what you have!” Reprimanding a couple as they grieve will not bode well for the future of your relationship with them. None of us would like to be rebuked for grieving the death of a parent, sibling, or friend, and we would lose trust and respect for someone who wagged his or her finger in our faces while we’re in the midst of our anguish.
- I know someone who had four miscarriages (i.e., It could be worse). In an effort to relate to someone who is going through a miscarriage, it’s tempting to tell her about someone you know who has had multiple miscarriages. Though the purpose for sharing your story may be to relate to or encourage her, it will probably be received as if you are telling her that her suffering is small potatoes compared to what some people have been through. When talking to someone about her (or his wife’s) miscarriage, it is important not to downplay what she’s (or he’s) going through. When people relate a similar, or supposedly worse, story to a grieving mother, they are probably trying to comfort her by showing her that she’s not alone and that others understand her pain. However, every couple’s story is unique to them and they have to go through the stages of grief at their own pace.
- It would have been harder on you if you were further along. How do we know if it would’ve been worse? If I were grieving the death of someone close to me, I would not want to hear people say, “It would’ve hurt you more if you’d lost this person ten years ago” or “It would’ve hurt you more if your loved one had suffered more.” Perhaps it’s true. Maybe it would’ve hurt me more if my loved one had died in those conditions, however there’s no way of knowing. And even if there was a way of knowing, such a comment wouldn’t take away the pain. As soon as a mother finds out she’s pregnant, her maternal instincts kick in and she begins thinking about her child – how he or she will look, his or her little personality, what he or she will do in the world when grown. That sweet child is very real to her from the moment the pregnancy test says positive to the day he or she is born and throughout his or her lifetime. Whether or not it’s emotionally harder on a woman to miscarry in her sixth week or her twenty-sixth week is not relevant when you are trying to comfort an anguishing mother. We should never make presumptions about how she or her husband feels or should feel. As much as possible, we should strive to put ourselves in their shoes and think, “Would this statement comfort me if I was going through this heartache?”
- You have enough children anyway. All I can say is, “Wow.” While researching for this post, I heard from a woman whose mother-in-law actually told her this. Maybe she was trying to comfort her, but I can’t imagine anyone saying such a statement in an attempt to ease a hurting woman’s heart. No matter how many kids one has, each child is different, unique, and holds a special place in a parent’s heart. To tell someone that they have enough kids is to devalue their children. It’s no one’s place to tell a self-sufficient, married couple how many kids is enough. That would be to put ourselves in the place of God. To say, “At least you have other children” is bad enough and shouldn’t be said, but it doesn’t devalue a couple’s children. But to say “You have enough children anyway” gives off the impression that each new child in their family is worth less than the previous child. Simply not true.
- You have to get on with your life… others need you. Statements like this show a complete disregard and lack of understanding for the grieving parent. Devastated women know that others need them, but it doesn’t change the fact that they are hurting so much that even getting out of bed takes work. Some women are able to move on with their lives sooner than others. Some women take a few days to cry and then get right back to life. Others become depressed and need help before they can take steps forward. One woman I knew years ago had a miscarriage after trying to conceive for years. Much to our surprise, she was giddy with excitement because it was a beacon of hope which indicated she could have children. Every woman’s experience is different, but almost all women going through a miscarriage have a few basic needs in common. They need to be allowed to grieve. They need trusted friends to listen. They need others to understand when they need a little space. They need pressure to be alleviated, not added. We should never shame a woman for her sorrow.
- Seems like everyone is miscarrying these days. This statement is not malicious. In fact, it often comes from a place of deep concern. It’s not necessarily an unfair assessment and is one that many people have considered, but it’s probably not the right comment to make to someone going through it at the time. Mourning couples need listening ears, loving hugs, and words of hope and encouragement. Making the observation that a ton of people are miscarrying each year might make the couple feel lumped in with thousands of other people or it may add to their sorrow; but, even if it doesn’t, it’s not a message of hope and any of us would need hope and peace if we were walking in their shoes.
- I know people who’ve been trying to conceive for years. At least you know you can get pregnant. What the recipient hears is, “Shame on you for being hurt. You don’t know the half of what other people are suffering. This means you can get pregnant, so why worry?” Is that what people mean when they make such remarks? In most cases, probably not. They probably mean, “I know you are hurting now, but take this as a sign that you are fertile. Yay!” Unfortunately, it is probably not received that way. Experiencing a miscarriage does not automatically ease a woman’s fears about whether or not she will have children someday. Even if it does provide the hope of future children, she still needs to experience proper emotions for the loss of this child. We need to validate her right to grieve and be supportive as she heals.
- Keep your chin up! Someday when you have a houseful of kids this will just be a distant memory. You can be sure anyone who would say this has never been through a miscarriage. Even though the pain eases over time, a mom never forgets. I know women who have miscarried who now have a house full of children, but the memory of the child or children they lost is still very real. Children cannot be replaced. These ladies are incredibly grateful for their children, but the memory of those children who have gone before them is not distant.
We all want to be able to say just the right words to heal our friends’ and family’s pain. Unfortunately there are times in life when our words fail us. As hard as it may be, the best words we can speak in these moments are words of sympathy (I’m so sorry), words of encouragement (I’m praying for you), and silent words – those moments when we say it best by not saying anything, listening, and just being present.
When you have a friend or family member experience a miscarriage, remember to treat them with the same respect and reverence you would someone who lost a loved one… because they did lose a loved one. Not only did they lose a loved one, but they did not get the chance to make memories with their child. Offer them hope, love, and help in the form of childcare, bringing meals, and performing other tasks to make their lives less stressful. Make sure they know that they are not alone and that you are there for them with arms wide open in their time of need.
How have you shown comfort to friends or family members who have experienced loss?