The right words can help ease pain, end stigma of miscarriage
One of the big stories going into the weekend was Hilaria Baldwin’s moving social media post saying she might be experiencing a miscarriage. The celebrity yoga instructor and wife of Alex Baldwin uses Instagram regularly to connect with her followers, so I was not surprised that she would share something this sensitive and personal with the sole intent of connecting with other families experiencing a similar journey.
Finding the “secrecy” of the first trimester “exhausting,” Hilaria Baldwin, a mother of four, decided to share her news online to be “part of the effort to normalize miscarriage and remove the stigma from it.”
A platform to voice something personal in the hopes that it will bring value to those who read it and, more importantly, those who need it, can be beneficial.
I used this very forum to share news of my own miscarriage five years ago and thought it timely to revisit the topic for those going through miscarriage and those not knowing how to respond to it.
In my circumstance, our newlywed bliss could not have been scripted better. After a memorable wedding and honeymoon, our joy was taken to the next level with news of a baby on the way.
We followed the three-month rule, not sharing the news publicly but sharing it with our nearest and dearest to keep the celebrations going on the heels of our wedding.
The tricky part about not announcing a pregnancy within the first trimester is that few people know your good news, so if you do miscarry, it can be a very isolating experience.
At a routine ultrasound (early on, for “advanced maternal age” gals like me), the technician looked for the grainy image of sushi rice, the size of the baby at my last ultrasound, and my affectionate term for our offspring. This was a follow-up appointment to find a heartbeat we couldn’t hear last time.
There wasn’t one this time.
I went from the casual mindset of a routine experience, like running an errand, into a tornado of emotion: the heartbreak at the loss, the anger of being robbed of my newlywed delight to all the self-doubting what-ifs … until I was suspended in a state of numbness while waiting to miscarry — in and of itself a sad and isolating black hole.
If there ever was a topic that makes people walk on eggshells, it’s miscarriage. People are concerned they’ll upset the parents by talking about it or by saying the wrong thing.
Some people expressed to me that they were hurt because they hadn’t been let in on the initial good news, which left me feeling like I had to apologize. Some remained silent on the matter, leaving me to deliver an icebreaker. Not knowing what to say can lead to saying nothing at all, which just reinforces the pain. For those who can’t find the right words, just saying, “I’m sorry to hear your news” is simple and well-intentioned.
The majority of responses were an outpouring of support, along with dozens of stories about fellow women’s loss of pregnancy. Women I had known for years, along with strangers, shared that they, too, had gone through a miscarriage or stillbirth. It was a deeply meaningful and moving response, and I’m filled with gratitude for the healing it facilitated, along with a sense of pride in the strength and bravery of the women who opened up to me.
My going through it was a wake-up call to what I thought was the proper etiquette in a time of need.
Here are some comforting words and thoughtful acts of kindness to show your compassion:
• Simple things to say:
“I’m so sorry.”
“How are you coping today?”
“I’m going shopping; what can I pick up for you?”
“Would you like a visit?”
Ask the parents, “How can I help?” instead of saying, “Let me know if you need anything,” which puts the responsibility of communicating needs on those who are grieving.
• Be a good listener. Let the mother or parents release, understanding that one day may be different from the next. You don’t have to know what to say. Just being present can be enough.
• It’s OK to talk about the baby and to refer to him or her by name, if one is given. Not only is it important for the parents’ experience to be recognized but also the individual they had hopes and plans for.
• Don’t downplay their pain. Comments like, “At least you can get pregnant”; “You’ll try again”; and “Be grateful for the child/children you do have” may sound like silver linings, but it’s important for parents to go through the grieving process.
• Treat the loss equally, no matter when it happened. The emotional pain of an early term miscarriage may be as devastating as a later one. It’s specific to the person.
• Inquire about and acknowledge the partner’s feelings and well-being. It’s also appropriate to check in with the grandparents, who are doubly grieving for their child and the loss of the grandchild. Brothers and sisters of the baby need support, too.
• Miscarriage is a physical experience that can include pain and exhaustion, especially if surgery is involved. A mother may need help getting through it, along with the day-to-day tasks and errands she can’t do physically.
• Never suggest why it happened; 15 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage. No parent wants to hear theories or be questioned about what caused it. It’s not uncommon for a parent to feel inadequacy or guilt — sometimes the sole source of the grief — and that’s more than enough questioning.
• Grief has no timeline. Being an active supporter does not mean pushing the parent to be active socially or physically. Respect the process.
• Make note of an anniversary or expected due date. A phone call or card shows that you care and that the grieving are remembered as time goes by.
• Volunteer to bring meals, watch the kids, clean the house and just about anything that will make the day, week or month a little easier.
• Share your story. Your experience of loss can be helpful and bring comfort to a grieving family. It did for me.
Miscarriage is not controversial. It’s common, and that connects us to one another. Sharing stories about our vulnerabilities and resiliency shows we’re human, and doing so is a compassionate gesture to provide hope and healing.
Bizia Greene is an etiquette expert and owns the Etiquette School of Santa Fe. Send your comments and conundrums to firstname.lastname@example.org or 505-988-2070.
On the web
• For more private reflection on miscarriage, try a local grief support group or find resources at october15th.com and related sites.