Sunday, March 15, 2020

Coming Alongside a Friend who has Miscarried

We hear the statistics that one in every four to five pregnancies ends in miscarriage, but it isn’t until you find yourself in that 1 in 5, and start hearing from others about their own experiences, that you start to grasp what that number really means… it means probably half of all women will experience one at some point.  Yet for all that, there seems to be a somewhat surprising lack of resources for how to come alongside women & families during and after a miscarriage.  So many people have no idea what to say, whether to say anything, how to help, what’s normal… Just a lot of questions all around. After my miscarriage in January of last year, I knew what helped me and what was less helpful, and I asked for feedback from other parents on social media, and promised to compile and condense it all into an article… I’ve had several people ask about it in the meantime… and… I’ve since experienced a second miscarriage (this week)–one that was markedly different from my first-- so can speak even more to the issue.  A lot of these tips will apply to any loss but some will be specific to miscarriage and infant loss.
  • reach out.  if someone has shared with you that they are miscarrying or recently miscarried… do something with that knowledge.  It probably took a lot of courage for them to tell you.  Check in on them—call, text, best of all, an actual card.  Set a reminder in your phone, leave a post it note up, whatever, to remind yourself to remember them & reach out.  We never mean to forget, and everyone knows that… but it is such a blessing to have someone remember and tell you you aren’t alone. 
  • keep reaching out—if you know when they miscarried, put a reminder in your phone or calendar or whatever system you use—send them a card this time next year. If you know their due date, same.  In the meantime, they probably are grieving every week — “one week since I lost __,” etc.  One friend who experienced a stillbirth on a Thursday woke every Thursday for weeks remembering the experience with dread and new grief.  Another friend who lost a daughter at 13 told me it was much like a new baby; at first you count in days, then weeks, then months and finally years from the loss. All that to say, texting weekly or sending cards more than once would be a huge blessing.  The body is amazing and it remembers loss and trauma, and even when we don’t consciously remember dates and anniversaries, our bodies do.  One of the loneliest days for me last year was my daughter’s 10th birthday—because it was also my due date for the daughter I will never hold… and no one else seemed to remember.  Have your kids draw some pictures and mail them one at a time over several days or weeks. (Maybe address them & stamp them all at once and put post-its on them as to when you will mail them.  Seriously, half the battle of ministry is just overcoming our own forgetfulness.)
  • what to say—this is a really hard one so I’ll keep it as broad as I can:  think about what you would want someone to say to you.  Send an encouraging scripture, a quote from a favorite hymn or song, send a note about how much you love them… even just “hey, I know this is a pretty hard time for you, and I want you to know I’m praying for you and I love you.”  I’ve had people say some pretty insensitive and way-off things, but I would rather have that than the complete silence from people who I know know my situation.  We’re already sad—you telling us you’re sympathizing with our sadness won’t make us more sad, I promise!
  • answer their calls and texts (and yes, calling them back is fine if you can’t get to the phone!!)—this should go without saying for friendships in general, but just know that when someone is grieving it takes extra energy to reach out, and when that energy seems wasted it can be quite devastating.
  • help in practical ways.  Please note that they may need help for a lot longer than you’d think. Miscarriage itself can take a while (my last one took 4 weeks from the time I first realized something was wrong) and then there’s the physical recovery, and then there’s the emotional recovery.  It could be a good six months or more before your friend is back on her feet. Here is a list of practical things that can be helpful:

  1. bring snacks over; this can be done even from a state away.  It’s often hard to keep everyone fed when Mom is down for the count.  No-prep individually packaged foods can be extra helpful.
  2. clean their bathrooms, vacuum their stairs, sweep their kitchen, etc. Coming once a week for 1-2 hours for a month could make a huge difference in their family’s quality of life—and if you’re doing a specific task it can make sure your friend doesn’t feel guilty for resting while you work
  3. make and/or bring a meal (not just dinner—often breakfast foods are very helpful)
  4. walk their dog
  5.  run an errand – when you offer, try to offer specific ideas, like “can I pick up some vitamins for you?  Do you need any office supplies? Do you need anything mailed?” etc.
  6. take their kids for an hour or a day
  7. buy them groceries—if you don’t know them well, ask if they have any allergies or preferences

  • send an encouraging package—their favorite show, a new book, a gift card, a cozy blanket—if their kids know about the miscarriage, they may appreciate a small gift too.  A subscription box for a month or two could be a wonderful gift; a few ideas:  Mama Needs, snack boxes, sips by (tea), mighty fix (green gadgets)…
  • send nourishing foods or teas—red raspberry leaf tea, soups, fresh fruits, etc.
  •  send anything that you’ve found that helps you when you are emotionally distraught.  It could be an essential oil blend, it could be a book, it could be a tea…
  • enable them to get to self care appointments like massage, acupuncture and chiropractic—and ordinary doctor appointments.  This could mean driving them there, watching their kids while they go, pooling money with another friend to buy them a gift card to a spa, or donating your services if you are a practitioner.
  • encourage them to go to above appointments.
  • encourage them to rest
  •  encourage them to talk about their loss if they want to
  • when she feels up to it, keep the kids and let the parents go on a date. Miscarriage takes a toll on both parents.
  • guys, reach out to your friend.  They lost a child, too.
  • honor their child & their suffering—flowers are a traditional gift, and they really do brighten a room.  Other gift ideas are a potted plant, a donation to a children’s charity, flower seeds, sun-catchers, a necklace with their child’s name on it (or a birth stone for their child’s birth month), nice pens & a blank journal… Laurel Box provides a great source of ideas—they will send a box to your friend, or you can get ideas from their site and assemble your own.  Many parents choose a symbol for their child,-- a butterfly, a flower, an anchor are a few examples-- ask your friend if they have and incorporate that into the gift.
  • pray for them.  Again, set alarms, post-its, whatever, to remind yourself to pray.  Pray with them if you can!  I had a friend pray with me over the phone at my first doctor appointment, and another pray with me in my room after my last miscarriage.
  • share good news (especially your own pregnancy news) with them privately.  They will definitely want to rejoice with you... but it might take a minute.  Tell them the news in a no-pressure environment, so they can have time to process before having to respond publicly.
  • other women; hug them, touch them… I know this is a fine line, I’m not even all that huggy, so always leave them the option to pull away, but most of the time, miscarriage is such a very physical trial, where we often feel that our own bodies have betrayed us, that physical contact can be a tangible reminder that we aren’t as alone as we feel.

Just a few thoughts on things to avoid-- I tend to dislike long lists of “don’t ever say” because the truth is that so much depends on context… so I will keep these general:
  • Don’t minimize the loss or imply that they should “be over it” in any specific time frame.  Ex “well at least you weren’t far along” or “well at least you have other kids” or “it was such an early loss, shouldn’t you be past this?” etc.
  • Don’t try and top their grief story with one of your own (or your sister’s neighbor’s cousin)—identifying with them is great—just make it clear that you are doing so to validate their feelings
  • Be very very slow to imply or assume that they are handling something incorrectly—there may be a time to gently call someone out on an unbiblical attitude or response, but that time is usually NOT when the grief is fresh.
  • Don’t assume that you know why they are sad. Especially if they have postpartum depression or anxiety, which is a whole ‘nother topic, don’t assume that they are “sad about the baby.”  Anxiety and depression is not always rational. It’s not often that someone can reason their way out of it.  They may be able to function very well, they may not “seem sad’ but could be dealing with a low-level constant nagging anxiety or distress under the surface.
  • Don’t assume their kids know about the miscarriage. Don’t bring it up around their kids unless they do it first.  Be discreet and ask!!  We did not share our first miscarriage with our children for a variety of reasons. We did share our second, and at that time also told them about our first miscarriage.  Every family is different.
  • Don’t assume they can’t handle hearing about your own life struggles.  Now this is a balance, do be sensitive—when a woman has just lost her child it might not be the best time to ask them to pray for your friend’s cousin who just had her 3rd kid and can’t seem to keep her act together… But don’t assume that just because they have their own pain that they aren’t glad to carry yours, too. So often shared pain binds us all together, and we can share each other’s burdens even if they aren’t the same.
  • Be sensitive about bringing your own kids when you come by to help—again this will vary by the  situation and even by the day, but sometimes extra kids will just be overwhelming to a mom who is miscarrying, and sometimes will keep you from being able to meaningfully engage with your friend if they want to talk.  If you can leave your own kids at home that can be worth exploring.  Or make a conscious plan for how you’ll help your kids be calm and quiet—some ideas:  tell them ahead of time that they’ll need to play quietly or outside, bring a movie, bring a car DVD player, bring a board game or new toy set for them to play (with your friend’s kids possibly), or offer to bring all the kids back to your house after you visit.  But your friend may be fine with extra kids— it may be actually helpful for her kids to have playmates, she may want a little one to squeeze, she may just not mind... so ask!
  • Try to avoid offering vague help like “let me know if you need anything!”  They definitely need stuff.  So how are they supposed to let you know?  When you’re in the throes of the physical & mental toll of a miscarriage, logistics are hard.  It’s also hard to gauge what a person really means when they offer (unless you know them really well)—how inconvenienced would they really be willing to be?  Try to think of a way that you could help and ask them if it would be helpful, and then schedule a time to do it right then.  For example “hey can I come walk your dog on Thursday evening?” or “I get groceries on Monday, can I grab some for you? Is there anything you all really love or need?”

I hope this is helpful... when in doubt, ask your friend... they would much rather you ask.

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