[Guest Post by Kathryn Johnson]
It’s a bit surreal that I’m the one writing this post. I am not supposed to be here — living in this grief — really, no one should be here.
Growing up, I knew my mother had miscarried, so miscarriage was definitely on my radar as something that could happen to me. However, I did not think that I would be here: a girl with three first trimester pregnancy losses in eleven months, followed by about a year (and counting) of infertility, totaling over two and half years of trying to conceive a healthy baby. And I would not wish it on anyone.
I have heard many of the supportive and not-so-supportive things people say after a miscarriage, whether they were said to me or to others. I wish there was a one-size-fits-all answer to the question, “What do I say after a miscarriage?” But there isn’t.
The loss story of each baby is unique, as is each mother’s grief.
Even with the complexities of each miscarriage, I do think there are some general guidelines that can be considered when we reach out to those grieving the loss of a baby. Here are a few of my suggestions, which can be tailored to each mom you know:
I feel like this can eliminate so many of those awkward what-do-I-say moments. If there is an event coming up (baby shower, gender reveal party, birthday party, nursery decorating, etc.) and you anticipate it might be hard for your loved one (and there’s a good chance it will be), you can simply say “Hey, if it’s okay with you, I’m going to send you an invitation to our shower and we would love to have you, but I understand it may be really difficult for you. I want you to know that you are under no pressure to attend and I support your decision either way. I love you and would love to have you there, but please feel free to decline if you need to.”
You may not know that for some women, something as simple as getting a baby shower invitation in the mail can be really difficult. As a baby loss mom, I have learned that sometimes the most gracious thing we can do is decline a situation like that and give a gift in private. But sometimes we may be up for going! This kind of thoughtful anticipation helps take pressure off the grieving mom, gives her space to decide what would be best for her, and lets her know that you are remembering her loss and still want to include her in your life. Win-win.
2. Ask Questions.
This goes hand-in-hand with anticipate. Not sure how to handle a situation or how to best show support? Please ask! If you aren’t sure if your loved one wants to talk about her loss, ask her. If she wants to talk about it, great! If not, at least she knows you were thinking of her and you can follow her lead.
Is Mother’s Day coming up? Ask her how she’s feeling about it! If there is a situation that you think may be hard for your friend, there’s a good chance she has had the same thought. Acknowledging that difficulty, whether it’s about a recent pregnancy announcement, an approaching holiday, or something that may remind her of her baby, helps her feel cared for and allows you to have open communication. You will benefit by learning about the things that are difficult for grieving parents and by supporting your friend, and your loved one will benefit by knowing she has someone who is with her in her grief.
3. Be Sensitive.
I’m sure you are probably thinking, “Of course I should be sensitive!” But I think sometimes those who haven’t experienced pregnancy loss may not know what that looks like. If you are pregnant, please, please, please do not complain about your pregnancy. Your morning sickness, your cankles, your back pain. While those things are very real and very unpleasant, they are a dream to be hoped by a baby loss mom. These moms would do nearly anything to experience that morning sickness. You can absolutely complain to your spouse, but please don’t complain when you are around a baby loss mom. If you are in the midst of the hard work of raising multiple kiddos, the same rule applies. While bedtime with three children may be extremely trying, that mom with two kiddos who just lost her third pregnancy feels that missing bedtime chaos of three children very acutely. Just know that your hardship may be someone else’s longing.
Of course, there are many other ways we can show our support to grieving moms, but these three places are a good starting point. I also have a list of resources that may be helpful if you or a loved one have experienced a pregnancy loss. Personally, I am so very grateful to the people in my life who reach out to me and let me know they still think of me and of our babies in heaven, even though they know they can’t make everything better. My hope is that pregnancy loss continues to become less and less taboo, and people become more educated in how to best walk alongside those grieving a pregnancy loss.
Kathryn Johnson is a seminary graduate who is the founder and president of Hannah’s Hope, a non-profit ministry for families who have experienced pregnancy loss. (www.hannahshope.us) She and her husband Mark live in Tulsa with their two poodles, Melvin and Boo.