What NOT to say to someone who has had a miscarriage

Note: This is a transcript of a video I posted on 4 March 2020 about what not to say to someone who has had a miscarriage. It has been edited slightly for improved readability.

Thumbnail image of the original YouTube video

Miscarriage. It’s a pretty taboo topic, but it needs to be discussed more openly to remove the stigma around it. It can be hard to know how to support someone who has lost a pregnancy, but there are some statements you should consider avoiding in order to prevent damaging that relationship. Let’s go over 5 examples.

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Hi, I’m Leslie and I am a Life Coach based here in Brisbane, Australia. I am also the mother of a very rowdy three-year-old girl. But, before she came along, I had lost four pregnancies. I am making this video in the context of personal development because discussions around miscarriages can have a profound impact on your relationships: your friendships, your family, even your professional relationships. 

Tiptoeing around to avoid offending people isn’t a great way to live, BUT it is worth considering how your words and actions impact the important people in your life. So here are 5 examples of what not to say to someone who has had a miscarriage.

Number 1: Was it because you ….. ?

Was it because you were stressed? Was it because you ate hollandaise sauce or drank coffee or rode a bicycle? When someone loses a pregnancy, it is not okay to suggest that something they did caused it. There is enough guilt, shame and confusion surrounding a miscarriage. If you want to support someone who has gone through one, start by not adding to it.

 Number 2: Well you can always adopt! 

Everyone is aware that adoption exists, so throwing that statement out there really isn’t that helpful. The adoption process is also a lot harder to go through than many people realise. This statement also adds to the problematic belief that adoption is just a last-ditch effort to have a family for people who can’t have biological children. The reasons people adopt are much more complex than that. And all that aside, when you say this to someone who is in that deeply vulnerable state of having just had a miscarriage, you might as well say ‘you should stop trying to have a baby, because it’s never going to happen’. That might not be your intention, but it does translate that way for some people.

 Number 3: It wasn’t meant to be. or It wasn’t God’s plan.

It can feel really hurtful or dismissive when someone applies their own belief system to your pain. For me, when I heard this statement, and I heard it a lot, I thought, ‘Wait a minute’, so carrying my pregnancy to full term wasn’t meant to be, but going through this awful, heartbreaking process over and over again… was. Why?” Unfortunately, that moment isn’t an ideal time for a religious or philosophical debate.

 Number 4: Well, at least you won’t have a kid with a serious problem.

Firstly, miscarriage is not always caused by some sort of deformation or flaw within the embryo. There are a lot of different and mysterious possible causes. Furthermore, the statement is pretty insensitive to people who are born with a congenital disorder of some sort. Imagine saying to one of them, ‘you know what, your family would have been better off if you hadn’t been born.’ Or saying to their parents ‘you would have been much better off if your special needs child didn’t exist’. It sounds horrible in that context, right? So, if you are having those kinds of thoughts, maybe keep them to yourself.

Number 5: Next time, you should try

Try this supplement or medication or ask the universe more clearly so it knows what you want.

So… it’s not my fault, but I should do everything differently next time? With this kind of statement, the source is also very important. If you are saying this as someone who has experienced multiple miscarriages yourself, you’re kind of part of the club, so it might be taken as just general strategising. However, if you haven’t gone through it personally or you’re just recounting the experience of a friend or a relative, or something you read about in a blog, it kind of erases the experience of the miscarriage sufferer sitting before you in that moment. Especially if you’re just bombarding them with suggestions that they may take as blame.

“The reason you lost your baby was because you weren’t using this essential oil, which I just happen to sell”…and so on and so on…

Now, you might be thinking, ‘well Leslie, if I can’t say these things, what should I say to someone who has had a miscarriage?’

You know what I think you should say? Almost nothing, in some cases. To really understand what kind of support is needed by that person in that moment…stop talking and listen. Hold space for them to express themselves however they need to. Recognise that their pain is unique to them and not to be oversimplified. Take your cues from them.

After my fourth miscarriage, I told one friend about what had happened and her response at that moment was just perfect. All she said was, “Shit. How are you feeling?” She didn’t tell me how to feel. She didn’t put me in a position where I had to make her feel better about it either. She just stopped and listened. It didn’t take away the pain of the loss, but it made it more bearable. It also didn’t add to the chaos and confusion that was impacting my relationship with the entire universe, at the time.

Every person’s experience of miscarriage is different. Some people respond to a loss in a very pragmatic way. Some get very very emotional. Some mark the occasion with some sort of a ceremony that they repeat yearly. This is also why it’s so important to not just react when someone tells you that they’ve experienced the loss of a baby. It doesn’t matter if they weren’t very far along, or maybe they already have kids, or maybe they didn’t really want a baby in the first place but now they’re feeling upset over the loss of a surprise pregnancy. There’s really no way to know what they are feeling unless you ask them; Unless they are allowed to speak. Being there as an active listener for your friend, your colleague, whoever it might be, is really the key to supporting someone who has gone through a miscarriage.

Screenshot from video about what not to say to someone who has had a miscarriage
Just so everyone understands my official stance!

It’s also important to remember that the partners in this situation also have their own unique experience of it. With each miscarriage,  it’s not just the death of a baby or an embryo or a bundle of cells, as some people might call it. It’s also the death of a dream. When you experience a miscarriage, it can really send you spiraling through feelings of self-doubt, feelings of failure, feelings of anxiety, all kinds of things. After my four miscarriages, I did go on to carry my daughter to full term, but even that experience was not easy. It was just 39-and-a-half weeks of crippling anxiety, in some cases, but I’ve spoken a bit about that in some other videos.

[Watch: Ready to become a parent? Ask yourself these questions first!]

If you or someone you know has suffered from one or more miscarriages and you are struggling to navigate through the chaos it may be causing for your self-belief or your relationships, please get in touch, we can have a chat or if you are looking for more formal support, go to my website, leslievcoaching.com and book in a free coaching consultation with me. If you are in Brisbane, we can meet here at the studio, or if you are in some other exciting part of the world, we can jump on Zoom or Skype, if you prefer, and communicate that way.

Also, remember to give this video a thumbs up and please subscribe to my channel for more content relating to personal development, relationships and navigating major life decisions. Have an awesome week and I’ll see you next time. 

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