Let's get right to the heart of the matter: whether you realize it or not, you probably know someone who has experienced pregnancy loss. Miscarriage, defined as the spontaneous loss of a pregnancy in the first 20 weeks of gestation, happens to approximately 1 in 5 women. A full 20 percent. Stillbirth, defined as intrauterine death after 20 weeks, happens to approximately 1 in 160 pregnancies.
We're not telling you this to scare you. Promise. We're telling you this because we're firm believers that a) for something so common, not enough people are talking about it and b) awareness is the first step in empathy.
So what do you do when someone you love has lost a pregnancy when it can be so painfully awkward and uncomfortable not knowing what to say? First, recognize that the loss of a pregnancy, whether early or late, spontaneous or elective, can bring on a range of intense and overwhelming emotions. Your friend might be feeling shame, anger, confusion, grief. She probably feels alone.
If your friend confides in you that she's lost a pregnancy your role is simple:
Hold space for her.
Okay, we know. This is a term that gets thrown around a lot and it actually mystifies most people. What does it mean to "hold space"? It means to listen without judgment. To honor what the other person is experiencing (without trying to fix it heck, you don't even have to fully understand it!). It means to let that person know they are not alone. What are comforting things to say when holding space?
- I am so sorry: This might not seem like enough but these simple words let mama know that you not only hear her but you see and feel her struggle and you are acknowledging her loss.
- I don't know what to say, but I'm so glad you told me: The importance of these words is beautifully explained by Brene Brown; completely honest and, again, reassures your friend she's not alone in her vulnerability
- You're a good mom: Many women will, at some point, feel inadequate or even blame themselves for the loss of a pregnancy. It might take them a long time to believe these words but hearing it from a loved one is a sweet reminder.
Often, we want so badly to fix a situation or make things better. With loss, this simply isn't possible. The only thing that helps heal is time and support. Listen to your friend tell her story, cry with her and tell her you're here for her. That's it. Whatever you do please don't say this:
- At least you know you can get pregnant: or the similar variation of "you can always get pregnant again." There is never a good reason to say this so don't. Ever. We don't mean to sound harsh but it's true. Your intentions are good --you just want to make your friend feel better!-- but really all it does is completely invalidate her feelings.
When we're in pain, we want to know there is someone walking beside us. If your friend loses a pregnancy stick with her. Sometimes the simplest act, holding space, is the most sacred and even if it doesn't feel like you're doing much to help at the time --oh, how we love to be doing things-- your presence, your being with her, could be just the thing to carry your friend through <3