My pregnancy ended abruptly four months ago.
I was 25 weeks along, and it was indescribably devastating. I’ve joined a quiet club that millions of women never want to be a part of.
Pregnancy loss has long been stigmatized and misunderstood; steeped in shame, silence, and self-depreciation.
One in four women experiences miscarriage alone. Stillbirth affects 1 in 160 births in the United States each year, and termination for medical reasons (TFMR) rarely enters the conversation; often sadly denounced.
As I continue to grapple with my loss in these raw, early months, the pandemic has completely shifted the way I, and many women experiencing a pregnancy loss, grieve. It has also affected the ways in which we receive support from loved ones.
The importance of support systems has never been greater in these challenging times for everyone; women processing pregnancy loss need it more than ever.
For us, there is an added layer of isolation in a time that is already difficult under normal circumstances. Support systems are vital to our healing.
Pregnancy loss, both physically and emotionally traumatizing for many women, is difficult to talk about if you’ve never experienced it. It has the power to weaken relationships with family and friends who unintentionally say and do hurtful things while trying to be supportive.
I’ve been on the receiving end of both wonderful support and the not-so-wonderful.
Here is what I’ve learned so far about supporting women through pregnancy loss:
Ask us if we’re okay, not how we’re doing.
In an article last year sharing her own pregnancy loss, Meghan Markle writes that the beginning of healing starts with the question, “Are you okay?” This is a critical question fundamental to the grieving process, and as someone craving support, it stands out as one that begs to be asked.
I have been asked countless times, “How are you?” This question has become a substitute for a hello, and over time feels like it has lost its meaning. Ask us if we are okay, and we will tell you that we are probably not, but this gentle query is still welcomed and appreciated. Checking in with us in this way conveys support and acknowledgment. Do not ask us how we are doing, because the answer to this overused question is obvious, especially in the early days.
Accept the “No” without judgment.
The pandemic gives many grieving women, myself included, a reason to say no to outings and activities. While this may seem counterintuitively isolating to others, sometimes it feels best to be alone with our grief and process our thoughts in our own space.
Abstaining from the public also shields us from debilitating triggers—like seeing pregnant women and babies—and being asked those insensitive questions like, “Are you going to have kids?”
When we decline an invitation, shut down a gentle suggestion, or withdraw from texts, avoid the urge to judge and help unproductively.
We are battling with all the emotions a human can possibly feel in this moment. Let us know instead that it is perfectly okay to be alone, and you’re still there for us regardless we don’t feel guilty for saying no.
Gently ask for permission to regularly check-in.
Being supportive—without being overbearing—can be difficult, especially in a pandemic that has taken away our ability to be physically present.
I have tried to stay away from the noise of texts, calls, and social media because retelling how I feel and seeing pictures of happy babies is painful right now. I understand technology has been a wonderful aid for communicating with loved ones in this pandemic.
Don’t be afraid to ask us if you can check in from time to time, and make it clear that you don’t expect any response in return. We see your texts, hear your messages, and receive your gifts and notes with appreciation. Don’t forget about us, either; we might ask for space, but some days are better than others, so a gentle check-in can help immensely.
Refrain from comparisons that are often intended for support and clichés such as:
>> It happened for a reason.
>> You’re stronger for it.
>> It was never meant to be.
These types of statements are easy fillers for silence but can be extremely unproductive.
Offering advice without our permission can also be hurtful. After my loss, someone said to me, “I know exactly how you feel; I also had a miscarriage.”
My loss was not a miscarriage and she did not, in fact, know how I feel.
Every pregnancy loss is horrible, but none are the same; everyone experiences it differently. Well-intentioned comparisons can feel overwhelming, angry, and dismissive. Listening sensitively and offering advice only when we ask for it is more helpful than you realize.
Acknowledge our pregnancy and lost baby.
More than anything—during this harrowing and isolating time—we want our pregnancy and lost baby to be acknowledged.
Many women experiencing this loss feel robbed of their hopes and dreams instantaneously. The harsh reality is that life goes on, and we’re scared our pregnancy will become a forgotten, distant memory as the days pass.
For women like myself who have experienced a later-term loss, this can be particularly heartbreaking and the silence deafening.
Pregnancy loss is not easy to navigate for us and for our loved ones. It is incredibly painful.
The best support you can give is to welcome the conversation, be present for us, and meet us where we are emotionally. Pregnancy loss shouldn’t be swept under the rug; it should be embraced, honored, and respected.
Support us with grace, and know this is enough.