What to say when a friend or loved one loses a pregnancy

Published by: TELUS Health,

Pregnancy and the birth of a baby is a time of wonder and joy for most expectant parents, but not all pregnancies have a happy ending. Roughly 23 million pregnancies end in miscarriage and an estimated 2 million pregnancies end in stillbirth worldwide. For those families, this can be a traumatic time filled with grief and self-doubt. It can be difficult for friends and relatives to know how best to be sensitive to their loss and support them.

Here are some suggestions on how to show support for a friend or loved one who has experienced a pregnancy loss.

Don’t stay silent. Not mentioning it could be construed as uncaring. Simply acknowledging a couple’s loss and offering support is likely to be greatly valued. Remember to take care with the language you use; your friend hasn’t just lost a pregnancy—their baby has died. If they gave their baby a name, be sure to use it. Your words will not heal their pain but knowing that they have your support and are not alone may mean more than you know.

Listen and offer reassurance. Reassure a grieving parent that you are there to listen and allow your friend or loved one to talk openly about their feelings and baby as often as they need to. If you have your own story of loss, use caution in sharing it. Acknowledge it just enough to support your loved one, but not so much that you risk comparing the intensity of your grief, giving your opinion on the correct grieving process, or taking the focus off your friend in their time of vulnerability.

Be aware of unhelpful statements and questions. After losing a child, many people ask why it happened. It can be difficult and painful to not have an answer. Avoid asking why a pregnancy loss happened and focus on how the loss is affecting your loved one. Be honest and say something like, “I’m so sorry; I cannot imagine what you’re going through.” Be careful not to offer sentiments such as, “One day, this will all make sense” or “You are young and can have more children.” These statements usually make you feel better and supportive but can make the situation worse for grieving parents.

Support both parents. If a couple is involved, be aware of the needs of both parents. The partner who was not pregnant doesn’t have the same physical attachment to an unborn child as a mother, but that doesn’t mean their sense of loss is any less acute. In fact, their grief may be accentuated by a frustration that they are unable to alleviate their partner’s suffering. It is important for them to have someone to support them too. Depending on the situation, others—siblings, grandparents, and other close family or friends—may also be grieving. Offer your support to them as well.

Don’t judge. Loss is unique to the person experiencing it. Emotions such as guilt, shame, and anger are common, but how or when they are expressed varies from person to person. Try not to impose your opinions of how your friend or loved one should grieve or act after their loss. Instead offer support through empathy and understanding.

Offer to help but don’t try to ‘fix’ them. Try to avoid the ambiguous, “Let me know if there is anything I can do” approach. A grieving person likely does not know what would even be helpful. Instead, offer specific practical support—such as cooking a meal, helping out around the house, or taking out any other children they have. Grief is tiring and these simple acts can ease the pressure on people who already feel overburdened. But make sure your efforts are designed to support and not fix them. You cannot put someone back together by cooking them dinner or doing their laundry.

Understand that their life changed. After a loss, the grieving person often wants to “go back to who I was before,” but that is not possible. Loss changes a person, and while the grieving person will likely find a “new normal,” they will never be the same as before they experienced the loss.

Realize there’s no time limit. Grief has no time limit, and it can hit people after you feel they’ve moved on. Be aware of birthdays and anniversaries. Your friend or loved one might need your support in small ways for years to come.

If you need further guidance on supporting someone who has experienced a pregnancy loss, contact an assistance program that you may have available through your organization. You may also find helpful the resources available through organizations such as  Baby’s Breath or Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support Centre.

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