Feeling helpless is one of the worst feelings in the world. But when someone you love has suffered a loss, it's also the most common feeling. You'd like to help, but you don't know how. Most of the time, your loved one can't even tell you what she needs.
It may be enough to simply say, "If there's anything I can do, just ask." Often, all your loved one needs is to know you're there and thinking of her. But there are a few simple things you can do to help, and you may just have to do them without being asked. Grief is hard, often solitary work, and your loved one may not have the energy to ask or even realize what she needs.
Here are some simple things you can do to help when someone you know has had a miscarriage:
Listen. While not every woman will want to talk about her miscarriage or anything baby related, you can be there to listen to whatever she has to say. Everyone has a unique coping method, and you can't predict just what your loved one will need. She may want to talk through every aspect of the experience of her pregnancy loss or she made want someone to keep her distracted with talk of anything but the loss. Either way, a sympathetic ear can make all the difference. Try not to offer advice or impose your own feelings on her. Her experience is very personal and there is no "wrong" way to grieve. Try to listen, be supportive and validate her feelings.
When It's Your Turn to Talk, Keep It Simple. Your loved one doesn't need platitudes, like "You can always try again," or "It was God's will." Women who have experienced pregnancy loss say the best words are honest, simple and don't try to "fix" her or explain anything. The best things of all to say? "I'm so sorry about your miscarriage." Other good options, "It's okay to cry," and "I don't really know what to say." If she's named the baby, use the name in conversations about the miscarriage. Hearing her baby's name can be very gratifying and validating.
Be "Normal." Pregnancy loss is sad, but that doesn't mean every woman will want to be surrounded by sad people at all times. It's okay to have conversations about work, her family or something as meaningless as your favorite reality TV show if the conversation feels natural. A grieving mother's emotions run the gamut from deep sadness to joy, and numbness to anger. Listen, talk, laugh, cry. Just be yourself and take your cues from her.
Visit. Whether in the hospital or at home, your loved one may be craving company. When a new baby is born, it seems like everyone wants to bask in the experience. With a pregnancy loss, sharing might be even more beneficial. Call first, ask if she'd like some company, and offer to bring a special treat she might enjoy, like a coffee drink or a favorite magazine.
Send a Card or Letter. If you can't visit in person, you may want to send a note. A personal, handwritten note on stationary or paper means so much. Trust your instincts and your relationship with your loved one to guide you in choosing the right tone for your letter or card. If she seems to be shrugging off the miscarriage, just send a Thinking-of-You message. You'll never be in the wrong by letting someone know you care.
Help Honor Her Baby's Memory. Your loved one may have chosen to remember her baby in any number of ways. Depending on your comfort level, you might choose to hold the baby if you visit in the hospital or ask to see any pictures she's taken. Offer to help with a scrapbook if you're a craft person. And if you are moved in some other way, follow your heart. Are you a writer? A poem, essay, or letter may help you and your loved one work through her grief. Are you a photographer? Offer to take pictures of your loved one with her baby in the hospital. Are you a musician? Write or learn a new song that reminds you of your loved one or her baby.
Give a Gift. There are some great gift ideas for women who have had a miscarriage and some not so great ones. You can almost never going wrong having something personalized with the baby's name and birth date, although it's best to avoid anything in a baby's likeness.
Attend the Funeral. If your loved one is planning a funeral for her baby, plan to attend. Many funerals after pregnancy loss are small, so be sure to ask the family if it's appropriate for you to attend. If not, consider sending a small flower arrangement or making a donation to a charity in the baby's honor.
Don't Forget Dad. Men tend to keep their grief to themselves, but it doesn't mean that the father of a baby who has died isn't very sad. No matter how strong he's trying to be for his partner, don't forget to ask how he's doing. Be prepared with hugs, tissues or a smile, depending on his reaction.
Be Helpful to Her. Grieving is physically and emotionally exhausting. Your loved one will probably not have much energy for anything else. So if you plan to stop by for a social visit, offer to do the dishes, change her sheets or make a grocery run for her. Be prepared to be firm, and if you're close enough to her, you might as well just dig in and start doing for her, even if she's politely refusing. While you're at it, send her to bed for a much-needed nap while you work. She'll thank you for it in the long run.
Help Kids with Their Grief. If your loved one has other children, they will be going through a grief process of their own. They could probably use some special attention, some time to talk about their own feelings about the baby and about their parents' sadness, and some help feeling important. Answer questions honesty if you can, encourage kids to express themselves freely, and offer to take kids out for fun activities if they seem ready.
Be a Safe Place. If your loved one has already had a baby shower or started gathering baby things while she was pregnant, she may have difficulty coping with these things. Never remove them without her permission, but if she would like some time to think before making decisions, offer to keep baby items at your house.
Take Her Out. If she's been in the house for a while, she might be ready for a simple excursion. Even a walk around the neighborhood can be a good place to start. Try a movie, a coffee shop or even a trip to the gym when she's ready for some physical activity.
Be Patient. Grief takes time. There is no set schedule. Even if you feel like you would be "over it" by this time, she may not be. Stay patient and offer to help when you can.
Be Aware of Danger Signs. Natural grieving behaviors can progress to depression and other mental health changes. If your loved one demonstrates or even talks about behaviors that would be harmful to herself or others, it's time to take action. If she doesn't respond to a frank discussion about your concerns, you may need to seek professional help. If you have any concerns about her safety, take her to an emergency room or call 9-1-1!
Don't Try to Do It All. This article is full of suggestions, but no one person can do all of these things. No matter how close you are to your loved one, you can't sacrifice your own health and well-being for hers. Take time for yourself, too, or you won't be rested and ready to help when you are with her.
Helping someone after a miscarriage. Accessed: July 12, 2011. http://www.miscarriagesupport.org.nz/helping.html
Supporting friends & family through loss. Accessed: July 12, 2011. http://www.americanpregnancy.org/pregnancyloss/mcsupportingothers.html
Loss and grief. Accessed: July 12, 2011. http://www.marchofdimes.com/baby/loss.html