I was having lunch with some friends recently. Of course, the topic of my recent loss came up, and we started discussing the things people say that they shouldn’t. One of my friends made an astute observation that we aren’t really prepared for how to deal with losses like this. I mean, in the church, if there’s a funeral, you make a casserole. If there’s a baby, you make a casserole. But if there is a pregnancy loss, there isn’t a baseline expected and acceptable behavior.
To make it even harder, pregnancy loss isn’t the same experience for every couple that goes through it. It happens at different times throughout the pregnancy, for different reasons. Sometimes it’s expected, sometimes not. Sometimes it’s broadcasted, sometimes not. There may be different triggers. Or it may be okay to talk about some things, but not others. The dad and mom can be affected differently and need different things for their grief. And it can even be different with each pregnancy loss if the woman has had more than one.
So what are you supposed to do? I’ve read a lot of great articles over the years about what not to say. To stick to the “I’m sorry” or “I’m praying for you” or “What do you need?” which are all great responses, but there’s something else I would like to add.
It’s called Ring Theory. I learned about this theory from a therapist. There is also a great op-ed piece about it here.
Basically, it’s the healthy way to interact with someone who is going through a loss. So, imagine the rings of a tree. In the center is the couple who is going through a pregnancy loss (this could also work for other kinds of loss as well). In the next ring are the people who are also affected by the loss, but not quite as directly. In this ring, I would put our parents, for example. As the rings move out, the people in those rings are farther away from this particular loss, not as directly affected.
The main rule of the Ring Theory is “Comfort In, Dump Out.” What that means is the person or persons in the very middle can scream or vent or whatever they need to do (maybe not talk about the grief at all), and the rings outside of that can only give comfort.
So, for example, the direct family members or close friends can seek comfort from the community or acquaintances, but they shouldn’t try to seek comfort from the person or persons in the very middle circle. The person or persons in the very middle, their only job is to survive, to vent, and to do what they need to do to grieve. They have more control over the conversation. So, you seek comfort (or dump) to the circles bigger than yours, and you give comfort to the circles smaller than yours.
And comfort is not telling your personal story, giving advice, or sharing your feelings about the loss with the people in the smaller circles. It’s mainly listening. If you need to vent, that is what the bigger circles are for.
Understanding the Comfort In, Dump Out method helps me build healthy boundaries in my relationships, especially in a time where everything feels chaotic and crazy. I’m very blessed to have such a wonderful community around me that respects space and boundaries, whether they know about this theory or not. I hope to spread this idea more to help other women who have dealt with pregnancy loss be able to communicate their own needs and healthy boundaries in their communities as well.