What to Say To Someone Going Through Pregnancy Loss (Stranger Edition)

what to say

I would love to change the conversation surrounding pregnancy loss and infertility.  So many of the women in my life have been affected by one or the other, and there are so many assumptions made about pregnancy loss that manifest in strange comments or bad advice.  My theory is that as a society (whether in sex ed classes or in youth group) we stress so much that if you have sex, you will get pregnant.  While that is definitely an outcome, it’s not the only one.  And since the other outcomes are never addressed, when we get married and are ready to have kids, and then can’t or struggle to, it’s easy to feel ostracized and no one else is really prepared for it either.  Assumptions are made, and hence, comments and advice are doled out.

But the good news is that it’s becoming more of a conversation.  More celebrities are speaking out about their experiences, as are more women in general.  There are so many articles about pregnancy loss, that it’s easy to educate oneself.  And just about everyone I know knows someone who has been through one or the other or both.

I was in a forum recently, and someone asked me what do you tell someone who is going through pregnancy loss, specifically someone you don’t know well.  Maybe someone at work or church.  And honestly, it’s better to go simple than to try to find those perfect words that will make them feel better (which DO NOT exist).

I am sorry for your loss.

I know it sounds cliche, but this simple statement does two things.  First, it acknowledges that there was a loss.  I have read about and known women who have people in their lives that refuse to acknowledge their pregnancy loss as anything more than a setback.  But to many of these women this is a loss of a child, and just having that validation can mean so much.  Second, by not saying anything else, this gives the woman the space to grieve and process how they need to grieve and process.  Maybe they end the conversation right there.  That is absolutely fine.  Maybe they will go into the details.  But it is up to them.

Sometimes people might add, “I’ve been there” or “My (family member/friend) has   experienced pregnancy loss.”  Adding this can be helpful as it can help this person feel less alone, but I wouldn’t recommend going into any of the details.  You don’t know what may trigger the woman in front of you, or even if they are prepared to have that conversation.

And finally, don’t take it personally if they don’t react in a way you expected.  They might lash out or brush you off.  Remember, they are grieving.  Even if it’s been a while since the loss, you never know what milestone or anniversary might be coming up for them.  It could be a due date or the day they found out they were pregnant.  Grace and space are such key terms when approaching this topic, especially with someone you don’t know.

It makes me so happy and encouraged that there are so many people who are willing to ask questions like these.  And, of course, this conversation might be different with someone you know better, someone that you have a closer relationship with.  I’m hopeful that the conversation and the stigma around pregnancy loss will change.  And I’m so grateful to have you all as my community because I know you all want to be a part of that positive change.

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Friday Rambles: Respecting the Journey

I began this week talking about something that is quite controversial in the pregnancy loss community, and I guess I’m going to end the week with something that is also quite controversial.

RespectingTheJourney

After I lost my first daughter back in 2014, I was invited into a private group for women of pregnancy loss.  In the first few weeks after she died, I was in a state of shock, and there was this decision of whether or not to give her a name on the death certificate.  For some reason, I didn’t want to do it.  I couldn’t settle on a name, and I didn’t want to (I would end up giving her a name a few months later as I processed my grief).

About a week after I got home from the hospital, I posted this to the forum:

“It has taken me a couple of days to really get my thoughts together of what to write on this post. Last week, November 26th, I delivered my stillborn daughter. Technically, it was at the 24 week mark, but I know she had passed probably about a week and a half earlier, when I stopped feeling her move. We hadn’t really decided on a name yet, and weren’t sure if that was something we wanted to do. Are there people who don’t name their stillborn children?”

I was met with a variety of answers, although most of the consensus was “If you loved your baby, you would have named her.” And I spiraled.  I mean, I slammed my laptop shut and walked away, thinking of how awful of a mother I must be that I couldn’t give my baby a name right then and there.  But then, a beautiful woman responded to all of these other comments this way:

“I really prayed over naming my babies but never felt a peace as to what name to give them, I really hope that doesn’t mean I don’t love them as much as my children here on earth with names. A name is a very special thing and if someone isn’t feeling at peace with naming their child of loss then that is between them and God, I doubt anyone who chooses not to does it without a lot of prayer.”

She gave me the grace and space I needed to heal.  She listened to the pain and courage in my words without judgment, and I learned that day how I needed to treat other women in this community.  Even within the trenches of pregnancy loss and infertility, there is unsolicited opinion and advice everywhere.  I know that these words are coming from a place of hope, but more often than not, they land in a place of hurt.

“Have you tried this treatment/diet/medication?”

“You should go to my OB because they are better.”

“Just have faith that God will give you a child.”

“You should do these things every year to honor your child, if you want to grieve the right way.”

“You should do x, y, and z, if you don’t want to regret it later.”

I know all of these are meant to help.  Just like the unsolicited comments that we get outside of the community.  It’s hard not to want to help, but just because you’ve been through something, it doesn’t give you the right to decide how someone else will go through it.

If this journey has taught me anything, it is to not judge the other person’s pain, suffering, or path.  I have realized that no person has ever shared their entire journey with me.  But I don’t have to know their entire journey to know that they deserve love and respect.  Some parts are too painful to relive.  Some are too shameful.  But I don’t need to understand the entire person to give them the ability to grieve the way they need to grieve, to hope in the way they need to hope.

Every woman has every right to celebrate their pregnancies in the way that they see fit.  I don’t know how long or how rough the road was to get there.  But on the other hand, every woman has the right to heal from their loss or their struggle the way that they need to heal.  I don’t know what obstacles lay in the path of every woman, but I don’t need to in order to know that they are beautiful, valuable, worthy creations of God.  And every road does not end with a healthy pregnancy or a child to raise, but I do know that the faith of these women inspires me each day to live boldly and speak boldly and write boldly.

My friends in the trenches are beautiful, strong, kind, loving, caring women who are grieving while living one day at a time.  They are incredible human beings, and I am so, so blessed that I can call them sisters in this community.