A lot has been written about what NOT to say to someone who has just lost a pregnancy. Goodness knows I’ve read variations on that post many times, on various infertility blogs.
But now I’m getting them said at me, and PH is hearing them a lot at work.
And it’s funny, because all those bloggers are right, they are very unhelpful things to say, and they can be hurtful to hear. PH especially gets angry when he hears them, which is unfortunate because his workplace is being much worse about this whole situation than mine is.
I try to take them in the spirit with which they are offered, and ignore the actual words.
I know that the person saying these things is trying to be sympathetic, trying to make me feel better. So I try to shut out the hurt, because the words DO hurt, and just appreciate the sentiment.
Because the thing is, most of those things that people shouldn’t say but do… are TRUE.
I try to remind PH of this when someone comes out with one. “We’ve said that to each other, remember?” and he’ll grudgingly say “yeah…”
But being true does not make something helpful.
For example, here are some common platitudes that always show up on those “things not to say” lists, and which PH and I have both had to hear many times:
“At least it was early in the pregnancy.”
It’s true, it would be worse if it happened later in the pregnancy. It was among the first things we said to each other on our drive home from that dating ultrasound, trying to adjust to the change in our universe.
As hard as this has been, at least I hadn’t seen a heartbeat, felt tiny elbows nudging me, or maybe even learned the gender, maybe even named the baby. At least I couldn’t feel the corpse lying still within me. At least I didn’t have to go through a full labour to expel it.
All of that would make it worse. The pain would be worse, from every angle.
On the other hand, I never saw a heart beat. I never felt tiny elbows nudging me. I will never know what the gender of the baby was, and it will never have a name. There was no body to bury, nothing to say goodbye to.
My pain is a different pain, a pain of lost dreams and questions that will never be answered.
“You’re young; you can have another one.”
I am young, and I have been told that I stand a very good chance of conceiving again quickly and having a completely normal pregnancy. So there’s that.
It would be worse if I was 43 and this was the result of a $10,000 IVF treatment. Absolutely. I am definitely grateful that I don’t have to see this as the end of the line, but a bump in the road.
Once upon a time, that was not considered young for childbearing. In fact, on the single appointment I had with the midwife, she talked to me about my increased risk of trisomies and birth defects, and we discussed blood testing to screen for abnormalities.
So I’m not THAT young. There is a higher risk of this happening to me again than if I was, say, 21.
Nor does that take away the pain of THIS loss.
I didn’t want another one in March or April or May of next year. I was expecting one at Christmas. I want that one. Will I love the one who comes next? Of course. But that baby doesn’t exist yet, and no one can tell me FOR SURE that there WILL be a next one.
So right now, I am grieving this baby – the one that I lost.
“At least you have Owl.”
Agreed. I am very grateful for Owl. His tiny face brightens my day, and he makes me laugh with his funny little speeches. I kiss his smooth cheeks and hug his thin, constantly-gyrating body, and I am deeply, deeply grateful for him.
I think the pain would be worse if we didn’t already have Owl. At least we are parents. At least we HAVE a child. At least I know that I can have a healthy pregnancy.
This baby wasn’t Owl. This baby was meant to be its own life, and I can love and grieve that child who will never be.
I am told by those who have two that your love isn’t split between them, but doubled – that you can and do love the second every bit as much as the first. So why should my sadness be halved when the second is lost?
When PH was a toddler, he nearly died of epiglottitis. An insensitive coworker said to my mother in law, “well, at least you have four more children,” and she just LOST IT ON HIM. She gets mad even now, telling me about it. As if her other four could ever replace PH, as if he was worth less because he had siblings.
Owl is a comfort to me, and I am grateful to him. But he doesn’t make this loss less of a loss. He doesn’t change the fact that my arms will feel empty this Christmas, because I expected to hold a newborn, and the newborn will not be there.
“This is very common.”
Yes, yes it is.
Well, actually, What To Expect lists my miscarriage type as “very rare”.
It’s relatively rare to think your pregnancy is going great only to discover a dead baby on a routine ultrasound. Usually people have cramping or bleeding or some other sign to warn them. Most people’s bodies NOTICE when their babies die.
But miscarriage in general is very common. In fact, based on what I’ve been hearing from people since my miscarriage, most women over a certain age have had at least one. In fact, every woman at my work over the age of 35 had a miscarriage to tell me about.
It makes sense – if there’s a 25% chance of any one pregnancy ending in miscarriage, and if the average woman has two or more pregnancies in her lifetime, then around half or more will have lost at least one of those pregnancies.
The fact is, if you get through your childbearing years without a miscarriage, you’re lucky and possibly in the slight minority.
So it’s a commonplace sort of loss.
But that doesn’t make it less of a loss.
After all, MOST of us will lose at least one parent in our lifetime. In fact, for the sake of the parents, I HOPE that most people will outlive their parents, and not vice versa.
But will the fact that everyone loses their mother make it easier for me when my mother dies? Hell no. I’ll be devastated. I dread the day.
It doesn’t soothe my loss to know that it’s common. In fact, it just makes me more afraid because I know it could happen again. It’s not a crazy rare one-off thing.
All the commonality does is take some of the tragedy out of it. After all, losing your mother at age 80 is much less tragic than losing your mother when you are only five years old,although you will weep and go through the stages of grief no matter what age you are. One is sad and difficult, but to be expected – easier to accept. The other is tragic because it shouldn’t be.
So it does help to hear the stories of other people’s miscarriages – one of the many reasons why I believe that miscarriage can and should be talked about rather than kept secret. It’s important to know that you’re not alone, and that others have gone though what you are going through.
But it doesn’t make my loss less painful, or less of a loss.
It is nice to know that I am not alone, but it doesn’t make me stop grieving.
The Real Reason You Shouldn’t Say Those Things
Really, the truth of the statement doesn’t really matter. It could be true, or not true. The reason that comments like the above hurt is because their aim is to convince you that your pain should be less.
And no one wants to hear that.
When you suggest that someone should grieve less, you are minimizing their loss, and that’s just not helpful. A hug is helpful. Offering to take my child for a couple of hours is helpful. Flowers and cookies are helpful.
Platitudes and minimizations aren’t helpful.
Our grief is real.
It could be worse, absolutely.
But for now, it is what it is, and it will fade with time, and only time.
“I try to take them in the spirit with which they are offered, and ignore the actual words.”
I think, as long as the spirit with which they are offered is good, that is the best possible way to deal with it. When you know people are trying to be kind, even if they are failing.
When my dad died (pneumonia and complications after a long time of gradually worsening MS) a lot of similar platitudes were offered: he’s no longer suffering, he would have hated to be even more disabled, yadda yadda. It didn’t stop the fact that I’d lost my father – my dad, my daddy, the big bear of a man who I’d matched wits with, who I’d shared the joy of wordplay and reading with, who gave really good hugs, was gone. But… Remembering that people are trying to be kind, remembering that they’re not deliberately trying to hurt, helps a little, even if they’re going about their efforts in an utterly unhelpful way.*
Not much, but FWIW, you have my empathy and virtual random Internet chick hugs.
* of course, if you have people who are being deliberately cruel or just wilfully ignorant, then it’s perfectly acceptable to punch them in the face. Just sayin’.
Ha ha, I agree!
I just wanted to let you know that I’ve been thinking of you. My heart hurts for you guys.
And “at least you have four more children”???! Holy crap. That’s awful.
‘And “at least you have four more children”???! Holy crap. That’s awful.’
My brain conked out before I got that far in my comment and I’ve yet to figure out if/how one can edit comments. But ugh, I’m appalled that anyone could even think that, never mind VOICE it to a mother whose child is critically ill. Seriously. WTF.
I know, seriously, right? That was like 30 years ago and she’s still pissed. I can’t blame her in the slightest.
Hmmm me and my hamfistedness plus touch screen, I somehow just managed to down vote your comment *headdesk*
But yeah… I’m feeling somewhat pissed off on her behalf, 30 years after the fact and never having met her, I don’t blame her either. It’s just unfathomable that someone would say that out loud I mean… What. What were they thinking? Just. Wow.
My mother wanted 4 children, ended up having 5. She still talks about the 2 miscarriages she had. She doesn’t say so, exactly, but it’s pretty clear she feels guilty about them, as though they were somehow her fault. Hard to believe that they were, especially given the era in which she had them (early 60’s).
My father died recently (almost said I “lost” him, but I know exactly where he is), and I am very familiar with bracing myself when people get that look on their face; I’m also becoming familiar with the look on people’s faces as the fear of losing their own father hits, and am learning when to change the subject. About the only positive of any loss, I think, is that it reinforces our common humanity.
I just deleted a couple of thoughts, and will leave it with this: *hugs*
Nicki Hunt said:
I wish I lived in your continent! near enough to give you a hug, but I don’t so all I can do is send love and virtual hugs, take time to grieve and hold tight to Owl & PH xxx
Erin B said:
Thank you for writing about it. I don’t think I would be strong enough to.
Oh, I need to. I couldn’t let all this stuff seethe in me, I couldn’t sleep at night unless I wrote it down.
I’ve been quietly reading along here for awhile (I think I followed a funny comment you made at MaryP’s). I just wanted to say I’m so very sorry for your loss. There’s not much more I can say than that.
Thank you for this post, what you wrote about really needed to be said! Just know that you’re loved and appreciated. Love & hugs to you all from Cape Town!
We went through something similar when my father-in-law died after a protracted and agonizing battle with cancer. I *did* try to take comments in the spirit which they were intended. It was especially hard for my husband, an atheist, to have people say things “well, your father is in heaven” or “you’ll see him again”.
This notion that another child can somehow replace the one you’ve lost is completely insane. Neighbours of mine were expecting twins a year ago – one died suddenly, in utero, at 34 weeks. The mom told me once that the number of people who said “but at least you have one healthy baby, that must help!” boggled her mind.
I *like* to think most people are just clueless, rather than intentionally cruel. Doesn’t make their words hurt any less, though.
It does, for me. Knowing that they are trying to make me feel better helps, even when they fail.
Thank you for writing this.
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Grace Goldragon said:
My mother had a miscarriage before conceiving me. Her mother-in-law’s words of “comfort”? “Well, at least you never got to hold it.” Obviously it stung enough that she remembered when she was recounting this to me when I was a teenager.
Grace Goldragon said:
Yeah, they had a difficult relationship.
Erin B said:
After that comment, I can see why
Thank you so much, Carol, for continuing to post about this hard time. So many people go through this and yet it’s somewhat of a taboo to talk about (except to state above-listed platitudes). I hope that other women find strength from your words, even those who don’t want to talk to anyone about their own losses.
“virtual random Internet chick hugs”
so I’m sending you lots of those. 🙂
Olga Mecking (@TheEuropeanMama) said:
I haven’t realized how bad misscarriages were until I got pregnant myself. It didn’t happen to me, but I just didn’t know how lucky I was to have three pregnancies without any problems. I think you’re very brave to talk about this.Lots of hugs, I’ll be thinking about you.
I was just talking to a friend about this yesterday..
We thought I was pregnant last month, but then my period came, and came HARD.. When a friend asked if we’d succeeded and I told her we hadn’t, she said in a very perky, upbeat voice, “Oh! Well maybe you just had a miscarriage!” No stabbing occurred, but I tell ya – it was close.
She may have been right, but I absolutely did not need to be reminded of that particular pain in that moment. She shook me from my safe place of ‘oh it just didn’t work out this month, we were misinterpreting things’ and took me to miscarriage-land. Not nice. Not nice at all.
Yeah, it’s not better.
Hedy @ Penny for my Thoughts said:
I’m thinking of you guys. My SIL had a miscarriage in-between my two nephews, and although I adore my boys, i still wonder about that baby sometimes.