Grieving a much-anticipated child is a shocking, deeply visceral kind of grief. Yet at the moment you most need support, your friends and family may be almost as confused and upset as you are. And that can make them the opposite of helpful.
If you've been through a loss like I have, you've probably heard at least one of these gems:
"There must have been something wrong with the baby." (Great, now I have to add worries about my lost child on top of my grief.)
"Maybe you should have [insert crazy theory here]." (No, thanks. I'm beating myself up enough. I don't need you to chime in.)
Or the one I heard all the time: "At least you have other children..." (That's right. So I am keenly aware of what I've just lost.)
My friends and family were just trying to help. And they didn't know the right way to respond to this type of loss because – lucky for them – they had never experienced it. Well, I have. And I can help your friends and family help you.
How to guide people in the right direction
Control the conversation. After my first two miscarriages, I learned to ask for what I needed and to take charge of conversations that made me uncomfortable, anxious, or sad. Even if it's been several months since your loss, you may need to stop someone who is discussing another person's healthy pregnancy or new baby and let them know you're not ready to talk about it. You can simply say, "Would you mind if we changed the topic? This one is making me upset."
Prepare yourself to hear some tough words. It's inevitable that someone is going to say something upsetting, annoying, or even creepy to you. But allowing their words to bother you won't serve you well in the long term.
When you hear unwelcome comments, Christiane Manzella, PhD, a grief counselor at the Seleni Institute, advises parents "not to let these kind of remarks stick to you." She recommends acknowledging that the words do hurt (oh, they do!), and then letting them go before they foster resentment or stir up festering feelings.
Skip out on pregnancy-related plans. You are under no obligation – I repeat, no obligation – to spend time with pregnant friends or attend a baby shower. If your friends don't understand why you're sitting one out, explain that you're just not ready. End of story.
Plan ahead. Nora Nicholson, 37, of Lafayette, California, lost her son Bryce at 36 weeks and recommends "not putting yourself in a situation that is going to be hard." She suggests doing things like switching nail salons and letting your dentist's office know about your loss over the phone before your appointment. That way you avoid the horrible moment when someone unwittingly asks about the baby's health.
When a well-meaning person does ask, it helps to have a pat response ready. It's ok to say simply that the baby has died or that you miscarried and aren't yet ready to discuss it.
Have a friend be your "heavy." You may want to assign a point person – someone who can care for you and be tough if necessary. This person can coordinate with the rest of your friends and family to ensure you have what you need, get the right kind of support, and avoid what feels overwhelming to you.
It was helpful for me to have a spokesperson (in my case, my husband) throughout the horrors of my reproductive journey. He delivered news to our extended family and network of friends. I had no desire to talk with anyone on the phone, or even listen to our answering machine messages, for weeks after my miscarriages. With him handling the outside world, I could rage and cry in private.
Don't worry about offending others and remember they want to help. Take the actions you need to take care of yourself and remember that, ultimately, those around you want to help lift your burden too. With a little direction, you can help them do just that and create a safer emotional environment for yourself.
If you think your friends and family would be open to it, you can also share Pregnancy Loss Etiquette 101.