Women of child-bearing age are often surrounded by other women of child-bearing age. Sometimes we get pregnant in packs, and it can seem as though every woman we know is pregnant. For most of us, pregnancy is a time of great joy, excitement and anticipation. And, for good reason - most pregnancies have wonderful outcomes.
Some pregnancies, however, end abruptly with miscarriage. When I miscarried, only a handful of people in my life knew. I eventually shared the devastating news with more family members and friends, but the grief lingered for months.
As with any loss, it is difficult for people to know what to say. And, unfortunately, some individuals end up saying the wrong things - even if their intentions are good.
The Criswells: Andrea with her husband, Tim, and their daughter, Madison.
If you find yourself comforting a family member or friend who has suffered through this terrible experience, here are some tips on what not to say, what to say and how to offer a helping hand.
The American Pregnancy Association defines miscarriage as a spontaneous pregnancy loss during the first 20 weeks of gestation. The most common type of pregnancy loss, miscarriage happens in 15 percent to 20 percent of pregnancies, usually within the first 13 weeks, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. The majority of miscarriages are caused by abnormalities with chromosomes of the fetus.
"When a miscarriage occurs, society's attitude is to not talk about it, in fear that it's too upsetting," the American Pregnancy Association website states. "However, not talking about it only makes it harder to move on."
What NOT to say
St. Clairsville native Amanda Persiani, who now resides in Granville, Ohio, had two miscarriages. One of the most hurtful comments she heard was, "At least you weren't that far along." The American Pregnancy Association classifies this "minimizing the miscarriage" as unsupportive. "The bond between a pregnant woman and the baby growing inside her is unique," the website states. "A woman can begin bonding from the moment she has a positive pregnancy test."
Andrea Criswell of Barton remembers being told, "You're young; you still have time to get pregnant again." Some women who miscarry have been struggling with fertility challenges, so one should not assume that another pregnancy is a given.
"They didn't know the situation, that we had been trying for a while to get pregnant already," Criswell recalled.
"At times, I didn't take the comments to heart, but then again, there were times that it just made me upset because people didn't know our situation."
Persiani also endured the "You can get pregnant again soon" sentiment.
"I think it's hurtful and ignorant because it completely dismisses the life that you just lost," she said. "And, there are no guarantees that you can have another one."
Wheeling resident Meggan Pasqualla said the comment that hurt her most was, "There must have been something wrong with the baby." Persiani and Criswell both felt saddened by this remark as well.
"I would have taken the baby whether something was wrong or not," Pasqualla noted. "I do understand what people mean, but it never made me feel better."
Criswell added, "I know that they were just trying to be supportive and didn't realize that their comment was hurtful, but no time is a good time for a pregnancy to end, especially if it is something that you have been wanting."
Other sayings to avoid are, "It's common; it happens to a lot of women" and "You'll get over it."
"There are no competitions in grief; each person's loss must be respected for the sense of loss and sadness it has for them," recommends the American Pregnancy Association.
What TO say ... or do
Neither Persiani nor Pasqualla could recall any "helpful advice" after their miscarriages. "I'm not really sure there is helpful advice," Pasqualla admitted.
The American Pregnancy Association website supports this, recognizing that the confession "I just don't know what to say" is often the most appropriate comment.
Rather, family members and friends can offer support through actions, such as assisting with cooking, cleaning and child care.
"When I had my miscarriage, our family was very supportive," Criswell explained. "Our parents watched our daughter for us, brought us food and helped out in any way that we needed. I really appreciated everything that they did for us during that rough time."
Pasqualla experienced similar encouragement. "It's a time when I remember coming home to the women in my family sitting around my breakfast island ready to make food for us and help me with the other boys," she recalled. "They let me sleep, and that's all that I could have asked for."
Also, don't be afraid to reach out by writing or calling. "I did receive a few notes, cards and phone calls from close friends to say they were thinking of my husband and me," Persiani said. "It was nice to know people cared."
Other helpful suggestions include offering to keep baby memorabilia until the family is ready to put it away or reuse it and returning maternity clothing or other baby items. It is important not to undermine or rush the grieving process but to listen and be understanding of a wide range of emotions.
"Remember that specific dates or events, such as the anniversary of the loss or the expected due date, may trigger an emotional response," states the American Pregnancy Association website. "Encourage communication during this time."
Pasqualla agreed communication, especially among mothers, is a key to the healing process.
"I hate to hear of other miscarriages, but it seems when you mention it, other women are so eager to tell you their stories. I think that's proof that women need to talk about it."
Criswell echoed those remarks: "When I shared my miscarriage with others, it helped me because I learned of other close friends who had been through the same situation. I saw that I wasn't the only person who went through this, even though at the time I felt like I was."
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April Leiffer Henry is a freelance writer who lives in Morgantown, W. Va., with her husband and 4-year-old son. She blogs as "Office Mama" on the OV Parent website.