Today, October 15, is recognized as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day. On this day, we remember those who have lost children through miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, stillbirth, SIDS, or newborn death.
I have been pregnant five times. I have given birth twice. The other three pregnancies, including my first two, ended in unexplained miscarriage.
Many people keep their losses to themselves, for a wide variety of reasons. This may especially be true for the partners, who may feel like their grief is less valid because they were not the ones carrying the pregnancy. Those that do share their experiences are often met with well-meaning but unhelpful responses.
If someone opens up to you about their pregnancy or infant loss, or you are a provider caring for someone in this situation, here are five things NOT to say.
- Any statement that begins with, “At least…” At least it was early in the pregnancy. At least it was the same sex as the child/ren you already have. At least you’re young. At least you got to see them. At least you still have one ovary left. Etc. Saying anything that starts in this way minimizes the loss. If they say it, that’s different, but also recognize that they may be trying to minimize the loss for themselves or to make others feel more comfortable. It’s ok to reply, “That may be true…but it still sucks.”
- “You can try again/have more kids.” First of all, that may very well not be true. Ectopic pregnancy can cause damage and loss of reproductive organs. There also may be infertility issues that you are not aware of. If they used assistance like IVF, they may not be able to afford to try again. Secondly, and more importantly, they are mourning the loss of this particular pregnancy and/or child. It’s not like finding out your favorite brand of cereal got discontinued. Acknowledge the grief present right now without looking toward the future.
- “You have plenty of children already.” No. Definitely not. No one gets to determine how many is “enough” except the parents. Again, this is a person (or potential person, depending on your perspective), not a pair of shoes. Also, depending on how far along they were, they may very well have to make space for sibling grief as well.
- “Wasn’t this unplanned/weren’t you stressing about this?” Maybe they thought they were done. Maybe they made a mistake. Maybe they were scared about what this baby would mean for their future. Maybe they had previously contemplated or were currently considering terminating the pregnancy. That doesn’t mean they didn’t also love this baby. That doesn’t mean they hadn’t made their peace with the situation. That doesn’t mean they hadn’t gotten excited about it. And even if they are relieved? It doesn’t mean they aren’t also sad. Let them feel all their emotions, even if they seem like they should cancel each other out.
- “It probably had some genetic issues anyway.” While this may have some truth to it, the cause of most miscarriages and infant losses are unknown. And even if that was the case, there are tons of amazing and awesome folx with genetic and chromosomal differences in the world who are probably pretty glad they were born, as are their families, friends, and communities. So still, not a reason to need to be “ok” with losing a pregnancy or infant. It hurts, no matter what the reason.
Instead of these, here are some other things to say.
“Did you have a name picked out? / What is their name?”
“How can I support you?”
“I’m here if you want to talk. Or just sit with you.”
“How are you feeling?”
“I’m thinking about you.”
“I love you.”
Different people handle things differently. Some of it, of course, depends on the specific situation, but much just comes down to individual personality and ways of grieving and coping. You may find that they need a few days and they’re mostly fine. You may also find that every year, they get sad around their due date and/or loss date. They may want and need to talk about it frequently, or they may want to avoid the topic completely. Whatever you do, follow their lead.
This is much more common than many people realize, so chances are you know someone who has dealt with pregnancy or infant loss.
Today, we remember them with love.