Friday Five: What Not to Say When Someone Suffers a Pregnancy or Infant Loss

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Family Ties / Friday Five / General Musings / Heart Aches

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.

  1. 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.”
  2. “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.
  3. “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.
  4. “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.
  5. “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.

“I’m sorry.”

“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.

Rage Cleaning

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General Musings / Mental Health / Uncategorized

I rage cleaned today. Well, ok, it started as rage cleaning and relaxed slightly into stress cleaning.

I have been feeling overwhelmed this week by All The Things I have going on in my life right now: homeschooling two little ones, co-parenting them and two teenagers, my job, renovating a house, caring for animals…oh, and a global pandemic.

This week I have been walking through the house doing things and it seems like every place my eyes land, I see something that needs doing. That pile of laundry needs to be folded. That dust needs to be vacuumed. Those clothes need to be sorted for donation. That room needs to be cleaned and organized. That bill needs to be paid. Those toys need to be put away. That project needs attention. Those apples need to be made into things.

(My therapist reminds me that what I’m dealing with is, in fact, A Lot of Stuff and that it’s ok if I let some things go. It’s ok, she says, if the apples I haven’t made into applesauce or anything else end up in the compost. She is, of course, Wrong.)

So today I lost it. I got some age-appropriate back-talk from one of the boys and BOOM, ragey mama showed up and started cleaning. And by cleaning, I mean gathering all toys and children’s things not in their proper place, dumping them in boxes and bins and putting them away in the storage room.

I know I should have approached it in a better way. I have been meaning to do a toy purge, and I understand a lot of the mess is because there are too many toys and because of the renovating they don’t all have a place and…it felt really good. So much clutter, GONE, in ten minutes. And I haven’t hear one single peep about it yet, so maybe they were also feeling stressed by the stuff.

With the toys and major clutter cleared, and the boys dressed and moved outside to play, I was free to put my leftover anxious stress energy to work and tackle one room for a thorough cleaning. I removed items that had literally been sitting in there since we moved in last December. I washed walls which had grown mildew over the summer (pro tip: white vinegar works better for this than bleach). I used baking soda on the couch which had started to smell musty with all the humidity. I vacuumed and dusted and did a whole lot of sneezing.

And, oh. It looks soooo much better. It’s not totally done, but that’s to be expected during a renovation. Now, though, it’s a place my eyes and brain can rest. I can sit on the couch. There is space, and light, and emptiness. It is relaxing.

Someday, hopefully, our whole house will be like this.

Until then, one room at a time, one task at a time, one hurdle at a time.

And maybe next time, with a little less rage.

Before: a bright, sunny room full of clutter. A couch and a rug are barely visible under piles of stuff and toys are scattered about the floor. Robbie is playing with a box.
After: a green velvet antique sofa is visible and free of all contents. A brown floral rug in the center is bare. There is a vacuum cleaner, a storage bin, and a few small items stacked against the wall, but otherwise the room has been cleared of all clutter.