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How to support someone going through pregnancy loss

How to support someone going through pregnancy loss

8 min read

If someone in your life tells you they’re experiencing a pregnancy loss (also known as a miscarriage), how can you best support them?

Pregnancy loss is a strikingly common experience. Approximately one in five known pregnancies ends in a loss — but it’s rarely talked about openly. We’re even coached to wait on sharing news of a pregnancy until after the first trimester when most miscarriages occur. As a result, we don't have a shared cultural framework for how to support one another through pregnancy loss. And that needs to change.

One thing we can do is learn from people who’ve been there. So, we asked members of the Modern Community’s Pregnancy Loss Channel (a dedicated forum for community members who have experienced pregnancy loss) to tell us what was helpful or unhelpful for them as they navigated pregnancy loss.

Remember a pregnancy loss is a loss — no matter when it happens

Six weeks into her pregnancy, Modern Community member Donna rushed to the hospital after experiencing a sudden onset of bleeding. Within the course of a day, her care team confirmed that the pregnancy was lost.

She shared, “Something I wish that more people understood about pregnancy loss is that whether it be four weeks or 40 weeks, it can be just as heartbreaking and painful to the person going through it. They need support no matter what because sometimes we feel like everything is lost in that moment and we need reassurance. It's not easy!”

Pregnancy loss can happen at any stage of pregnancy, including the earliest days. And losing a pregnancy at any stage can feel devastating. If someone is processing tough feelings around their loss, those feelings are real and deserve to be validated, no matter how long they’d been pregnant.

Understand that feelings about the loss can change over time (and linger)  

During Modern Community member Rachel’s first ultrasound, she learned that her pregnancy wasn’t viable due to a blighted ovum. Blighted ovum miscarriages happen when a fertilized egg attaches to the uterine wall, but the embryo that holds the egg doesn’t develop properly.

She shared, “Emotionally I was actually okay when I first found out. We got pregnant on the first try so it didn't really feel real yet. Don't get me wrong, I was disappointed, but I figured we'd just get pregnant again and things would smooth out.”

It ended up taking four months and multiple medical interventions until her body had completed the miscarriage. “I was okay at the beginning of the process but was much less okay by the end of it,” she reflected.

For Rachel, the emotional processing didn’t end with her first miscarriage: “A loss can take away a sense of innocence around pregnancy,” she shared. “If the person who experienced the loss gets pregnant again, it may be very difficult for them, emotionally. The joy and excitement can get mixed with a lot of fear, or even detachment. For me, the whole process really messed up my relationship with my body. I’m pregnant now and while I’m super happy, the miscarriage experience is definitely haunting me a bit.”

Try to avoid making assumptions about how someone should be feeling about their loss

“When people experience pregnancy loss, it's completely normal to have a whole range of emotions,” explains Meghan Cassidy, Modern Fertility's mental health clinician and licensed certified social worker (LCSW-C). “This can be sadness, grief, anger, self-blame, but equally as often there is indifference, numbness, peace or even relief. Many people vacillate between responses or feel conflicting emotions at the same time.” She adds that even someone’s emotional response doesn’t make sense to you, the best thing you can do is to listen, validate, and trust that their emotions are exactly as they should be.

Modern Community member Huxley had an unexpected pregnancy that resulted in emergency surgery to remove her fallopian tube. She shared, “If they aren't feeling devastated, don't make them feel like their feelings are wrong. Someone did this to me and it kind of messed me up! I kept asking myself if I was a terrible person for not feeling the way they expected. Don’t invalidate their experience by saying anything about how they should be feeling.”

Avoid giving unsolicited advice

When someone you care about is grieving, it’s normal to want to offer them advice. But when it comes to pregnancy loss, well-intentioned comments can sometimes strike a nerve or even make someone feel worse.

Donna had a few thoughts on what not to say: “Never tell them ‘maybe it wasn't your time’ because while it sounds reassuring, that is the last thing we want to hear! Always let them know they have your support, even if you can't imagine what they are going through. Chances are you have no idea since everyone’s experience is different.”

Meagan, a Modern Community member who has experienced multiple miscarriages, shared: “Please don’t say ‘Oh, it’ll just happen when it’s supposed to. You’ll get pregnant no problem if you just relax and don’t stress about it’ or something similar. It’s insulting, and unless you know someone’s specific journey, keep quiet with the ‘helpful comments.’”

Meghan Cassidy (LCSW-C) explains that there are a few reasons to avoid giving advice to a loved one who is experiencing loss. She shares, “When we give advice, we are attempting to use logic to address grief, which is not effective because grief is an inherently emotional experience. Emotions need to be felt and processed, which is a different function in the brain than logical reasoning.”

Additionally, she shares, “No one else can know what we feel and what we need better than ourselves. The most valuable thing we can offer to our loved one is to listen, and ask questions.”

Here is what Meghan recommends asking or saying instead of giving advice:

  • How are you feeling about this?
  • What do you feel you need right now?
  • I’m here for you.
  • There's nothing you can't share with me about what you are feeling.

Make supportive gestures, when appropriate

Since pregnancy loss can feel isolating, gestures of support can be extra impactful. But where’s the best place to start?

It’s always a good idea to check in with someone about what would feel most helpful. But try to avoid blanket statements like, “What can I do to help?” because this puts the onus on them to tell you what they need or want.

Instead, try offering a list of things you’d be able to do, and let them pick. (Like in this viral post of a text listing out options... including “politely declining” the offer to help.) The “list of options” route is a pressure-free way to show your support without making assumptions.

Meagan shared, “I’ve had two pregnancy losses, and my best friend has been a huge support through both of them. She and her boyfriend brought us dinner both times. After my second loss, I just needed a hug. She was ready to hop in the car just to make sure we were ok. We couldn’t have gotten through any of this without her.”

Colleagues can also be a vital source of support. Rachel shared her pregnancy loss with her boss, and really appreciated his willingness to be flexible and accommodating. She explained, “Every time I was like, ‘I have another appointment.’ or ‘I have to stay home because I'm in pain’ he immediately was like, ‘Yes. Take the time you need. I'll cover for you.’”

On top of that support, she said that her husband’s company provides three days of leave for pregnancy loss for pregnant people and their partners. That policy made a huge difference for them. It’s worth checking if your place of work includes a policy for pregnancy loss leave, and advocating for it if they don’t.

Make space if someone wants to talk about it, and respect their boundary if they don’t

If someone tells you they’d rather not discuss their loss, follow their lead. There’s no way to know for sure if someone wants to talk about it (unless they tell you) so be receptive to their cues and respect their wishes.

Meagan suggested, “Let the person experiencing the loss bring it up in conversations. If they want to talk about it, let them. If they don’t, respect that decision and focus on something else.”

Huxley offered a slightly different perspective, “Know that whoever is experiencing it is probably constantly thinking about it, so it will not bring someone down or hurt them if you mention it. On the contrary, it shows you care and are thinking about them and their experience. Ask how they're doing or mention you're thinking about it, but in a way that allows them the space to answer however they need at the moment. If they don't want to talk about it, they don't have to.”

Another important boundary to consider is confidentiality. Meagan shared, “If you’re asked to keep it confidential, please respect that. My husband and I are generally very open about our experience with pregnancy loss, but there are certain people in my life who we haven’t told for specific reasons. I’m grateful that my family and friends have politely respected my confidentiality and personal business by not telling them.”

When appropriate, help connect them with resources like therapy and community

There are lots of resources to help people who have experienced pregnancy loss to heal and grieve. While the support of friends and loved ones is helpful, sometimes professional support is also appropriate.

Meghan Cassidy (LCSW-C) shares that it’s normal for someone who’s experienced pregnancy loss to remain emotionally affected for some time. But if they express feelings of hopelessness and/or experience a significant disruption to their ability to engage in normal activities for more than a few weeks, it could be very useful to seek out therapeutic support.

Support groups, talk therapy, somatic healing (massage, acupuncture, reiki) can all be beneficial to someone who’s having difficulty after experiencing a loss. If those options are cost-prohibitive, Meghan adds, group therapy can be a more affordable route. Resources like Open Path can also provide access to reduced-cost therapy services.

If it feels complicated to suggest to a loved one that they seek out therapeutic support, here’s Meghan’s advice: “Remind your loved one that therapy wouldn’t be instead of the support you are giving but in addition to it. Assure them that you will continue to be there for them, but that therapy can offer a unique perspective for someone who has experienced pregnancy loss.”

Finding community and talking about the shared experience can also help reduce feelings of isolation. The dedicated (and private) Pregnancy Loss channel in the Modern Community is a great place to connect openly with other people who have experienced pregnancy loss.

Here’s what the Pregnancy Loss channel has meant to members of the Modern Community, in their own words:

Huxley:

Sharing my story in the Pregnancy Loss channel helped me process how I was feeling, and reading other people’s stories in real-time made me feel less alone. It was also helpful to get advice about recalibrating my relationship with my body. It's nice to have a place to go where other people understand what you’re going through, especially for those of us who don't have any friends who’ve experienced pregnancy loss.

Donna:

The stories people share in the Pregnancy Loss channel are a constant reminder to me that I’m not alone on this journey and that there are people out there going through similar losses.

Meagan:

The Pregnancy Loss channel has been so vital these last 6 months because it’s a place where no one is offering unsolicited advice or being emotionally unsupportive. We want each other to succeed, and we want each other to not be sad, but we also know there are days when we’re not going to feel ok. I wouldn’t have gotten through my loss without the friends I’ve made in the Modern Community.

A few final reflections  

If someone in your life opens up about a pregnancy loss, remember that the experience is different for everyone. And, there’s not a perfect method for supporting them through it.

Checking your assumptions, being receptive to their cues and explicit asks, and showing up with gestures of support are all some of the ways you can walk alongside them through grief, or whatever emotions are coming up for them.

When we make room for stories from people who have gone through pregnancy loss, it helps us step more confidently into the roles of supporter and advocate. Together, we all carry some of the weight that moves this conversation out of the shadows. People with ovaries deserve no less.

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Jen Lehr

Jen is a member of Modern Fertility's content team. She's a distance runner, outdoor adventure enthusiast, and humbly claims to have mastered the art and science of snacking.

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