Miscarriage: why it's important to break the taboo
How to support a friend after a miscarriage or stillbirth
If a friend or family member suffers a miscarriage or stillbirth, it's natural to want to offer your support. But it can be difficult to know what to do, and what to say. We look at how best to support a friend or loved one who is dealing with baby loss.
This fear of doing or saying the wrong thing can mean that some avoid making contact at all, leaving parents feeling isolated and alone. Reaching out to your loved one can provide comfort as they begin to navigate their loss.
Get in touch
While it might be hard to know the right thing to say after a miscarriage or stillbirth, communication is important. "Communicating in some way is much better than avoiding contact," explains Juliette Ward, midwife at pregnancy charity Tommy's.
"Some people tell themselves that people need time and space to process the loss on their own. But this can leave parents feeling that people don't care."
Juliette advises that the best way forward is to make 'sensitive contact', taking into account the situation and your relationship with them.
"There are lots of ways we can make contact but using methods that don't demand an immediate response from parents can be helpful," she says. "For example, sending a card, voice-note or text might be easier for the recipient than a phone call, as they will be able to respond at a time that feels right for them."
Follow their lead
It can be difficult to know how to talk about a woman's experience of miscarriage or stillbirth - even down to the specific language used. Legally, the word 'stillbirth' is used to describe a baby born after 24 weeks of pregnancy without signs of life; miscarriage is used for any baby born before this time with no signs of life. If a baby is born with signs of life, even before 24 weeks, but dies shortly afterwards, this is classed as a 'neonatal' death. Ectopic pregnancy refers to a pregnancy that occurs outside the womb.
However, these legal terms may not feel right to the women who have experienced loss - they may feel their experience is minimised by the word 'miscarriage' for example. "Those who have lost a baby later in pregnancy may have given birth and seen their baby," explains Valérie Mortin spokesperson for the Association of Child Psychotherapists and psychotherapist at Parent and Child Relationship Services (PAIRS). "Using the word 'miscarriage' to describe the experience may be upsetting."
When it comes to using the right words, Ward advises to "follow the parents' lead, by listening to how the parents describe their baby or their loss and following suit. Don't correct them - they're describing their experience."
Don't minimise the loss
When we see a loved one in emotional pain, it's natural to want to make them feel better. However, it's important not to give in to the temptation to try to soothe the person suffering by trying to find positives.
We should try to accept our limitations in understanding and avoid language that minimises what they've experienced.
"Avoid anything that starts with the words 'at least'," says Ward. "At least it wasn't later, at least you can get pregnant, at least you can have another baby ..." This type of well-meant phrase can be detrimental, making a person feel that their suffering isn't valid.
Offer emotional support
The type of emotional support each person needs after a miscarriage or stillbirth will vary. Some women and/or their partner may want to talk about what happened, including the physical experience of loss. Others may prefer to keep their experiences more private. Whichever they choose, it's important to respect their decision.
"If you feel your loved-one might want to talk, simply offer to listen," says Ward. "Let them know you are someone they can open up to, but don't press for details if they are not forthcoming."
It's also important to be aware of your own limitations. If you've experienced loss, or find it difficult to talk about, it's important to be realistic and open about this.
Offer physical support
When a woman has a healthy baby, people often rush to offer physical support - whether it's help with the cleaning and shopping or taking on some of the tasks of everyday life to enable the new parent to rest.
But those who have suffered loss of a baby may need physical support too. "People sometimes forget the physical aspect of losing a baby. We often focus on the emotional pain that someone is going through. But it's important to remember that miscarriage and stillbirth affect physical health too," explains Ward.
"Offering support with meals, shopping or collecting other children from school are equally important for parents experiencing a loss," she suggests.
"Grief can take up a lot of emotional and mental capacity; we don't always realise that people need physical care, patience and kindness during this time," says Ward.
Be aware of potential triggers
Those who go through the loss of a baby will often find that grief isn't linear. This means that even after some time has passed, certain dates - or even smells and locations - may trigger new feelings of grief.
"There will be anniversaries," explains Mortin. "The due date, or the date a miscarriage occurred, can bring back difficult feelings. Other things - a smell or even a time of year - can trigger the brain unexpectedly."
Of course, it's impossible for anyone to mitigate these experiences for someone else. However, having an awareness that this might occur in future months or even years, can mean we are able to provide additional support when needed.
Professional support services
If your loved one or their partner is struggling to cope after the loss of a baby, you can suggest they reach out to a specialist support service. Support can include counselling services, bereavement care, and community support. You can often access in-person or online support groups and speak to other parents that have experienced pregnancy loss. To find out more, visit: