Experiencing pregnancy loss can be devastating to the person going through it. Many people who have experienced loss, regardless of how long they carried, may feel this as the loss of an infant. They may feel a sense of fear or anxiety about what this loss means for them and their ability to get pregnant (read more about fertility after pregnancy loss in the dedicated section here). The hope and excitement they felt around the prospect of having a baby might feel shattered. And they may be angry at their body for not allowing them to carry a baby that their heart may have so greatly desired.
In addition to the emotional toll of pregnancy loss, they are also experiencing physiological and physical changes, such as a sudden drop in hormones that can impact their emotional state, layered on top of the different emotions and grief they may be feeling (learn more about physical recovery and emotional recovery after loss). It is an incredible mix of challenging experiences for someone to go through.
As a supporter, it can be hard to be a bystander to pain and grieving, and you may feel helpless as to what to do or say. Oftentimes when someone near us is in pain, we want to take that pain away, so we might be inclined to express sentiments similar to "it is going to be ok, you'll have another baby". But for this experience, it’s important to acknowledge their current grief and feelings — all of which need to be felt and heard. At such a tender time, the wrong words can feel severe — that is why we’ve compiled this guide to help navigate conversations with someone who is experiencing or has experienced pregnancy loss. Many of these suggestions were sourced from members of the Bodily community who experienced pregnancy loss and have been there.
What should I know before I start talking?
Try to understand their experience
Awareness of what they are going through is key—if you don’t have a full understanding of what pregnancy loss means, read up on it here. In times like these, simple statements that show your love, concern, and care are really all that’s necessary. What’s most helpful is knowing that you are there to show up for them, to help validate their feelings, and acknowledge the difficult moment that they are in, free of judgement and expectation. Empathy, connection, and permission are the keys to effectively supporting someone experiencing pregnancy loss. Think about how they must be feeling, meet them on that emotional plane, and give them permission to feel their feelings, express their emotions, and ask for what they need.
Choose your words carefully
Remember to pause. Consider what you want to say, and then maybe cast that aside, and think again. Decide what you are hoping to get out of the conversation or interaction. Do you want to comfort them? Help them forget about what is happening? Let them know that you are there for them? Once you pinpoint the outcome that you intend, craft a statement around that, choosing your words carefully so that your true intentions are immediately heard.
Use simple, concrete statements
Simple, concrete statements like “I’m sorry that this happened. I know it’s really hard.” are more helpful to hear than what you think they may want you to say or a complicated explanation of how you feel about their situation. Remembering that it’s not about you is really important here.
Offer clear support
Depending on your relationship and how intimate it is, offering clear support with direction of your intentions instead of open-ended “how can I help” can be really helpful. Let them know you’d like to take them out to dinner, help with childcare if that applies, or offer to be a distraction or a listening ear—the key is to not put the responsibility on them to ask for something. Offer help in a clear, accessible way and allow them to accept or come back to you at a later time.
What are some helpful things to say?
Looking for specific words or phrases to help? We asked the Bodily community to share what was helpful to them.
- “How can I support you right now?”
- “What do you need from me?”
- “Take the time you need to grieve.”
- “I may not understand your pain, but I’m here to hold your hand.”
- “Make sure that you feel through these emotions, and know that you don’t have to do that alone.”
- “It’s not your fault.”
What should I not say?
While your intentions may be in the right place, there are statements or sentiments about pregnancy loss that may seem helpful but can have the opposite effect. Stay away from any future-oriented and ‘at least’ talk. In uncomfortable situations, it’s natural to want to skip over the discomfort of the present and focus on the future, where promise lies, but for someone who is grieving or experiencing intense sadness or pain, jumping ahead isn’t helpful. Remember that your discomfort isn’t the point here—their comfort is.
Don’t assume you know what they’ll want or plan to do. Saying something like “will you try again?” is probing into their personal space at a time when it should be protected. Even if you’d typically talk about their plans, now is not the time.
Examples of What Not To Say
- “Everything happens for a reason.”
- “It wasn’t meant to be.”
- “At least you know you can get pregnant.”
- “Don’t worry. Everything is going to be okay.”
- “Your time will come soon.”
- “There wasn’t really a baby yet, right?”
- “Well, the silver lining is that it happened so early.”
It may be really hard to find the right words
You may feel a lot of pressure to say the right thing—that’s normal! If you are really struggling with your words, be honest. It’s ok to say “I know I may not know what to say, but I want you to know that I really care about you and I’m trying to be here for you”. Being transparent can actually help them be more honest with you about how they are doing or what they need.
Look to your relationship with them to set the tone. If it’s typically lighthearted and full of jokes and laughs, it’s ok to let them know that you’re willing to go do something silly with them to help be a distraction. Be yourself and keep your tone in line with your typical rapport—it will go far in helping them feel comfortable and help to normalize their experience if it’s treated in the same way as other parts of life.
Be there for them where they are
Their current headspace is the one you want to connect to. Being empathetic to the way they are feeling right now is what will help the most. If words fail you, just being present can be enough—sitting in silence can be more helpful than you think.
Explore our hub on pregnancy loss here.