What’s the best way to support someone after pregnancy loss? Here’s what you told us ABC Health & Wellbeing
It’s remarkably common, and yet barely spoken about.
Up to one in four pregnancies in Australia end in miscarriage.
But an unwritten social rule that says we should keep pregnancy news quiet (at least for the first 12 weeks) means that many women and couples are left to grieve privately, sometimes without the support they need.
When miscarriage does happen, it can be difficult to know what to say or do, or how to help those affected in the days and weeks afterwards.
So we asked women: what do you wish people had said or done to help you feel supported after pregnancy loss?
Here’s what they had to say.
For many women, it was important they had an opportunity to talk about their experience of pregnancy loss, and acknowledge the very real grief they felt.
“I think one of the most helpful things is to hear somebody say ‘I’m sorry’ and to show genuine sympathy. Just to say, ‘Would you like to talk about it?’ would go such a long way.” — Leanne
“One thing my brother said to me was, ‘It’s not fair’. And that’s exactly how I felt: it’s just not fair. Why does everyone else get to have a baby but not me? When they explain the birds and the bees to you, they never tell you about this stuff — the anticipation, the stress and the secret grief.” — Allison
Many women said it helped when the people around them acknowledged the life of their baby or the fact that they had experienced a miscarriage.
“My friend bought me a book on coping with miscarriage and when she gave it to me, she said my miscarriage had really affected her, and she wanted me to know that she would never forget it. That really made me feel that my baby’s life had left an imprint, and had an impact, and that my baby’s life mattered.” — Lea
“The best thing someone did for me was when they named my baby, when they used his name. It was the best gift … It meant that other people were thinking of him as well, and that he meant something to other people. It just validated that he was here, he was alive, and he impacted other people, not just us.” — Jess
Lots of women told us that the worst thing to say to someone experiencing pregnancy loss is to say nothing at all.
“Don’t be afraid to talk to people going through loss … They’re not looking at you to make them feel better. They’re just looking for some support and love, and to know they’re not alone.” — Jess
Many women also said that some of the most common responses to miscarriage, while well intentioned, often left them feeling worse.
This included comments such as “everything happens for a reason”, “it probably wasn’t meant to be”, “now you know you can get pregnant”, and “it happens all the time”.
“When people said that, what I heard was: it’s nothing, your baby is nothing, what you’re feeling is nothing, and your baby doesn’t matter.” — Lea
“It made me feel as though I was wrong in actually grieving. I didn’t know anyone that had miscarried before, so I really didn’t know that I was allowed to grieve, and I was allowed to cry.” — Lindy
When it comes to pregnancy loss, there is no wrong or right way to grieve, and for everyone, the experience is different.
“Don’t underestimate the grief that you are feeling, or allow society to minimise your loss. And seek support: talking to someone, particularly someone with a shared experience, can be so helpful.” — Lea
“I wish everyone who is going through miscarriage knows that it’s OK to love that baby, and to remember that baby, and to name that baby. That baby is still part of them.” — Erin
“Long after you have deleted all your pregnancy apps, you’ll continue to receive advertisements and marketing materials that are tailored to pregnancy and birth. Go and google some other stuff to change that search engine, whether that be gardening items, holidays, or funny cat videos.” — Leigh
“I try to encourage people to be more open with their story so that other people can feel invited to be open with theirs. I wish people talked about it more, so that we sort of knew what to expect.” — Vanessa
Jade Bilardi from the Melbourne Sexual Health Centre is currently undertaking research into people’s experience of miscarriage in a bid to improve support for women, men and families affected by pregnancy loss.
She says the silence around miscarriage in the wider community — and the pressure to keep quiet in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy — means a lot of women are left feeling isolated following a pregnancy loss.
“Of the women we interviewed, they all spoke about the fact that they felt quite alone when they experienced miscarriage, often because nobody knew they were pregnant,” she said.
Dr Bilardi said many women felt that the people around them didn’t understand their experience of miscarriage and struggled to empathise with them and support them.
“They wanted to be asked how they were coping, and they wanted to be listened to in a non-judgemental way.”
Dr Bilardi said her work with men whose partners had experienced miscarriage showed that men were also seeking similar types of acknowledgement and support.
“A lot of men felt their role was being the support person to their partners … but they talked about the need to also share their experience,” she said.
“They needed to be acknowledged for their grief and loss as a father. And a lot of dads spoke about the fact that most information and support is directed at women.”
Dr Bilardi added that there are some practical ways for people to support those around them experiencing pregnancy loss.
“Some people really appreciated others giving them meals or even flowers, just to acknowledge that loss,” she said.
“Offers of childcare and little things that people did to help out gave them the space they needed to grieve.
“This was the way they could help, just in the same way as if they had experienced any other loss or death.”
If you’ve been through pregnancy loss and need support, pregnancy support counselling is available through Medicare. It covers up to three 30 minute sessions with a psychologist, social worker or mental health nurse — you just need a referral from your GP.
SANDs provides support, information and education to anyone affected by the death of a baby before, during or shortly after birth, and can be contacted on 1300 072 637.Leave a reply