Opening Up About Miscarriage: How to Care For Couples Who Walk this Road

1mourningIn my last post I mentioned what a shame it is that so little is said in our society regarding miscarriage. It tends to be a taboo subject experienced by so many, but publicly addressed by so few. Why should countless couples cry in silence, not knowing and being strengthened by the many similar stories of their family and friends? In my opinion we need to begin talking with others about these experiences. This silence ought to be broken.

Now, let me be clear. In the first weeks and months following a miscarriage, it makes sense that this grief should be kept relatively private. As my wife and I walked through our three  miscarriages, the last thing we wanted was to be conversing with everyone we knew about this challenge we were facing. I’m sure this would have been emotionally exhausting. You simply don’t want to have to relate on such a deep of a level with anyone other than your closest family and friends. However, I also don’t think it should be kept too private. You do need those few people who will cry and pray with you and extend support in other meaningful ways. Keep it private, but not too private.

However, often as couples progress through the grief with the months turning into years, this topic continues to remain unbreached. Of course every couple has their reasons, but in general I think this is unfortunate. It leads to families being unprepared, blindsided by the trauma, and not recognizing how common miscarriages really are. It also leads to folks having to figure things out for themselves rather than receiving the wisdom of those who have gone before them on this road.

In light of this, I’d like to offer a few of my own thoughts on this issue. By no means am I an expert in this field. I merely speak from our own personal experience of having never met three of our precious babies and journeying through the grief together with my wife.

The following are my thoughts on how to care for and respect couples who are enduring the pain of struggles to bear children.

miscarriageNever, ever ask couples about when they will begin having children.

While it may very well be done in a teasing, lighthearted manner with the intent of camaraderie, this is not helpful. You may have no idea regarding the world of emotion and pain you may be stirring up with a seemingly simple question. I can think of two examples I have experienced.

I remember a friend of mine razzing me about this at a party a couple of years back. While everyone gushed over the new infant another couple was showing off, he turned to me and said, “So Jantzi, when are you guys going to pop one out? It’s about time you get going with the kids!” It just so happened that we had lost our second baby only 4 days prior. He had no idea, and I know he meant well. But, it led to a very awkward situation where I attempted to shrug it off, saying as little as possible as I struggled to keep the tears at bay. Others present who were aware of my situation gracefully redirected the conversation. My friend meant well, but his careless comment only exacerbated the emotions I was already wrestling with. It was a very painful moment.

The second instance was at another get together of friends. A friend of mine was the recipient of a chorus of teasing, centered around the question of when he might begin his own family. “So, how soon are you getting get at ‘er?” someone cried out. Another joked, “Don’t worry, one of these days you’ll figure out how it all works.” A third chimed in, “Just remember, practice makes perfect. You just gotta keep practicing.” I have no idea what this fellow’s situation is, except that he’s now been married for several years. That’s the thing; no one else there knew his situation either. For all they know, this poor guy could have held his sobbing wife in his arms that morning as yet another monthly cycle had come and gone. This quite possibly isn’t the case, but if it were, he had just been on the brunt end of some very cruel and hurtful comments.

In my mind, this is a rule set in stone. Don’t ever, ever give a couple a hard time about when they are going to have kids. Don’t even ask about it. If a couple would like to discuss this, they will initiate the conversation.

Don’t offer cliches or pat answers offering false hope.

I recall shortly after our first miscarriage spending time in prayer with some fine friends. During this time one in particular individual (again, meaning well) declared, “It’ll be okay, I just know that you’re going to get pregnant again real soon.”  This comment was really not helpful. What did it actually mean? How did she know? Why would she say this if she really didn’t know it to be certain? Who’s to say we wouldn’t be joining the long list of those who never would be able to have children. This well-meaning lady simply didn’t know, but felt the need to offer false, baseless encouragement. This was not beneficial, and actually quite discouraging for me in that moment.

Cliches or pat theological responses often minimize the pain of those dealing with a miscarriage or questions about fertility. In an attempt to provide hope, or good advice they tend not to acknowledge the painful struggle that the couple is enduring and the very real feelings of hopelessness that may be being experienced. This tends to compound the sorrow, rather than alleviate it.

Refrain from living out every moment of your pregnancy on Facebook.

HiResWhile you certainly don’t intend harm and are simply celebrating the joy of the little one growing inside of you, you may have no idea the pain you are regularly inflicting on dear friends of yours. This is not to say that you shouldn’t announce and celebrate your pregnancy online. Simply do it in moderation and with consideration of all who may be reading. Overly frequent updates of  how far along you are, each time your baby kicks, or how terrible the morning sickness is probably aren’t necessary. While it is unavoidable that those who have had miscarriages/infertility will experience hurt when observing the joy of others’ pregnancies, it is not fair that they should have to endure this each time they log on to Facebook. Keep this in mind and be considerate.

So what was helpful to us as we walked the road of miscarriages? Here are a few suggestions based on our own experience.

Be a careful, listening and praying presence.

I will always remember and be so thankful for those who accompanied us through these times with compassion. I remember the friend who sat silently with me as I cried while I drove him to school. He just listened and prayed for me. When we arrived he encouraged me to take all the time I needed alone, before coming in to join everyone in class. It was very apparent that he was grieving alongside me. This meant the world.

It was the pastor who took time to listen carefully and opened up about his own similar experiences and counselled me in how to care for my wife well. It was the professor who took time amid his busy schedule to take me aside, genuinely ask how we were holding up and then pray over me.  It was the family members who listened to us cry on the phone as they were also shedding tears on the other end of the line. It was the friends who told us that their small groups, consisting of people we’d never met, were praying for us that God would bless us with the gift of a child. These folks were true blessings from Father God who strengthened and encouraged us through their loving presence.

bigstockphoto_Black_Man_Crying_462128Simple gestures of kindness speak volumes. 

My sister was visiting us in BC at the time of our first miscarriage. She had to take a taxi to catch her flight home because we were at the hospital taking care of matters on that dreadful day. I will always remember the delightful pot of potato soup she had prepared from scratch and left in the refrigerator for us before she left. This simple, kind gesture radiated love when we really needed it.

Another example was the bouquet of flowers sent to our home the following day by the Office of the Provost at my school, Trinity Western University. I had a meeting scheduled with a member of the university administration on the day of our first miscarriage. Needless to say, I was not able to attend that meeting and had called to cancel. In response, the kind gesture of the bouquet was delivered to our home the next day. This spoke volumes. It was little things like this that carried us through. So, if you’re aware of someone walking through miscarriage or infertility, take the time to show love in a gentle and practical way.

Give them space to grieve.

I already mentioned the buddy who was patient as I cried while we drove to school. I did not feel embarrassed crying in his gracious presence. After our first miscarriage my brother and sister-in-law took us out for dinner. As I got all awkward about being emotional while we talked, they simply encouraged me that it was quite okay to cry. I was reminded by them that crying is an essential part of grieving. This was a freeing reminder. As I mentioned before, we had family members who shed tears with us while we talked on the phone. I also had a professor graciously encourage me to ignore some assignment due dates in the days following our second miscarriage. He encouraged me to  take a couple days away from the academic grind. Rather than rush us to get back on our feet again, moving on with life, it was the people who quietly made room for us to grieve that helped us immensely.

So, what do you think? Do you agree with my thoughts? Disagree? Please let us know by posting a comment or two. What have your experiences been? What insight do you have to offer? Leave your comments and join me in doing a little bit to break the silence that surrounds this important issue that affects almost all of us whether directly or indirectly.

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11 Responses to Opening Up About Miscarriage: How to Care For Couples Who Walk this Road

  1. I really enjoyed reading this post. I have learned that the only people who can truly understand what we are going through are the couples who have experienced a miscarriage themselves, but at the same time, our other friends and family dont know what to say to us or how to act around us. I actually started blogging because my husband and I were struggling with infertility. Blogging was a way for my to vent and write down what I was feeling at that very moment. After a few posts, I decided that one day I would go public with my blog for all of my friends and family to read, this way they would know everything that my husband and I were going through. We ended up getting pregnant the same month the doctors told me I dont ovulate and I would have to be put on fertility meds(which was devesating to me) and we ended up losing our baby at 8.5 weeks and I had to have a D & C. I blogged through out this entire process, and eventually shared it the NEXT day on my facebook for all of my friends and family to see. It was a little scary at first, knowing everyone would know my business, but I knew that it would make it easier for my husband and I so we wouldnt have to tell our story over and over again, and people would stop asking when we were going to have children. Going public with my blog and speaking out was the best thing I could have done for my husband and I. The amount of support we recieived from old friends, new friends and strangers was more than we could have ever imagined. I highly recommand anyone going through this type of struggle to speak out. It really makes all the difference! You and your wife will be in my thoughs and prayers!

  2. elskenewman says:

    I think it is hard for people who haven’t been through it to know how devastating it is. I never realised how hard it is to deal with until it happened to me. But it would be good if it was a bit more out in the open so people know how common it is and could therefore keep it in my mind before joking about when couples will have a baby. I wish you the very best of luck.

  3. Mary says:

    Thank-you so much for writing a post about this! I haven’t myself had first hand experience, but it is a very real fear of mine.
    I appreciate your advice about not making frequent updates about your progress on Facebook and social media, for the pain it could bring to others. I know the pain and frustration of people teasing and asking when you’re going to be parents, when you so desperately want to know the answer yourself.

    One of the hardest experiences I have had to date, was, we were trying for a few months, and a couple who are very good friends of ours, decided on a whim to give it a shot one month. First try and Pregnant. I was ecstatic for them of course, it is an exciting time. However, at the same time, I couldn’t help but be a little jealous. We hadn’t been trying long enough to be considered “infertile”, but it still stung. It is an emotional struggle, because you know you shouldn’t be jealous, and God has the plan set out for you already, but once you decide to start trying, you expect/ache for results.

  4. jjstepp says:

    I stumbled across this blog via a friend’s shared Facebook post, and I so appreciate the wisdom and advice offered in this blog post. My husband and I have endured both sides of this–7 years of trying for a baby with monthly heartache, and then miraculously two precious gifts from The Lord, a daughter who is now 6 and a son who is now 3. I remember vividly the hurt, desperation, and what actually felt like persecution as friend after friend bubbled and gushed their announcements of their pregnancies to us, and probably in fairness most of them had no idea of our private struggles. But the Lord’s grace and strength poured over and into us and gave us a special grace to celebrate the work God was doing in others’ lives when His blessing seemed to be withdrawn from us. I am so grateful for that pain now. It taught me a different level of “bearing one another’s burdens” that I would have not known before. It identified me even more with Christ’s suffering. I didn’t like it and it didn’t feel helpful to see others’ Facebook posts or expanding family announcements, but The Lord taught us to not use our pain to squelch the joy of others’ blessings. I just want to encourage my brothers and sisters in the Lord to consider rather than discouraging your friends from sharing their joy with the world, instead consider walking in God’s grace and sovereignty to celebrate the blessings of others’ pregnancies even when it reminds you of your own desert experience. Because all children should be celebrated.

  5. Jessica says:

    Thank you for this beautiful and honest post Ryan. So far I have only had to experience miscarriage as a supporting friend and not from first hand experience. It is true it can be hard to know how to support others in this painful situation well. So I truly appreciate your shared experiences and your advice. I know it has seemed to be meaningful and helpful, like you say, to make room for the grief and even share the grief rather than trying to rush it along or give pat answers. I have been deeply saddened, but also deeply honored to weep with those who weep in these situations.

  6. Kelly says:

    Thank you for your words here Ryan. It’s true that unless you’ve gone through it, you never quite understand the level of devastation that can occur from a miscarriage. When we were in the midst of our years of infertility we experienced more than our share of awkward conversations or moments. Not just from friends but from people who hardly knew us, as well as our church family. I do believe that people simply don’t know what to say and honestly feel they are being supportive or helpful. Too many times to count I would hear “at least you have Travis”. I know these people meant well and were trying to focus on what we’d been blessed with but were ignoring the fact that we had lost a baby. Secondary infertility is sometimes even harder to understand and is filled with all sorts of questions and emotions that many people don’t have to face.
    It’s also important to mention that there will be times when friends or family might say something unrelated that stirs up emotions unexpectedly. I had one time, well after our 5th miscarriage, a pregnant friend of mine was complaining that she couldn’t wait to wear her normal clothes again. This comment was made in a group of people, not directed at me in any way, and she was pregnant with her 3rd child in 4 ½ years. She had no idea how it sounded to me. I hid my feelings but it’s something that I’ve never forgotten. I don’t expect people to think about everything they say and how those words might affect everyone around them in regards to infertility. I mention this only to point out that the pain of miscarriage never goes away and that there will be times when you’re least expecting it that emotions may rise up.
    Infertility is not an easy road but it has helped shape me to who I am and without all that we’d been through we wouldn’t have the 3 little boys we have now. I can’t wait to see what God has in store for them since I had to go through those difficult years in order to get them here.

  7. Pattti says:

    Written from the heart – I have grieved the loss of children from an entirely different issue especially as I am now past the age of bearing children – because of my genetic line and my health issues I did not want to pass on my genetics to my child – it was a tough decision to make – Where I am now I wonder if things would turned out good for a child that Tim and I would have had and at times I regret my decision. I remember when I told my wonderful doctor what was going on she thought I was very caring thinking about the well fare of my children. I had a really close friend come to my home years ago and grill me and quote scripture to me about why Tim and I were not having children – this hurt big time. I love children and shower the love I have to give on my nieces and nephews and who will let me and others children. It brings me such joy.

  8. Ryan,
    Simply, thoughtfully, honestly written! From our experiences (five of them) I/we can relate to the feelings and experiences you have expressed so well. I always found the saddest response was always, “you’re young, next time it will be fine.” A miscarriage is a loss of dreams, of plans, of hope for the future (in the early days), of a life not yet held in your arms. It is a loss shared by so many, and in as many unique ways. It is, like so many other heart breaking experiences in this life we live, something with answers that will only be found once we arrive at heavens gate, and are embraced by our Savior. May the souls that were never held in the arms of Brittany and yourself, be never forgotten, as they have been used to mold and shape you both, as a couple, as parents, and as followers of Christ.
    Carole

  9. joelnmary says:

    Thank you for this wonderful article.
    It has been 28 years since we said good bye yet I remember those weeks as if it only just happened. Yesterday, my husband spoke about the loss of our son as he spoke on Jesus healing the brokenhearted. We have chosen not to be silent about our loss and it has allowed us to speak into the hearts of others who have lost as well.
    We have always believed that every child has a purpose, even those we lose. Being involved in children’s ministry for many years, we told the story of the miscarriage of our son to teach children about heaven. At the moment of our loss, his adventure began. We look forward to meeting him, and also our grandchild, there one day.
    Mary

  10. Lydia says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I always struggle with the question “how many kids do you have?” What do I say? I have four with me, and one with Jesus. That’s usually what I say. The hardest assumption to hear from people was that because I had other children I wouldn’t grieve as much. The truth is that though the others may have distracted me at times from my grief, they didn’t take the grief away. Another assumption that I came across is that being pregnant over the time you would have been due with the baby you lost would make it all better. Well, that’s just not true. You can never replace one person with another.

  11. Pingback: How to Care for Couples Who Walk the Miscarriage Road | itsawonderfilledlife

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