Supporting a Person Through a Miscarriage

Quite early in our infertility journey, I had two early losses, hardly more than late periods.  They were still losses, though, and I did them primarily alone, not even telling my family.  It wasn’t long after that I began to realize I was doing things all wrong.  I was hiding the most painful part of myself and suffering needlessly with a lack of support.  It wasn’t that Tahd wasn’t a good support person; it was that he couldn’t help me alone.  I needed more than he could possibly provide.  Maybe other people are built this way; I am not.  It doesn’t come naturally to me to share my inner thoughts and feelings, but when I don’t I get stuck in self-indulgent patterns of thinking and unhealthy patterns of emotion.

I don’t know as though I could be making it through this experience of loss had I not begun to learn how to open myself up to others through those earlier losses.  I feel like I’ve almost died a thousand times over during the past month.    The pain has felt oppressive at times, and I think the only thing holding me upright has been the love, thoughts, prayer, and care of others.  I know it is hard for them.  I know it is hard to know what to say.  I have seen people – near strangers – cry over our loss.  It’s awkward.  It’s hard.  I know that.

What has helped?  Almost everything.  I wanted to share my thoughts on support in part so I’d remember what I find supportive, but also to share my thoughts on what feels supportive and most helpful.

Without hesitation, we have appreciated the love and care of our family.  My parents literally dropped everything and came running for us in the middle of the night.  They took care of spreading the word on our behalf so we wouldn’t be burdened by people asking how the pregnancy was progressing.  They took Gabe so we could sleep and answered some of his difficult questions.  I can’t begin to say how much they’ve done.  My sisters and their husbands, too.  They all joined us on Mother’s Day, hours after we learned of our loss, and at my request put on happy faces to try to bring some lightness and celebration to the day.  They all took turns with Gabe, took time off work, visited, called to check on us, and went above and beyond to help us feel comforted and settled.  Tahd’s family is at a distance, but they’ve checked in on a regular basis and offered to come up to take Gabe so we could have some time to do things we needed to do (or rest).  Our family is a tremendous blessing to us, and they’ve helped shoulder much of this burden to make our loads lighter.

Aside from the love and involvement of our family, perhaps the most healing thing has been that people from our church and my moms’ groups have been bringing us meals – one daily for 2 weeks.  They began on Monday, the day of my surgery, and continued until we left for vacation, which effectively gave me a 3-week reprieve on cooking, figuring out what to make, and the stress of figuring out what supplies I need to purchase to make our meals.  If I wasn’t hungry I didn’t have to eat – but I also didn’t have to feel like I let Tahd and Gabe down by not caring for their dinner needs.  It wa incredibly helpful, moreso than I imagined it possibly could be.  The meals also serve as a gentle reminder that everyday people were thinking of us, and they brought as much emotional comfort as they brought physical sustenance.

When I posted on Facebook, I received a slew of responses and inbox messages as well as several emails.  I’m still working my way through them, trying to respond to all of them.  People told us how sorry they were, how sad they were for us.  They asked about Gabe.  They asked about surgery.  They told us their own stories of loss.  These are especially comforting to me.  I reread them when I get particularly discouraged, and I can’t count the number of times I’ve caught Tahd logging into my various account to read and reread messages.

Another extremely comforting thing was watching people care for people other than me.  As I mentioned, my parents and siblings have gone above and beyond to care especially for Gabe.  Several people have specifically checked on Tahd and have reached out to him to give him an opportunity to talk if he needs it.  One day, the family who brought a meal to us also brought a meal to my parents.  They know the loss of our baby has been a family affair and my parents can use a bit of a reprieve, too.  Knowing my loved ones are being cared for takes a burden off me.

We received several touching gifts.  One, a sweet figurine with an angel holding a baby, is an incredibly comforting image.  The second is a memory box.  In it was a journal for us to write our memories of the baby, a small notebook for Gabe to write memories, a special envelope in which we could store ultrasound pictures, and things of that nature.  We can also put in the box hospital bracelets, cards, and other mementos of this time, and it has given us a centralized place to stash everything I’m afraid I might lose in the midst of chaos.  The third was a book about grief called Tear Soup.  It is a lovely story about grief and how everyone’s grief is different.  It doesn’t try to fix it or change it or speed the process up – it’s just a story about the realities of grief and has lovely illustrations.  I find it very soothing.

I also deeply appreciate the chance to interact with people.  Several people have dropped into my house, entirely unannounced.  While I would never have thought this would be a welcome interruption to my day, it has been, at least in these early days.  If these people called, I probably would have told them not to come.  Yet when they get here, I find myself hungry for contact and a chance to visit.  These visits have been very appreciated.  I also appreciate that people call me back.  When I get stressed I tend to stop answering my phone.  Several people have called me several times in order to reach me.  They’ve persisted.  I appreciate that they haven’t taken my anxiety and withdrawal personally and have continued to reach out even though I’ve been difficult.  When I do see or talk to people on the phone, I appreciate them asking me how I am.  Invariably I cry when I answer this question, but that’s okay with me, and I appreciate when it’s okay with them.  A simple hug and an “I’m so sorry” is especially comforting at these times.

As for specifics, I appreciate being asked about my surgery, recovery, and what we did with the remains.  Some people seem nervous to ask me specifics (which is understandable), but I really appreciate the permission to talk about these and other things.  There are details that feel overwhelming, but I don’t want to burden other people with them because they’re personal or unusual or border on too-much-information.  Knowing that there are people who will talk about ALL these things with me is encouraging.  I’m the type of person, however, who has a hard time bringing these things up.  So I especially appreciate it when people ask specific questions.

Another very simple thing we’ve appreciated is getting cards in the mail, especially as time has gone on.  People contacted us quickly during the week after we lost Mara, and the first time we went to church people approached us to talk.  However, I know this will stop, probably sooner than later.  Mara is a bigger reality to us than she is to others, and I understand this.  It’s nice, however, to receive the occasional card because it affirms to me that it doesn’t have to be over yet and it’s okay for us to continue grieving.

One thing I did on my own but that someone could do for someone else in a similar situation is to get the book I Will Carry You by Angie Smith.  It is a wonderful book telling the author’s story of losing her daughter, Audrey Caroline, just hours after birth.  Although she and her husband expected her to pass, they hoped and prayed for a miracle they did not receive on this side of Heaven.  For people who are grieving a pregnancy loss or the loss of a child, I think this book is very comforting.  Tahd read it first and enjoyed it, and I started it Tuesday evening and finished it Wednesday night.  I suspect I’ll reread it several times before I feel ready to put it down.

Several of my moms’ group friends have set up play dates with us.  I wasn’t ready right away, but when Tahd went back to work  I knew I’d need distractions.  My friends have generously and flexibly shared their time and families with Gabe and me so we haven’t been alone unless we chose to do so.

Thursday night before our trip my mother took me out for a very special gift.  She actually “gave” it to me after our ivf failed last year, but I didn’t  do anything with it right away.  Her gift was to take me to get my hair done.  This would be a very specific type of gift – most people take better care of their hair than I do and wouldn’t have this same need.  I hadn’t had my hair colored in a year and a half.  Consequently it was 2 different colors.  Also, I hadn’t had it cut – not even a trim – in about a year.  To say it needed a cut is a desperate understatement.  The thing she did that made this gift extra special was that she came with me.  Truthfully, I was scared to go alone.  I didn’t tell her that, but I think she intuitively knew that it would be nice to go together.  It was even nicer that my sister (the one who is local) was able to join us, also.  It was a nice little girls’ night and I came away feeling prettier and cared for.   Of course, someone who takes care of her hair might benefit similarly from a different sort of pampering.  I think any sort of pampering experience can be rejuvenating, and it might be something worth investigating.

There have only been a few things that have been upsetting.  If I were to give suggestions, I would encourage people to avoid these things.  I try to take them in the spirit in which they’re offered, but they still sting.  One person told me God gives us what we need when we need it.  There was much more background to the story, but this was by far not my favorite thing to hear.  Another person attempted to provide an explanation for why our loss needed to happen on Mother’s Day. It wasn’t an unkind explanation, but her rationale was based on her understanding of my reality and wasn’t actually reflective of my reality at all.  A third person attempted to instruct me on how to grieve, specifically in relationship to some things we might want to do once we had the ashes.  I’m sure the person’s heart was in the right place, but when I protested what she was saying and she tried to explain it again, I just shut down.  I think it was more the persistence than the actual suggestion that bothered me, but the actual words used weren’t easy to hear, either.

Also, don’t say what our our emergency room doctor said to us when she  immediately “diagnosed” the situation.  She told us the baby was probably chromosomally abnormal and this was nature’s way of taking care of it.  I actually argued with her.  By 12-13 weeks some pregnancies still miscarry due to chromosomal issues, but statistically most miscarriage is complete by about 10 weeks and later miscarriages are much more likely to be due to other (controllable) issues.  Miscarriage never feels like a good thing.  I don’t care if the baby had three legs, one arm, and half a heart – it was a baby whose mother needed to take care of it – for her benefit, if not for the baby’s.  That a medical professional (who had experienced both infertility and miscarriage) would say something inaccurate and insensitive baffled and irritated me. When we got the results of the genetic testing I wanted to take them back to that hospital and wave them in her face.

The other thing that hurts is when people don’t acknowledge our loss in any way – they act as if life is normal.  There are a few people who haven’t acknowledged our loss with many words.  For example, my brothers-in-law aren’t super chatty people when it comes to “heavy” stuff.  Or my mother talks to me more than my father (although my father has talked to us a fair bit, also).  I don’t find this hurtful at all.  First, I know the men in my life are somewhat less talkative than the women.  Second, my mom and sisters represent their spouses to some degree and I know they carry with them the sentiments of their husbands.  Third, the men have all sacrificed time and energy to care for us and/or Gabe in different ways.  This doesn’t perplex or upset me.  What does perplex me is the people who really haven’t acknowledged it at all.  I assume they don’t say anything because they don’t know what to say.  But part of me is left wondering if they’re judging us or if they think we’re overdramatic or if they think we should buck up and stop being so melancholy.  I try to think the best but sometimes it’s hard not to wonder or feel judged.  Perhaps I should bring it up with them… I don’t know what the right thing to do is.  I just know it feels really awkward and it confuses me.

There is one thing I can say most certainly – it’s that we have been deeply and richly blessed by the support and encouragement we have received.  In the past I’ve shied away from reaching out to others who might be hurting because I haven’t wanted to be a bother.  After this experience and the gratitude I’ve felt at the care we’ve received, I want to be more generous in that regard.  The little things mean so, so much, and I never understood that at a personal level before.

*** I wrote this post several weeks ago.  In that time, people have continued reaching out to us in other ways.  I wanted to publish this anyway, even though we’ve had other very special experiences, gifts and interactions I haven’t mentioned here.  It’s not because they haven’t meant as much – it’s just because they hadn’t happened yet.  To ALL those who have been a part of this journey, thank you!  We love you!

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  1. Ah – so right on. I experienced a lot of what you wrote down. I think this is really helpful for people who have NOT experienced a loss like this to read your post because it helps affirm them for caring and reaching out, even when sometimes they may wonder if it makes a difference. You have such a great way of putting things!
    .-= Emily´s last blog much to say! =-.

  2. This was all so true and so sweet. I am glad that you’ve had the embrace of your family and friends. I am in constant prayers for your healing and peace.

    This one really hit the mark:

    “Miscarriage never feels like a good thing. I don’t care if the baby had three legs, one arm, and half a heart – it was a baby whose mother needed to take care of it” AMEN!

  3. All so true. I’m glad you’ve had so much support, Heidi. It really does make a difference.

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