Wednesday, May 1

What to Say (and NOT Say) to a Friend After a Miscarriage

I typically keep this blog light, but today I'm going deeper. Get comfy, because it's gonna be a long one.

In February my sweet husband and I were overjoyed to find out that after six months of trying to conceive I was pregnant. Four days later I had a miscarriage. It was utterly devastating. In the midst of gut-wrenching emotional and physical pain, God assured me of his love and gave me a peace I'd never known. While I would never be the same, I felt I could talk about my experience openly. One night we were talking with our dear friends Laura and Jason, and she admitted she had no idea what to say to comfort us. They honestly asked what they could say to friends in our situation that would be in any way helpful. It got me thinking. Considering that 10-20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage, most of us will at some point need to comfort a friend after such a loss.

Now that I have that sad paragraph out of the way, here's the happy news: I'm pregnant! We're 8 weeks along and although it's still early we've had great feedback from the doctor. Praise God for new life! Hearing a healthy heartbeat from this little one turned the page on our dark time of mourning and started a time of celebration. I suddenly feel like I've moved on, but before I do, I want to record these thoughts. I'm not a professional counselor, and I can't speak for everyone's grief, but I do hope these words are helpful.

Disclaimer: this post is about encouragement. If you said any of the things I label as unhelpful, please know that you probably weren't the only one and that it's totally fine. Really.

What Not to Say

Don't Tell Horror Stories

For some reason, when people find out that you've had a miscarriage they feel compelled to tell you about their cousin who has had 12 miscarriages. Or their sister-in-law's terrifying D and C. Or their best friend who had a miscarriage and never got pregnant again. Or their coworker who lost a baby in the third trimester. Even worse, these stories are usually told with a subtle tone of "I wonder what's wrong with her?" or "Why won't she just give up?" THIS IS A TERRIBLE IDEA! You might as well whisper in a woman's ear "I know your doctor said you'll probably have no problem carrying healthy babies, but that's not really true." It also made me feel like I shouldn't be that upset since my loss wasn't as great as that of the women in the stories. It minimized my pain.

Don't Compare

Similarly, comparing someone's loss to yours or someone else's is never helpful. Phrases like, "At least you weren't as far along as some women," or "At least you didn't have to have a D and C," or "At least you're young and have plenty of time to try again," are all true and are things that I'm thankful for. But they kind of sound like, "Get over it and move on."

Comparing a miscarriage to the death of a family member isn't really helpful either, since it's so different in nature. It's often private, involves a level of medical uncertainty for the mother, and only allows reflection on what could have been, rather than what was. However, going through the loss of a loved one will prepare you to be an excellent shoulder to cry on.

Also, comparing her feelings to yours of getting left behind by friends who are having babies is not helpful. There was a time when I toyed with the idea of having a baby for fun, wearing yoga pants all day, sharing birth stories at play dates, and shopping at Target when it's not crowded. Then there came a time when I wanted to become a mother and I felt a little weepy every time I started my period or saw that another friend (who wasn't even trying!) was pregnant. Then I had a miscarriage and every time I focused on a happy mom or a healthy pregnant woman I felt nauseated and weak in the knees. It's not bitterness - it's the realization that your body can't provide for you (at least at this moment) what you most desperately want and feel is right. It's not the same as a vague notion of needing to keep up with the Joneses.

Don't Force a Happy Ending

People love a happy ending. And hearing honest answers to questions like, "How are you doing?" can be awkward. Most people want to end a conversation on a positive note, and sometimes nearly force you into agreeing to ridiculously optimistic or artificial sentiments. An example would be, "I'm sure you'll have another baby soon." But you're not really sure of anything, and maybe I'm not ready for that. A few people told me stories of how they got pregnant immediately after a miscarriage and had a healthy baby. I'm so thankful for stories like this, especially since it's turned out to be my story so far. But this was most helpful from people who didn't try to force me into wanting or expecting it. I felt immense pressure to conceive the month after the miscarriage so that I wouldn't be bitter and I'd stop bumming everyone out. Thankfully it worked out that way, but for most people it doesn't.

Every time I talked to a "happy ending" person I wanted to look them square in the eyes and tell them that God did not owe me a baby. Some people receive children as gifts from God and some people never do. None of them have earned it. While the whole world was telling me that everything was going to be okay right away, I was trying to come to grips with the fact that it might not be. And that God would still be loving and sovereign in my pain. God's grace brought me to that point sooner rather than later, and it turned this ugly miscarriage into a beautiful and meaningful experience.

What To Say and Do

Give Hugs and Squeeze Shoulders

Believe it or not, I'm pretty sure I only received three hugs after my miscarriage beside those from my husband (and he gave me lots). It's funny how those hugs stand out to me. They weren't particularly long or planned out or appropriate for the environment. My parents who longed to hug me were 8 hours away and offered to drive here to do so. The women who hugged me gave me quick comfort that no words could bring. If you're only an acquaintance or you or your friend are uncomfortable hugging, try a squeeze on the arm or shoulder. A miscarriage is a physical experience and physical comfort is important.

Give a Card, Gift, or Meal

I received a heartfelt note from one of my coworkers (on behalf of everyone else) and a box of chocolates on the day I came back to work. Having a written expression of sympathy from someone I generally only talk to was special and I keep it nearby to remember that I'm supported there. These gifts served as a reminder that I was cared for after the initial well wishes were over.

For at least a week after the miscarriage we wallowed in food. We kept Zaxbys and Chicfila in business. I didn't do the dishes. I have a feeling Michael did them, but I don't remember. Planning a meal was overwhelming and cooking it was out of the question. Meals are helpful after death and sickness, and a miscarriage is no exception. If you're worried about intruding on a personal time, mention that you'd like to just drop something off or even pick up fast food for them.

Lend a Hand

I was supposed to host a baby shower for a friend the day after the miscarriage. Talk about horrible timing! My friend and neighbor, Brittany,  immediately offered to host the shower, transferred everything from my house to hers, and gave up precious sleep to frost cupcakes and bake biscuits. I really don't know what I would have done if I had needed to play the happy hostess. If you know of a specific need your friend is facing, offer to fill it if possible.

Give Her Space (but not too much)

On the way home from the doctor's office I texted the handful of friends who knew I was pregnant, "I've had a miscarriage. I'm not ready to talk about it." I could barely even talk to my mom. For the rest of the day I withdrew to a place in myself that I'd never been before. My husband was there hurting with me, but we didn't know what to say to each other. I remember sitting on the couch, taking a bath, laying in bed, but feeling like I had no idea what to do next. My phone rang several times and I didn't answer. Late in the evening I suddenly decided I was tired of sitting and crying. I prayed that God would keep me from bitterness and isolation. I called my parents and talked and laughed and cried with them. I talked to Brittany when she stopped by the house. I shifted in and out of sadness for several weeks, but after that first day I was determined to remain part of life. I went to the baby shower the next day and hurt, but was glad to be there.

It's very unlikely that a friend will want to talk to you on the day of her miscarriage. She might spend a week or more in the isolated depths. At some point, she may need you to coax her out. If she's not up for a group gathering, offer to do something one-on-one (dinner, mani-pedi, movie marathon). Text her the funny meme you saw on Pinterest or a recipe you're drooling over. Avoid conversation related to babies unless she brings it up. Ask her how she's doing, then try to get her talking about something you normally would before the miscarriage, unless she wants to seriously share her feelings.

Hurt with Her

The same Laura who told me she didn't know what to say to me said one of the most comforting things. She immediately responded to my text saying that she was hurting and crying with me. It seems weird that that could be a comfort, but it can, especially when you know it's genuine. When emotions are raw and all you're feeling is pain, it's helpful to have that hurt validated by someone else. Don't be overly dramatic (you're feeling pain, but not her pain), but do say that you're hurting with her if it's true.

Let Her Talk

After my friends had offered me condolences I felt weird bringing up the miscarriage, but not weird enough to not do it. I'm a very open person and concealing big life events, whether good or bad, is painful for me. I felt it necessary to refer to the miscarriage as a landmark in my life, because even though it was over, its effects were far reaching. It often wasn't sad conversation, but just something to give context, like "that was before the miscarriage." The event was so present in my mind that it seemed completely natural to bring it up, but this sometimes brought forth looks of horror on the faces of my friends. Every mention of the "M" word does not necessitate sympathy and drama - she's probably just referring to it as the biggest recent event in her life, much like I've done in the past for graduation, moving, and getting married. Smile, nod, and carry on.

Let her talk about being pregnant, even if it was brief. She may not have told a soul about the most exciting news of her life before it crumbled apart. It can seem like a cruel trick to feel so many new things in secret and have them disappear in one day. Let her talk about peeing around the clock, getting dizzy in the shower, and having a weird appetite. It confirms to her that these things really happened.

Laughter is unexpected immediately after hardship, but it's actually a really common and healthy response. It was comforting to laugh with my parents when commiserating about our frustrations with insensitive doctors after the loss of a baby - it highlighted our shared experiences. I remember talking to a friend on the phone and making a lame joke that was met with nothing but somber silence. It's okay to laugh a little. Just avoid cheesy cheerleader mode - the best laughter comes from genuine experiences and isn't forced.

Point Her to the Truth

The most encouraging words I received, not surprisingly, were from my friend Amanda. She's one of my dearest role models as a joyful wife and mother, and she's also suffered from chronic, debilitating pain for the past decade. She has a story that people want to force into a happy ending, and sometimes they tire of hearing about it. She completely understood my fear that I would become bitter and isolated after the miscarriage. She encouraged me by telling me she felt I'd made so much progress in emotional healing and had a healthy attitude. She made it clear that while she sympathized with me, she wouldn't compare her pain to mine (and hers is a pretty big deal). Most importantly, she pointed me to the character of God.

When people don't know what to do with her hardship she explains that she knows two things for certain: God loves her and He is completely in control. These things will always be true for me and they were true for my baby as well. She took the truth that I had sought out from scripture and summarized it in one sentence as a blessed reminder. So many of the thoughts Satan tested me with could be answered by remembering that God is both loving and sovereign at all times. I'm so thankful for these wise words and hope I can share them with someone else in a time of need.

Finally, this passage of scripture was the greatest source of hope for me in times of despair:

But this I call to mind,
    and therefore I have hope:
 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
    “therefore I will hope in him.”
 The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
    to the soul who seeks him.

For the Lord will not
    cast off forever,
 but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion
    according to the abundance of his steadfast love;
 for he does not afflict from his heart
    or grieve the children of men.

Lamentations 3:21-25,31-33

Thank you for reading such a long and tedious post. I hope that these words can be helpful and that through them other women will receive comfort. Have thoughts on the matter? Please leave them below!


  1. So much truth! My heart goes out to yall in the pain and celebration! This is something God has called me to be open about as well, your openness will be an encouragement to so many families!!!

  2. We had a miscarriage before JJ at 10 weeks. I still have the 8 week ultrasound and I look at it from time to time and think I wonder if it was a boy or girl. And I found it somewhat nervewracking to accept that I was pregnant again (with JJ) and everything was going to be ok. Its a rollercoater ride of emotions that yes, nobody really knows what to say. The horror stories of over people's miscarriages were the worst. Trust in God and yes, everything will be ok. So happy for you guys!!!!

  3. Thank you for sharing. I had a miscarriage between Wyatt & Dalton. I too was devastated. I don't know that I could even have articulated these things. I had the miscarriage in July and between that and September I had started getting rid of all my baby stuff. I was never going to get pregnant again, though we weren't practicing prevention. So it was this weird shock, I guess. Especially when I found out I was pregnant again in September. I remember not even believing it and then I thought I had miscarried again. It was a such a difficult time. By the time I had the pregnancy confirmed I was 11 weeks along.

    I love what you shared, even though I am almost 5 years out from the loss, I still think about it too. The best truth is clinging to God and His goodness in the midst of whatever trial. Especially long trials that last and last and maybe always will.

    Thank you for sharing this.

  4. Thanks for sharing! (Funny, Amanda, probably without knowing, was a great comfort to me through our loss too) My sister had a miscarriage a few years ago and found a lot of closure from naming her baby. She chose a unisex name since it was too early to know a sex. And she and I also found it so frustrating when we both got pregnant again and our mom constantly said everything was going to great this time. We don't know, but we DO know that God is in control and His choices are best. I am thankful for His choices even when I dislike them with my finite human mind. "His steadfast love is better than life" Often I remove the word life in that verse and insert the one thing I want most. Obviously because of our loss it is often one of our children's names. I am not assured a lifetime with my children but I am assured a lifetime and beyond with His steadfast love! How amazing is that?!

  5. Angelyn, among your many gifts from God is your ability to express yourself so that all who read are touched and blessed by your words. My prayer for you & Michael is that peace will be in your hearts. We all experience loss from time to time and that common pain is what bonds us. Likewise, the joy that will come with the birth of a precious baby will overwhelm you and we will share that joy with you! In our journey through life by sharing our pain and our joy we connect with each other. Love to you and Michael.

  6. I would like to ask permission to print your story.

    Our MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) group is going to be discussing "Grief & Loss" at the next meeting, I would like to include a section of your post in the newsletter that mothers take home. I would be happy to include a link to the website along with any other information you'd want me to share.

    I look forward to hearing from you.

    Best Regards,
    Morgan Mann

    1. Hi Morgan,
      I would be honored for you to share as much as you like of the post. What a great topic for a moms' group!