What To Say When Someone Miscarries

By Gwen Dawkins

It’s peculiar, my memories of the conversation between my friend Regan and I about her miscarriage come to me in both clear and murky waves. I clearly remember waiting for her to bring it up, but the reason why I waited is blurry. My vague recollection is that her husband had confided in me, but believed Regan wouldn’t want to talk about it until she was ready to tell me. I wanted to be empathetic and supportive, but wasn’t sure exactly what I should do, not wanting to push the topic (or my knowledge of it). I have no actual memory of the words we exchanged. The only thing I absolutely recall is that I began to cry and felt embarrassed — why should I be crying? It wasn’t my miscarriage.

Regan and I discussed this scene years later and her perspective was quite different. Somehow, she knew that I knew. And she was dying for me to broach the subject. “I can picture myself sitting with you in the wine bar and kept wondering why you wouldn’t say something. I felt as if I was drowning, but didn’t have the strength to reach my hand out of the water. I needed someone to come get me. In my mind, I was begging, ‘Please ask me.’ I can’t.”

Whew! I felt terrible during the initial conversation and then again later, realizing I should have reached out to provide the support Regan needed. However, I know I’m not alone in my reaction and the story highlights the uncomfortable nature of discussing miscarriage.

As both Regan and I discovered, as a society, we don’t know reaching out is what we’re supposed to do. The loss experience, both heartbreaking and enlightening, spurred Regan to write about it in (Mis)carriage, A Mother’s Story of Why Pregnancy Loss Matters. As the book reflects the all-encompassing emotions of miscarriage: tragedy, grief, isolation, love, connection and hope. There’s beautiful wisdom to gain from this exceptionally honest story. I wanted to revisit the conversation and get a better understanding of what we can all do and say that helps –– and what doesn’t.

You speak candidly about feeling unprepared for the experience. Why do you think your doctor didn’t prepare you for the possibility of miscarriage?

Pregnancy is seen as a time of great joy. When a miscarriage happens, it throws everybody into a tailspin –– even doctors. But the fact is that at least one in four women miscarry. Some studies lean toward 50 percent of pregnancies ending in miscarriage, so we need to be talking about it. 

Why do you think women haven’t traditionally talked about miscarriages? 

Just look at the term, “miscarriage.” It means I did it wrong, I didn’t carry to term. You’re made to feel like a failure. For me, the emotions ran the gamut from feeling like, I failed at carrying; and I’m failing for grieving a loss of what some referred to as a “ball of cells.” And then there was the feeling of being a failure to my husband because I couldn’t give him a child. With time, I felt I was seen as a failure because I couldn’t get over my grief. People want women to just move on quickly.

What were some of the things people said, that didn’t actually help?

First, let me emphasize that I do believe most people really were trying to help. But for me, comments like these were hurtful:

  • Well, at least you got pregnant.
  • I’m sure you’ll get pregnant again.
  • This was nature’s way or God’s plan.
  • There must have been something wrong –– this is probably for the best.
  • Oh, at least it happened early.
  • And worst of all, Why did you tell anybody before you hit your second trimester? You knew there was a risk. It’s your fault for getting invested.

Yikes. I feel like I’ve probably said a couple of those statements in the past. I think, like me, many people feel obligated to say something. 

Interestingly, I found that people reacted in one of two ways: they either wanted to help, but usually didn’t know how, or they dismissed it as just something that happened and have no understanding of why it’s worth talking about.

What were some of the things that people did say or do that helped?

You have to remember that everybody is different. Miscarrying is grief and everybody deals with it their own way. What may be good for one isn’t for another. But based on what I found helpful:

  • Acknowledge what happened and simply ask how somebody is doing.
  • Send a card and flowers.
  • Say, ‘I’m sorry,’ and just hold space for the grief. You don’t have to take action.
  • Realize nobody can fix what happened and you can’t make someone stop grieving. 

What did you learn about humanity because of your miscarriage?

There is so much shared silent suffering. We expect women and families to dismiss that experience. I learned what motherhood truly is. It isn’t that I gave birth to a baby. It’s a whole other experience of love, attachment, and giving of yourself completely.

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  • Reply Kelly A Johnson September 13, 2020 at 6:27 pm

    Loved reading your blog. Also enjoyed reading about you

  • Reply Tricia September 14, 2020 at 3:36 pm

    Thank you Gwen for the wonderful article on (mis)carriage. It is nice to know that we need to approach our dear friends and hold space for the grief. I had eight embryos that did not hold and always wonder what if… Tricia

    • Reply gwendy79 September 18, 2020 at 5:59 pm

      Dear Tricia, Thank you for reaching out. I know where you’re coming from about losing embryos…and the possibilities. I’m grateful I had this uncomfortable conversation with Regan–it changed me.

  • Reply Carol Dawkins September 16, 2020 at 8:14 pm

    Dear #1 loved reading your story. And particularly about yourself. You have only 3 chickens left? Boomer?

    • Reply gwendy79 September 18, 2020 at 6:01 pm

      Hi Mom, thank you! Yes, only three chickens left–due to natural causes. Rest assured, I am still vigilant about sequestering my incompatible animal collection 😂

  • Reply Keri Menacho September 19, 2020 at 7:27 pm

    Gwen, thanks for tackling this often taboo subject. It still stings when I think of all the people who told me “something was probably wrong with that baby, you’re lucky” during both of my miscarriages, one at almost 16 weeks. Let’s hope your story starts a more compassionate dialogue. And your author bio is amazing…will you do mine?

    • Reply gwendy79 September 21, 2020 at 12:12 am

      Keri, Thank you so much for sharing your loss and feelings. I do hope this story creates more dialogue. In the words of Brené Brown, “We run from grief because loss scares us, yet our hearts reach toward grief because the broken parts want to mend.” Thanks for being part of the sisterhood. Thank you also for your kind words about my bio…I’m trying to be funny–but all in truth 😁

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