May Wee, 40, is a grateful mother. Nor has she any regrets even though she had to give up a high-flying career as a marketing communications director in a financial services firm a year ago when her son Tolly came along. Indeed, after going through two agonising miscarriages, Wee treasures every single minute of being a stay-at-home-mum.
While both experiences took an emotional and physical toll on her, a strong support system helped her deal with the devastating losses. What she wasn’t prepared for were the less-than-supportive comments that came her way. Wee recalls, “The most useless one was when a relative came to visit and talked about how she and her husband went through a voluntary abortion when they were younger… I really didn’t need to hear that.”
As many as one in four pregnancies end in a miscarriage, according to Hope Xchange a US-based organisation that supports those coping with miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant death. It may be fairly common, but pregnancy loss is still very much taboo topic in our society and many people are ill-equipped to support someone who has experienced it.
Notes marriage and family therapist Anoushka Beh, “Women who feel very isolated in their experience and internalise a lot of self-blame around the miscarriage tend to struggle a lot more with the loss than women who have a lot of social support.”
So, the way you react to your friend or relative’s miscarriage news can go a long way in helping them heal. If you just can’t seem to find the right words, start with these statements.
“Women may sometimes feel like they’ve let their partners down, or somehow failed ‘as a woman’ if they have a miscarriage.”
1) “It’s not your fault.”
These are four of the most important words a woman who has lost a baby needs to hear. “Women may sometimes feel like they’ve let their partners down, or somehow failed ‘as a woman’ if they have a miscarriage,” Beh says. “It is not uncommon for her to experience a whole host of emotions, including anger, sadness, guilt, shame and disappointment in herself.” At this point, what they need to hear is that they aren’t to blame for what happened or that they couldn’t have done anything to prevent it.
SmartParents expert Dr Christopher Chong, a gynaecologist who practises at Chris Chong Women & Urogynae Clinic at Gleneagles Medical Centre, helps his patients work through the guilt by using medical facts to back up what he says. “I tell them it may well be nature's way of not letting what is not good enough to progress, rather than letting it progress to an abnormal child and suffering.”
2) “It’s okay to be sad.”
Whether you miscarried at six weeks or 16 weeks, it was a huge loss, nor does it mean that you grieve any less if there isn’t a physical body to mourn over. Her family and friends will also need to be more understanding as they should anticipate that the woman’s moods might fluctuate more than usual. “These feelings are usually underpinned by the body’s physical and hormonal changes that a woman will undergo after the miscarriage, which can influence mood and emotional regulation,” Beh points out. The best thing you can do is to provide her with the space in which she feels free to share her experience, so that you support her feelings.
Click here for more helpful things to say after a miscarriage
3) “I’m so sorry for your loss.”
This simple acknowledgement can do a tremendous amount of healing. “I remember after telling a friend that I miscarried my first pregnancy, she said, ‘it’s pretty common,’” says Janice Singh, 34, mum to Diya, 2. “ I think she was trying to lighten the blow, but all I needed to hear were some words of sympathy…something as simple as ‘I’m sorry’ would have sufficed.” Helping a woman connect with and work through her feelings can stabilise and restore her, Beh points out. “This will help her feel more aware of what has happened, the impact it has had and make her feel more grounded in terms of her decisions and experiences moving forward, especially if she chooses to try for another baby.”
4) “Don’t be in a hurry to feel better.”
We can expect a woman to set aside some time to mourn her loss. However, to help her cope with the grief, some well-meaning friends and relatives might then encourage her to start trying for another baby as soon as possible. Beh says a firm “NO” to this tactic. She explains, “The experience of a miscarriage differs amongst women and there are a whole host of factors that effect this.
Even if she loses the baby really early, some women may still feel that they are grieving the loss of their hopes, especially where their pregnancy might have led to and the baby that they had envisioned for the future.” As time does heal all wounds, all the woman ― and her husband who has lost a baby he never connected with ― needs to hear is, “take your time to get over it”.
5) “How can I help?”
Simple nurturing acts of kindness can also go a long way. Cook her favourite dishes, take her out for a walk or a coffee, or just allow her to rant over multiple WhatsApp messages and reply with kind, encouraging words. Don’t make assumptions as to what she needs, asking her what you can do for her exactly is more helpful.
“Sometimes, having space to not talk about it and the permission to experience life again doing something fun with a good friend can also be very healing,” Beh suggests. Other times, your grieving friend or relative might refuse any help and you shouldn’t take it personally. As she’s riding an emotional roller-coaster, you just have to be patient.
“Time heals all wounds, so all the woman – and he husband who has lost a baby he never connected with – needs to hear is, “take your time to get over it”.
(6) “You don’t have to keep grieving in order to stay faithful to your baby.”
Because there’s no other way to keep the foetus’ memory alive, some women tend to stay connected with the pain. And if they forget to feel sad for just a minute, they are overwhelmed with guilt. This constant connection with the loss can deter a woman from gaining closure and moving on.
What your bereaved friend or relative needs to hear is that moving on doesn’t necessarily mean forgetting about the baby that was never meant to be. There are several ways to keep its memory alive, such as scrapbooking the ultrasound pictures, making a donation to a charity organisation under the baby’s name (if they named it), or even holding a memorial service with just a few close friends and family.
"When she works through her feelings, the woman integrates the experience into her 'story', which will help stop the common trigger of vulnerable emotions around her miscarriage experience," explains Beh. "So that, in time, she will be able to feel happy for her friend who has conceived, instead struggling to celebrate the news or experiencing feelings of grief."