Baby showers, mothers day, and family gatherings should all be happy occasions. However, for many, these events and holidays can be emotionally draining. A month ago, we joined in the 60th wedding anniversary of my husband's grandparents. It was great to see cousins playing and catching up with aunts and uncles. At the end of the family event, copies of a beautiful watercolor painted by Harlen's cousin were handed out that depicted everyone in the family. As I held the incredible painting in my hand, I was filled with emotion as I looked at the spot where my husband, daughter, and I were positioned. I felt pain as I sincerely wished my angel babies were there with us in the painting. I fought back the tears, as I didn't want to make a fuss. While no one knew what I was feeling at that moment, I wanted to turn to an understanding friend for support.
The Key to Connection - Vulnerability
Being a supportive friend usually begins before a crisis ever happens. Many women who experience pregnancy loss don't feel they can share their experience and may not tell anyone what they are experiencing. One way to help your friends be able to share their personal and intimate feelings regarding their miscarriage or stillbirth is first to be a vulnerable friend. But during the crisis of pregnancy loss is not generally the time to do so.
I realize vulnerability usually has a negative connotation, so let me explain what I mean. What I mean by being a vulnerable friend is to be authentic as you share your hardships and experiences. We live in a culture where we show our "spotless house" and well-behaved children on social media and give the impression that nothing bad or wrong ever happens. However, almost everyone craves a deeper connection to those around us. I believe vulnerability is the key to developing stronger relationships and supportive friendships regardless of how we keep the house or raise our kids.
My husband is not a person who shares his feelings. As I've been on my healing journey from pregnancy loss, I found it challenging to share my feelings with someone who doesn't reciprocate their vulnerability. That's not to say he wasn't supportive in other ways. Going through these experiences, I craved someone to share with whom to share my unguarded feelings, but I didn't feel that I had a deep enough connection with most friends in my circles to open up. Sharing personal feelings is hard for both sides. When we brave being vulnerable, we can all find the deeper connection we crave.
Listen with Your Heart
As I experienced my miscarriage, many friends and family offered a listening ear if I wanted to talk. So I know most people acknowledge listening as an essential tool to help the grieving process. So I don't want to focus on lending an ear. Instead, I wish to share some ideas on engaging with your grieving friend and listening with your heart.
As I mentioned about being vulnerable, sharing about pregnancy loss is very personal. One way to provide an opportunity for your friend to talk is to invite them to do something together, ideally, away from the couch and distractions. Friends are not therapists, so go to lunch, go for a walk, plan a craft, go shopping, or whatever your friend likes to do.
As you engage in an activity, your friend won't feel that they are under a microscope, so they will likely feel more comfortable talking. Most importantly, be sensitive in how you respond.
Sometimes phrases we think offer comfort cause more profound hurt. Following my ectopic pregnancy, I was very angry with God and questioned his existence, so when friends said, "it's part of God's plan," I didn't feel validated in what I was going through.
If you feel inclined to start a phrase with "at least, " I suggest you pause. Going through my miscarriage, I heard phrases such as, "at least you still have Hazel" or "at least it was early." While I knew they were only trying to offer comfort, I felt my baby wasn't valued. No matter if the pregnancy loss was early or late, I had hopes, dreams, and plans with my baby as part of my family. I wanted Hazel to be a big sister, and the reminder that she lost this dream with me stung each time.
There is probably a crazy long list of things best avoided. So I won't list them here. However, a quick google search will give you many ideas of phrases to avoid or better things to say instead. If you can't think of anything else to say, let them know you are praying for them. I find comfort in knowing extra prayers are offered on my behalf.
Everyone will experience grief differently and in their way. One way to be supportive is to validate your friend's suffering and feelings. Validating them may look different for everyone, so as I previously mentioned, listening to what your friend is going through and supporting them is essential.
As I was going through my miscarriage, I experienced an emotional trigger every time I saw my knitting, which was the beginnings of a baby blanket. So I found it easier to put it away in the guest room and not look at it. However, I have a friend who found it healing to complete the blanket she had started for her baby. Both responses are normal. If someone pushed me towards finishing my baby blanket or discouraged my friend from finishing her blanket, our feelings would have been invalidated. What was right for me was different than what was suitable for my friend.
Some people may do or say things out of character while grieving. While we may not always agree with their choices, we can validate their process of healing just by not overreacting. As I questioned my belief in God following my ectopic pregnancy, I often wondered what would have happened if I had stopped attending church. There were indeed days when I wanted just to quit. Would my friends and family still support me? I may never know the answer since I never acted on it, but it is certainly something that was out of character for me.
What do cocomelon, strawberries, and ultrasounds have in common? Well, for me, they are all emotional triggers from pregnancy loss. Emotional triggers are complicated because you may not always know what they are. However, I don't think your friend would find it offensive if you ask if they have any emotional triggers following their loss. Some triggers are short-lived, and others last longer.
For me, the cocomelon show for kids has a hamster named Jellybean, the same nickname I gave my baby before I knew it was ectopic. My daughter Hazel loved watching the show, and I would cry every time the hamster song came on. Time has healed this trigger, but I still think about my baby whenever I hear the music.
When we told Hazel, she would be a big sister. We said the baby was the size of a strawberry. She kept telling people that the baby was the size of a strawberry. Only a few weeks later, we discovered that Baby Strawberry no longer had a heartbeat.
Due to the unexpected nature of not finding a heartbeat on ultrasound during our missed miscarriage, I have a lot of anxiety when it comes time for ultrasounds during my current pregnancy, even when I have no reason to suspect anything would be wrong.
You may find it helpful to talk to your grieving friend to know if there are any emotional triggers they would like you to avoid or when they may need extra support. Be understanding if your friend doesn't attend your baby shower or a family event, as it can be emotionally triggering. As I shared in my introduction, not all triggers are recurring; they may happen out of the blue. But you can still be a supportive friend if they need to vent about the experience.
Support After the Loss - Anniversaries
Some may think that grieving is short-lived. Grieving is never done. Yes, the grief may get easier, but we will always carry a part of the loss in our hearts. Part of my grieving process has involved remembering my babies on important dates. For me, this includes the dates of their loss and expected due dates. Sometimes I'll do a special social media post to honor their memory or find something to do that will hold significant meaning. Most people are unaware that these dates have any particular significance.
On the expected due date following my ectopic pregnancy, I published a poem I wrote on social media and purchased a willow tree angel figurine. I was wearing teal mascara the day I went to the ER. So on the first anniversary of my loss, I wore teal mascara and thought to myself, "TEAL we meet again." Then on the first anniversary of my expected due date, I took a trip to the butterfly exhibit at the Tennessee aquarium because butterflies symbolize pregnancy loss.
On my expected due date for Baby Strawberry, I took my daughter, Hazel, on a date to the cheesecake factory for a strawberry dessert and then to the mall to shop for strawberry/berry soaps. I picked buying soap because you hold it in your hand briefly before the water rushes it away. Much like my pregnancy was rushed away from me before I could do anything to stop it. While approaching the Bath and Body Works store, an employee noted my rainbow baby's newly forming baby bump. I wanted to tell them that this trip was in memory of my other baby.
If you know any of these dates for your grieving friend, you may want to see if they would like to do something special or send them a text to let them know you are thinking of them and their baby.
Thank you, Keegan, for letting me share these five tips for supporting your friend going through a miscarriage.
I hope this post has given some insight into how you can help your grieving friend as they go through a miscarriage or pregnancy loss.
Supporting your friends begins long before anything traumatic happens by sharing the vulnerable imperfect part of yourself to build connections and deeper relationships. While going through the loss, listen with empathy and validate the feelings of your grieving friend. Take note of emotional triggers and find ways to help support your friend. Most importantly, remember that grieving takes time, and your friend will need support even after the trauma has passed. Knowing important events and dates can help you know when your friend may want a little extra love and support.
Please visit Keegan's post on my blog, where he shares tips on opening up to family and friends about infertility. He also includes some great resources for supporting someone going through infertility.
Please comment below if you want to hear more tips for supporting friends going through infertility or pregnancy loss. Or, if you have experienced a pregnancy loss, please share what you wish people would have done to help you!