“How many do you have?”
“Is this your first?”
“Isn’t life such a miracle?”
These are common mom-questions. Clichés even. Which is probably why we don’t stop to consider that they may be incredibly painful for many mothers to answer. How should they respond? “Do you mean how many are living?” or “No, she’s not my first, but my first died before I could meet her,” or “Yes, life is a miracle, I wish it was a guarantee.” No, instead these mothers will probably smile bravely, possibly lie, and move along as quickly as they can. These are the mothers who have suffered miscarriages.
Up to one in five expectant mothers will have a miscarriage. It is incredibly common, but you’d be forgiven for not knowing that, considering many of these women (two-thirds, according to this study) feel like they can’t talk about it. This says more about how our society treats miscarriage then it does about the mothers. So as friends and loved ones, how can we better care for our sisters who have suffered miscarriages?
Give her space to talk about it. For many mothers, miscarriage is a silent grief, but it doesn’t have to be that way. I had a friend in college who lost her dad to cancer, and I distinctly remember her saying, “telling the story is part of grieving.” She said she’d tell it even to people who already knew, just because she needed to speak it out loud. The same is true for any loss – we need to be able to tell the story. Letting your friend know that you are there to listen if she wants to talk, and that you care about the story of her baby, is a wonderful way to support her through this time.
Remind her it is not her fault. Women who have miscarried often blame themselves, thinking through everything they ate or did leading up to the loss and agonizing over how they might have caused it. Miscarriage is common and oftentimes there is no clear answer for why it happens. Remind your friend it is not her fault. Grief is appropriate and good but guilt is not.
Consider giving your friend and her husband a weekend away. Do they have other kids? Offer to take them for the weekend. Would they like to get out of town for awhile? Get together with some of her friends or family and get a nice hotel for them somewhere convenient but removed. This gift affirms the need to grieve, gives the husband and wife some alone time, and gives her body a rest as well as she is recovering.
Affirm her in her motherhood. One friend told me that the first Mother’s Day after her miscarriage, her sister-in-law wrote her an encouraging message. She said the acknowledgement that she was in fact a mother meant the world to her. These women have mothered – they have carried a child in their womb and cared for it, and no matter how long that lasted, they will forever afterward be mothers. This leads into perhaps the least intuitive, yet most world-changing way we can support our sisters who have suffered miscarriage.
Stand in opposition to abortion. Perhaps the great silence surrounding miscarriage stems in part from the fact that we as a society say that it’s ok to take a baby’s life while it’s in the womb. That communicates to mothers that the child in their womb was somehow not the same as the children that have been born – it is somehow less real, less alive, less a person. In many states you can’t even get a death certificate for a child who died before 20 weeks, which is required for a proper burial (since the vast majority of miscarriages happen before this time, this means the vast majority of parents aren’t even given the option of burying their baby). What does this say about the narrative we feed women about the life in their wombs? To have culture telling you it was just a clump of cells completely invalidates the grief mothers feel. Perhaps mothers who have miscarried are understandably afraid to share their grief with a world that would have applauded the exact same death – if only she had wanted it to happen.
A world like this can never truly grieve miscarriage. No wonder these women feel so alone. Standing against abortion is a necessary part of standing up for our sisters who have suffered miscarriage. At the end of the day, the best thing we can do is love the mothers and love the children. All healing has to begin here.