I compiled the following list from a book I read, some things online, and of course my personal experience. If you find it helpful, please take it or copy it or whatever. And please know that I desire for it to be edifying for you. Not just because you know me, but because you may come into contact with others in the future who suffer from losing babies. I pray that this will enable you to interact kindly and compassionately with such families. If you are the one suffering miscarriage (or another form of grief — there are many), please feel free to adapt this to you, your form of coping, your beliefs, your emotions. If you are in contact with someone who has suffered miscarriage, please take this with a grain of salt and simply consider whether these might be helpful guidelines/suggestions when you come into contact with that person. Of course I am not implying that everyone could (or should!) do every one of these things for every person they know who miscarries. Use wisdom. Remember that kindness and loving your neighbor is the point.
Also, please remember what “etiquette” means: “conventions to regulate social behavior.” Etiquette is a form of loving your neighbor, living in a Trinitarian way, putting another’s comfort before your own. When you read the following, don’t assume that I am shouting but simply suggesting. What follows is not universal. But then again, you may be surprised to find out just how common my emotions are. Whatever this means to you, I pray that it would be a blessing to you and somehow spread encouragement to those whose lives are affected by losing babies.
for the “don’t” section below, please think of each one as saying “please consider not doing….”
· Don’t say “it’s God’s will.” Unless you are my pastor and I am seeking specific counseling, please don’t presume to tell me what God wants for me. Many terrible things are God’s will—that doesn’t make them less terrible. Because of God’s love for us, He will turn death around and use it for good, but it is not in itself a blessing.
· Don’t say “it was for the best—there was probably something wrong with your baby.” The fact that something was wrong with the baby—or with me—is what makes me so sad. My baby never even had a chance. Please don’t try to comfort me by pointing that out.
· Don’t say “you can always have another one.” My baby was not disposable. None of my children are disposable. I would have died for this baby, just as you would die for your children.
· Don’t say “be grateful for the children you do have.” If your mother died in a car accident, you would be grieved terribly. The fact that your father may still be alive does not take away the grief over the loss of your mother. Other children do not in any way replace the baby I have lost.
· Don’t say “be thankful you lost the baby before you loved it.” I did love my baby. I still do love my baby. Whether I lost the baby just after finding out he existed in my tummy, or after delivering full-term, my heart would be overflowing with love for this baby.
· Don’t say “be thankful you lost the baby before you knew it.” This is far from comforting to a parent who so desperately wanted to spend years knowing this baby. I ached to know my baby.
· Don’t say “isn’t it time you got over this and moved on?” Being stricken with grief is not enjoyable. I wish this had never happened. But it did, and it is now part of me forever. The grief will ease on its own timeline—not mine, most certainly not yours—but the grief in some capacity will always be part of me. Don’t make me feel like I have to ignore my grief just to make you feel better.
· Don’t say “you’ll get to meet the baby in heaven someday.” As true as I believe this is—and I praise God for it—I honestly wanted this baby to bury me in my old age, not to bury my baby in its infancy.
· Don’t say “I understand how you feel.” Unless you’ve lost a child, you have no idea how I feel. And even if you have lost a child, remember that everyone experiences grief differently.
· Don’t tell me horror stories of your neighbor or cousin or mother who “had it worse.” The last thing I need to hear right now is that it is possible to have this happen six or twelve times, or that I could carry until two days before my due-date and labor 20 hours for a dead baby. These stories are horrifying and frightening; they leave me sleepless and weeping. Happy ending or not, do not share these stories with me. I have had enough grief and terror and weeping of my own.
· Don’t pretend it didn’t happen and don’t change the subject when I bring it up. If I say “before the baby died” or “when I was pregnant” don’t get scared or clam-up. If I am talking about it, it means I want to. I may need to. Let me. Pretending it didn’t happen will only make me feel utterly alone. Pretending my baby didn’t exist is a falsehood and breaks my heart.
· Don’t say “it’s not your fault.” Whether it’s my fault or not doesn’t make a difference. This tiny little person depended on my womb to nourish and care for him, and apparently I couldn’t do it. For whatever reason. I was supposed to care for her for a lifetime, but couldn’t even carry him for nine months. You can not even imagine how angry and confused I am at my body right now.
· Don’t say “well, maybe you shouldn’t have another baby right now anyway” or “you weren’t too sure about having this baby right now.” I feel so guilty for ever having complained about exhaustion or morning sickness or the financial repercussions of another child. I would give anything in the world to be dead tired and puking up a storm right now. I would go into debt ten times to have my baby back in my tummy.
· Don’t say “it will happen when it’s supposed to” or “look on the bright side” or “here, just take my kids” or “kids aren’t all they’re cracked up to be anyway.” This minimizes my grief and mocks my heartache. Scripture says “Whoever sings songs to a heavy heart is like one who takes off a garment on a cold day, and like vinegar on soda” (Proverbs 25:20). It is repulsive.
· Don’t say “maybe you aren’t meant to have more children” or “you can always adopt” or “what about finding a surrogate?” or “you’re still young, you can try again.” These make me realize that you have no comprehension of my pain, no compassion for our loss, and don’t understand the problem. If I had a broken arm, responses like these would be ridiculous. These don’t apply to me. Be sensitive to that.
· Don’t say “there are plenty of people who are happy without kids or with only one kid” or something like that. You have no idea what our hopes and dreams are, where God is leading us as a family, what size family we feel called to, or why we want (more) children. The fact that some people don’t have children has nothing to do with us. Please respect the fact that we want a large family. There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting more kids. And the fact that we’ve had babies die does not in any way indicate that our desires are inappropriate.
· Don’t say “you shouldn’t be angry.” The Bible does not say that anger at injustice is wrong, but that we shouldn’t sin in our anger (Ephesians 4:26). Anger at injustice is a natural stage of the grieving process as a person works out how his or her struggles fit into their relationship with God. I am angry that death is in the world. I am angry that I am a sinner, and therefore am part of the cause of death.
· Don’t constantly remind me that “all things work together for good if you love God.” It is easy enough to quote Romans 8:28 in a trite manner, but remember that Romans 8:26 comes first: “the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” I have never felt weaker than when I lose a baby. And sometimes it is even hard to pray. I am thankful that I have the Holy Spirit. Understand that I am weak and relying wholly on God’s strength. Understand that only the Spirit intercedes for me.
· Don’t say “but you believe in the sovereignty of God.” Yes, I do. I understand that God controls all things. But that does not necessarily imply that death makes me skip around laughing, handing out lollipops to everyone. In God’s sovereignty, resurrection follows death. But it does not mean that death in itself is lovely. Remember what I said to begin with: God allows many terrible things to happen, but that does not mean they are any less terrible.
· Don’t say “oh please don’t cry.” Even Jesus cried when Lazarus was dead. Right before He would raise him up! Let me cry. I need to, more than you can ever imagine.
· Do recognize that I have suffered a death in my family—not a medical condition.
· Do recognize that in addition to the physical aftereffects I may experience, I am going to be grieving for quite some time. Please remember to treat me as you would any person who has endured the tragic death of a loved one.
· Do say “I am so sorry.” Or even “I am so sad for you.” That’s enough. You don’t need to be eloquent. Sometimes what you think may be eloquent or helpful really just digs the wound deeper into my heart.
· Do say “I will pray for you.” But if you say you will, make sure you do.
· Do send flowers or a short note—every acknowledgement like that reminds me that my baby’s life meant something, that my baby was loved.
· Do feel free to offer to bring over a meal or even just a cup of coffee. But don’t be offended if you arrive and I need you to simply drop it off and head home. I might not be able to predict what days will be good and what days will be particularly trying. If I invite you in, please come visit and mourn with me. But if I don’t, please give me a hug, drop off the food, and understand that I will visit with you at some other future time.
· Do refer to my baby as a baby, even use the baby’s name. Please don’t forget that this is a member of our family, not a medical issue that happened on one day. This was a creation who bore the image of our holy God. Do not minimize that.
· Do understand that I may need some time and space. If I don’t respond to phone calls, please don’t resent that. Or if I leave quickly from church. Or if I avoid group activities for a while. Help me by not needing anything from me for a while.
· Do understand if I do not attend baby showers (or similar activities) for a while. And don’t ask why I can’t come. Please don’t take this personally or resent me for it.
· Do be considerate, and don’t share pregnancy or baby news with me until I ask. It’s not that I can’t be happy for anyone else, it’s simply that every smiling, cooing baby or every glowing round new mommy makes me ache so deep in my heart that I can barely keep from exploding. Please help me keep away from temptation, and protect me from news that would simply enhance my heartache.
· Do understand that church is very emotional for me right now. Remember that our belief that we ascend into heaven during our Lord’s Day worship means that only on Sundays at that time does my family ever really sit and fellowship together as a whole. The rest of the week, only a remnant of my family lives together. If I seem extra emotional during worship, it is because of the solemnity, joy, and sorrow involved in actually having my entire family together.
· Do remember that although I may look okay to you—I may even be smiling and tear-free—there is a good chance that I am still barely able to get myself dressed each day and cry myself to sleep every night. It may be weeks or months before I can go a whole hour without thinking about my barren womb or my dead child.
· Do keep in mind that this is the worst thing that has ever happened to me and my family. The word “miscarriage” is small and easy. But my baby’s death is monolithic and devastating. It takes much time to figure out how to live with it. Please bear with me.
· Do remember that all the above applies to me as the mommy but also to my husband as the daddy. Don’t assume that he is peachy-keen, even when he looks it. Please deal kindly and compassionately with him. Many people assume that men are invincible to grief. They are not. Remember what I said about Jesus weeping over death.
· Do remember that even grandparents of the baby—or siblings, depending on how old they are—grieve for the family member they have lost. Be kind, be sensitive, be helpful, be compassionate. Above all, keep in the forefront of your mind that when you speak with someone who has been touched by miscarriage, they have been touched by death.