Miscarriages are such difficult things.
We’ve mentioned before on this blog that in 2015 we suffered the heartbreak of two miscarriages. For us, they represent two precious babies that we never got to meet. Two personalities we never got to know. Two of our children’s lives that were cut too short.
There are so many painful things about miscarriages – to say we had such a sad time doesn’t come close.
And yet through those awful experiences there were numerous signs of the Lord’s kindness as he ministered to us.
One of the chief ways that we saw that was through kind members of our church family seeking to speak words of truth, comfort and gospel-hope to us through our grief. Did they always say the right thing? Definitely not. But their willingness to get alongside us, to share our grief and to seek to point us to our kind and compassionate Saviour in the midst of the darkness was wonderful.
We wanted to write this post to help you to do the same thing. Here are 3 things to avoid and 3 things to consider when speaking to someone who has suffered a miscarriage.
Don’t ask “how far along were you?”
We totally understand why people might ask this question. It has become almost the default question on hearing the news of a miscarraige. It’s true that the further on the pregnancy, the harder it is to physically deal with the effects of miscarriage. The further on the pregnancy, the more opportunity the parents have had to bond with the baby. All that is true.
But here’s the problem. When you say “how far along were you?” the suffering parent might just hear “the miscarriage matters less if it was an early miscarriage.” That’s not what the suffering parent should be made to feel in that moment. You don’t necessarily mean this, and it may well be useful for you to know how far along the pregnancy was, but maybe try to find out from someone else.
Instead, recognise that they’ve lost their baby, whether they were at 6 weeks or 6 months gestation, they’ve lost their baby. Support them through it.
Do demonstrate you care
Instead of the typical “how far along were you” question, perhaps say “I’m so sorry to hear that. Would you like to talk about it?”
This gives them the option to tell you the details should they want to.
We found that sometimes we wanted to talk about the miscarriage and other times we didn’t, and we appreciated it when people respected that. We did want community, but we didn’t always want to talk. One night we went over to a Christian friend’s house and they asked “how are you?” Cathy answered “crap”. So we ate chocolate and watched a film together. These are the same friends who cried and prayed with us when we suspected that Cathy was starting to miscarry, who gospelled us on other occasions, and who asked the question “how can we love you through this?”
When grieving it can be really tempting to withdraw from Christian community, especially if you feel like you will be hit with a sermon and judgment for being sad, so don’t be the bearer of that sermon and judgment! Compassion, gentleness and just being there with them is priceless and in fact, Biblical (check out God’s rebuke of Job’s friends for being heartless to see this).
Don’t suggest blame
A number of well meaning relatives and friends made comments to Cathy after the miscarriages about how physically active she had to be during pregnancy, because she was looking after a toddler. In the second pregnancy a couple of people said “make sure you take it easy this time”.
This time? This time? What, you mean as opposed to last time, where my overexertion made me lose my baby?
That’s what we felt at the time. Now we know the people who said this, and we know that they didn’t mean to hurt with those words. But they did hurt.
There are a number of problems with comments like these.
Firstly, current scientific understanding suggests that there’s no reason to cut down physical activity with pregnancy, as there is no causal link between physical activity and a greater risk of miscarriage. It’s simply not factually correct.
But even if it were, it’s probably not the best thing to say. In the wake of a miscarriage, the last thing a parent in pain needs is to feel guilt for the miscarriage. They do not need to feel like they are somehow to blame for the loss of this precious little life.
Do point them to the only source of lasting comfort
The gospel is good news for everyone in any situation. That’s true for the grieving parent too.
The grieving parent needs to be reminded of the gospel. They need to know…
…that our heavenly father is full of compassion and grace for the broken-hearted
…that God never intended for death to exist but that it came about because of the brokenness of our world.
…that God hears our prayers and our sighs and he collects our tears.
“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.”
Psalm 56:8 (NTL)
…that Jesus wept at the grave of a loved-one.
…that our God became incarnate, and died to kill death once and for all – triumphing over it by his resurrection.
…that one day death will be no more and there will be no more tears, no more heavy-hearts, no more wavering faith and no more unanswered questions.
They need the comfort of the gospel – because they will find no lasting comfort anywhere else.
They need it and one day they will thank you for it.
But be careful in how you communicate it. Certainly don’t try and say it all at once!
When you have your friend’s broken-heart in your hands, treat it with great care. Speak gospel truths carefully, speak them compassionately, speak them prayerfully – lest, instead of gospel truths, your friend hears “you have forgotten important theology, you should be responding better than this” adding guilt to sorrow. They don’t need a theology lesson but in that moment they need to hear about the never-ceasing sympathy and hope of Christ.
If that sounds daunting it needn’t be. We found that we valued people trying to gospel us even if it was a bit clunky or came across a bit insensitive. Attempting to point hurting people to Christ will be greatly appreciated – we found that was a much better option than the alternative, which was people avoiding us because they found it all a bit awkward!
If face-to-face conversation sounds difficult to you then perhaps writing a comforting letter, lending a topical book or sending a Bible passage in a text message would be a realistic option for you? Reaching out to hurting people will bless them and help them feel supported.
“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Don’t assume it’s over and done with
Miscarriage is the death of a loved one.
Yes it’s a loved one who’s been known for a relatively short time. But they are still loved, they are human beings and they are someone’s child.
You see, for that parent, they have dreamed of what that child will be like. They will have started decorating the nursery in their mind. Picking their first outfit. Packing the hospital bag. They will have begun to wonder or maybe even found out whether the child will be their little baby boy or little baby girl. They will have imagined the baby’s personality, hair, fingernails and the sound of their little giggle.
And so, when that life is tragically ended, there is grief.
Grief like that of any person who experiences the sting of death.
There’s grief and sorrow and tears and loneliness and questions and heart-break and disappointment and shock and uncertainty and numbness and… and… and… well how do you even begin to articulate all that emotion to those around you?
It’s the death of a hope, of a life never to be lived, of a dream never to be realised and vitally, of a person. And this is where we need to be clear in a society muddled in confusion about the value of human life and in which babies in the womb are expendable – miscarriage is the loss of a human baby. A person made in the image of God, full of potential. A tiny person who should never have died – because that was not God’s original design for this world.
Don’t be surprised that there’s grief.
And the thing about grief is that it sticks around for a while. The initial tears may dry up, but sorrow is carried around in the heart for a long time after. When the baby’s due date comes round it’s a day of lament; the decision to try for another baby is an exercise of faith in God, of summoning courage and facing fear head on; subsequent pregnancies are tainted with anxiety; and for some there’s a long journey of uncertainty ahead, a journey that may never result in a biological child.
The grieving parents may have stopped crying, they may have stopped talking about the miscarriage, they may even be pregnant again – but don’t assume it’s all over. Because the processing continues, their conversation with their sovereign heavenly Father is ongoing, and quite simply, the painful memory never totally disappears.
Which leads us to the last (and much briefer) pointer…
Do continue to care for them for the long haul
It’s a simple point, but if you don’t assume that the trauma and pain is over because x months have passed or they’re pregnant again, then you will continue to ask “how are you doing?”
This is profoundly helpful, otherwise grieving and hurting people may feel like there is a certain date when they are meant to be “sorted” by. This may lead to isolation and guilt, but the gospel says that we can never exhaust Jesus’ compassion. His mercy and grace are endless, and the gospel says that we surely need it and can access it all the time. What’s more, he’ll never tire of the grieving parent bringing their sorrow to him. So we should model ourselves on him as we seek to support others.
“See, I will create new heavens and a new earth… Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days…”
So there we have it – 3 do’s and 3 don’ts. This was a painful post for us to write, but we hope you found it helpful. Our prayer is that the Lord uses this post to help you as you interact with people around you who are suffering the grief of miscarriage.
Please do share this post if you think others would find it useful.