The ringing phone reverberated through my quiet office. I reached across my desk lazily and picked up the receiver:
“Expectant Heart Pregnancy Resource Center, this is Mary K. How can I help you?”
“Mary K., I…I lost the baby,” With those words my sweet client dissolved into tears on the other end of the phone.
Six months had passed since I opened the doors of Expectant Heart. I did so with the intention of helping women welcome a new baby into their world. Naively, I never considered I might also be called upon to help some of them say goodbye.
I met this particular client a mere two months before when she and her boyfriend came into the center for a free pregnancy test. The baby was never unwanted, but it was unplanned. Over the next few weeks, I had the incredible opportunity to meet with them several times. We worked through how to tell their family about the baby and what immediate and long-term changes they might make to prepare for this new life. They were excited to be parents and instantly in love with their child.
I was heartbroken, crying with my new friend, as she told me about their loss. She asked if I would come by the hospital where they would complete the miscarriage. As I drove to meet them, I panicked about what I would say and wondered how I could be of any comfort to them.
I have never experienced a miscarriage. That is not to say I have not been affected by it. I have a cherished “nibling” (what my family calls the baby, as we don’t know if it is a niece or a nephew) in heaven and I have several dear friends who have walked the long road of infant loss and miscarriage. But I am an outsider to their grief and I struggle to know how best to support the women in my life through this terrible loss.
The sad truth and what we can do about it
With 1 in 4 women (nearly 700,000 a year) having experienced infant loss, this is a very common experience to womanhood. Yet, there is stunningly little support or conversation around it. I dream of a day when this will not be the case.
During my time directing Expectant Heart, I walked with several women through their loss. I learned that while I could not fully relate to their grief, I still had things I could and should offer to my hurting friends. Here is my list of five ways to support your friend through miscarriage or infant loss:
- The ministry of presence: When I visited my friend that evening in the hospital, I was able to communicate to her simply by my presence, that she was not alone. Over the next few months I would meet her for lunch, bring her a coffee, or see if she was up for going on a walk with me. Grief can be isolating and while she did not always feel like talking about her loss, she did mention taking great comfort in my company.
- The gift of silence: For many people, the greatest source of anxiety surrounding grieving friends is not knowing what to say. I have learned a fool-proof solution for that problem: Don’t speak, just listen. Don’t try to fix it. Don’t offer explanations for why it happened. Don’t try to ease their pain with platitudes. Instead, allow them the opportunity to process the grief with you in their own time, in their own words.
- The time to grieve: This is a bit of a trick suggestion because the truth is you never stop grieving a lost child. Yet many women feel there is a time limit on how long they are allowed to publicly mourn. This is even more complicated for women who miscarry a child before they start showing. I would love to see the cultural pressure for these mama’s to “get over it” eradicated. Making that change begins with you and me and how we love our friends. Let’s not place our expectations on someone else’s grief.
- The provision of food: Before walking with my clients and friends, I did not realize the physical process women undergo throughout the miscarriage. It is as physically taxing as it is emotionally draining. The last thing anyone wants to think about in the first days of grief is food. Bringing them a meal or two is a tangible way to be there for them while they recover.
- The commitment to remember: Perhaps one of the most profound ways you can love your friend is by committing to remember their sweet baby. If the child was named, use their name when talking about him or her. On the anniversary of the due date, or the date of the loss, do something to let your friend know you are thinking of them. Write her a note, send flowers or organize a balloon release. Often people fear bringing up the baby because they don’t want to cause their friend any pain. But I promise you, their child is ever before them, and nothing would bring them comfort like knowing they were not alone in remembering their baby.
I invite you to check out our Forever Loved Wall of Remembrance and adding the name of your little one. It’s a great first step to remembering the impact his or her life made in the short time it was here.
If you or a friend have lost an infant at any stage, there are some amazing resources available to you in the East Texas community.
Waiting in Hope / On-going, open support groups / Groups available in Nacogdoches and Tyler
Waiting in Hope (WiH) aims to encourage, support and embrace those struggling through the grief of difficulty conceiving. If you are dealing with infertility, miscarriage, adoption or prolonged “waiting,” then they desire to help you find hope in your waiting. WiH is a non-profit that serves as an infertility resource and community to walk beside you through this tough season that is often filled with more negatives than hope.
For more information, please visit www.waitinginhopeinfertility.com
Grief Share/ On-going, open support groups / Groups available in communities all over East Texas
If you’ve lost a spouse, child, family member, or friend, you’ve probably found there are not many people who understand the deep hurt you feel. This can be a confusing time when you feel isolated and have many questions about things you’ve never faced before. GriefShare groups meet weekly to help you face these challenges and move toward rebuilding your life. Each GriefShare session has three distinct elements: Video seminar with experts, Support group discussion with focus, and Personal study and reflection.
For more information, please visit www.griefshare.org