Say the Right Thing

It's hard to know how to help when a friend has a miscarriage or fertility problems, or is going through a divorce. Here are the best ways to tell her you care.

When a Friend Has a Miscarriage

Lisa Bertrand, of St. Louis, felt sad and alone after her pregnancy ended at nine weeks. Her friends and family tried to be supportive, but some of their remarks were piercing and painful. "One friend said, 'The baby must have had a lot of problems,'" she recalls. "To me, it sounded like she was saying, 'It probably wasn't a perfect baby, and so what's there to be so upset about?'" What helped was talking to a friend who cried with Bertrand when she told her the news. "That friend really understood how I felt, and I ended up being the one reassuring her, saying, 'Don't worry; I'll be okay,'" Bertrand said.

No matter how clunky their reaction, most people genuinely want to make a friend who's lost a baby feel better. "Even the most insensitive things that pop out of their mouth are usually motivated by an impulse to make everything okay," says Ann Douglas, author of The Mother of All Pregnancy Books. With a miscarriage, what often gets minimized is the depth of the loss -- or at least that's how it can feel to someone who is hurting. "Even a very early miscarriage is the loss of a baby, and that causes grief," Douglas says. In addition, a woman who loses a pregnancy often feels guilty, as if it's somehow her fault. Friends who don't acknowledge what happened can compound that feeling. "If you aren't sure what to say, just say, 'I'm so sorry,'" suggests Douglas. "It might seem generic, but in most cases, it's the most appropriate thing to tell someone."

Don't say...

  • "It just wasn't meant to be." It's easy to be philosophical when it's not happening to you.
  • "Are you going to try again?" When someone's grieving the loss of an unborn child, she doesn't really want to think about another just yet.
  • "At least you know you can get pregnant!" Right. But she also knows she can lose the baby. Not something she wants to be reminded of.

Do say...

  • "I'm so sorry to hear about what happened."
  • "I'm here if you feel like talking about it."
  • "Can I watch your kids or run errands for you? I'd like to help in any way I can."

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