Help a friend through a pregnancy loss by being there for her through the grief
It was reported this week that Lindsay Lohan had a miscarriage during the filming of her reality television series on OWN that caused her to be absent from the set for two weeks. While the paparazzi saw her behavior as unprofessional & erratic, she admitted that pregnancy loss caused her absence. So not only was she physically sick, but she admitted to be being sad and upset saying that “mentally, that [the miscarriage] messes with you”.
In the practice where I work as a psychotherapist in the Little Five Points area of Atlanta, I have heard from clients that they deal with the grief of pregnancy loss alone thinking that no one will understand, due to the unintentional hurtful things people say, or because no one comes forward to help the person grieving such as with the death of another family member. Why the secrecy and need for women to handle this loss completely alone?
Why the mystery when the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology states that 15-20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage, and this can be a very difficult time for the woman experiencing it. Even with the very best of friends, it is often challenging to know the most appropriate way to comfort a woman who has suffered a loss. Here are some things to remember that can help you give a more supportive shoulder to lean on to a friend who has lost a pregnancy:
1. Treat the miscarriage as you would any other grief experience. The baby and the future the parents dreamed of with that child are gone and this grief must be honored.
2. Do not offer platitudes. Often the phrases that people put forth during a loss are to make them feel better because they are uncomfortable, but they can be unintentionally hurtful.
3. The offer of your time is vital to your friend’s wellbeing. Often loss can be isolating, so knowing that you care enough for her to spend your time is a significant gesture.
4. Society often thinks that ignoring miscarriage helps it not be as upsetting, but not talking about the loss can complicate the grief. When grief is ignored, it often turns into depression or anxiety. Sometimes the aggrieved can turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms which create problems in the future.
5. Communicate with your friend that you are there to listen to her, good and bad. The person who has experienced the miscarriage may need to tell her story over and over again, so listen with attentiveness as many times as she needs.
6. Understand that grief has no time frame and follows no patterns. Reassure your friend that her reactions are normal and that taking a while to find ways to live with the memories and pain associated with the loss is also normal.
7. Specific dates of the loss or expected due dates can often trigger painful responses similar to the original grief. Be prepared for this and be there for your friend.
8. Remember that everyone’s reactions to losses are different. Even if you’ve had a miscarriage, your friend’s grief process might be completely different. Everyone is entitled to their own feelings when it comes to personal loss, so do not compare your losses.
9. A few weeks after the loss, the wave of support will have tapered off. This could increase your friend’s loneliness and isolation, so remember to call and visit often.
10. Offer specific help, such as “Let me hire someone to clean your house”, “I can babysit the toddler”, or “Let me make a meal for your family” instead of saying “Call me if you need me” because someone in intense grief may not be able to tell you what they need.
11. There are support groups, live and online, that can help your friend talk to others that have experienced a similar loss. Café Mom and Daily Strength are two online that can be checked out.
Knowing what to do when a friend has a miscarriage does not have to be a mystery. It seems like a long list, but in listening to your heart it can be easier to know what to do for a dear friend when they have suffered a pregnancy loss. Remember if your friend’s grief symptoms keep her from doing daily activities for more than a couple of weeks or if she is using unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as alcohol or drugs, it might be time to help her find a professional counselor that specializes in grief to get help.