what not to say to a grieving mother


there are millions of ladies around the world who know the sorrow and heartbreak of losing a child. some have experienced it once, others more times than they even care to voice. for me, it’s been a road I’ve walked (and am currently walking through) five times now. it’s a time of sorrow like no other. the grief doesn’t end, you just somehow find a way to work through the pain so you cry less often.

now I’m not saying its the worst situation I could ever face- I’m sure losing my husband and friends in a house fire while I ran out to buy more beer would bring a different level of grief and sorrow. while the reality is that situations always could be worse it’s helpful to know how to walk through this one. I’m hoping this post helps two groups of folks… those who have or are experiencing a miscarriage and those who are our friends and don’t know how to help.

through my five times walking this road some things have remained the same… some kind & loving friend says something that causes you to fall apart. or sometimes acquaintances or strangers make comments that can be very hurtful. or sometimes no one acknowledges your loss and you are left to grieve in solitude. not all of these comments are bad or wrong things to say, but as one who has heard them time and time again, not everyone uses discretion about what to say.

I’m not meaning this list to be rude or offensive and if you have said one of those things to me recently don’t assume I am upset at you. I’m just merely trying to express my heart and how some of these things come across to a bereaved mother.

1. “at least you got pregnant so you know you can get pregnant again.”

note: it’s not pregnancy I have a problem with… it’s a healthy baby cooking for a healthy 9 months. I’m not interested in seeing two pink lines only to miscarry again. please keep in mind that pregnancy for a woman who has lost every child is not an exciting thrilling time – it is terrifying, heart wrenching and terribly hard.

do I want to bear a biological child? of course I do. but I have no guarantee that I will be alive tomorrow… why would I find hope in the fact that I got pregnant once? many women suffer with secondary infertility… getting pregnant again is no guarantee.

2. wow, you’ve miscarried a lot? how many is it now?

note: right now i’m grieving for this baby. while its true I have lost multiple children, my heart grieves for the loss of this sweet baby. if you care, I’d love to tell you some of my hopes and dreams we had for her. I would love to share why we chose the name we did for her. we didn’t lose a number. we lost a life. I’d love to tell you what I learned in her short life as my child.

3. is it you or your husband? maybe you should get tested. I’m sure the doctors could fix you.

note: we already have. sometimes tests come back normal and still things don’t work out. I’m sure you can imagine how frustrating that would be.

4. see? it always happens once you relax then you just magically get pregnant. I told you this would happen!

note: damaged Fallopian tubes and chromosomal abnormalities and low hormone levels have nothing to do with the level of stress in our lives. and stress has nothing to do with our ability to conceive, bear and give birth to a health baby. there are stressed mamas all over the world who can prove this point wrong.

right now especially an “I told you so” is not at all helpful. what’s your point? do you want me to say thank you? or “yes, you were right.”? does that make you feel better? the reality is my baby is dead and you finding encouragement in this failed pregnancy just confuses me.

5. it always happens …. once you decide to adopt… voila! baby on board!

note: my husband’s and my desire to adopt started long before our diagnosis with infertility and will continue after this miscarriage just like it continued after our others. we long for our family to contain all genders, ages and races.

if it was that easy then the first route a fertility specialist would take would be to introduce a barren couple to a scared pregnant 15 year old girl. just because you’ve heard a story doesn’t make it the norm.

6. have you tried chiropractic/ voodoo/ my psychic/ this magic juice from my secret company / this supplement / said this prayer / etc? I swear it’s the only reason I have my sweet (insert child’s name here). he is such a miracle and if I hadn’t eaten one horse tail and one frog’s eye every day I swear I would have miscarried too.

I’m glad that worked for you. again, if it was that fail proof I’m sure everyone would be doing it. but thanks for the suggestion.

7. I understand exactly how you feel.

note: that’s impossible. you’ve never been exactly in my shoes. and honestly I’m not interested in you knowing exactly how I feel. what I’d prefer is a friend who will just listen and mourn and cry with me. even if you have 12 children, you might be the best friend to comfort me through this heartache. don’t try to “one up” my sorrow. just help me carry it.

8. did you remember to take your prenatal/ DHEA/ eat right/ not push yourself/ get plenty of sleep/ drink plenty of water/ etc?

note: after the fact is not the time to introduce thoughts of what I should have done differently. I already feel guilty that my body is broken to the point where it can’t keep a child alive. don’t make my grief worse by feeling like I caused this. I wake up every morning feeling responsible for the death of my child. help me work through that guilt and keep reminding me that it wasn’t my fault.

9. just remember all things work for good; that God gives us the desires of our hearts; that nothing bad happens to us without God ordaining it: that children are a blessing from the Lord; that our adopted child is out there waiting and maybe God let us miscarry so we can find him/ her home.

note: those thoughts just make me angry right now. can you instead just pray that God would show his love to me and replace this view I have of an angry God who planned for and let 5 of my babies die. would you just pray for peace and endurance as my body is about to experience the unthinkable one more time?

even if all these things are true right now is not the best time to give me the best spiritual one liner you can think of. if truth is not wrapped in love it is nothing. please remember my heart through this, think through what you say and help me connect those dots… don’t just tell me truth and feel like the words alone are a happy pill.

i think the biggest encouragement i can offer is this: please don’t try to fix it, just love me and help me through this.

there is nothing that can bring my sweet babies back to me. knowing you can’t fix what’s broken please stop trying. it gets really annoying. you can’t truly understand the heartache i feel, but you can love me. what I need more than the situation being fixed is dear friends who are willing to get dirty down here in the pit with me…to cry with me… carry me if needed, make me smile and help me realize that life goes on. it’s a life forever changed so it will look different but it does go on…


4 responses »

  1. Thank you for this post Emily. I lost twin girls about a month ago. The grief is hard enough without insensitive comments from family and friends most of who are Christians. I’ve been inundated by these from barely a week after my loss. I recognise that it’s an uncomfortable situation for most people who have not had the experience of loss, but some things are just so cruel I can’t find any justification for them. May I add to the list above some ” what not to says” from my experience:
    1. You were not physically or spiritually prepared for the pregnancy
    2. You need to stop the pity party, you need to stop crying and move on
    3. You need to let go so that we can all move on
    4. Don’t build a monument on this situation
    5. What if they had been born deformed or disabled, you should be thankful
    6. They were not children anyway, they were not fully formed
    7. What if they’d died when they were older, how do you expect the woman who’s 17yr old died to react when you react like this
    8. Your grieving is offensive to God and shows a lack of faith
    9. There’s no reason to mourn so please stop that
    10. Afterall X, y and z also lost babies in pregnancy, accepted it as God’s will and quickly moved on. Why won’t you?
    11. God knows you can handle this challenge that’s why He gave you. This is your ministry
    12. God is testing your faith, your tears mean you love your babies more than God. Learn from Job
    13. You know there are people in your family against your marriage and progress. This may not be unconnected to their animosity toward you and yours
    14. You were just unlucky
    15. At least you wouldn’t have to deal with the pregnancy related sickness anymore

    These are actual comments and 1-13 were made by Christians. With the exception of a couple of Christian friends, I have since stopped receiving calls from others and find comfort in the listening ears offered by compassionate groups like SANDS and the Samaritans.

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