There’s a phenomenon that surrounds difficult life situations. It’s called People Unintentionally Saying Really Dumb Shit.
It’s not their fault. We’re not properly socialized to know how to talk about difficult life situations.
Like pregnancy loss.
My husband and I found out at the 8-week ultrasound that our pregnancy might be in jeopardy. A miscarriage was confirmed a week later. Two weeks after, following a lot of anxiety, agonizing, and feeling like a walking mausoleum, I had a D&C. There were no physical signs. No cramping. No bleeding. My body hadn’t caught up with the fact that this just wasn’t going to happen.
And well-intentioned people kept saying the wrong things. It’s not their fault. See above, re: not properly socialized to talk about it.
If it helps (hopefully it helps, a little bit), here are my Completely Unscientific, Unresearched, From-Personal-Experience-Only Tips on Communicating With Someone Going Through A Pregnancy Loss.
(Disclaimer: Not all these things were actually said to me. Some were. Others are conjecture based on what people have said to me.)
1) “It’s so common,” is not helpful.
Up to 25 percent of all recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage – higher if you’re older than 35. So, not a statistical anomaly.
When you’re going through it, though, it’s not common. It’s terrifying and lonely, and statistics don’t help.
You know what else is really common? Birth. It’s estimated that there are 250 people born every minute. But when’s the last time your friend had a baby and you said, “I know you think this is a big deal, but people have babies ALL THE TIME.” Hmmm?
2) Some medical words are annoying as hell.
Actress Melissa Rauch of “The Big Bang Theory” published a moving article in Glamour reflecting on her pregnancy and previous miscarriage. In it, she refers to “miscarriage” as “one of the worst, most blame-inducing medical words ever.” The medical term that really galled me was the one used in the “we might have a problem” stage: “Threatened abortion.”
Frankly, that terminology felt a little too fucking aggressive for my taste, like I was being accused of brandishing a coat hanger in the general direction of my lady business. I know it’s the medical term for pregnancy loss, and I support a woman’s right to choose, but most of us associate that word with a decision. This was not my decision.
3) Don’t say it’s “just” anything
There’s enough hooha out there telling women to not temper their speech with “just,” so don’t try to temper my loss with your “justs,” either. To me and my husband, the pregnancy wasn’t a mass of cells. Didn’t matter that it was early, had no viability outside my body, or that it looked, at best, vaguely like a tadpole. It was our baby.
I’m not telling anyone else how they need to feel about their early term pregnancy (#liberalguilt #letscallaspadeaspadeshallwe?). I’m telling you how I felt, and how other women who have chosen to be pregnant, and have perhaps worked to get pregnant, might feel.
“It’s just an embryo” feels a lot like “it doesn’t count.” It does.
4) To healthcare providers: Don’t jump the gun.
At that first appointment, we heard, “We aren’t going to schedule a D&C right now,” like it was outlandishly optimistic, and “It’s a grieving process” before confirming there was anything to grieve. We were told if there wasn’t progress, we’d “make plans to evacuate the uterus.” If you have a biopsy, does the doctor say, “If it’s malignant, we’ll make plans to cut things off,” or does he generally wait for the result?
I didn’t want false hope, but the whole vibe was a little pessimistic.
5) Your adorable Instagram posts sting
It’s been hard for me to feel very happy for others lately. In recent weeks, I’ve unfollowed friends who are pregnant/have new babies, and even canceled a visit to meet a close friend’s newborn.
I feel bad about some of it, but right now every baby is a gut-punch.
Look, I’m not telling you to not share your proud parent pictures or your pregnancy updates, but if there’s a friend who isn’t able to adequately celebrate your happiness, don’t take it personally. We’ll be delighted for you, when we’re ready.
6) Don’t ask the questions we’re already asking ourselves (and our doctors)
I’m 37, a.k.a. “elderly” or “geriatric, ”even “senile” in pregnancy terms. Yes, seriously, and yes, I know. I have agonized over this (and many other factors, real and imaginary), but when someone else asks about them, it just feels shitty. Like do you think you’re coming up with a possible reason that hasn’t been considered?
Or has anyone actually manufactured a Benjamin Button pill? “Elderly primagravida” aside, I would very much like to have my 20-year-old body back. I was cute when I was 20.
7) The God thing
I’m sure when you invoke the Lord, your intentions are good. But plenty of people have an “It’s Complicated” relationship status with the Almighty. Someone going through miscarriage might be feeling some anger or disconnect in a heavenly direction. So, unless you are being consulted as a spiritual leader, at least wait for that person to bring up God.
And before you ask, no, posting a daily Bible quote on Instagram does not make you a spiritual leader. I know. I know.
8) “This is why people wait to tell until after the first trimester is over.”
We’re not “supposed to” tell anyone we’re pregnant early on, “just in case.” Then if “just in case” happens, it’s kind of a clusterfuck.
You want to not keep everything bottled up, maybe even get some support, but if you haven’t revealed that you were pregnant, it can feel strange to reveal that you lost the baby. I’ve asked myself what I’m “trying to accomplish” by sharing my miscarriage, or if I’m “just making people feel bad.” And no offense, but why do I need to care about that right now?
“This is why people wait” feels a lot like: Miscarriage …
9) “Move on.”
The day-to-day is a little easier now. I’m not thinking about it every minute. But I’m still sad every day. My mind marks time by what should be happening, and by the plans I had. Too many things cause twinges of pain: A pregnant stranger, a diaper commercial, the copy of “Pat the Bunny” my mother bought after we told her she was going to be a grandmother.
So don’t tell me to “move on” or “get over it” or “let it go.” I’ll move on when I’m ready.
10) Bonus, because 10 is a nice, round number
In general, don’t ask a stranger about her pregnancy unless you actually see the baby crowning, or unless she’s wearing a T-shirt that says, “I’m Knocked Up!” I cannot believe it is 2017, and people still need reminding of that, but they do. Look, if you ask a non-pregnant person about a pregnancy, at best you’re calling her fat. Most women are not fans of this. At worst, you’re rubbing salt in an open wound. I got asked about my pregnancy a month after miscarrying, and I hadn’t started showing, so that was doubly awesome.
I wish I could say more of what would be helpful to hear. Express your sympathy. Reign in the advice or questions. If you’ve been there, and you’re okay talking about it, that can help. I’m massively grateful to my sister-in-law for telling me about her experience.
It’s okay to admit that you don’t know the right way to handle yourself. I had only told a few people that I was pregnant, and when I let one of those friends know about the loss, she said, “This is new territory for me, and I want to respect your privacy, but I’m here if you need anything.” That was good.
Beyond that, I honest to God don’t know.
The hope, however, is that from now on, if you are speaking to someone who lost a pregnancy, and you find yourself thinking any of the stuff contained herein, you’ll go, “Nope. I read that blog. That is not helpful.”
And then you’ll say … I don’t know, probably some other Really Dumb Shit.
Like I said, we’re not properly socialized to talk about it.
(What, did you think I was going to impart some sort of grand wisdom?)