I wrote a post a few months ago lamenting the trials and tribulations of trying/not trying for a baby and the emotional rollercoaster of taking a pregnancy test. In that instance the test result was negative and with that came a whole world of mixed feelings. I thought carefully before sharing something so personal and even consulted a few of my closest friends about it’s appropriateness. Their main concern was that it might leave me open to well-meant enquiries about us ‘trying’, something we spent the first few years after the birth of our first child politely brushing off, until enough time had passed that people gave up asking. However, I wanted to talk about the push and pull between our hearts and minds when it comes to said ‘baby-making’, selfishly in the hopes that even just one reader would relate and remind me I wasn’t crazy, but also that it might be of value to anyone in a similar situation, to remember we are not alone.
A close friend shared with me around the same time that she had miscarried in the early weeks. This is a friend I would literally take a bullet for, so my instinct was naturally to try and take away her pain as quickly as humanly possible. We live on opposite sides of the world, so all communication is written. Looking back I have to admit I am embarrassed by how clumsy I was at times, frantically trying to slap a Band-Aid over a heart that was exploding. Having never experienced a loss myself, I tried to say the right thing, to empathise when at best I could only sympathise – and believe me, she wasn’t looking for pity. So I stumbled along with platitudes and soundbites I had heard others use, such as, ‘maybe nature was looking out for you both, for the best’, or worse…’it’s rare to know you’re pregnant at that stage’…as if THAT makes any difference, right? In my defence, and that of many people blindly navigating the pain of others, my heart was in the right place, I was in protection mode and I wanted to somehow quell the emotional storm that rumbled beneath the surface and to ‘fix things’ …in 200 characters or less… nailing it in a buddhist quote perhaps. But the truth is, there is no fixing, there is only feeling and at whatever stage post conception, loss is loss, and it hurts…as another close friend shared with me recently, ‘There are no ‘well at least’s, only sadness, and an ‘I’m sorry’, a cuddle and an offer of help is everything.’
Not long after, things were somewhat out of kilter in my own cycle. I had an unusually short period just after my post about the negative test result, but despite other symptoms to the contrary I had concluded in my mind that there was no baby. It was our first ‘try-not-try’ in years, and though our daughter was a one-hit-wonder, what would the chances be of lightning striking twice?! Then things just went completely haywire for the first time ever. As I’d done a test and appeared to be experiencing more ‘cycles’, not less, I didn’t let it cross my mind that anything could be connected to a pregnancy. Until yet another unexpected bleed occurred and I decided to pop to the Dr for a chat and a check up. We pieced together various events, symptoms and timelines and despite the early negative test she concluded I’d had a miscarriage – in the early weeks. Now, I’m a strong believer in fate – as I said our daughter was a first try. A one-hit-wonder in a bold move that I otherwise would have rationalised myself out of trying again for a few years. So I strongly believe an alignment was at play there. I’m also very stoic. I believe our bodies are incredible, and for whatever reason mine decided against following through this time and I trust it knew best. But, what took me by surprise, was that in spite of a very strong belief that it wasn’t meant to be, I grieved deeply and privately. And even though it was early on, my body struggled to find a natural rhythm for months, leaving me discombobulated and nervous. I found it hard to balance the need to talk about what had happened and was happening and how it had thrown me for a complete loop mentally and physically, with the feeling that perhaps I would seem like I was ‘overreacting’….was I? I didn’t know, I just felt a deep, dark sadness, as if I was sinking to the bottom of the ocean. The last time I had gone that far down was after losing my mum, so I recognised the journey. But I wanted to know if what was happening to my body was normal? To talk to those who had experienced it about just how bloody weird it was. But how does one drop that into a conversation? Not only is this something we still rarely feel comfortable discussing in detail, the fact that we don’t tend to talk about it leaves one sensitive to and at risk of unknowingly opening old wounds for others too. So we stay quiet.
I have thought many times when working on posts for this site of an interview Australian model Megan Gale gave to InStyle magazine about her experience of miscarriage and the challenges women face around the constant questions regarding conception and pregnancy plans. Megan posted film clips to her Instagram (links to which can be found at the end of this post) of her sharing her incredibly private story for the first time. She did so to highlight the need for sensitivity when enquiring about people’s intentions to conceive, because however well intended, it’s an incredibly personal and at times deeply painful topic. Fielding the well-meant ‘and when can we expect number 2?’ questions from friends and family is one thing, but Megan is a public figure with an open and generous personality and so also has strangers asking about their plans frequently. Most painfully, within 48 hours after she miscarried, she was asked 3 times when she was planning to give her son River a brother or sister. I admired Megan’s bravery in publically discussing her own struggles and her willingness to share them in the service of others, in the hopes of opening up conversations. I have often recalled it when I’m having second thoughts about sharing personal stories here. Back then I related to the experience of the curiosity of others and how difficult that can be to navigate. Now I’m revisiting her interview and understanding her perspective in a new way and value even more her sharing. Some of us need to talk, not all of us, and that’s ok too, but sometimes it helps just to read or to listen to someone who has been there. It can help to remind us, especially as we sit down there in the darkness, that we are not alone and that one day we will rise back to the surface and the light.
With all this in mind and based on the experiences of close friends, as well as my own – from both sides of the conversation – below are a few things we all thought it might help to consider when talking about loss…at any stage.
Things To Try
Two simple words go a very long way…’I’m sorry’. I have a tendency to want to fill the awkwardness with words, but sometimes less really is more.
Asking if they would like to talk about it. Odds are if they are sharing the news they are ready to talk, but letting them set the tone and pace of the conversation is good.
Offer help. Whether it’s taking the kids for an afternoon or dropping off dinner, or going out to see a movie, small gestures can make a huge difference when someone is struggling.
Suggest meeting for a walk. Getting out into nature does wonders for our mental health, but sometimes we need a gentle nudge and a friend to get us out there.
Don’t forget Dad. Yes, physically and emotionally we ladies go through the experience in a totally unique way, but, the loss is shared. It can be even harder for the guys to open up about these things, they don’t want to ‘make it about us’ or appear unsupportive, so ask after them, and if it’s appropriate check in with them too if you can. If you know other male (or female) friends close to them it could be worth suggesting they are brought into the loop and that perhaps they could grab a coffee?
Check back in. In the early days/weeks following a loss people may have a lot of support, but as time moves on it’s easy to think they have too…acknowledge what has happened and ask how they are coping. This may feel awkward, but offering up the opportunity to talk can mean the world, especially as they work through the stages of grief.
If you are aware of the baby’s original due date, or the day they were lost, send a simple message on that day to let the person know you are thinking of them and that you are there if they want to talk.
Things To Avoid
Downplaying the situation: You may well be trying to reduce their suffering (as I was), but if they are sharing it, it is because it was a significant experience and they don’t want to sweep it under the rug, they need to talk, so just listen.
Avoid launching into a story about how your hairdresser’s sister-in-law had a terrible experience. There will always be someone who has a worse story, but that won’t make this experience feel any less awful and may in turn make them feel like their story isn’t worthy of discussing. It can also add to any anxiety they may have about trying again.
Don’t ask for details. It may have been enough of a leap for them to say the words out loud, without having to relive the details. If they want to share they will, but let that happen organically. Asking if they would like to talk about it is a great way to let them know you are there for them, but without putting them in an awkward position.
Shutting down the conversation with phrases such as ‘it was probably for the best’ or ‘it’s so common’…while they may be true, you can bet they have been telling themselves these things over and over already, and that does little to reduce the pain and disappointment.
Sharing the news. This is their story to tell, should they wish to tell it. You may well be part of a group of friends, but for whatever reason, if they haven’t chosen to pass the news on, they certainly won’t appreciate you doing it. If you are seriously concerned, suggest your friends check in on them, as you would under any circumstances, but leave the rest to them.
Don’t assume everything’s fine. Checking in isn’t prying. If a friend has shared their experience it’s ok to ask how they are doing and to remind them you are there if they feel like talking. They may well be fine, or they may be putting a brave face on it. Either way, don’t assume all is fine. Just ask the question and let them take it from there.
In general we all should think twice before asking someone what their conception plans are. You never know what they may have been through or are going through. It likely comes from a good place, but you could unintentionally be doing more harm than good.
I managed to find my way back up to the surface and while I’m still pretty hesitant about the future, I’m grateful to those few people that I let in and who helped to lift me back up. The first friend I told was the one who had miscarried and together we talked through our experiences in ways no one else could have understood better in that moment…thankfully she knows me well enough by now to have forgiven my earlier clumsiness.
Miscarriage is a topic many struggle to address, I certainly did before my own experience, but the more open we can be to sharing our stories and listening to those of others, the less alone I hope we will feel. So to those having gone through or currently going through a loss; I’m sorry, I’m sending you a virtual cuddle and if I can help in any way to lift you back up to the surface and the light, I am here.
Do you have any stories or advice you would like to share with us or our TWF community? Even if you feel like a chat, we’re all ears, no stupid platitudes we promise. If so we’d love to hear from you, either in the comments below, in an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via our Facebook or Instagram
Links as promised below:
My previous post: Trying Times: The Pregnancy Test
Links to Megan’s posts below: