Miscarriage is incredibly common. Among women who know they are pregnant, 10% to 25% will have a miscarriage. But just because it's common, it doesn't mean it's easy to know how to cope when you or a friend experience one.
We talked to Dr. Jessica Zucker, a clinical psychologist specializing in women's reproductive and maternal mental health, author of the bestselling book I Had a Miscarriage and creator of a line of Pregnancy Loss cards and prints about what to say to someone who had a miscarriage.
Dr. Zucker, who herself experienced a life-changing miscarriage at 16 weeks pregnant, wants to make it easier for women who miscarry and their support networks to cope with this intense experience and to find the right words of comfort after a miscarriage.
What should you say when someone has a miscarriage?
Here are 5 phrases to say to a friend who has just had a miscarriage:
1. “I'm so sorry for your loss. I'm here for you."
“If we keep it simple, I think we convey a greater sense of empathy. We leave more room for authentic connection than if we force our own feelings or beliefs on a friend," Dr. Zucker says. Both acknowledging the loss and showing you're here to listen are incredibly supportive ways to show you care.
2. “Remember you are not alone. Be gentle with yourself."
Dr. Zucker reminds us that “Women want to hear basic, simple, loving words." Miscarriage can be such a lonely experience to go through, so reminding them that you are there with them can be incredibly helpful.
3. “I'm thinking of you."
“I send texts to loved ones who have recently experienced pregnancy loss that say, 'You've been in my thoughts—how are you feeling?'" Dr. Zucker tells us. Basic sentiments that convey your care and concern for a friend's well-being can go a long way toward making them feel loved and seen.
“When we just keep it simple, we convey a greater sense of empathy and we leave way more room for true connection."
4. “I love you so much and I imagine you feel [awful] right now, but I just had to remind you of how wonderful I think you are."
Dr. Zucker says, “These messages can provide a life raft. By allowing someone to be where they are—to be in the dark place for a bit, that to me verifies the depth of the friendship—being willing to journey with your friend through it all." Reminding them of your love brings light, even if they're still in the dark.
5. “Grief knows no timeline. Take all the time you need. I want you to know that if you'd like to talk about your loss, anytime, I'm here. I'm here always."
As the months move on, it might be important to check in with your friend to see how she's doing. “It's not about digging or prodding, but instead it's about relaying genuine and consistent loving support," Dr. Zucker tells us.
And that's just a start.
If you're still struggling to find the right words, you want to try to examine your own motivations before you speak, Zucker suggests asking yourself the following: 'What might I want in this situation?'
“The research states that women tend to blame themselves after pregnancy loss, experiencing feelings of guilt and shame. If we assume women are feeling these unfortunate emotions after a loss, then by reminding people how much we love them, we can help to anchor them during this difficult time in their lives."
And just as important as saying the “right things" at this time is avoiding words that perhaps are well-intended, but can be hurtful in the midst of loss.
Here are 5 phrases not to say to a friend who loses a baby via miscarriage:
1. “Look on the bright side."
When people are grieving, it's important and ultimately healing to allow them to stay in their grief. Avoid rushing them through the process to happier times ahead, and instead offer to be with them, sit with them, right where they are.
2. "You must be devastated."
Dr. Zucker says, “When you want to say 'you must be devastated,' in a way you are projecting what you think other people might feel. Instead, listen to where they are and inquire about how [they are] doing." Bring over food and offer a listening ear.
3. “At least you know you can get pregnant."
“Your friend wanted this baby and is mourning this baby, reminds Dr. Zucker. "This statement is often just hurtful. [It] is also short-sighted because we don't know that she can necessarily get pregnant again. It's important to stick with feelings rather than predicting her reproductive future."
4. “I guess it wasn't meant to be/This is God's plan/Everything happens for a reason."
According to Dr. Zucker, “These are some of the frequently-stated platitudes that sting rather than support. They don't accurately address feelings, but rather minimize the complex experience of pregnancy loss."
We cannot assume what someone else's spiritual feelings about loss or death are, so it's best not to make assumptions.
5. “You look amazing—you look like you were never pregnant!"
After pregnancy loss, stay away from complimenting her body, Dr. Zucker urges. “Your friend might think: 'I wish I were pregnant right now so telling me I don't look pregnant doesn't feel good and reminds me I'm no longer pregnant."
The big lesson when supporting a friend through miscarriage
Every woman who goes through pregnancy loss has her own unique experience. Dr. Zucker explains: “One's grieving process might invoke her family history, previous experience of loss, as well as social support and coping skills."
But there are some words that are generally more helpful than others—and there are some words that can unintentionally cause pain even though you might mean well.
Your best bet is to approach your friend with genuine empathy, trying to understand her needs in that moment, and letting her know that you're there for her. And you would do well to remember that she may need support—perhaps even more—as the months go on.
And if you find yourself for some reason unable to say anything to a friend—you can always send one of Dr. Zucker's super-helpful pregnancy loss cards. Sending one can help convey what words cannot.
A version of this article was originally published on January 27, 2020. It has been updated.