Supporting someone through a pregnancy loss isn’t an easy task. Here, psychologist Bethany Howsley details the most hurtful things you can say, and the most meaningful things you should say to them.
Losing a baby is a traumatic experience for a woman and her partner, often resulting in feelings of isolation, guilt, shame, self-blame and helplessness.
In addition to the complications of dealing with such a traumatic loss, many people find it a difficult subject to talk about, with most considering it a taboo subject worldwide.
What’s more, it can be a difficult subject for a person to respond to, with many people not understanding or knowing what to say to someone who has suffered a pregnancy loss. From a range of clichés to statements that mitigate what’s happened, Lysn psychologist Bethany Howsley details six things to NEVER say to someone in that situation – and what you should be saying to them instead.
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What not to say to someone who has suffered pregnancy loss
1. ‘At least you can get pregnant’
It’s true that for some women, getting pregnant isn’t easy. However, saying statements like this lacks sensitivity and can mitigate the grief that person is going through. Receiving a response like this could feel dismissive and insensitive.
2. ‘You can always try again’
Again, this statement could be considered a little dismissive and mitigates what the person has gone through.
3. ‘Is this your first?’
This response insinuates two things: either that if it’s their first then they can try again (see above) or if it’s not their first child then ‘at least they have other children’, which brings me to my next point.
4. ‘At least you have other children’
Every child is special and losing one can leave long term effects on a person. In fact, one in six women who lose a baby in early pregnancy experiences long-term symptoms of post-traumatic stress, long after the event happened. Saying ‘at least you have other children’ can be considered insensitive and dismissive.
5. ‘Everything happens for a reason’
It can sometimes be uncomfortable to be present during someone else’s pain and saying ‘everything happens for a reason’ is often a natural human response. However, it’s a pretty clichéd response and often not what someone wants to hear in their grief.
6. ‘It wasn’t meant to be’
This kind of comment is very similar to the ‘everything happens for a reason’. Although well intentioned, it can feel a little like a blanket response or a cliché. It’s important to remember that everyone’s journey and emotional experience is different and thus, it’s better to focus your energy on hearing the person’s experience rather than trying to make them feel better.
What to say to someone who has suffered pregnancy loss
1. Just listen
Sometimes what we need to practice most is simply listening and being physically there and present for someone who is suffering. It can be refreshing to just have someone to talk to, without fear of judgement or of being given advice.
2. ‘I’m so sorry’
Offering a sincere ‘I’m so sorry’ doesn’t necessarily lessen the pain, however it does provide a person comfort. It shows you have acknowledged their loss and are sympathetic towards what they are experiencing.
3. ‘You are not alone’
For someone suffering an insurmountable amount of pain and grief, knowing they are not alone can be powerful. Encourage them to talk to other women who have experienced pregnancy loss or to join a support group.
4. ‘I’m here if you want to talk’
This statement gives a person the opportunity to grieve on their own timeline, knowing that you are there for them when they need it.
5. ‘Is there anything I can do for you?’
This is a more practical response that shows you care and have acknowledged that they might be struggling for a while. Offering to do their groceries or make some meals for them can be an unspoken gesture of immense support.
6. ‘Your grief matters’
When a person is suffering, it can sometimes feel like society wants us to pick up and keep moving, without having the time to properly grieve. Acknowledging to a person that their grief matters can be incredibly reassuring.
Bethany Howsley is a clinical psychologist from Lysn. Lysn is a digital mental health company with world class wellbeing technology which helps people find their best-fit professional psychologist whilst being able to access online tools to improve their mental health.