“So, how are you doing?” I ask my friend, who has just suffered a late first-trimester loss. She stiffens for a moment then lets out a deep sigh. “I’m really tired of people telling me ‘it just wasn’t meant to be,’” she says.
I have been there. I heard those words so often after my own loss that I started peering into people’s bookshelves for some kind of how-to book on talking to your fertility-challenged friend.
When you suffer a loss, everyone wants to rush you into a place of acceptance so you can just “move on.” As if grief is something you can simply fast-forward. Four years later, I still pause on the anniversary of my D&C to remember. I think about the life that could have been, even as I watch my two daughters play together.
Since she lost her second pregnancy at 11 weeks, my friend and I go for a weekly walk together. I don’t ask if she needs it, or if she wants to talk. Sometimes we talk about the loss. Sometimes we talk about what we are binging on Netflix. Always I remind her I am here. That I don’t expect her to move on. That I expect her to feel every stop-in-your-tracks shots of pain, rush of hot anger, and moments of sadness so heavy you buckle at the knees. And that all of it is OK.
We don’t talk enough about loss but more than that, we don’t talk enough about how we talk about loss.
We know not to say things like “hey get over it” because we aren’t savages, but fail to realize that the phrase “it wasn’t meant to be,” and its brethren “maybe it was XYZ thing that happened” and “you’ll move on with time” feel patronizing. They suggest that because the life that could have been is a life that never was, the mourning period should be stunted.
We know not to say things like ‘hey get over it’ because we aren’t savages, but fail to realize that the phrase ‘it wasn’t meant to be,’ and its brethren ‘maybe it was XYZ thing that happened’ and ‘you’ll move on with time’ feel patronizing. They suggest that because the life that could have been is a life that never was, the mourning period should be stunted.”
In an effort to project optimism we’ll say things like “it will happen, don’t worry,” a refrain repeated almost exclusively by people for whom it did simply “happen.” A seemingly innocuous statement, it fails to recognize the agonizing reality that, well, it might not.
What we don’t say enough? “Take all the time you need to grieve.” “I’m here for you.” “I don’t expect you to be ok.”
When I miscarried, there was an initial rush of outreach. People called or texted that they were thinking of me, that they were sorry, and asked how could they help. The pain was raw and while I appreciated the sentiment, I had no idea how to receive the outpouring of love. I didn’t want to respond to messages or take calls. I needed to grieve alone at first, but I didn’t know how to explain that feeling. I wanted support… but not right now. So I said nothing and, over time, the check-ins stopped. But the pain lingered. The less that people reached out, the more I began to feel profoundly alone.
At one point, during my fertility struggle, I was invited to a baby shower. I had worked up the courage to go, and prepared myself for a room full of round bellies, novelty pacifiers, and diaper cakes. The morning of the shower, I unexpectedly got my period. I was crushed.
I called a friend who had just gotten pregnant after a long journey and asked her what to do. “Don’t go,” she said, and in that moment I exhaled the weight of the world. The simple two-word permission slip to stay home and take care of myself was invaluable.
Grief – over the loss of a pregnancy or the loss of your long-held family plan – isn’t something that can be rushed to conclusion. Just when you think you’ve escaped it, fresh pain – a pregnancy announcement, walking past a mom-and-baby class, a diaper commercial – slams the gate shut again and you’re trapped.
Upon learning her best friend had gotten pregnant unexpectedly, a friend – who has been struggling to conceive – told me “I’m 100% happy for her and 100% sad for me.”
What we don’t say enough? ‘Take all the time you need to grieve.’ ‘I’m here for you.’ ‘I don’t expect you to be ok.’
Trying to conceive, conceiving and then losing the pregnancy, throwing your family plan out the window is 100 percent messy. It’s sad and optimistic and devastating and hopeful and other strange couplings of emotions that are impossible to understand for anyone unfamiliar with the roller coaster. But, that doesn’t mean we stop trying.
According to the Mayo Clinic, between 10-20% of known pregnancies end in miscarriage (and that number may be higher for losses that happen earlier in pregnancy when a woman doesn’t know she’s pregnant). Yet women grieving a loss feel so devastatingly alone.
You don’t need to say the “right” thing, you just need to say something. It might seem counterintuitively robotic, but set a calendar reminder if you have to. Say “I’m thinking of you.” Tell them “I’m here.” Assure them you don’t expect them to “move on.” Let them know that as lonely as they feel, they are far from alone.
Alyssa Ages is a Toronto-based journalist and copywriter. To see more of her work visit www.alyssaages.com
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