If you’ve suffered from a pregnancy or infant loss and have made the decision to announce it publicly or on social media, you most likely have gotten a lot of messages from friends and family. While some of the messages may have been helpful and kind, others may have been hurtful or insensitive.
So how do you deal with upsetting words during such a painful time? You may feel awkward and embarrassed. You may even have an impulse to put that person in their place.
Here are some things to keep in mind when someone says something insensitive to you while dealing with a pregnancy loss.
Ask for empathy, not silver linings
After experiencing her own losses, Dr. Sunita Osborn wrote a book called The Miscarriage Map where she details what she learned from her experiences with pregnancy loss. In the book, she recalls her own conversations with family members who, while seemingly well-intentioned, said some things that were not so helpful to her grieving process.
Here’s the thing about pain: there aren’t many people who are comfortable with it. There aren’t many people who know how to sit with someone in their pain and validate their feelings. So they will try to reframe the situation into a positive one.
In the spirit of transparency, I can remember a time in my past when I regrettably told a coworker that “everything happens for a reason” after her father had just passed away. So I include myself in the camp of “I don’t know what to say so I’m just going to look for the positive.”
Dr. Osborn mentions that a lot of people try to offer silver linings (e.g. at least it was still early in your pregnancy, everything is going to be okay, God has a plan) after a loss. But silver linings and toxic positivity minimize the pain you’re experiencing. If they make you uncomfortable, it’s okay to say so.
Knowing how to respond when someone attempts to offer a silver lining is tricky, but you can start by asking for empathy. You can’t control how other people behave and react to your experiences, but you can let them know that what they’re saying isn’t helpful. Consider using a statement such as the following: “I know that what you’re saying is well-intentioned, but it’s not helpful right now.”
If you aren’t used to setting boundaries with your loved ones, this will be difficult. It will feel awkward and uncomfortable, and you may even be hesitant to do it for fear of upsetting them. But you do not have to put someone else’s comfort above your own. You are the one experiencing the pregnancy loss and you have already been through enough.
No, they may not get it right away. Yes, they may even feel offended. But if this is a relationship that you want to maintain, it is well within your rights to establish a boundary and ask for empathy, not silver linings.
Burn all the unhelpful things people have said to you
This is an activity that I found particularly helpful shortly after my miscarriage.
At the end of the chapter about getting the support you need, Dr. Osborn gives an exercise for her readers to try. She says to make a list of all the unhelpful things people have said to you during your pregnancy loss. If you want, you can even write your response, or what you would have liked to have said in that moment, to each statement. Once you’re finished with your list, destroy it.
I chose to throw my list in my fireplace, and seeing the hurtful things that were said to me burn into flames was therapeutic for me. You may choose to rip it into pieces, cut it up, or light it on fire (in a safe place). The important thing, as Dr. Osborn says, is to “get rid of it because those words are not your truth.”
Next, make a list of the helpful things people have said to you, and keep it in a place where you can go back to from time to time for comfort. Dr. Osborn also says that if you feel you have it in you, make sure to thank the people who have said helpful things to you during your time of loss.
Are there any specific things you do or say when someone says something that isn’t helpful about your pregnancy or infant loss? Comment down below to keep the conversation going.
If you’re experiencing a loss currently, have recently experienced one, or never processed a loss you had in the past, please consider joining the weekly pregnancy and infant loss support group by Rachel’s Gift. It’s currently held on Thursdays at 7pm EST via Zoom. This free group is open to both or either partner (men and women) and their family members. The group is led by licensed counselors and social workers and is a safe space to grieve among others who have had similar experiences. It has helped 800 people and counting through their loss journeys since its inception. Sign up today.
MEDICAL DISCLAIMER: The information on this website is provided for educational purposes only and does not substitute for professional medical advice. Do not rely solely on this information. Consult your health care provider for medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment.
Bio: Samantha is a freelance copywriter currently living in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. She experienced a second trimester loss in November 2021. She started attending the support group through Rachel’s Gift the following month where she found a supportive community of men and women also experiencing pregnancy loss. Samantha advocates for Down syndrome awareness as her daughter, Cecilia, was diagnosed with Down syndrome. She and her family participated in World Down Syndrome Day on March 21, 2022. Contact her at www.periodandpen.com.