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How to help a friend or family member heal after a miscarriage

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According to the Association for Reproductive Health Professionals, approximately one in four pregnancies before 20 weeks will end in miscarriage. Although the cause of most early pregnancy losses is unknown, health care providers, including SIU Medicine family medicine physician Tabatha Wells, MD, says oftentimes, women blame themselves.

“When I counsel a woman who has miscarried, I reassure her there is nothing she could have done to prevent it. But most women have trouble accepting this and remain convinced that they must have done something wrong,” explains Dr. Wells.

It’s that line of thinking that Dr. Wells warns can have a long-lasting emotional toll on women who have miscarried. That’s why she emphasizes the need for supportive friends and family following a miscarriage.

“Women often feel a mix of emotions, ranging from sadness and grief to devastation or even relief,” says Dr. Wells. “I try to help her realize that feeling sad or relief or other mixed emotions are perfectly normal responses.”

When comforting a friend or family member following a miscarriage, Dr. Wells says it’s about giving her whatever she needs. “Treat it as a death in the family, and know that everyone grieves differently. Some women will want to talk about it; some women won’t. If she wants to be distracted, distract her. Most importantly, be supportive and offer encouragement.”

Kaylie Caswell, a certified nurse practitioner, offers the following suggestions for family and friends:

  • Listen to her: Get a sense of wha­­­t the pregnancy means to her. Listening does not mean you need to say anything, sometimes sitting and being present with her is the best way to show empathy. Allow her to be quiet, cry, be angry, or be happy and celebrate a life. Withhold your own feelings and thoughts.
  • Acknowledge the loss and offer empathy: “This is such a difficult time for you, please tell me how I can help." 
  • Don’t deny her feelings: Avoid using “at least” statements, such as, “Well at least you got pregnant.”
  • Help her realize it wasn’t her fault: The reality is that nearly a quarter of pregnancies fail and, oftentimes, the reason goes unknown. A miscarriage isn’t necessarily a sign of infertility. However, be mindful this couple may be struggling with infertility and this loss may have represented the loss of future parenthood as well.
  • Give her time to heal: Whether she needs two weeks or two years, simply give her time. Don’t allow her to suffer in silence.

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