Afraid to Say the Wrong Thing: How to Support a Friend Who Has Experienced Pregnancy or Infant Loss

It is estimated that 1 in 4 pregnancies will end in a loss. Some people will experience more than one pregnancy loss or infant loss in their lifetime. These losses mean different things to the people who experience them, depending on the circumstances and what the pregnancy meant to them. For many, the experience has an emotional and physical impact.

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by Erin Bockstael

When you find out someone in your life has had a pregnancy or infant loss, it can be hard to know what to do – what should you say? Should you call them… or give them space? Is it better to offer to talk about it… or not to mention it all?

Here are a few ideas to help you support a friend or family member who has experienced pregnancy or infant loss.

Give space but reach out.

When a friend has experienced a loss in their life, it can be hard to know what to say. Our own fear might make us hesitate to reach out – we’re afraid of saying the wrong thing, afraid of how they might react if we misspeak, or afraid to intrude at a difficult time.

Send a card, an email, or a text. Make a call. By letting your friend know you are thinking about them can help them feel supported. If you are afraid of imposing, make it clear that they don’t need to respond right now. 

Accept that you can’t make it better.

It can be so hard to see your friend dealing with strong emotions and distress. In our desire to relieve their distress – and our own – we might be tempted to say things that feel hopeful, like “At least you know you can get pregnant.”  As one of the midwives I work with says, “As soon as you hear yourself saying ‘At least…’ you should stop talking.”

A more helpful approach is to let your friend know that you are here for them and that you’d like to help them at this time. Some people who are grieving find getting practical support – help in caring for children, pets or taking care of other daily responsibilities – just as helpful as emotional support.

Remember together. 

One of the beautiful things about long-term friendships is sharing memories and remembering details of each other’s lives. Taking our cues from our friends, we can explore how they want to remember their pregnancy or baby. Some people appreciate that friend who remembers their lost pregnancy or infant, remembers to say their name, and who gently honours their experience of loss.

Taking care of yourself allows you to be present to care for others.

Recognize your own feelings. 

A pregnancy loss or infant loss affects everyone close to it. You may be feeling some of the same emotions as your friend. It’s important to allow yourself some moments and space to feel your own sadness or numbness or other feelings you may have about your friend’s loss. It’s ok to cry with your friend and feel with them, but remember that it’s not okay to dominate the conversation with your feelings.

It is important to take care of yourself too. 

You may feel sad and need your own support.  When you are carrying sadness or grief, it can help to find other people to talk to about your feelings. Taking care of yourself allows you to be present to care for others in your life.

If you want to talk about counselling services or groups at Women’s Health Clinic, please call 204-947-2422 ext. 204.  We can also help you find other resources and supports in your community.

For more information:

Guided by families who experienced a loss, Women’s Health Clinic has created a booklet to support people who have had a pregnancy loss or infant loss.

Erin Bockstael is a bilingual Health Educator at Women’s Health Clinic specializing in maternal health and wellness.

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