Last year right around this time, I was experiencing heart-crushing grief; I suppose for me, this time of year means time to talk about miscarriage and stillbirth loss.
Last winter, I was pregnant with twins, and I felt them kick and move long before I lost them. My experience of loss was devastating, but it isn’t an uncommon experience for women, regardless of culture, when going to a non-international hospital here in China. I experienced this miscarriage in the international wing of a famous Chinese hospital.
Reactions I received from male and female health professionals and acquaintances in the community were largely inappropriate and made my stomach lurch. I will interject to say that most of my close Chinese friends just cried along with me, which was right in this situation. I didn’t feel unloved by any means, but I had a stronger support system compared to other women I know, which is why I’m speaking out.
Mostly, well-meaning people just don’t know what to do, because they’ve never gone through such loss. I understand that awkwardness, so here are a few tips to show compassion to women who are hurting during this type of time.
1 – Offer Help, Not Advice
Did you know 1 out 4 pregnancies do not make it to full term? Sometimes there’s no clear answer why a miscarriage happened. Health is different for each individual, and not even doctors know why miscarriages happen, especially early ones. Therefore, unless you are an omniscient demigod who sees into the past and future, comments about what a woman should do with her body to improve her chances feel like stabs in the back. If you have knowledge that helped you or your partner, write an article or blog. Don’t bring it up in the face of grief.
Instead say, “I’m sorry this happened to you, I hope you will be able to rest. Let me know if I can help you do anything to help you through this.”
2 – Silence and Physical Comfort Instead of One-liners
No woman wants to hear about the positives in her life immediately after she has just experienced loss. I’ve asked many Chinese women, so it’s not a “Western thing.” Never ever say, “You’re young” or “You have a great husband/job/home” or “You already have kids.” That makes us angry, because, to be honest, a woman’s plans for why she thought that time was right or whether to have more children is only the business of those she has allowed into her life specifically in this way.
Instead, if you’re an acquaintance or friend, wait for her to ask you questions. Hold her hand and hug her. Say you’re sorry this happened to her and acknowledge that it’s hard. Tell her you are available if she wants to talk about it, but you will respect her privacy.
3 – Don’t Say Forget, Help Commemorate
It takes an average of 7 to 14 years to fully handle grief. Forgetting a loss of a loved one, regardless of how small, is nearly impossible, not to mention that telling someone to forget about the grief or person is terrible, terrible advice. This is the loss of a dream, a wish, a hope, a future hug, and a future kiss.
Instead of saying “move on, get over it,” help the woman commemorate the loss. One of my favorite gifts from the first miscarriage I experienced is a little white blanket a friend knitted for me. The blanket is tiny enough to store in sock drawer or other small compartment, so it’s easy to keep along with me regardless of where I live in the world, and it definitely has helped me grieve when I need to.
4 – Comfort Food and Chores, Not Home Remedies
In a city in Western China, one of my friends experienced a late term miscarriage. The community around her, especially older women, offered her home remedies that were supposed to help her chances for a more successful birth next time. The gestures were well intended, but usually just made her angry. She would throw away the medicine as soon as she got home (remember the 1 and 4 chances and the fact that not even doctors know the answers).
Instead, ask what the family could use during this time in terms of food or supplies, offer to set up a meal plan, or offer to clean house, fold laundry, or do something else that would give them an opportunity to rest. When I was in the hospital with twins, friends would bring us milk, homemade meals, and one teacher made a care package of hair ties, chocolate, relaxing tea, and other little conveniences plus a note. Her kindness made me cry.