• Mon, Nov 1 2010

Modern Etiquette: How to Talk to Your Friend About Her Miscarriage

Today, singer Lily Allen’s publicist confirmed that Allen, who was six months pregnant, had a miscarriage. As if that wasn’t sad enough, this is her second miscarriage. Even though I don’t know Allen personally, hearing about her sad news makes me want to call and ask her if there’s anything I can do. Perhaps that’s because a friend of mine suffered a miscarriage of her own once – there are countless manuals for etiquette when a friend has a new baby, but when dealing with the loss of a baby there’s no proper template on how to behave. So let me humbly offer a couple of suggestions.

  • Let her responses determine interactions. If she shuts down every time you ask about it, don’t push her. If she wants to make a scrapbook or baby book, let her.
  • Remember that there’s no proper way to mourn. Everyone handles sadness in their own way, and she’s entitled to hers. She might just want to cry a lot. Or she might not want to cry at all. The most important thing you can say is that you love your friend unconditionally.
  • Attend to her physical needs if you can’t attend to her emotional ones. People who are grieving often forget to take care of themselves and their basic needs. Bringing over food or offering to run errands is a way to feel involved and help your friend if you’re not sure what to say or how to comfort her. One common way to help is by discreetly taking baby items out of the house – it’s possible she might want to keep some things as mementos, but if she cries every time she sees the unused stroller it might be good to find a place to store them out of sight.
  • Don’t forget about her partner. Miscarriages don’t only affect the woman who was pregnant, and her husband/boyfriend/partner is going to be hurting, too.
  • Resist the urge to gossip, even if it’s well-intentioned. While it’s fine to tell a mutual friend or acquaintance something like “Yes, Maggie did miscarry her baby. She’s back from the hospital now” and give basic information, resist the urge to go any further. You don’t need to fill people in on how she’s feeling, if she’s sad, etc, unless your friend has specifically asked you to give people a message on her behalf. Your friend may not want people to ask her questions, or she might want to wait and speak to people after she’s feeling better. You don’t have to be her publicist unless she asks you to be.
  • Offer to arrange some kind of ceremony. Many births have an attendant ceremony like a christening or a bris. Having a small but significant ceremony to mark your friend’s loss is a way for her to acknowledge the event but also a reason to invite over close friends and family in a show of support.
  • Call her on the anniversary of the miscarriage. There’s usually an outpouring of support when someone has a miscarriage. However, your friend will probably carry the loss with her for longer than a couple of weeks. Call her on the anniversary of her miscarriage and offer either to let her talk to you about it or do something special together to remind her that life does go on.
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