sharing your stories and remembering your children
By: Heather Heritage
As I grieved my miscarriage, I was surprised to find that what stayed with me most was how people responded when I shared my sad news. Understandably, many were shocked. Some people knew I was pregnant, so a matter of fact, “We lost the baby” reply was my response to questions about how I was feeling. Others didn’t even know I was pregnant, which made the conversation a bit awkward because I also had to provide a backstory.
Once I opened up and shared my story, it felt like I joined a club that no one wants to be a member of. The commonality of miscarriage binds us together. Most women know someone who has gone through early pregnancy loss. I shared, so they shared. It was cathartic and healing; we bonded in an unfortunate sisterhood. Other women who had gone through it knew the grief, the awful experience, the dashed hopes, and the fear.
I remember many of the caring responses I received, and those who gave them still stand out in my mind. They are kindred spirits - men and women who had gone through it themselves or understood the grief. The amount of helpful, kind responses I received completely outweighed the hurtful ones.
However, blurred together are the hurtful responses I did receive. They did not help me grieve, and sometimes layered on more confusion and pain.
When someone shares news that is surprising, shocking, or sad, it is sometimes difficult to respond with empathy. But, responding to what a person has been through with empathy acknowledges their humanity.
An un-empathetic response can devalue a person as a human being. It is one of the cruelest ways we communicate, and most of the time it happens accidentally. We just don’t know how to respond or what to say. So we go with what makes us feel better.
Empathy takes work, practice, and concentration. It’s much easier to respond with clichés or murmurs than to deal with listening for the raw emotions hidden in tone and what’s not being said. When we are not being empathetic, we tend to respond in ways that make us feel most in control of the situation.
Here are five examples of what NOT to say to someone who has experienced an early pregnancy loss, because these responses can minimize the grief a person is going through.
1. Solving the Problem
Examples include: “I know what you could do,” or “Let me fix this.” “My doctor could help you.”
2. Unsolicited Advice
Examples include: “My friend had the same problem. This is how she handled it.” “Check your medicine. Are your sure you are on the right one?” Or, suggesting a particular “fix.”
3. Dismissing Feelings
Examples include: “It’s not that big of a deal,” or “you’ll be OK.” “At least it was early.” “You’ll be able to have another baby.” “These things happen.” “It’s providence.”
Examples include: “That same thing happened to me,” or “Be happy it wasn’t worse” (followed by a comparison of some sort). “Well, I was 18 weeks and had to have a D&E – that was awful.”
Examples include: ignoring the message or speaker completely, or responding with a quick “that’s too bad,” or “Oh yeah, so-and-so told me about that,” before changing the subject.
Do any of these sound familiar? If we’re being honest, we’ve probably all used one of these negative responses at some point with someone sharing difficult news.
So how do we respond with empathy? Here are some things others did that helped me when I was going through my loss.
1. Listen carefully and quietly.
If someone is sharing a raw moment with you, listen to them. This also means you can’t listen to your internal dialogue. Stop thinking about what you are going to say next and be in the moment.
2. Be aware of your nonverbal communication.
Where is your gaze? Straying glances indicate discomfort or that you have something better to do. What do your facial expressions look like? Authentic concern is obvious to the speaker. It’s easy to see. Show it.
3. Listen for emotions.
If they say something particular about how their feeling or give name to their emotion, you have permission to respond to it. If they don’t name an emotion explicitly, take your best guess using some descriptive emotional words. Not sure what these are? Start here with Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions.
A simple, “I’m so sorry this is happening to you. It really sucks. I am here for you, and I love you,” will suffice. Paying attention to others’ needs, listening, and communicating empathetically will change your relationships for the better.
Going through a pregnancy loss forced me to acknowledge my own areas of weakness in responding with empathy and truly listening to others. Sometimes, you really do have to walk a mile in another’s shoes to understand a situation. Through that, you can see the hurt you may have caused without realizing it. But, thankfully, these experiences can encourage growth and understanding. After all, the one thing that could change the world, person by person, is a bit more empathy.
Heather Heritage is an Assistant Professor of Communication at Cedarville University and has worked in both health communications and public relations
By: Emily Carrington EPLA Founder
One year ago EPLA delivered the first 100 Educational Resource folders to the Hillsdale Hospital. Since then over 300 folders have been distributed around the country. And this is only the beginning of the amazing growth this organization has experienced recently.
In 2018 EPLA accomplished the following:
As our services blossomed so has our support. This summer EPLA received a generous grant from the Hillsdale County Community Foundation, and this fall we held a very successful Tulip Bulb Sale. We have also seen a significant increase in individual donations.
And 2018 isn’t even over yet! After years of planning, organizing, researching, and working hard, we are in a season of rapid growth, and we certainly don’t take this for granted.
We have so much to be grateful for.
It is our mission to help bear the burden of grief for women and families who have experienced the isolating heartache of early pregnancy loss by encouraging community, contributing to public discourse, and providing educational and financial resources for professionals and families.
This mission was crafted over two and a half years ago by a small group of women and families with a dream that no family would ever suffer the pain of miscarriage alone. While there is much to be done, we are so grateful that we are able to work each day to this end.
On a personal level I am grateful that I have the opportunity to honor my three deceased little ones in this way. Their short little lives changed my heart, opened my eyes, and brought forth a compassion for others like I had never known. To serve others in memory of my first three children is an honor, and for that I am grateful.
This holiday season EPLA is taking special time to express our gratitude. While the list of things for which we are grateful is quite long - it can be summarized in one sentence:
Dear reader, supporter, and friend, we are grateful for you.
The EPLA podcast will feature medical professionals, EPLA representatives, and people from like-minded organizations discussing the following topics:
In the inaugural EPLA podcast, Emily Carrington, Founder of the EPLA, discusses why she started the organization, what the EPLA has accomplished to this point, and what we hope to do in the future.
By: Maria Servold EPLA Editor
The grief families experience after losing a child to miscarriage can feel isolating - like no one knows their pain and no one can help them. Last week, we learned that while we may feel lonely after a miscarriage, we are not actually alone.
For three days in St. Louis, several board members from the Early Pregnancy Loss Association attended the International Perinatal Bereavement Conference, hosted by the Pregnancy Loss and Infant Death Alliance. The organization is designed to provide awareness and education for leaders in perinatal and bereavement care.
The gathering of medical professionals, bereavement coordinators, loss moms, nonprofit workers, and many others shed light on current issues and questions regarding miscarriage and perinatal loss. While the topic is grim, the fact that so many can come together to try and help suffering families proves there is always reason to hope.
At our EPLA booth in the exhibition hall, we handed out copies of our miscarriage information and resource packet and displayed examples of miscarriage care kits (which we distribute locally) and encouraged conference attendees to create in their own communities.
It was difficult to talk so much about such a painful subject, but knowing that there are people in communities around the world who care about helping women and families after loss reignited our passion for this cause.
Leaving the conference, the board members of the EPLA are more committed than ever to providing information and resources for families after loss. We are not alone in our wish to comfort and care for you, and you are not alone, no matter how isolated you may feel. There is a caring and committed community ready and willing to help.
Look for features on some of the organizations and people we met at the conference in upcoming newsletters. If you would like to receive our newsletters please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Maria Servold is an Editor at the EPLA, Assistant Director of the Herbert H. Dow II Program in American Journalism, and Lecturer in Journalism at Hillsdale College
"Views expressed in blog posts do not necessarily reflect the views of the Early Pregnancy Loss Association"
By: Andrea Hubin
“Ups and downs.”
“Highlights and lowlights.”
“Glees and glums.”
Whatever he chose to call it that week, the drill was the same: each Monday morning, my teacher would ask everyone to share one positive and one negative thing from the previous weekend.
I’m sure it was just a strategic way for him to get all our chatting out before class so that we’d pay better attention. However, it pointed to a truth that still resonates with me today:
Good and bad are a part of every day. How you define any particular day or circumstance depends on your perspective.
The day I heard the heart-stabbing words, “There’s no heartbeat,” was such a day. Those three simple words caught me completely off guard.
Fewer than two weeks prior, I had visited the doctor to confirm my excited suspicions—I was pregnant with my second child. I heard the baby’s heartbeat (166 bpm) and immediately began planning how and when my husband and I could begin sharing the news.
Now, only days after making our announcement to family and friends, we stared at the motionless body of our little one on the ultrasound screen.
After a rather dazed conversation with the doctor, I asked if he could print some photographs from the ultrasound for me. He agreed and told us to wait a few moments in the lobby.
As my husband and I sat holding hands in numbed silence, a woman stood up from her seat across the waiting room and made her way over to us.
“I don’t know what you believe as far as religion and Christianity go,” she said tentatively, “but I felt God telling me to come over and pray for you.”
She went on to explain that she was not even supposed to be there that day. She had some prior obligation at a nearby building and somehow found herself in this office. (Admittedly, her explanation may have been clearer than this, but my mind was not in a state to remember exact details.)
“I have no idea exactly why or what’s going on in your life, but I felt that I should obey Him. Perhaps this is why I am here today. May I pray for you?”
In our darkest moment to date, our gracious Heavenly Father immediately sent us a precious reminder of His steadfast love. As we sat in our grief, not yet knowing how to pray, He sent another one of His children to intercede on our behalf.
This is not to say that this trial was automatically easy, or that there was no place for further grief. On the contrary, after grieving only briefly together in the doctor’s office, my husband and I stopped at a park on the way home to weep together and jointly cry out to God in our disappointment and heartbreak.
But that woman’s prayer was a glimmer, a ray of light pointing to God’s love on a day when it would be hard to for us to see anything but darkness and disappointment on our own.
The Bible tells us that we live in a world full of sin and suffering (Genesis 6:5; Jeremiah 17:9). It is no wonder, then, we tend to find plenty of “glums” in a any day.
However, the Bible says in Psalm 145, “The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.” Even in our darkest moments, we found abundant evidence of God’s steadfast love and kindness.
In the days and weeks (and months) that followed, God showed us so many evidences of His outpouring of love that I have not time to fully recount them all:
The list goes on and on.
The name we chose for our son sums it all up: Jaron Tobias
Derived from Hebrew, “Jaron” means “to sing or shout out” while “Tobias” means “Yahweh [the Lord] is good.” We chose his name to be a constant reminder—in any and every trial—to sing out that the Lord is good.
Though this is not the road I would have chosen, I can truly say with all my heart:
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning, GREAT IS YOUR FAITHFULNESS.”
Andrea Hubin is a pastor's wife and homeschooling mom with four precious children.
By: Nick Carrington EPLA Editor
I felt Helpless. Utterly helpless. I had just received news that my brother and sister-in-law had lost their child, and I had no idea how to respond. My heart ached for them, but in that moment, I realized how little I knew about miscarriage or the social etiquette surrounding it.
I sat in my office at work staring out the window, radically unprepared for how to provide even the smallest bit of comfort to my mourning family. What do you say to a couple in the broken aftermath? What words could offer even the slightest balm to hearts inflamed with grief?
There are no words. So, I looked out the window, breathless, anxiously tapping on the desk. Helpless.
I’ve lost three other nieces or nephews since that time and learned a lot about how to respond. While there are not any perfect responses, we can all be part of the healing process for our loved ones, both immediately following the loss and for years to come.
The pain is obviously intense for a couple right after they find out about their child’s death. The mother must cope with both emotional and physical trauma, and both parents may be juggling work and home life with additional but unexpected stress. Loved ones can help ease the couple’s burdens in several ways.
Help with day-to-day needs
Loss families have so much to deal with in the aftermath of a miscarriage, that they need help with basic things like meal preparation. If you can, set up a meal train that will relieve the hassle of buying and preparing food. Make sure you identify any foods the family cannot eat or does not want. Bringing them food will also alleviate their financial burden slightly as they pay medical bills, and they will not have to worry about what to eat for a while.
You might also offer to mow a loss family’s lawn, rake leaves, tend to their garden, shovel snow, or do some household chores. These tasks still need completed, but they can become arduous as couples pick up the pieces from child loss.
Send gifts of remembrance
Sending a gift to a loss family is a tangible way of honoring their child. Buy a bracelet or necklace with the child’s birth stone, or if the family named him or her, engrave something with the that name on it. You can find lots of other gift ideas on Amazon or Etsy.
The family will appreciate the gesture, and it’s a good way to let them know you are grieving that child as well. The gift doesn’t have to be expensive; it just needs to show the family you care.
I had the desperate feeling to do something, anything, in the aftermath of losing each of my four nieces or nephews, but even as time passes, I learned that loved ones can do a lot of good in this lifelong healing process.
Remember miscarried children on holidays and due dates
The holidays are a great time to honor loss parents and their children. If you have family members who have lost children, find ways to incorporate them into family traditions by hanging a stocking, placing a special ornament, or giving a gift that commemorates the child. These tributes will help loss parents know that you love their children, whether those little ones are there to celebrate or not.
Father’s and Mother’s Day can be especially difficult for parents grieving a miscarriage. To assuage that sorrow, take loss parents out to dinner or send them something to affirm the fact that they are parents. We should celebrate them just as we celebrate other mothers and fathers on these days.
If you know the due date of the lost child, send some encouragement through a card, text, or phone call on this day. Observing due dates is a lot like celebrating birthdays. The parents won’t have forgotten this date, knowing that instead of celebrating a life around that time, they are mourning a death.
Donate time or money to organizations working to help families who have miscarried
We have so much work to do to change the conversation surrounding miscarriage and care for the needs of affected families. A tremendous tribute to miscarried children is to donate time or money to an organization that works to address these issues. You may consider giving financially in the name of the child or loss family. While we would love to receive your gifts at the EPLA, we appreciate the work of like-minded organizations as well:Together, these organizations and others like it can make a difference in the lives of hurting families.
Find Ways to Show You Care
We all want to see our loved ones heal following the loss of a child. While we may not know what to say, we can show loss families that we love them – even the children we never got to hold – by meeting their needs and remembering their children. If we must grieve, let’s grieve together.
Nick Carrington is an Editor for the EPLA and Assistant Professor of Professional Writing at Cedarville University
By: Mariah Shull
“I was devastated. I did everything right. I didn't smoke or drink alcohol or caffeine. I took my vitamins faithfully and ate balanced meals. It never occurred to me that I would lose this baby.”
Connie Shull was a young wife and mother of a two-year old daughter when she experienced the heart-wrenching grief of a miscarriage. Since she already had a child, she believed that this pregnancy would go just as well until she learned at a routine check-up that her baby didn’t have a heartbeat.
“I passed the 3-month mark, so I thought that it would be safe to share with others that I was expecting. I miscarried at about 3 and half months and had already told family, friends, and folks at church that I was pregnant.”
Amidst that internal heartbreak, Connie had to put up a front of composure so that others wouldn’t feel awkward. “It’s an incredibly unpleasant conversation for people who haven’t gone through it. I then became responsible for their emotions. I had to say, ‘Oh, it’s okay…’ even though it wasn’t, just so they wouldn’t feel uncomfortable.”
Well-intentioned comments such as, “Oh, you’re young, you’ll have more,” would cause “those raw emotions of loss to come crashing back.” People did not seem to understand the significance of losing a child in the womb.
Connie felt numb. Empty. She recalled moving through life in a dark, depression-laden haze for about two weeks before she could move back into her old routine. The combination of postpartum depression with the pain of losing a child caused Connie and her family to spiral into what felt like an “emotional pit.” The loss of a child is enough pain; families shouldn’t have to deal with the social etiquette that miscarriages are something to be kept private and mourned in secret.
Connie’s husband was as supportive, but he didn’t always know what to do: “I didn’t know how to make her feel better; all I could do is hold her as she cried.” Connie says that “I knew that I was loved and prayed over, but I felt completely empty.”
A friend from church, Linda, reached out to Connie, and even though she didn’t feel particularly social, Connie accepted her invitation. Having experienced several miscarriages of her own, Linda knew just what to say and what not to say. “She prayed with me and just listened. That's the thing about loss: you have to walk through those trials to be a comfort to those in need.”
It was from that experience that Connie began to heal. “I don't shy away from miscarriages or parents who have lost children now because I know their pain and how to minister to them.”
Melissa, lead labor and delivery nurse at a University of Michigan hospital, says mothers often struggle with the thought that their child will be forgotten or replaced. She tries to “meet the parents where they are and acknowledge that their grief is real, that their loss is real, and that their child will not be forgotten.” Though she cannot completely take away their emotional pain, she does her best to give them space and grieve with them. Mothers often need this kind of care.
The March of Dimes estimates that as many as half of all pregnancies end in miscarriage, which means that most people likely know someone who has gone through this tragedy. One way we can support one another is by openly talking about and sharing our experiences; just as Linda comforted Connie, we can help each other commemorate the precious life that was lost and move forward.
The EPLA seeks to help women and families find support in others who have experienced pregnancy loss and overcome the stigma of quietly “getting over it,” because no family should suffer the pain of miscarriage alone.
Mariah Shull is a senior Professional Writing and Information Design major at Cedarville University. She is also active in ROTC.
By: Emily Carrington EPLA President & Founder
My first miscarriage was a “missed miscarriage.” I sat in the waiting room at the doctor’s office with my husband. I clutched my Saltines while we talked about how we would announce the pregnancy after this visit. This was our second visit; we had seen a heartbeat about a month before and the doctor had assured us that after a heartbeat was detected my risk of miscarriage was very slim. This was just a routine check-up.
First the doppler, then an ultrasound, then a trip down the hall for another ultrasound. All three tests confirmed the same thing - no heartbeat. The doctor carefully walked me through my options and sent us home to take time to think.
The next morning we went on a walk in the woods. I felt like a living, breathing, walking tomb. Fully alive, I carried death inside me.
The next six months were filled with landmines. First it was the pregnancy announcements, then the gender reveals, then the births. I was in my late 20s and many of my friends and family were entering into parenthood with joy while I was left behind to face the agony and reality of death.
My motherhood began when Baby was conceived, but I ached for my motherhood to be realized. Picking myself up, we tried again, and I quickly became pregnant, only to suffer the same fate. By the end of 2014 I had been pregnant for more than 20 weeks but never left the first trimester. I felt robbed, broken, and insufficient.
I also felt silenced. While my family and close friends encouraged openness, I could not figure out how to move forward and embrace my story and my children. There was no social script for me to follow; there was no graceful way to talk about it.
Then I was asked to share about my losses in front of a group of 80 women at a local Bible study. As I wrote our story, the story of my first two little ones, my heart was released and they were given life again. As I told my story to a room full of women of all ages, I continued to feel feel empowered as the mother of my children, even though they were no longer with us.
For many reasons, the grief of miscarriage can be stolen. Miscarriage is common, miscarriage is misunderstood, and miscarriage is largely invisible. Miscarriage is pregnancy loss before 20 weeks and most miscarriages occur during the first trimester. This is before a woman is showing a baby bump or feeling kicks. Because of these things, our culture has perpetuated myths about the severity of the loss through the the things we tell women to encourage them: “At least it was early,” “I am so sorry you are disappointed,” “Just try again!” All of these things belittle the death and grief caused by miscarriage.
Mothers have had enough. Since my first miscarriage in 2014 the dialog has changed. Celebrities are coming forward, non-profits continue to pop-up, and mothers have started to share their miscarriage stories on social media.
It has always been part of our vision at the Early Pregnancy Loss Association to give a voice to grieving families. We hope to use this blog to share your stories and remember your children. We also seek to bear burdens by encouraging community, furthering public discourse, and connecting professionals and parent advocates. Through parent stories, artwork, professional perspectives, editorials, and podcasts, we will fight the hushed culture surrounding early pregnancy loss.
I hope you will join us as Hope Blooms, even as we embrace and acknowledge death.