Finding support and speaking about pregnancy loss
Today is International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, a day when many Australians come together to remember their loss, including those who have experienced early pregnancy loss and miscarriage.
Sadly, we know that pregnancy loss occurs in around one in four pregnancies. And this month, we are on a quest to bring this topic to light.
Virtus Health has partnered with a new documentary on Stan, the Misunderstandings of Miscarriage, which follows Australian actress and filmmaker Tahyna MacManus on her four year journey of pregnancy and miscarriage.
You can read more about the film here. After creating the film, Tahyna had more questions she wanted to explore, with the help of our fertility experts.
It can be such a difficult topic to speak out loud about. How do you speak to a family member or loved one who has experienced miscarriage? And as someone who has experienced miscarriage, how do you navigate sharing the news with your own loved ones – and should you?
Watch the video below as Tahyna explores these questions alongside some of our specialists.
We also spoke to Melissa Stephens, one of IVFAustralia’s fertility counsellors, as she gives her advice for how to speak to loved ones with kindness and understanding.
Speaking to loved ones who have experienced pregnancy loss:
How should I talk to my friend who just experienced pregnancy loss?
Melissa: Asking how they are is the main thing, and acknowledging their sadness and grief. Give them space to talk if they want to – saying ‘I’m here if you need me but if you don’t need me right now I will always be here.’
There’s no need to have an answer or to ‘fix’ the situation, since there’s nothing that will fix it. Listening is the most important and helpful thing you can do.
My best friend just experienced miscarriage, but she is usually a private person. How can I be there for her to help her through it?
Melissa: I think if you acknowledge that she may be a private person, but still saying to her that if she wants to share you are there.
You can check in by asking how she is, you can gently ask if she would like to talk about her miscarriage or would she prefer you to leave it and to wait until she brings it up with you. Be led by what she tells you is the best way to be there for her. Simple ways to reach out could be a text ‘I’m thinking of you’. Understand that you may not receive a response in reply, and that’s ok.
What should I avoid saying when speaking to a loved one who’s experienced miscarriage?
Melissa: There are many things people tend to say that are definitely not helpful, such as, ‘At least it happened early’ or ‘At least you know you can get pregnant’, or telling stories about other people they know who’ve had a miscarriage.
It’s very important not to minimise their loss, because to that woman the minute they find out they’re pregnant it’s their baby. It doesn’t matter how early the loss is, the pain is the same.
It’s also important to recognise that their grief may last for quite some time– and that’s normal. Give people enough time to heal, and expect it to take time for them to be ok.
Question: What is the right thing to say?
Melissa: I would say that if you acknowledge the extent of their grief, and acknowledge that this is a very sad time, that you are sorry they’re going through this – that’s a good place to start.
Approach it with empathy, care and sensitivity.
Know that people experience grief differently. However they’re coping, it’s ok. Some people withdraw, or seem outwardly unfazed, or can be very tearful, we all respond and grieve differently.
Let your friend or loved one cry if they need to. Sit alongside them their tears, even if it’s uncomfortable for you, because that will mean a whole lot more than anything you can say to try and ‘fix it’.
Questions for parents who have lost:
How do I tell my family about my pregnancy loss?
Melissa: It’s a very difficult question because it really depends on you, whether you feel like you want to tell your family.
If you feel that telling your family will help provide support, or if they have been a part of your pregnancy journey, I would say approach it with the knowledge that the news will of course make them feel sad.
Sometimes prefacing the conversation with ‘I have some sad news to share with you’ can help prepare them. It can also help if you share a few ways that they can support you.
And if you don’t feel that you’re in a good space to share this news with your family yet, that’s completely up to you. There’s no concrete timeframe on this.
Do I need to tell work?
Melissa: This is one of those things that is very dependent on the individual.
It can be really helpful for some to share the news with a trusted colleague or manager at work, so that they are aware and know that you may need to take some time off and give you some extra support if you need it.
For others, they don’t want to tell work about their miscarriage, which is also ok and completely up to the individual. I think people who have experienced pregnancy loss can become afraid of all the questions that might come up at work if they take time off without giving a specific reason. But there’s really no need to tell work if you don’t want to – if you do need time off to heal, you can have your GP write a letter to excuse you. And if people ask about it later, you can always say that you’ve had a few family things come up and leave it at that.
I think this is why compassionate leave around miscarriage is an important initiative for companies to consider. By recognising that grief from pregnancy loss is very real, women can start to feel more comfortable taking time off work without feeling the need to justify it.
Why is my early pregnancy loss so difficult to come to terms with?
Melissa: When you find out you’re pregnant, your mind automatically projects forward to a whole new life alongside this baby.
There are so many hopes and dreams that form extremely quickly with pregnancy, and then all of a sudden they’re just taken away. Of course this is going to be difficult to come to terms with. You’re going from the excitement of pregnancy and dreams of the future, to sudden loss. And that loss includes your future hopes, not just the baby.
Be kind to yourself, and give yourself time to heal.
What resources are there for support?
Our counselling team is here for you. Counselling is free of charge to patients of IVFAustralia, Melbourne IVF, Queensland Fertility Group, and TasIVF, and it is available at all clinics. If you would like to access support from our counselling team, please contact us to book an appointment.