14/08/2014 12:58 BST | Updated 20/05/2015 06:12 BST

What To Say To Someone Who Has Miscarried

What to say to someone who has miscarried

I will never forget the moment the sonographer told us our baby didn't have a heart beat. It was our first scan, November 2008. I was 13 weeks pregnant and my husband and I were excited about seeing our little one for the first time.

I had a small bump. I'd been feeling sick. We'd discussed baby names. I'd been reading pregnancy books. In our minds, we were already a three. We had no reason to suspect anything was wrong.

Being told our baby had died five weeks earlier was devastating. We were ushered through a waiting room of expectant parents – some proudly holding scan pictures – into an office, where a nurse explained it was a missed miscarriage. This means the baby stops developing but the body carries on believing it is pregnant.

I was booked in for what they coldly termed "medical management of miscarriage" a week later and we were sent away with a couple of leaflets and two broken hearts.

We had to break the news to family and friends. They told us how sorry they were. They sent flowers and cards. Yet, even though most people had the kindest of intentions, some of the things they said were painful to hear.

Phrases such as "At least you know you can get pregnant", "You can try again", "Imagine how much worse it would be if it happened later" offered little consolation. Actually, I didn't know if I could get pregnant again. If I did, would I miscarry again? Would I ever go full-term?

Although most women who miscarry, go on to have children, many don't. And yes, it would have been absolutely devastating if it had happened later on in the pregnancy, but that didn't mean it wasn't devastating now.

Ruth Bender Atik, director of The Miscarriage Association, says I am not alone in such feelings Although she acknowledges not everyone is hugely upset after miscarriage, the charity's phonelines and message boards are full of women saying they find these phrases upsetting.

"They are meant to be helpful but minimising the significance of what has happened is not helpful," she says.

Despite up to one in four pregnancies ending in miscarriage, often people don't want to talk about it at the time because it is so upsetting and deeply personal. If you open up about miscarriage years later, you risk hurtful comments about not moving on, or wallowing in self-pity – as was the case with the singer Beyonce, who earlier this year spoke about the miscarriage she had before the birth of her daughter.

This can mean those experiencing miscarriage are left feeling very alone and like no one else understands, and well-meaning people don't know what to say – or what not to say – to someone going through it.

Ruth's advice is simple. "Before you say anything, you have to listen. If you listen, you can take cues. If they talk about 'the baby', then refer to it as a baby. Say 'I'm sorry to hear your news'. Be careful with the word loss. It can sound accusatory and imply blame or carelessness. Say 'I can imagine that must be difficult'."

Mum-of-two Emma had a miscarriage before her first child, and another between her first and second children. "Although miscarriage is very common, I found hearing about strangers' miscarriages simply diminished my feelings and grief," she says.

"You wouldn't say to a recently widowed woman, 'Oh, I'm so sorry to hear you've been affected by death. Ah well, I hear that's very common.' But this is basically what loads of people said to me and it really didn't help.

"All you need to say is, 'I'm really sorry to hear what's happened. I can't imagine what you must be going through. If there's anything I can do, let me know. And if you'd like to talk about it, I'm here, but it's also fine if you don't want to talk about it.' That's it. Then you listen."

Jane had three miscarriages before her two daughters were born. "I didn't care that it was 'one of those things' as to me it was my whole life collapsing," she says. "I got really angry at one friend when she told me at least I knew I could pregnant and shouted at her quite aggressively. I now know that she was at a loss to what to say and didn't mean to upset me."

The words she found most helpful were from a friend who acknowledged she was probably sick of all the platitudes and told her, "What has happened is rubbish and I know how terrible you feel – I'm here if you need to scream at someone."

Nicola has had seven miscarriages, and is open about her experiences with friends. "I am still trying for a baby, but will be 40 in seven weeks. Friends ask me about adoption when they first find out I've had more than one miscarriage, and this does make me angry. Whilst adoption is a great thing and I admire the people who do it, I still want to carry and give birth to 'my child'. Until I'm told I can't, I will still try; someone telling me to have someone else's child doesn't make me feel any better.

"I really don't want to hear things like 'you can try again'. I feel like this is dismissing the miscarriage. I have also been told 'at least it's happened early'. Yes, physically this isn't as bad as a late miscarriage, but that doesn't mean it's ok. It was my baby."

Mum-of-one Charlotte recently miscarried what would have been her second baby. She says she would rather people tell her they don't know what to say than not acknowledge it. "My in-laws spoke to my husband and said how sorry they were to him but didn't say or text anything to me, which I found very hard to deal with," she says.

"The only consolatation I could find was that they didn't want to say the wrong thing. But really, we are all adults and can at least say 'I'm sorry'. That's all it takes."

People can act differently if you miscarry and already have a child, as mum-of-two Bethan, who had two miscarriages between her first and second children, explains. "I felt like some thought I should count my blessings that we had one healthy child," she says. "But I never only wanted one, I always saw myself with more, and then when that chance looked like it was being snatched away it wasn't nice."

She wanted people to recognise the potential of the life that was lost:


All those plans, hopes and dreams that start from the minute you get those blue lines on the stick. I'd already worked out when their birthday would have been, what season, star sign, the age gap, when I'd be off work.


She adds that even though it's deemed wrong to start making plans before the 12-week scan, it's something most expectant parents naturally do.

I found it hard when people texted asking how I felt. Being asked to continually put into words the utter devastation I felt was hard. Messages from friends simply saying they were thinking of me or sending me a hug helped. I admired the honesty of those who admitted they had no idea what to say, and those who were pregnant or had children who told me they were worried about making me more upset.

That said, there were friends who would moan about their pregnancy ailments and their crying babies in front of me, without appreciating I would have given everything to be in their position. I was thankful to those who acknowledged my husband's feelings too, because partners often get forgotten about.

It can take a long time to recover from a miscarriage – if, indeed, we ever do. Janet, whose two children are now in their late teens and whose miscarriage happened 20 years ago, says thinking about it even now brings her to tears. "It never leaves you," she says.

A lot of people don't appreciate that women who have miscarried may find it difficult being pregnant again because they are scared it will happen again. People would excitedly talk about our baby like it was guaranteed but I worried constantly throughout both my pregnancies.

That said, I count myself lucky that I experienced just one miscarriage and am overwhelmingly grateful for the two healthy children I have.

Jane agrees. "I look at my daughters sometimes and think I would go through it over and over again in order to have the girls I have," she says. "Weirdly, all the platitudes I hated to hear, like 'it happens for a reason', I now believe."

For more information and support on miscarriage, visit

Their leaflet, Someone You Know, has more advice on how best to support someone who has had a miscarriage