In last week’s blog I posted about my experience with pregnancy after loss in recognition of Pregnancy after Loss (PAL) Awareness Month. In continuing my look at the need for support and community for women and families, over the next 2 weeks I will share with you a list of Things NOT to say to a woman experiencing Pregnancy after Loss, and we will discuss some more supportive ways that we can communicate with moms to be during their subsequent pregnancies.
I have been a member of a support group for women who are expecting rainbow babies since I was pregnant with my son 2 years ago. If you are still unfamiliar with the term, a rainbow baby is a baby that is born after a miscarriage or still birth or death of a child, The group seeks to provide an environment of support and information for moms and moms-to-be to talk about the very confusing and complex emotions that can be present during a rainbow pregnancy. These are women who despite their losses are doing everything they can to stay positive for their unborn babies. They are daughters, wives, girlfriends, single parents, sisters and friends. So when I decided I wanted to talk about ways that we can all support women during this time, I turned to the ladies of this group and asked them to identify the craziest thing someone has said to them about their rainbow pregnancy. Please understand that it is not my place to assume the reasons why people may have said these things and I am going to accept that all comments were made out of concern for the mom to be even if they failed to show a real understanding of what these women may have be going through.
- “Have they checked you to make sure it’s not a blighted ovum?”
Okay let’s dive right in. I can imagine that the speaker here was just very concerned that the mom to be would not have another miscarriage and I appreciate that more than you would ever know. The issue with this statement isn’t that it is hurtful (because I choose to believe that this was said out of concern) but that is it largely unhelpful. After loss moms are have already explored every scenario in their heads and they are doing all they can to stay positive, regardless of the odds so chances are that is something they have already discussed with their health care provider or plan to at the next appointment. If this is your concern for the mom to be, maybe a more helpful question would be:
“Would you like me to accompany you to your next appointment for moral support?”
- “Please take care of yourself this time.”
Again, I can hear the concern in this statement, which makes it even more difficult because it’s the kind of thing people who really love you will say. However when I read this, I couldn’t move past the ‘this time’ and as this mom said “…it implies that my child died because I didn’t take care of myself last time…and I certainly did.” At this point we can discuss all the reasons why babies pass away or we can even talk about how miscarriages are almost never the mom’s fault but the real issue here is that even words meant to bring comfort can unintentionally place the blame on the mother. It’s not difficult for a grieving mom to blame herself, so do we really want to add to those feelings of guilt? Here’s a different approach:
“Do you have any special needs or restrictions during this pregnancy and how can I help?”
- “Are you sure that’s okay/ Is this wise?”
Pregnancy loss can be a result of serious medical illness and there are times when under medical advice it is not recommended. Pregnancy after loss should be under the care of a medical professional who has an understanding of the mom’s history. This is an undisputed fact. The issue with this question is not in whether or not this pregnancy is wise or okay but the effect that is has on the mom to be. Following loss, there are so many doubts and fears experienced by mothers that questions like this serve only to reinforce fears and puts added pressure on the expectant mother/couple (because please remember that there is a mom to be/couple who is cautiously excited about their new baby). So a reworking of this question may go a little something like:
“I know that you are scared, I am too so can you tell me how I can help you?”
- “Isn’t this too soon?”
Maybe it is but it is a well-documented fact that most women who experience pregnancy loss or still birth conceive again within a year. I don’t exactly know why but it happens. So yes, maybe it is soon but is that the most important question? I understand that there is a need to know if the mom to be is facing any particular concerns with this pregnancy but perhaps a more appropriate and supportive question would be something like:
“What have you and your doctor discussed in moving forward with this pregnancy and how can I help?”
- “Are you sure this is what you want after your miscarriage, what if you have another one?”
This one is a little harder to defend I’ll admit but again it highlights why there needs to be a month of awareness. Are we sure that we want the experience of carrying a child to full term? Of producing a live off-spring? Of being first-time parents or adding to our family? And isn’t the hope of all this worth trying again? So maybe a different version, one that is less judgmental could go more like this:
“It takes a lot of courage to try again and I am so proud of you, if ever you need me, I am right here!”
In my next post, I will continue to share the stories from my brave mamas and look at ways to encourage more supportive communication with moms to be during their rainbow pregnancies.
I want to hear from you though, what was the craziest thing someone has said to you during your rainbow pregnancy or what was the most beautiful, supportive thing you heard? Comment below!