(NEW YORK) — Miscarriage, or the loss of a pregnancy, is disturbingly common — so much so, that if you haven’t had one, you likely know someone who has.
Though it’s impossible to say how many pregnancies end in miscarriage, as many occur before a woman knows she’s expecting, the Mayo Clinic reports that at least 10% to 20% of pregnancies result in a loss.
Still, it can be difficult to know how to comfort those who are grieving.
According to Dr. Ivy Margulies, a Santa Monica, California-based clinical psychologist who specializes in pregnancy and infant loss, the most important thing is to acknowledge what happened.
“Don’t ignore the obvious. Silence is worse than anything,” Margulies told ABC News’ Good Morning America. “People think, ‘She’ll be upset if I say something,’ but it’s actually the opposite. By discussing it, you’re validating the experience and honoring the grief, however you conceptualize conception. It’s about holding space for the emotional experience around grief and trauma.”
Of course, some words are more helpful than others. Here are the dos and don’ts from experts and women who have experienced pregnancy loss:
1. Be present, literally
Lauren Riggs has suffered two miscarriages, and wishes others knew that they didn’t have to actually say anything to her.
“Nothing anyone said was going to fix anything,” she said. “What I wish someone would’ve down was come and sit with me, especially in those first few weeks. I spent a lot of time by myself and I had people I could text, but I couldn’t bring it upon myself to say to someone, ‘Look, I really need someone to come to my house because I’m home alone, crying in bed.'”
The best thing close friends did, she explained, was show up and maybe bring dinner. “That really helped,” she added.
2. Don’t assume a loss is being processed in a specific way
Many women internalize their miscarriages as the loss of a baby, but others do not.
“I’m always respectful about how people want to understand that loss for themselves,” Margulies said.
3. Check in regularly
Margulies encouraged people to check in with the grieving person or couple regularly, and not to worry that you’ll ruin a “good day.” However, she warned, a grieving person may not be overly responsive.
“Say, ‘You don’t need to respond, but I’m here for you if you need anything,'” Margulies advised.
4. Avoid statements that can be misconstrued as dismissive
Dr. Jennifer Ashton, ABC News’ Chief Medical Correspondent and a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist, said that comments like, “You can always try again,” or, “You can always have another baby,” can be damaging, even if they’re well-intentioned.
“A miscarriage in any trimester is a loss, and that is incredibly emotional and painful,” she said.
Phrases that begin with “at least” (“At least it happened early,” “At least you can get pregnant”) should be avoided, too.
“There’s no ‘at least,'” said Chelsea Caris, who has experienced two early miscarriages and a second trimester loss of twins. “There’s no silver lining there.”
5. Realize that optimism can be seen as unempathetic
Riggs pointed out that sometimes when people would try to cheerlead, they came across as unfeeling.
“I found it to be so hurtful when people say, ‘You’re so young! It’ll happen again,'” she said. “It’s a lot scarier trying again and people don’t realize that. There’s a lot of extra anxiety and stress that comes with it.”
6. Understand that everyone grieves differently
Aftan Sylvester said that after her miscarriage, she was told, “You just have to dust yourself off and try again.”
“You just don’t dust things off like that,” she told Good Morning America. “Be gentle with a person, because everybody has different triggers. Know that it may not be a big deal to you, but for them it was a big deal.”
7. Validate the person’s feelings
“Don’t feel like you need to ‘fix it’ or ‘make it better.’ Just say, ‘Wow, that sounds really hard. Do you need a hug?'” Margulies said. “Keep it simple: ‘Is there anything I can do to support you?'”
8. Know that a new pregnancy won’t “fix” things
Caris learned she was pregnant a few months ago, and said that it’s been fraught.
“We’re so excited, but I still have my moments where I panic,” she admitted. “I’ll break down and I need my husband to reassure me, like, ‘Hey, it’s gonna be OK, no matter what happens.’ … When you lose a child, your faith just goes out the window.”
9. Ask questions
Margulies said that especially in the event of a stillbirth or later loss, it can be helpful to ask if the baby was given a name.
“It’s a really kind thing to ask and validates that baby’s life,” she said. “Their name matters.”
10. If you’ve had a similar experience, try sharing it
Many women interviewed by GMA said that it was comforting to talk to others who had experienced pregnancy or infant loss.
“I really encourage women to seek out support, especially with other women who have gone through what they’ve gone through, so they find their tribe,” Margulies said.
Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.