Supporting a Loved One Through Pregnancy Loss
Fifteen to 20 per cent of pregnancies end in miscarriage, or pregnancy loss, according to the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada. The majority of those miscarriages happen in the first eight weeks of pregnancy, often before a woman even knows she’s pregnant. But when women — and their partners and families — experience loss, the effects can be devastating, according to Dr. Ariel Dalfen, Head of the Perinatal Mental Health Program, within the Department of Psychiatry at Mount Sinai Hospital, part of Sinai Health.
“There’s a lot of shame and self-silencing that goes on when this happens,” Dr. Dalfen says. “People often feel like they’ve failed or like other people don’t understand the depths of their grief.”
Melissa Goldband, a mental health clinician affiliated with Sinai Health’s Department of Psychiatry, agrees, noting that others often don’t know what to say to, or do for, someone who has experienced loss.
“People don’t like to bring up things they don’t have resources for or they can’t fix,” she says.
If you have a family member or friend who has suffered a pregnancy loss, here are some ways you can lend your support.
- Listen. People experiencing grief often want to tell their story. Let them do just that, without judgment or expectations about when this period of sadness should be over.
- Speak. Acknowledge what has happened and, if the parents named the child they lost, honour that choice. For instance, say, “I wanted to let you know that I was thinking of Sarah today,” or “How would you like our family to memorialize Sam at next week’s holiday dinner?”
- Be inclusive. When pregnancy loss happens, it affects more than just the person who was pregnant. Fathers, non-carrying partners, grandparents and the family’s other children will likely experience a range of emotions. Try not to forget about them when a pregnancy loss occurs.
- Be helpful. Offer to help take care of physical needs, such as driving to medical appointments, providing meals and taking care of other children in the household if the parents need a break.
- Be resourceful. Let your loved one know there are resources for them. Mount Sinai runs a therapeutic group for people who have experienced pregnancy loss at 20 weeks or later, has social workers and psychiatrists available for counselling and therapy and holds an annual remembrance ceremony for families that have experienced loss. Beyond Sinai Health, families may also want to seek support from the Toronto chapter of Bereaved Families of Ontario (BFOToronto.ca), the Pregnancy and Infancy Loss Network (pailnetwork.sunnybrook.ca) and Grieve Out Loud (grieveoutloud.org).
Written by Nancy Carr | Illustration by Louise Reimer