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My friend had a miscarriage. How can I help her? Add to ...

The question: My friend was a few months along in her pregnancy when she recently had a miscarriage. How do I support her without being intrusive or overbearing?

The answer: Miscarriages are, unfortunately, relatively common. Up to one out of five women will experience a miscarriage, with the large number occurring within the first seven weeks of gestation, not uncommonly before the woman even knows she is pregnant.

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In spite of the frequency, the loss of a pregnancy – particularly several months into the term – can be a huge emotional loss. A number of factors impact a woman’s reaction to a miscarriage: how far along she was in the pregnancy; her age; how long she had been trying to get pregnant; whether she has other children; and whether she has had difficulties with fertility. Current or pre-existing mood issues, such as depression or anxiety, may also be exacerbated or triggered post-miscarriage.

All too often, people don’t know what to say to someone who has experienced a loss, and instead they stay silent. Or conversely, as you are worried, they may inadvertently amplify difficulties by becoming overly intrusive.

The best thing for you to do is to gently speak to your friend and ask her what would be helpful. Let her know you love her, and want to support her the best you can. Explain your worry explicitly – tell your friend that you respect her need for privacy and personal grieving, and that you want to ensure you aren’t being intrusive or overbearing.

Finally, let her know you are there to listen. And do just that: listen. Don’t try to tell her you understand what it feels like (as this can be perceived as invalidating, particularly if you haven’t experienced a miscarriage yourself). Resist the urge to problem-solve or to be Pollyannaish in your advice. For example, saying things such as “look on the bright side, you are so young and can try again!” will probably not be helpful and could make her feel even less understood.

Ask her what you can do to help. She may very much welcome logistical or pragmatic assistance: You can prep meals for her, clean her home, offer to watch her other children if she has them. You can also suggest to attend a doctor or midwife’s appointment with her to get more information on next steps and options.

Pay attention to what she says and try to honour it. Often, even when we mean well, we offer the kind of support to others that we ourselves would want, without being attune to the unique needs the other person has.

Dr. Joti Samra, R.Psych., is a clinical psychologist and organizational & media consultant. She is the host of OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network’s Million Dollar Neighbourhood and is the psychological consultant to CITY-TV’s The Bachelor Canada. Her website is www.drjotisamra.com and she can be followed @drjotisamra .

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The content provided in The Globe and Mail’s Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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