Besides the actual loss itself, people’s poor responses to my miscarriage have caused the most pain and frustration. It’s sad that most of those who I would consider closest to me didn’t know how to respond, so they simply didn’t. For most of those who did, they tried to offer cliché encouragements which were not encouraging at all. My assessment came down to most people being uneducated about empathy and bereavement; people feeling so insecure or uncomfortable that their responses became selfish. They focused on how they felt about what they said rather than what would have been most helpful.
Before I continue, what is empathy and how does it differ from sympathy? According to Jolliffe & Farrington, “sympathy involves the appraisal of how one feels about the emotions of another” It does share aspects with empathy, but empathy involves “emotion congruence” or possessing the same emotion as another person (2006). If you have not seen Brene Brown’s video on empathy, please do so immediately. I’ve included the link in my references. Brene describes empathy as “fuel[ing] connection” and sympathy as “driv[ing] disconnection.” She also states the four aspects of empathy as:
Please if you don’t take away anything else from this blog, do remember this. “Rarely, if ever, does an empathic response begin with ‘At least…’”. I had someone tell me, “At least you know you can get pregnant”. I totally get where she was coming from because she has a daughter whose reproductive organs were removed. That is such a difficult thing to deal with, and she was trying to point out the good in my situation. However, that was not an empathetic response. The truth is I would rather know I can’t ever have children rather than keep having false hope. It’s the world’s most painful emotional roller coaster. Because of my miscarriages, I do not agree with the phrase “It is better to love and have lost than to have never loved at all”.
The many questions about when/if we were going to try again did bother me when the miscarriage was still fresh. In my head that translated to things such as:
“You’re fine. This happens all the time, and you’ll get pregnant again”.
“Once you give birth, the other lost pregnancies won’t matter”.
“I have absolutely no idea about the physical and emotional pain of miscarriage”.
Now that I have had time to heal, I don’t feel that way about this question. However, I was recently asked a ridiculously ignorant question by one of my oldest friends. She started with the same inquiry but finished with “…you shouldn’t have problems because your mom is a baby-making machine”. WOW!!! That statement hurt me a lot. I was hurt initially when my mother arrived at the hospital just after I had miscarried. She was very helpful, but even she pointed out how she had never experienced it, and she couldn’t imagine the pain I was in. I wanted so desperately to connect with someone who did fully understand, so bringing it back up was very harsh. I’m not entirely sure what my friend’s goal was for that conversation, but I’m going to assume the only thing she cared about in that moment was her own curiosity with no regard for my feelings.
On a brighter note, I will share what I viewed as the perfect response. Of all people who responded most gracefully, it was my neighbor who I was not super close with at the time, but definitely am now. When she became aware of our miscarriage, she offered practical help. Her daughters made me cards, and they brought me flowers and dinner. I took a few days off work and laid in bed crying. One day she came to my door crying…for me…for my situation. She said she couldn’t stop thinking about why God would allow the loss of my baby, and it broke her heart. She told me she was so sorry, and basically that the situation really stunk. She then hugged me and prayed for me on my porch. I am fighting tears as I write this currently because that was EXACTLY what I needed. Though she had not had a miscarriage, I believe she felt what I did. Another of my favorite Brene Brown quotes concerning empathy is “It’s a vulnerable choice because in order to connect with you, I have to connect with something in myself that knows that feeling”. This is what drove the right response from my friend.
I’ll finish with one last quote from Brene, “Rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better is a connection.”
By Summer Hilliard, HHP Contributor
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