When Erich Streckfuss’ wife was pregnant for the first time, he was uncertain who to share the news with, given the convention of not announcing a pregnancy until the 12-week mark, when miscarriage grows much less likely.
“I made it a point of telling a couple very close friends and family,” Streckfuss told HuffPost. “My rationale was: If anything goes wrong, this is the support system, these are folks that I’m going to be calling for her help.”
The couple’s first pregnancy proceeded smoothly, and they now have a 3-year-old daughter.
Last year, when he found out his wife was pregnant again, Streckfuss says he “took the same approach,” thinking he would just tell a few people ― but “in the exuberance of that, I got a little too excited. I told probably more people than I wanted to or needed to.”
This time, his wife experienced symptoms of miscarriage, and the couple were together in the doctor’s office when the loss was confirmed.
Streckfuss said he felt like “an observer,” and that there was nothing he could do to help his wife, who works at HuffPost. While coping with his own grief, Streckfuss also had to announce the loss to everyone he’d told about the pregnancy.
“It was completely the opposite of why I thought I needed to tell them in the first place,” he recalled. Rather than making the experience easier, it was “crushing.”
“It didn’t even feel like I was getting anything out of it,” he said. “I just had to disappoint them and kind of relive the whole experience every time that I told folks.”
While people were apologetic, Streckfuss was struck by how quickly they stopped bringing up the subject.
“I felt like it was so much faster for people to kind of not acknowledge it any longer,” he said, noting that after the loss of his mother years earlier, people had continued to inquire for months about how he was doing.
Streckfuss said a couple of people shared their own miscarriage experiences with him, and it was reassuring to hear that they’d gone on to have more children.
“I’m not exactly sure what I was expecting or hoping from people,” he said.
Streckfuss says he will likely tell fewer people about any pregnancies in the future. But at the same time, he wishes he’d gotten more openness and support.
“I’m contradicting myself,” he acknowledged, “because I’m sitting here saying that I want to keep things private … and also saying I wish people would open up more.”
His thoughts illustrate the complexity of grief, which can leave us wanting to be embraced in one moment and left alone the next.
It’s common for people to grieve pregnancy losses in private, which means there is no script for how to approach the topic ― particularly with the partner of the person who experienced the miscarriage, whose feelings are often overlooked entirely.
The first step in offering support is to acknowledge that this is their loss, too.
“Support doesn’t have to look different for either partner. It just needs to be actively demonstrated,” Jacqueline Fernando, a California therapist who specializes in infertility and pregnancy loss counseling, told HuffPost.
Ask how they’re feeling — and keep asking
“Non-pregnant partners may feel that that they are not ‘allowed’ to have deep feelings,” Fernando said. They may think, “I need to be the strong one. I need to hold it together.” And traditional gender roles can exacerbate this pressure.
Josephine Atluri, an author, life coach and podcast host, pointed out “the biases we have about the differences between men and women processing feelings.”
“Assuming the non-pregnant partner doesn’t feel the same magnitude of grief and other emotions after a miscarriage invalidates their feelings,” Atluri said.
While the non-pregnant partner is certainly under no obligation to share these feelings with you, you can still honor their presence.
“When we do not acknowledge and forget to check in on our non-pregnant partners and how they are grieving and coping, we send the message to them that their feelings don’t matter,” Fernando said.
This can lead partners to discount their own feelings, or to experience what’s known as disenfranchised grief, which Fernando defined as “where others don’t see your loss as valid.”
As Streckfuss found, friends and family may assume that a partner will recover quickly from a pregnancy loss.
“There is no expiration date on grief,” Fernando said. “It is always OK to demonstrate sensitivity, care and compassion by just checking in on a friend.”
It can be particularly meaningful for you to check in and send a message of support on what would have been the baby’s due date, as well as the one-year mark following the loss.
Do something intentional
It can help to make a gesture that is concrete, though it doesn’t have to be big.
Fernando suggested the following: “Drop a plate of cookies off at their door and send a message, ‘I’m going to leave warm cookies at your door. If you’d like to open the door, talk it out, could use a hug, I can do all these things. If not, you can totally keep the door closed … Whenever you’re ready, I’m available to sit with you.’”
Don’t say ‘Just try again’
These words are often intended to provide hope or a quick fix, particularly “when grief is too uncomfortable to bear as an onlooker,” Atluri said. But this phrase “can make it seem like their loss was unimportant and can be easily moved on from.”
Atluri suggests avoiding phrases that begin with the words “You should” or “Just do.”
Don’t feel pressured to say things to fill the silence
“Oftentimes, people feel uncomfortable with the silence of grieving and want to fill up the space with words,” Atluri said.
But a stream of advice and anecdotes may be too much for someone in such a vulnerable state.
“Allow the grieving person to take the lead about what they want to say, if anything at all,” Atluri said. “Sometimes, the most powerful thing can be a hug, holding their hand, or just sitting alongside of them in their grief.”
Be open to whatever form their grief and healing take
People will react to miscarriage in different ways, depending on their own personal histories, the circumstances of the loss and other factors.
Atluri, who herself experienced the loss of twins, said that “people who are navigating a miscarriage need their space to process their feelings in a way that feels authentic to them. This may look different from the way you would approach things, so it’s important not to invalidate someone’s process.”
Even partners can have different needs when it comes to the loss.
“Partners within the same household can grieve differently, and that’s OK,” said Fernando. “There is no room for judgment in grief. It doesn’t mean that one partner is in more or less pain.”
With a miscarriage, our culture’s lack of any real rituals to acknowledge the loss can pose an additional challenge.
Fernando noted that there is often “no historical memory, tangible representation or physical manifestation of that life.” When a person dies, we may share memories or photographs of them, but a pregnancy loss leaves us without these things.
“Memorializing a miscarriage can look like anything the couple decides. There is no one way to grieve and no one way to heal,” Fernando said. A partner might plant a fruit tree in their garden to commemorate the loss, for example. In this case, simply remarking on the tree could demonstrate to someone that you acknowledge its meaning — and that you, too, remember their loss.
If someone who has experienced a miscarriage, or the partner of such a person, is looking for a therapist or support group, you can direct them to the organizations Resolve, Fertility Out Loud and Postpartum Support International.