Pregnancy is a time of celebration, excitement and anticipation. From the moment the woman finds out there's a tiny sesame seed baby developing inside of her, that baby occupies her thoughts 99 percent of the time. Every time she eats, she wonders how it might affect the baby. Every time she walks through a store, she glances at baby clothes and wonders which ones her baby might wear. Pregnancy is so all-consuming that its loss is devastating - no matter how far along the woman was. To the mother, a miscarriage or still birth isn't the loss of an anonymous organism or a batch of matching cells, it is the loss of a real baby with a real future and hopes and dreams and fears.
It is hard to know how to comfort someone who experiences such a severe loss and it's easy to say the wrong thing. However, with some tact and preparation, you can be ready to help your loved one deal with this tragic event.
Don't downplay the situation
Your first impulse might be to say something like, "You can always try again. You guys are both young," or, "It just wasn't meant to be." The idea of trying again might be painful at first because the woman has just gone through some number of weeks or months of pain, physical changes and emotional roller coasters for nothing. There will be no reward for her sacrifice and she won't want to think about starting all over right away. The idea that it wasn't meant to be isn't helpful either because it just leads to questions like, "What's the point then? It felt right to us." You can validate the woman's feelings by grieving along with her.
Acknowledge the loss
Don't pretend like everything is normal. For that mother, nothing is normal and some things will never be the same. Acknowledge that she's suffered a severe blow and let her grieve as much as she needs to. If she feels comfortable with it, talk to her about what happened. Some mothers need to debrief their experience in order to work through it, so you might hear the same story over several times. Be patient and understanding. Other mothers, however, might not want to talk about it, either because they're not ready or because they have other means of coping.
Help preserve the memory
Depending on how far along the woman was in her pregnancy, she may or may not have a baby to bury. Either way, the memory of that child will be very important to her. In some situations, it might be appropriate to help the mother by creating mementos of the baby. You might make some personalized booties or frame an ultrasound picture for her so she can always have a reminder of the baby nearby. Keep track of important anniversaries, like the day the baby died or its much anticipated due date, and be available to provide extra comfort to the mother on those days. Talk about the baby by name to make the baby's memory all the more real.
Don't forget dad
Mothers are the main ones who get attention when a baby is miscarried or still born. They are the ones who were actually carrying the child, after all. But dads deserve just as much consolation and comfort during this difficult time. Make sure to acknowledge his loss as well by lending a listening ear, offering help where you can and being sensitive to his emotional needs.
Miscarriage and still birth are terribly sad occasions, so the best thing you can do is be sensitive and compassionate toward those directly affected by them. At the same time, don't forget to allow yourself to grieve for the child and come up with your own ways to preserve its memory in future years and through future trials.