How to Comfort Someone During a Miscarriage

Monday, April 14, 2014

Before my dad died three years ago, I  really had no idea how to comfort someone in their grief. Overwhelmed by my feelings of sympathy, and at the same time afraid of saying or doing something to make their pain worse, I usually just hung back and let people have "their space."  That's the definition of ambivalence right there.  It's not that you don't care.  In fact, you care deeply, but two competing emotions (compassion and fear) leave you unable to act.  I think many people relate to this stuck feeling.

When my dad died, I realized that the friends and loved ones who acted, even in some small way, did bring a huge amount of comfort to me.  I resolved to never let ambivalence keep me from acting out in love and kindness again.  When someone passes away, I do try my best to send cards, flowers, give a phone call or even text message, pray (and let the person know I'm praying for them!), provide meals, attend the funeral, offer childcare, or whatever is appropriate to the situation.  No, it's not extravagant stuff, it's just small bits of tangible sympathy that I hope will make the griever feel less alone. I do so with more boldness now, knowing that doing something, even if it's imperfect and awkward, is better than doing nothing.

My most recent loss, a pregnancy at 12 weeks, left me in shambles for a few weeks.  I'm still sad about it from time to time (especially now that the supposed due date is approaching) but I consider myself fully healed, both physically and mentally. There were so many wonderful friends and family members who reached out to me with love.  Their acts were not extravagant, and they didn't always say the "right" things (in fact, a few broke every rule in the "what not to say to someone grieving" handbook, lol) but their actions touched my heart and strengthened me. Miscarriage, like suicide, is still a taboo subject in our culture.  Many people think it's just not appropriate to talk about it because it involves a woman's body and fertility. Some assume the mom just wants to keep to herself.  While some do grieve more inwardly (I'm one of those people- journaling, praying, and even blogging are my favorite outlets for grief!) no one can grieve completely alone.  We all need to feel connected to others.

Here is my list of things to keep in mind when someone you love is suffering a miscarriage.

1.  You probably won't know what to say.  That's ok.  I thought this list of things NOT to say is a good starter.  You probably don't want to say things like "you're still young, you can have more" or "at least you already have a kid" or "there must have been something wrong with the baby, it's for the best" or "miscarriages happen all the time, you just need to move on with your life."  Ouch.  Those are things that the mom is probably telling herself in her own mind, but doesn't want to hear from others.  Statements like those can make the mom feel undue pressure or even guilt because she's not looking on the "bright side" or reacting the way she's "supposed to".

2. Better to send a simple message of love and compassion.  Tell the bereaved that you love them and that you're here for them.  That you can't even imagine what they are going through (even if you've had a miscarriage yourself, you never quite know how someone else is dealing), and that you are praying for their healing. Let them share how they are doing if they want to vent. My bff prayed for me out loud on the phone through her own tears.  It was really healing to know she was mourning with me. Feel free to share your own stories of loss, but only to show that they are not alone, not as a comparison.

3. It can be in a handwritten card (I fear our generation has lost the art of sympathy cards!), in a bouquet of flowers, a voicemail, email, etc.  The most intimate form of communication is best, but every relationship has a unique communication style.  Choose the appropriate means for you.  Know that an introvert may not want hundreds of phone calls or in person visits.  My good friend sent good old fashioned sympathy flowers and it touched my heart. It made me feel like she really acknowledged the death of my unborn baby, that it was just as profound a loss as any other.

4.  Tell them there is no pressure to call or write you back, but that you're here for them whenever they need to talk.  I really appreciated this.

4.  Practical help.  A miscarriage can be just as physically taxing as childbirth, so they might need help with practical things.  If you are close by, offer to help out in some way.  Doesn't have to be big, but maybe offer to bring some groceries or a meal. Or maybe to watch the kids while she naps or has a date night.  Phrase it in a way where she won't feel like she's burdening you.  "I'm running to Trader Joes, what can I get you?"  "I haven't spent time with your kids in so long, can I watch them this weekend?" She will probably turn you down, but she might not.

5.  Send a care package.  If you are far away and feel compelled to give more than a card or flowers, maybe put together a little care package.  Include things like

  • a package of tissues
  • witchhazel pads
  • some advil
  • magazines or light reading
  • a journal
  • scented candle
  • nail polish
  • hand lotion
  • healthy treats- One friend sent me paleo cookies and it made my day!  Thanks Wakana :)
  • bubble bath  
  • This might sound weird, but I also like to include some unbleached organic maxi pads or reusable flannel pads because chances are, she'll have to wear pads for a long time (two months for me!!) and could get irritated down there by regular pads.  
  • herbal tea

6.  Check in again.  Later on down the line, long after the cards stop coming and the flowers have wilted, ask how she's doing.  Tell her you are still praying/thinking about her.

Once again, I am not the expert on comforting those in need.  I wish I were the more nurturing type, but so often my fear and anxiety gets in the way.  I'm the kind of person who doesn't want to hold newborns because I'm afraid I'll break them ;)  But I'm learning from those who have that natural gift how to step out of my comfort zone.  What I've learned is that the tiniest gestures can be so meaningful. Do what you can.

NOTE TO THE BEREAVED:  Show grace.  It takes boldness for some people to reach out to you in your time of need.  Chances are, if they do, you can assume they love you and want to comfort you.  If they say some off the wall tactless things, show them grace and try not to get ruffled. If they don't respond the way you think they should, try to put aside your expectations.  It will be tempting to get angry at loved ones in the midst of loss because it's easy to take our pain out on them. Don't do it, it won't solve anything.


Thoughts on Feeding Kids

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Recently a saleslady at the mall asked what Sisi was munching on in her stroller. Her lunch box had a scoop of egg salad, sharp cheddar, black olives, and sweet potatoes.  A pretty typical lunch in our household.

"Wow, she's so gourmet!"  the lady said.

"Yeah, she loves food!" I replied.

But I was a little puzzled.  Since when is egg salad, cheese, olives and potatoes gourmet?

Sisi's good eating habits rarely evoke a neutral response from others. I seem to get a lot of negativity about it, to be honest. But there are some who are impressed, like the saleslady at the mall, and want to know my "secrets".  That's who this post is for!  These are not secrets really, in fact there is a popular infographic that I pretty much sums it up!

((Before I begin, how much does temperament have to do with our kids' eating habits?  I'm not sure.  I do think Sisi has a pretty compliant personality naturally, so that definitely helps at mealtime.  But believe me, she is a regular toddler with opinions of her own, and tantrums to back them up. I'm not raising a cherub here.  I happen to think a child's food openness is more nurture than nature, but that's just my opinion. Do French kids have some food-appreciation-gene we don't know about, or is their food culture conducive to healthy eating habits?))

1.  Introducing foods.   
We were very intentional about what we first offered her, hoping to stretch her tastebuds from the very beginning.  I actually let Joe take charge of her first solid food adventures because he had done more research than I.  He did a lot of egg yolks mixed with  avocado or breastmilk, sardines, and freshly pureed vegies and fruits. We went easy on fruits because we didn't want her to be accustomed to sweet food.  I thought Nourishing Traditions was a very helpful resource at the time. I wrote an article for Hellobee when Sisi was still a baby that gives a good idea of what she was eating early on, if you're interested.

2.  Watch the sugar and empty carbs!
I heard a piece on NPR about how kids nowadays eat so much sugar and processed food that their tastebuds remain in an infantile state for a long time.  And sugar comes in many "healthy" disguises- fruit snacks, cereals, fruit juice, granola bars, pb&j sandwiches, smoothies, pancakes, even super sugary fruits like bananas which should be eaten sparingly.  Once again, you probably think I'm psycho for saying this, since this stuff is the majority of what toddlers in America exist on.  But humor me here.  This is the amount of sweets Sisi typically consumes in a day:
  • in breakfast mush- 1/8 banana diced, 1 skinny slice of apple diced (just to sweeten it a bit).  
  • in lunch- 1 orange slice or pear slice for dessert.
  • snack- perhaps 1/2 a paleo cookie, or a small handful of dried fruit
  • dinner- sweet potatoes if she's lucky
  • after dinner sweet- tiny handful of frozen blueberries or small piece of 85% chocolate.  
Her carby-sweet intake is probably only 10% of what she eats in a day, and it's never processed white sugar.  It's always eaten with other healthy foods so it is less likely to affect blood sugar. Being gluten-free automatically takes away a lot of the carby-sweet choices out there, which make my job easier.  Why are we this anal about sugar?  
  • Teeth.  Sugar rots your teeth, even natural sugars in fruits.  
  • I believe sugar is very addicting.  There is research out there that shows the same reward centers in the brain are activated when someone does heroine.  I found out through genetic testing that I am particularly susceptible to heroine addiction :/ Coincidence that I am a former sugar addict?  Perhaps, but I would like to spare Sisi that addiction if I can.  
  • Sugar dulls the tastebuds. Even fruit doesn't seem sweet to a sugar addict. I'm hearing more and more dieticians make similar statements, that eating too much sugar stunts a child's ability to appreciate other tastes, like the bitterness in veggies or the savory taste of meat.  I totally believe this because even as a young adult, I was hooked on sugar and carbs and preferred them over every other food.  When I started eating healthier, I could finally enjoy the subtle sweetness of fruits and nuts and even veggies.  
3.  Eat the same stuff.
No kids menus, no "toddler food", she eats what I eat at almost every meal.

4.  Don't manipulate.  
Think of food as a wonderful gift from God, not as an easy way to probe certain behaviors or attitudes out of our kids, because that can backfire big time.

  • No food-related bribes. (Pee in the potty and you'll get m&ms!)
  • No food-related rewards. (You ate your veggies?  Good job!  Now you get a donut as a reward.)
  • No food-related punishment. (You were naughty, so you don't get dessert tonight.)
  •  No eating to distract or to cure boredom.  The only time I break this one is on airplanes.  Even so, I bring healthy foods onboard.  
  • Don't force feed!  My rule is that she must sit with us during meals, but not that she must eat. Chances are, if she hasn't been snacking too much and if I have done a decent job of cooking, she will gladly eat of her own free will.  If she only eats only a little, it's usually pretty healthy stuff that packs a big nutritious punch, so I don't worry about quantity.  I'd rather she eat 2 small sardines than an entire bagel.  
5.  Be prepared. Stock your pantry with healthy foods, pack a balanced lunch the night before, have a meal plan for the week so you're not tempted to say, "Screw it!  Let's just get pizza."  It helps that Sisi eats the same breakfast every day (the aforementioned morning mush), and has since she was an infant.  One less meal to worry about.

6.  Limit snacks! This one is wildly important.  It will cure most food related tantrums. As the French say, "Hunger is the best sauce!"  Being a bit hungry between meals isn't a bad thing.  It will just make them more excited about mealtime and willing to try new things.  This is a hard one, too.  When Sisi was nursing, I seriously whipped out the boob whenever she so much as whimpered.  It was the easiest way to calm her down, but it led to a vicious snacking cycle and she was nursing as often as 14 times a day at 5 months old.  I was exhausted and so over it.  I am glad I learned then that waiting between meals is best for baby, and best for everyone.  

My final note:  I understand that many busy moms will read this and think they don't have the time and energy to devote to changing their kids' eating habits.  But here is my thought- how many minutes or hours per week do you spend battling and negotiating and pleading with your kids about food? Just redirect that time and energy into making a plan.  We established a healthy eating plan for our family, and it took some getting used to.  But now, I never have to  worry or think about what  Sisi's eating.  Eating is just a fun and carefree part of life, as it should be!