I know how you feel...

I touched lightly on this statement last year during PAIL. This year I’m going a little deeper:

“I know how you feel! A friend of mine, their sister had a miscarriage.” 
Yes, I have been on the receiving end of this statement.

“I know how you feel, I lost my grandfather.” “I know how you feel, my dog died a few years ago.” I’m not going to elaborate on the other “I know how you feel” statements from others that have not experienced this kind of death for obvious reasons. As a reader, you get the idea that they do not, in fact, know how I feel.

This statement I feel is the absolute worst when it is made by someone that has experienced this and they tell you “I know how you feel.”  Of all people, we should know better than to say these 5 words.

In the days following my miscarriage almost two years ago I received multiple phone calls from complete strangers all telling me they all knew how I felt and other attempted words of encouragement. - The midwife I used for my second birth shared with others in their community that I had experienced a miscarriage, and as well-intended as it was shared my personal information with others, it was not well received. I did not want to hear the day after our miscarriage “don’t worry, I had 3 miscarriages and I went on to have two healthy and happy babies.”

Sometimes those that have experienced a similar loss or death can be the worst when using the phrase “I know how you feel.” The truth is no, no one does. We may have experienced similar situations and experiences but you have not walked their life up to this point, from their point of view, their outlook on life, etc. You do not know what their reality is. 

I have talked with many families about their personal pregnancy loss(es) that were further along in their pregnancies than I was with Olive and they did not consider it a death or a loss, just a pregnancy that was not viable. Neither is right or wrong, but it shows that we each experience things differently.

When talking with someone (especially during Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month) avoid the phrase “I know how you feel…” at all costs. Truth be told, I don’t even know how other families that have experienced similar experiences truly feel. 

I do know that words came up so short to express my experience with Olive’s death. I also go through times where I do not know how I feel, so good luck telling me that you know how I feel. The take away from this should be no matter what, WE DO NOT KNOW HOW OTHERS FEEL. You can try to empathize and sympathize but that’s where it stops. You would still be empathizing from your reality, from your past experiences - not theirs.

Stop saying things to grieving families to make yourself feel better.

I feel the best response to give someone who has shared such an intimate detail as the death of their child, or pregnancy loss is to listen. 

Actively listen. 

If you feel you have to say something in response, sometimes “I’m sorry” is as simple as it needs to be. If their loss or death was recent and you want other resources to support them, there are amazing resources at Stillbirthday.

Audrey ThorpComment