Second to the pain of infertility or pregnancy loss, the most painful part of losing a child or not being able to have one is dealing with people’s comments, questions, and well-intentioned advice. Even though most comments or questions are meant to be helpful or uplifting, they can actually seem insensitive and naïve.

In 2011, I learned firsthand how hurtful loved ones and complete strangers could accidentally be.

November 30th began like any other work day. I got up and got in the shower. That’s where the normalcy ended.

As I flipped a towel over my wet hair, I heard and felt something pop inside my body. I was overcome with instant pain, not too dissimilar from excruciating menstrual cramps. At first I thought I had pulled something. I tried stretching it out, laying down, using a heating pad. The pain only intensified. I called my husband in tears, knowing I needed help, knowing that something was wrong.

After many painful tests at the hospital, a vaginal ultrasound included, I learned that I was pregnant. We had been trying to conceive for two months and had no idea we had been somewhat successful. I had been blacking out and moaning in pain, but I forgot all that and sat up and reached for the doctor.

“Can you save the baby?” I pleaded. I didn’t care about my own body in that moment. I only cared about my baby, the baby I didn’t even know existed until that moment. But that didn’t matter. My only wish was to save my baby.

The doctor promised to do what he could, but it was out of his hands. It turns out I had a ruptured ectopic pregnancy. Not only could I not save my baby, but she almost took me with her.

I marveled at the whiteness and starkness of the operating room as they wheeled me in, just like in the movies.

“This is going to be painful,” one of the nurses said as they turned me on my side and moved me to the operating table.

Painful didn’t begin to describe it. The weight of the blood in my abdomen crushed my internal organs. I felt my eyes bulge out of my head, and in the moment, I prayed for death. I begged for it. I knew I was dying, and I just wanted it all to end, to find relief.

While they strapped a mask over my face, I remember screaming “NO!” over and over again until the drugs mercifully kicked in.

Emergency surgery, a removed fallopian tube, and four blood transfusions later, I was once again childless and full of physical and emotional pain.

About six months later, I took the precautionary measure of getting a hysterosalpingogram, which consists of dye being pushed into my cervix to see if my remaining fallopian tube was open. Once again, I was met with heartbreak.

My remaining tube was blocked with thick scar tissue that could not be removed without risking even more damage. Even if it could, my uterus was misshapen, so additional surgery would be required to make my uterus baby-ready. At that time, pregnancy wasn’t an option for us.

The comments poured in, from both the inexperienced and the experienced, from everyone from my fellow church members to my own mother. Most people were simply trying to help, and they didn’t know how to respond to the gravity of the situation or the emotional torment I felt. Even their good intentions couldn’t take the pain and trauma away.

In fact, most times, it only amplified it.

If you’ve experienced hurtful comments after pregnancy loss or infertility, the most important thing to remember is that they aren’t meant to be hurtful, even if they do cause emotional harm. If you know someone who has experienced this loss, and you’re not sure what to say or if what you want to say will be hurtful, the best thing to do is to be mindful, considerate, and empathetic.

Here are some comments I received that did more harm than good, why they don’t help, and what to do or say instead:

Silver lining comments to uplift or minimize pain

“At least you know you can get pregnant now!”

“You didn’t even know you were pregnant? Oh, then that loss isn’t so bad.”

“You could always just use a turkey baster.”

“You’re lucky that you’ll never have to go through childbirth,” or “You’re lucky you won’t have to worry about your body and stretch marks after having kids.”

How they’re meant to help

It can be difficult to see a loved one going through a painful experience. These types of comments are meant to be upbeat, happy, funny, or help the person see their experience from a new perspective.

But even though comments like these are meant to minimize emotional pain, it can actually feel like the person is trying to minimize the experience itself and the grief that comes along with it. This makes the person in pain feel as though they’re not allowed to grieve deeply because they should be looking at the silver linings instead.

What to do instead

Sometimes allowing yourself to grieve is one of the hardest parts of infertility or miscarriage. Grief is a natural part of these experiences. It’s a natural – and healthy – part of life. If you’re the one that needs to grieve, let yourself.

Write out your feelings or find someone you can talk to, someone who won’t judge you when you say shocking or alarming things as part of your grieving process (like a faith-based crisis or simply feeling hatred or bitterness toward those around you who aren’t going through it).

If your loved one is going through this, be there for her. Lend her your listening ear. Let her get it all out, unfiltered and raw. Sometimes that alone can lift a portion of the weight off her shoulders.

Remind her that she doesn’t have to look at the silver linings yet and to take the grieving process one step at a time. Most importantly, tell her that you’re there to listen whenever she needs to talk.

Comments meant to give hope

“God has His reasons,” or “Everything happens for a reason.”

“Time heals all.”

“I know exactly how you feel.”

“There’s always adoption.”

How they’re meant to help

Part of the grieving and healing processes requires finding hope in the future. It may not be the hope of having children, but it can be a hope to feel whole again, to feel happy, or even simply content. Many people who say these types of comments are trying to make the person feel better by offering hopeful statements.

The problem is that they are shared when the person is still in the thick of grief. They haven’t gotten to the stage yet where they can even begin to feel hope in the future. Hope is powerful. But it has its own place and time during emotional trauma and healing. In the heart of my trauma, it was nearly impossible to focus on the future.

What to do instead

It’s okay to be happy and hopeful around the person grieving, but let yourself exude it in your actions rather than your words. You don’t have to say anything about hope. When they’re ready, they’ll feel it from you, and then they’ll know you’re a safe harbor for them when they start exploring the new stage of healing.

Once they start talking about the future with hope, you can help it grow into something more stable by simply listening and encouraging them softly.

Comments meant to shorten the grieving process

“Don’t worry. Soon you’ll be back to your old self again.”

“You’re not over it yet? It’s been weeks/months/years.”

How they’re meant to help

Going through the grieving process is hard, and so is watching someone you love go through it. From the other side of the experience, you want your loved one to heal and be alright again, but chances are your loved one is still processing and trying to heal.

Comments like these may be meant to shorten the grieving process, but they can actually add more time to it.

What to do instead

Ask them what they need from you. Ask them how you can help, and if they don’t give you an answer (it’s hard to do when in emotional distress), give suggestions on how you’d love to help.

It can be as simple as doing the dishes, dropping off a dinner, or even buying them some beautiful flowers. The most important thing is to remind them they’re loved, no matter what.

Questions about the future

“When are you two going to have kids?”

“So, what are you going to do now?”

How they’re meant to help

These questions can range from someone being curious to a simple, innocent getting-to-know-you question. No matter how innocent, they can hurt when in the middle of dealing with the emotional pain of losing a baby or not being able to get pregnant.

Sometimes they’re just conversation starters, and the other person doesn’t realize that they’re being hurtful and opening an emotional wound.

What to do instead

Instead of asking questions like this, allow the person in emotional pain to talk about it first. Let them guide the conversation. This will let you know what they want to talk about and what they’re comfortable discussing.

Look for cues in their body language and what they say. It’s okay to ask follow-up questions if they bring up the topic on their own. If they don’t want to talk about it anymore, it will most likely be clear in their body language. Or, they may tell you it’s a sensitive topic. Either way, respect their need for privacy during such a difficult time.

For those of you going through the pain, remember that these comments aren’t meant to harm. They come from people who are concerned and who love you. If from strangers, they simply don’t understand the depth of your situation and your grief. Be patient and kind. It’s also perfectly acceptable to turn them into teaching moments.

If you’re outside the experience and watching a loved one go through it, also employ patience and kindness. Be understanding. Be empathetic. Be aware.

When it comes down to it, we can all do a little better and be a little kinder. It can make a world of difference to those who need it the most.