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IUPUI research reveals strategies for families coping with miscarriage during the holidays



INDIANAPOLIS — Coping with grief during the holiday season can be particularly difficult for couples who have experienced a miscarriage, given the associated social taboo and lack of emotional support often received after the loss of a pregnancy.

Jennifer J. Bute and Maria Brann, both associate professors in the Department of Communication Studies in the IU School of Liberal Arts at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, provide several practical recommendations for couples grieving during the holiday season after the loss of a pregnancy.

Bute and Brann’s research findings suggest several approaches:

  • First, allow yourself time and space to mourn the death. This might mean giving yourself permission to skip holiday events that are especially stressful or painful.
  • Honor your feelings and recognize that you might experience a range of emotions during the holidays, including sadness, anger and happiness. Some couples cope with these feelings by memorializing their lost child through making a special holiday ornament, creating a scrapbook or writing in a journal.
  • Prepare yourself for uncomfortable interactions with friends and loved ones. Holiday parties mean talking with people who might make insensitive comments about the miscarriage or inquire about the loss. Talking with your spouse about how to handle these questions and comments can help you manage them in the moment. 

In comprehensive interviews with 20 couples who had recently experienced a miscarriage, two researchers explored in depth how the couples handled the difficulties they faced when talking to friends and family about their loss.

After comprehensive interviews with 20 couples who had recently experienced a miscarriage, Bute and Brann’s research also revealed tips for those in a supportive role for such couples:

  • Validate the loss by checking in with the couple and asking how they are managing the holidays in the midst of a recent miscarriage. Couples might be reluctant to bring up the topic on their own, and asking them how they’re doing provides an opportunity for them to talk.
  • Listen, but don’t advise. Just letting someone express their grief is more helpful than telling them what they should do or how they should feel.
  • If you’ve never been through a miscarriage, it’s OK to acknowledge that and to ask the couple what they need so you can best support them.

The study, “Co-Ownership of Private Information in the Miscarriage Context,” is scheduled for publication early next year in the Journal of Applied Communication Research and won a Top Four Paper Award from the Interpersonal Communication Division of the National Communication Association.