Over the past few months I have been asked this question personally, as well as seen the topic a number of times on online chat groups. Since my loss at four months just this past December, I have a new perspective on this and thought I'd share, since it seems to be a bewildering topic that is best answered by someone who has been through it. I'm fully aware that my situation could've been far worse and my loss could've taken place even later, but this was my 6th miscarriage, and getting four months into the pregnancy only to have it very unexpectedly end was, and still is, indescribably painful.
The easiest, most general advice I can give to anyone who may know somebody who has had the great misfortune to lose their baby late in the pregnancy is to treat that loss like you would any death in the family. Miscarriages are still so taboo in our society, and people just don't respond the same way. People don't generally flood your doorstep with food and flowers, the way they may do so if you lost a child they had a chance to know. While I will admit that there is most certainly a difference, as I cannot even fathom the devastation I would experience if something happened to my 2 year old daughter now, and I realize it would be far greater than anything I recently experienced, I still believe that right out of the gate, I think the feelings are pretty comparable. I felt equally incapacitated with grief and unable to function.
Furthermore, women who lose a child that far along (or at any stage, really) are not just dealing with mourning a loss, they must confront the physical aftermath as well. I had gone in for a routine appointment, expecting to be in and out with no suspicion that anything at all was wrong, and minutes later my entire world was turned upside down when there was no heartbeat. I was presented with the option to either induce labor within the next day or two and birth my baby, being warned that I'd be on a maternity ward and that it may take days, or I could schedule a D&E. I did not think I had it in me emotionally to handle the labor, so I went with option B. Unfortunately, since I was so far along nobody would touch me, including my OB GYN. I had to juggle phone calls between my doctor, my insurance company and several specialists, trying to get in for the procedure as soon as possible. In the end, I had to walk around with my dead baby rattling around inside of me for an entire week.
One week to cling to the already large belly that I had. One week to try to explain to my two year old that there was no longer a reason to kiss and hug my belly and tell it she loved it everyday. One week to hang on to the last physical evidence I'd ever have that this child existed. One week to begin the grieving process, and then have to start all over again once the baby and my belly were finally gone. I felt movement very early, and could still feel it for that week, except unlike before, it was only when I made sudden movements to make it move. I spent that week going back and forth from thinking maybe everyone was mistaken and it was still alive since I could feel it, to running to the bathroom because I felt like I was starting to bleed.
Throughout it all, I still had a child to feed and a home to manage, but people just don't reach out in the same way as they do when other family members pass. It was the few that did that made me realize how important it was, and prompted me to write this post. Several sent beautiful flowers and gifts, and women I've never personally met from an online forum I belong to even got together and made a magnificent gesture of sending angel wings ornaments (this was Christmas time) and cards. One kind friend took our daughter off our hands for the afternoon, just so my husband and I could be together and mourn. And my mother brought us groceries, which was just huge. Grocery trips are rather difficult (they still can be months later), because the stores are often filled with babies and newborns. There is no way I would've gotten through a grocery trip that first week, and my husband was too busy back at work so he could afford to take off when I physically needed him after the D&E, plus he was taking care of my daughter and trying to keep up with all of the things I was too devastated to do - all while dealing with his own grief. Then of course the D&E led to some issues afterwards, and it was quite some time before I could physically put everything behind me.
So that is why my advice is to treat it like any death in the family. Cook for them, clean for them, whatever they are comfortable with allowing you to do, but whatever can be done to make their lives easier, especially if they already have other children, is in my opinion, the best way to help. I know the devastation would be far more insurmountable if my child had made it to this world and I got to know it first, but that didn't make it any easier at first. I find myself never saying the word "miscarriage." Since my other 5 losses were very early, before we even heard the heartbeat, to me they will always be miscarriages. What I find myself saying instead is "when my baby died." Because that's what happened - I had a baby and it died. If I had a 10 year old child die there would be no euphemism to say in its place, I'd simply refer to that time as when my son/daughter died. I don't do it consciously, but realized it recently. So if you ever have the great sadness of knowing someone who has experienced this, treat it like their BABY died. Not just an unspoken "miscarriage." There was a baby, and they never got to know it. I will forever wonder what my child would've looked like. Whether or not they would've looked just like my daughter, very different, or somewhere in between. I will never be able to know that child, but I will never forget.
This brings me to my final piece of advice, which is to check in on that person. Months down the road when everyone else's lives have moved on and everyone has forgotten...they will not have forgotten, and for them the pain is still very real.