Written by Carolyn Testa, a co-founder of Mental Push Plan, bringing mental tools to pregnancy, birth and beyond.
This is my recollection of my friend Lauren's experience with loss and how it transformed our relationship.
Lauren and I met almost a decade ago when our husbands (then boyfriends) were roommates in southern California. Lauren and her husband Mitch were dating long distance at the time, so I would only get to hang with her on weekends when she was in town visiting. We were naturally drawn to each other as like-minded ladies do, but it was always in a group setting. We attended each other’s weddings and kept in touch as we both moved, quite literally, all over the place chasing degrees, jobs and dreams.
We both became pregnant for the first time in 2019, and started talking more often, discussing everything from baby carriers to birth preferences, and laughing together over Ali Wong’s Baby Cobra special on Netflix. It was through these discussions that our friendship deepened, and we both realized a passion for all things birth related. When we finally found ourselves living in the same city of Boise in 2020, we started forming an idea for a workbook that would help birthing people mentally prepare for labor using mindfulness and mental training tools. I should mention I am a prenatal yoga instructor and Lauren is a mental training coach with a PhD in Sport Psychology. We combined our areas of expertise to create the Mental Push Plan which we launched in January 2021.
Lauren’s Pregnancy Loss
It was around the holidays of 2020, that Lauren shared with me she was pregnant with baby #2. Having another kid at that time was not on my radar, so it took me by surprise, but I was happy for her growing family. A few weeks later she told me that, at her ultrasound appointment, they couldn’t detect a heartbeat. I remember Lauren telling me how there was no consoling from the doctor or even a straightforward acknowledgement of the loss. The OB just quickly launched into what Lauren’s options were in terms of removing the pregnancy tissue from her body. It sounded like an awful situation to be put in after receiving horrible news.
In shock from what had transpired at the ultrasound appointment, Lauren rushed out of there and decided to let the miscarriage run its course. And, despite the lack of compassion from her care provider, Lauren was fairly positive about it all. She knew the statistics and how common pregnancy loss is. As her friend, I tried to remain available and validate her feelings without prying too much into her privacy. I wanted to be positive and encouraging, without trying to brush her grief under the rug.
The Scary Part
The weekend she physically experienced her loss, we were together at a cabin over New Year’s with our husbands and 1.5 yr olds. She had told me she was starting to bleed, and that it was happening. It was a small house, and it was hard for me not to notice her going into the bathroom frequently, but I didn’t know if this was normal or not.
That night we went to bed, and I woke up in the middle of the night hearing someone walk into the bathroom, which was next to our room. A few minutes later, I heard a thud against the wall. I ran into the bathroom, and Lauren had fainted after getting up from the toilet. Her husband, Mitch, had gotten up too and we rushed to get her water and Mitch called 911. I remember sitting there with her, waiting for the ambulance to come, and just reassuring her that everything would be OK, help was coming and she was going to be alright.
I don’t remember feeling anything in that moment other than an adrenaline rush and a need to help Lauren feel calm and reassured until the ambulance got there. It was after her and Mitch went to the hospital that I felt so scared. I didn’t know what was wrong or if she was going to be OK.
It turned out that a piece of pregnancy tissue had become stuck in Lauren’s cervix, which caused her to lose a lot of blood, which is why she needed to go to the bathroom so much to change her pads and why she later fainted. At the hospital, they performed an emergency D&C, and she luckily did not need a blood transfusion. Mitch and Lauren returned to the house a few hours later, early in the morning. After we woke up that day, Lauren and I saw each other, and immediately embraced, both beginning to cry.
My Role as a Friend
Sharing that intimate and scary experience with Lauren is something that I would never want to experience again, but it deepened our relationship and understanding of each other in ways that I don’t know much else could have done. I was Lauren’s secondary support person there next to her primary person, her husband. While Mitch was helpful and supportive and loving in all the ways that a wonderful husband is, there is something to be said about the support and understanding between two female friends. It's a feeling of knowing, a rock steadiness that is unshakable even in the scariest of situations. It was a feeling that was magnified for me that night between Lauren and I, that I was not there to protect her or shield her or save her. I was there to walk by her side, reassure her and see her through what was a harrowing experience.
What Happened After
That was not the end of Lauren’s journey. She would experience yet another pregnancy loss subsequently, and finally have a rainbow baby over a year later. I don’t mean to gloss over this. The subsequent pregnancy loss was much harder emotionally for Lauren. I would check in regularly and see her often and ask how I could help; however, the first loss was more significant to me because I was physically there when it happened.
I was also physically there for the birth of her second baby, as her doula. It was a beautiful birth and moments after she ushered her son into the world, I was sitting on the ground next to her in the bathtub. We leaned our foreheads together. It was an exchange of awe, of gratitude, of knowing and feeling the strength and resilience of the millions of women who’ve come before us and the millions of women who will follow, walking beside, supporting, reassuring and seeing each other through.
What I Learned
Supporting a friend through grief can feel like a tricky thing, but a little effort and compassion go a long way. Here are some things I learned after going through this experience with Lauren:
Don’t wait to reach out because you don’t know what to say. They need you now. A simple text saying “I’m thinking about you, and I’m here if you need anything” speaks volumes.
Understand that grief is something that can show up weeks, months, or even years after the event. Hold space for someone, and let them know that you’re available to chat, hang or just listen.
Remember, it is not your job to make their grief go away or minimize it. Listen, offer condolences (i.e. “I am so sorry this happened.”) and ask how you can be of help to them.
Food is always appreciated, especially in those first weeks. When grief is acute and all consuming, most people can’t muster up the energy to cook. Or instead of bringing a meal, what other simple tasks can you take off their plate? Maybe it’s watching their kids, walking their dog, or coming over to do some light housekeeping.
If you’d like to help your friend process their grief, but don’t know how to go about it, consider purchasing a Mental Grief Plan for them. This self-guided digital workbook was created by Lauren and I following her own losses, and offers tools to identify and approach grief in a gentle, self-compassionate way.