the emptiness of miscarriage pt 2

Guest Post by: Sarah Moulson

I believe that those who have struggled with infertility or miscarriage understand the miracle of pregnancy in a unique way. During the two years that Steve and I tried and tried again to get pregnant, I frequently remarked, “When you consider all the systems that have to work perfectly and precisely for a child to be conceived, it’s incredible that anyone ever gets pregnant!” (And it’s amazing how often it happens by accident!) After suffering a miscarriage with our second pregnancy, I was once again astounded, but this time in a different way. As I learned more about miscarriage, I was floored by the statistics. It’s estimated that as many as 75% of all fertilized eggs never result in the birth of a child. For a variety of reasons, about 3 out of 4 embryos fail to implant in the uterus and miscarriage occurs, appearing to be just a normal period and most likely without the woman even being aware of what has happened. Once a pregnancy is confirmed, there is a 15-20% chance of miscarriage. (See Making Sense of Miscarriage Statistics for more information.)

I have seen these statistics lived out in my own circle of family and friends. I have watched two of my three brothers walk this hard road with their wives. All five of my closest married friends who participated in my wedding have gone through it, some of them more than once. Several years ago I was attending a gathering of fellow seminary wives and somehow the conversation turned to pregnancy loss. Of the ten women in the room, half had lost a baby, and I was aware of a handful more not in attendance that evening. I don’t say this to scare those who are currently expecting or who may become pregnant in the future. However, the reality is that at some point in your life, either you or someone you care about will probably become part of these statistics.

Statistics are cold and impersonal numbers on a page, but miscarriage is real and heartbreaking and raw and awful. Just like with childbirth, each person’s experience is similar and yet unique. I can only speak from my own experience. Below are some things that I have learned as I stumbled along this unexpected road.

A miscarriage is a death. Treat it as such.

A miscarriage is not simply a clump of cells leaving your body. It is the death of your child. We lost our baby between Weeks Six and Seven of the pregnancy. When people would ask me how far along I had been, I frequently found myself responding, “Only six weeks,” as if it wasn’t really a big deal because it was so early in the pregnancy. I eventually realized that I needed to honor my child and drop the “only.” One of my favorite Dr. Seuss quotes comes from Horton Hears a Who – “A person’s a person, no matter how small!” At that stage of development my child was the size of a lentil. But within that miraculous, tiny body, he or she had a beating heart that stopped beating. The little nose, mouth, and ears that I longed to kiss were beginning to form. I was carrying a unique person made in the image of God.

Understanding that miscarriage is a death, and often a physically grueling process, if someone you know experiences one, treat it like you would any other death or serious illness. Send flowers or a note of sympathy. Take them a meal. Care for older children so that the couple can rest and grieve. Pray for and with them. Be gentle and thoughtful with your words. Sit and cry with them. Allow them to vent. Give them space if they want it. Respect their unique grieving process. Be present.

One extra thought on the topic of caring for those who are grieving – Don’t forget about the dad. Just like with a pregnancy, the mom is often the center of attention following a miscarriage. But there’s a dad who is also mourning the loss of a child. As the protector of his family it can be horrible for a man to see his wife in physical and emotional pain, knowing that there is nothing he can do to stop her suffering or to save the life of his child. He may not feel the physical agony of the miscarriage but that doesn’t mean his heart isn’t breaking.

Grief is very personal and unique to each person. It is messy and tricky and perplexing.

Everyone grieves in a different way, and there’s no instruction manual about the “right” way to do it. It is such a messy, confusing process. I wanted people to comfort me, and I wanted to be left alone. I wanted to sit in my sadness, and I wanted to move on. Sometimes I felt guilty that I wasn’t feeling sad enough, and other times I felt guilty that I was so overwhelmingly sad. I didn’t cry at times I expected to and I burst into tears when I least expected it.

The ways in which people move forward and pull out of their grief are also very personal. Some name the child. Some don’t. Some never get pregnant again. Some are expecting the very next month. Some speak freely about their loss. Some hold it quiet and close to their heart.

Grief requires patience. I had to be patient with myself, acknowledging the various emotions as they arose and riding out whatever wave happened to crash over my head at that particular moment. I had to be patient with my husband, and he with me, as we chose to lean into each other during the hard times rather than allowing them to drive us apart. I had to be patient with those who tried to be comforting but who weren’t, just as they had to be patient with me when I tried to be gracious but wasn’t. Finally, I just had to be patient and trust that while time may not fully heal all wounds, it does cause them to eventually not hurt quite so much.

It’s normal to question why it happened and whether you may have caused it, but don’t hang out in that place for too long.

The baby that I lost was unplanned. In the weeks following the loss, I questioned why God would give us the joyous surprise of this child only to turn around and take it away a few weeks later. I also wondered if I had unintentionally done something to cause it. Was it because I was still nursing our older daughter? Did I lift something that was too heavy or eat something I shouldn’t have? Asking questions like these is normal, but you probably won’t ever get answers. I’m three years past it, and I still have no idea why it happened. What I do know is that it has caused me to grow in compassion. It gave me a new set of eyes; as I look around at others I know that everyone has invisible scars weighing them down and influencing their attitudes and actions. It has helped me to bravely comfort others when I previously would have run away from their pain. It has shown me aspects of God’s character in a new light. It forged a deeper bond between my husband and me. It made me appreciate the children I do have even more. It grew me as a person. The event itself wasn’t good, but the things it has done in me are.

It can help to have an outward reminder of the child to honor his/her life.

Miscarriage generally doesn’t leave any external marks, but it is a significant event worthy of remembrance. Our family has an annual tradition of giving each member a special Christmas ornament that in some way commemorates an event from the previous year. The Christmas following the miscarriage, we had a special ornament made in honor of our baby. Each year I tear up as I remove it from its box and hang it in a prominent spot on the tree. It’s our small way of remembering someone who we wish was there celebrating with us. I know of friends who have displayed paintings or planted flowers. When my brother gave his wife a necklace containing the birthstones of their children, he included one for the child they lost. It can be big or small, constantly present or occasionally pulled out, but having some sort of tangible reminder of a seemingly invisible person can be a valuable source of comfort. (A side note -- Do remember that everyone is unique. For some people having a visible reminder of the loss can be a source of great pain. I’m like a broken record here, but there is no right way to grieve so do what brings you the most comfort.)

Miscarriage impacts future pregnancies.

Eight months after the miscarriage, God surprised us (and my doctors!) with another pregnancy. As much as I tried to fight it, the early months of that pregnancy were tainted by fear. Where I had only previously known joy at the news that I was carrying a child, I now found it difficult to rejoice fully. I begged God on a daily basis to help this little one hang on and grow, all the while not fully allowing my heart to hope or grow too attached. I held my breath every time I used the restroom, fearful of what I might discover. I closed my eyes and fought back tears the first time my doctor searched for that tiny heartbeat. It is so hard to not allow a miscarriage to rob future pregnancies of their joy. I now pray for this specifically when a friend who has lost a child announces that she is expecting again.  

God is good. All the time.

After all the tears had been shed and all the questions had been asked, this is what I was left with. God was good the day before my miscarriage. He was just as good the day after. He never left His throne or turned His back on me. I will never claim to understand His ways, but I also don’t doubt His love.