“Where’s the heartbeat?”
That small question began us on a journey that so many other couples have travelled, the journey from expectant parents to grieving people.
We were excited to become first-time parents in 1998 — we had waited quite a while after getting married in 1991 and we were ready to begin the next chapter in our lives.
Unfortunately the pregnancy was far from easy –– there were hormones to take, lots of complications, and then the diagnosis of a cystic hygroma (sac of water) at the base of our baby’s head, indicating potential birth or learning defects.
Despite the doctors’ advice we continued with the pregnancy because, whatever would happen, God would prepare us.
We were not prepared.
On June 26, 1998 I gave birth to our firstborn, a girl named Rachel Ann. She was born still, and we grieved. Oh, how we grieved.
Some told us to “just have another one” as if babies were as plentiful as Tic Tacs or sticks of gum. A few told us that the Lord knew we wouldn’t be able to handle her medical issues so He just spared us by taking her home. Most said they were sorry for our loss. Some didn’t say anything at all.
October marks the 30th anniversary of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, a time when families and friends remember little loved ones who were gone too soon.
If someone you love has experienced the loss of a child, there are a number of ways to comfort and support to the family. Here are just a few:
- Celebrate Life
In the eyes of those who are grieving, it makes no difference if the child was miscarried after a few days or born still at full term. Where there was life, now there is none. The Psalmist reminds us that God knit us together, and we were known by Him from our earliest moments of life. So celebrate the life, no matter how briefly he or she lived.
- Honour the Child
Try not to refer to him or her as “the miscarriage” or “the stillbirth” when you are speaking to the grieving parents, but instead say “your child.” Ask if the parents named their child, and if they did then use that name in conversation. You may be surprised to know that even parents who do not know the gender of their child still use names or nicknames for their baby, so ask what they named the child and lovingly weave the name into conversation.
- Give Some Space
You may want to call, visit, hug, make meals and pray. But they might not be there just yet. Be available and ready to bear the burden of grief when the parents want to talk, but don’t push. Recognize that too much space might be seen as uncaring, and too little space can be suffocating. Watch for signs that the parents want to talk, or that they want to walk.
- Remember the Whole Family
Many guys go into caregiver mode after a loss, wanting to ensure their spouse is recovering well. But Dads grieve too, so remember to check in with them. Give them a safe space to talk or not, depending on how they are feeling. And the same goes for grandparents — they are experiencing all kinds of emotions as they process the loss of their grandchild. My mom told me after the fact that she was absolutely wrecked, but felt she couldn’t let her guard down for fear of upsetting me or others around me. Check in with all the family members and let them know you are praying for them.
- Time Doesn’t Heal All Wounds
Grief takes as long as grief takes. The Bible tells us that there is a time to mourn, but it doesn’t qualify the statement with a timeframe. Don’t assume that just because “enough time has passed” (whatever that means), the family is ready for another pregnancy. It’s frightening, it’s daunting, and it’s kinda none of your business when they decide to try again — if ever. Time doesn’t heal wounds, but God in His mercy can bind up wounds, trade ashes of grief for the beauty of life. He heals.
If you have walked this journey of miscarriage and/or infant loss, my heart aches for you. But your story is not for you alone. Mark Batterson says, “If you don’t turn your adversity into a ministry, then your pain remains your pain. But if you allow God to translate your adversity into a ministry, then your pain becomes someone else’s gain."1
Maybe your ministry is comforting others with the comfort that you yourself received (2 Cor 1:3–5). Or maybe your ministry comes from realizing how alone you felt and you don’t want another man or woman to experience that sadness. Regardless, I pray that your ministry to others is informed by your experience with a healing, loving and merciful Father.
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