On October 10, Andrew met me at my doctor’s office for our 9-week ultrasound. We had managed to get pregnant with our first child on the first try, and we were about to hear our little one’s heartbeat for the first time. It should have been one of the happiest days of our lives.
Minutes later, the ultrasound technician shook her head. “I’m so sorry. I won’t lie to you about what I’m seeing–I can’t find a heartbeat.”
No heartbeat. No…
Our excitement and anticipation melted away into shock. Everything we had hoped for, every moment we were looking forward to with our sweet baby, gone in the span of a few seconds. Baby would not make it. My worst nightmare had just been promoted to reality.
I stared at the crystal-clear shape of my child on the ultrasound screen–the child I still carried. I didn’t know baby’s name or gender, and in my ways, she was a total stranger to me. But baby was still mine. I’d been writing to her for months, before her life even began. I’d whispered to her when I woke up in the morning, remembering that she was there and inclined to greet her with the coming of each new day. We were connected, literally. And so I wept for her.
A few minutes later, the doctor came to our room and offered her condolences. She asked how I’d been feeling recently. “Pregnant!” I choked out. “Why do I still feel so pregnant? Why has nothing…happened?” Evidently, this was not unusual. My hormones just hadn’t dropped enough yet to induce symptoms. My body has betrayed me, I decided. How cruel to give me no indication of the death I carried inside me.
We were faced with some of the worst choices imaginable. After weighing the options and consulting with my doctor, we picked the best of the worst. I was scheduled for a D&C out-patient procedure the following morning, barely 12 hours after the miscarriage diagnosis.
The evening before the surgery, we sat on the couch at home, trying to digest the news. I couldn’t bear the weight alone–already, the burden of grief was too heavy for us. “We have to tell people,” I said to Andrew. He nodded. We sent text messages to friends and our pastor, because the thought of that many phone calls was too exhausting and depressing to manage.
Our pastor called us and prayed over us. Then he connected us with a woman in our church who has walked this road before–she called me in a matter of minutes. She talked me through what to expect the next morning, set up a meal calendar for us, and generally made herself available if I needed to scream or cry or talk. I felt seen.
When we arrived at the surgery center the next morning at 5:30 AM, haggard after a sleepless night, the waiting room was full. The other patients sat calmly, waiting to have their bodies righted. Shoulders would be fixed, knees replaced. Nobody was crying in advance of their procedure, from what I observed… nobody but me.
I wasn’t waiting to have my body righted–I was waiting for a funeral.
Both our pastor and one of our church elders met us in the waiting room. They prayed over us, talked to us. Distracted us. It was good to not be there alone, to tangibly feel our church present with us on a dark day. They joined us in the prep room, and waited with us.
As surgery neared, a woman introduced herself as the OR nurse. “My name is Janet,” she said. Then her eyes flooded with tears. “I’m so sorry,” she said. “This is just the worst.”
My doctor came to fetch me herself, along with other members of my medical team. They stacked warm blankets over me, a gesture of mercy in preparation of a freezing operating room. I lost my tentative hold on my emotions when they started to move me out of the room–I didn’t want to leave Andrew. I didn’t want to do the next part alone.
In the OR, my doctor held my hand as I fell asleep. I know she held onto me for practical reasons–she needed to know when I finally lost consciousness. But I think she also knew that I needed the reassurance. They would take care of me. They cared about me. And they cared about my baby.
In recovery, I woke up disoriented, fighting the weight of anesthesia. I don’t remember everything, but two of the earliest words out of mouth were a question for Andrew.
He nodded. “Yes, baby is gone.”
I cried again.
— — —
That first weekend was exhausting; we got all of the hard conversations out of the way in the first two days. “Like a band-aid,” I told Andrew. “I just want to get it over with.” We Skyped my parents, and my brother. Andrew’s parents stopped by the next morning at our request. I became quite adept at saying the words out loud:
We lost a baby.
I was 9 weeks pregnant, but baby stopped growing at 7 weeks.
I had a D&C yesterday.
Yes, physically, I’m fine.
Right away, I noticed myself sugar-coating the news on behalf of the receiver, and perhaps also for myself. “We have no reason to believe we won’t have a healthy baby in the future,” I said. “We can try again right away.”
By numbing myself with hope, I taught many of our loved ones the wrong way to respond to grief. I rushed away from the pain, too uncomfortable to let myself feel the severity of the loss. Hope for a future child was a tempting reassurance; but hope doesn’t undo the hurt, and hope doesn’t honor the loss. My words started to feel empty and dishonest, so I stopped saying them after a couple of days. As I accepted the loss for what it was, the weight of my grief grew heavier. I carried it anyway.
We told more and more of our friends, and immediately started accepting meals. I learned to cherish the tears of others on our behalf. I learned to eat any food within reach, because I literally did not care what I put in my body. I learned to stop fretting about how clean my bathrooms were, or how many dishes were piled by the sink. One morning, I realized I missed a prenatal vitamin the night before, and I scoffed. What did it matter?
For the first few nights, I woke up in the early morning hours to go to the bathroom. As I became more alert in the darkness of the morning, reality came crashing down on me anew. I sobbed, and nudged Andrew.
“What is it? Did you have a bad dream?”
“No,” I said. “I just…woke up. Waking up is worse.”
My life had become less bearable than my most harrowing nightmares. And so it was that I started to dread the evening, when idleness replaced activity and to-dos and busyness. I dreaded the moment when I would lay my head down and have nothing more to do but hurt.
— — —
As awful as this loss is, I am astonished to see God’s mercy at every step. These little mercies don’t undo the loss–nothing can achieve that–but they do point me back to God’s goodness, which is desperately needed in this season.
I see God’s mercy in the love and support from our church leaders, brothers and sisters, friends and strangers. It is impossible to feel anything but loved right now.
I see God’s mercy in the flood of food showing up at our door. We may not have eaten otherwise.
I see God’s mercy in the timing of the news–rather than grieving or having painful symptoms in Italy, I was blissfully unaware of our loss for two weeks away, until we returned home safely from our trip.
I see God’s mercy in the sisterhood I’ve reluctantly joined. Every time I step into a room and share what I’m going through, I meet more and more women who have lost babies to miscarriage. We cry with each other. We understand each other, even if we are otherwise strangers. It is a mercy to not be alone.
I see God’s mercy in revealing details about our child through a prophetic dream and confirmation from the Spirit. We now feel confident that we know who we’re grieving. Because we feel like we know a few things about her, we are able to focus our grief and find ways to remember the daughter we lost.
I see God’s mercy in my marriage, in the unity that comes from sharing a heavy burden together.
I see God’s mercy in the timing of our loss–that I was able to resolve two targets in EMDR therapy prior to the miscarriage. Because of the healing that happened over the last year, I’m much better equipped to manage my emotions and bear the weight of the loss in a healthy way.
I see God’s mercy in the fact that we didn’t burn our house down as we remembered how to cook and operate space heaters and do the ‘normal life’ stuff with scattered brains and burdened hearts. We melted some plastic on the stove, but so far, that is the worst of it.
Friends, I’ve learned that God is everywhere in our horrible, bleak situation. He is crying with us, through the tears of our friends. He is providing for us, relationally and practically. He is meeting us in our grief. In His presence, I see His mercy, and His great love for us in the midst of our pain. What an unexpected, mysterious blessing.
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For those of you who long to love others better as they grieve, here is my advice, for what it’s worth.
Sit in the sadness. Crying and hugging are the absolute best responses to someone else’s loss. If that’s not your style, your best words to offer are: “I’m so sorry. That is awful.” Hurt with them. Embrace the discomfort. Your sympathy honors the life lost, and affirms the terrible weight of the grief. This is where grief lives, every day. Yes, it is heavy. Yes, it can be awkward. Yes, it is a tremendous downer. But it is better to cry, hug, and say nothing than it is to say something hurtful, however unintentional.
Don’t rush into hope. In fact, don’t mention it at all. Yes, it’s tempting to look to the next baby, the next pregnancy. But those future blessings are anything but guaranteed. We could lose 5 more babies, or wrestle with infertility. The thought of trying to get pregnant again is more terrifying than soothing, especially early on.
The same can be said for our family’s eventual reunion in heaven. I’m glad I’ll see my daughter someday, truly. But I don’t get to know her for many, many years, and I will never have the future with her that I expected to have in this life. There is loss now, even if there is hope in the distance.
Most importantly, ‘encouraging us’ with the hope of a future baby suggests that this was just an ‘oops’ before we get it ‘right’. That is so, so wrong. This was a unique, independent child. This was a full loss, a full life in and of itself. The next child will not undo the fact that my family will never be united in this life.
Pick up the phone and call. Texts are fine. Emails are fine. Handwritten notes of encouragement are good. But picking up the phone and calling shows that you are truly willing to get into the weeds with us, to hear the hurt in my voice. It means you’re not hesitant to care, nor hindered by ‘politeness.’ Calls are not an imposition; I have the agency to send you to voicemail or ignore your message for days, if I so choose. 99% of the time, when someone called to check in and I was able to answer, I picked up the phone and was relieved to have someone who cared on the other side.
Ask if you can do something specific to help. I get it…many people just don’t know how to help, and that’s okay. But grief is exhausting, and all of a sudden, everything about ‘normal life’ gets impossibly hard. There is too much apathy and exhaustion to delegate effectively. “What can I do to help?” is not nearly as welcome as “Can I bring you lunch and spend a few minutes with you tomorrow?” If it’s not a helpful offer, I have the ability to politely turn you down, or suggest an alternative.
Specific ways you can offer to help:
- Provide a meal or baked goods or literally any form of diet-friendly food, gift cards included. If you need input on specific meals or gift card locations, provide options to choose from rather than the whole world of possibilities. We’re too tired to pull options out of nowhere.
- Gift your time. Offer to sit and listen for awhile, especially with loved ones who process externally/socially. It’s okay if you don’t know what to say. Just show up and nod and listen.
- Call or text when you’re already at the grocery store, and offer to pick up anything needed.
- Offer to clean, do dishes, mow the lawn, run an errand, or take care of other ‘adulting’ tasks.
- Share encouraging songs, scripture, handwritten words of sympathy, or resources that honor the loss. Just beware of rushing too much into hope. Focus on words that honor the loss.
Keep checking in. I got a wonderful flood of support the first week after our loss–texts, phone calls, emails, handwritten notes, you name it. But for the rest of the world, life moved on while we continued to sit with our loss. Set a reminder on your calendar to check in again, and again. Make an effort to remember, when the chaos has subsided and life becomes distressingly normal. Your friends still need you, perhaps even more so than they did that first week.
Bring up the subject. The topic of my lost baby is never a forbidden topic, nor is it ever frowned upon. It doesn’t matter if it feels like a ‘downer’, or if we were laughing about something silly just a few moments ago. I long to hear people remember my child–even objectively–when the rest of the world has moved on. There is no expiration date on this sadness. I will be this child’s mother forever, and I will never stop missing her. It’s a welcome affirmation when others acknowledge her absence, too.
— — —
There have been many revelations and helpful words shared during the last few weeks. Without minimizing those other words of encouragement, I want to close by sharing a specific insight that has been precious to me in my grief.
About a week after losing our baby, I visited my counselor. She cried and listened as I told her the story. Near the end of our session, she brought up the interaction between Jesus and Lazarus.
I raised an eyebrow. “That’s the example you want to bring up right now? The one where Jesus just chooses to revive someone, rather than let him die?”
My counselor held her hands up. “Give me a minute. Yes, Jesus raised Lazarus. But Lazarus is also a picture of hope, of eternity with God through belief in Jesus. What did Jesus do, knowing that he would raise Lazarus just moments later?”
Join me in John 11, friends. Jesus said several times that He would raise Lazarus. He knew exactly what He was going to do. But when He got to where Lazarus lay, Jesus paused. Scripture tells us that He was deeply moved, and He wept.
Think about that for a moment. Even though Lazarus would get up and walk that very same day, Jesus took the time to weep over his friend’s death, to be vulnerable. To mourn with the others present who were grieving Lazarus, too.
Jesus teaches us that the promise of hope does not undo the appropriateness of grief.
Jesus knew all about hope–He literally was hope. And He wept anyway.
Perhaps you will remember Jesus the next time you encounter grief, personally or socially. Take the time to weep, and mourn together. It is right to do so. Jesus modeled it for us. And as the Bible shows us, our tears are precious in the hands of our loving Father:
You keep track of all my sorrows.
You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
You have recorded each one in your book.
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