sharing your stories and remembering your children
By: Sarah Gregory EPLA Vice President
I received the announcement from my sister via text while I was in seminary. I opened the text and saw a picture of a precious little onesie. I literally squealed with glee. She and her husband were so ready to start a family. They had heard a heartbeat already at a doctor’s appointment. In a flurry of excitement, our whole family started to anticipate the arrival of a new baby. We had a shared Pinterest board for nursery ideas, full of whimsical, literature-themed decor. I started thinking about baby showers and baby clothes and diapers.
A week or so later, the celebration ended abruptly. They had another appointment. This time, there was no heartbeat. She elected for a D & C (a surgical procedure to remove the deceased fetus). Our family’s world hovered in disbelief and shock.
Thus was my introduction to the world of grieving mothers who miscarried. At the time, we didn’t know this would be a long, arduous road for Emily. My sister suffered through three miscarriages before her daughter was born. Later, other friends and family members experienced their own miscarriages. I was the supporter-friend for all of them. Close enough to each woman to be moved and sad, but not in the midst of the deep despair that the mother and father faced.
As the supporter, it took time to unravel the complicated emotions and grief women bear when experiencing a miscarriage. When Emily had her first miscarriage, I didn’t understand the depths of her grief. My own response included sadness and tears. I spent time reflecting on the nature of unmet expectations and anticipation. My sister, on the other hand, was devastated.
To provide comfort, I relied heavily on my seminary training. In seminary, I interned as a chaplain for a nursing home. During my time there, I had the privilege of sitting with families as they said goodbye to their loved ones. I would sit quietly and listen. Families would tell hilarious stories, stories of regret, and stories of triumph.
Grief is often accompanied by this kind of communal catharsis. The bulk of my chaplaincy training centered around one simple truth: When someone is grieving, they need your presence. Your presence affirms their grief is heard and their grief matters. They need you to affirm that the person they are losing matters.
But unlike the death of an elderly adult, there are very few memories to share during a miscarriage. Most stories about the baby are personal hopes and dreams, often still privately held and impossible to articulate. Sometimes, only a few people even know that the miscarriage happened at all. As a culture, we talk about babies younger than 12 weeks old in hushed tones. We do so to protect our loved ones from disappointment.
But for many mothers and fathers, the end of a pregnancy is far more than a disappointment. Those of us who have never miscarried fail to account for all of the factors consuming a family devastated by miscarriage. They face physical tolls, gruesome images, and hormonally charged emotional spirals. Add to that the chorus of “you should try again soon,” and “at least you never (fill in the well-intended but soul-wrenching blank).” As a result, unlike other loss of life, the family grieving their miscarriage ends up defending their loss as something worthy of grief.
To combat the isolation, the practice of presence is vitally important. During each miscarriage, I tried to simply be available for my loved ones. My presence affirmed that the grief was shared. Presence dampened the loneliness. Presence allowed communal catharsis to emerge. Even when I couldn’t understand the emotional complexity a mother was feeling, I learned to listen and support rather than try to fix her sadness. When I wasn’t nearby, I made phone calls and sent texts. If I could, I visited.
These visits took different forms, I played triominos on the porch while eating cider donuts and making jokes about county fairs. One time I watched movies all day. Other times I cried and prayed.
If you find yourself in the role of a supporter, be sure to be affirming and present. Don’t try to fix her. Don’t try to minimize the loss. She lost a baby. Rather than console her with attempts to bypass her pain, be with her. Keep her off of Google by giving her helpful information from established organizations. If you don’t know what to say, clean something, give her husband a chance to rest while you sit with her, sit with her husband who also may be mourning the loss, babysit her other children if she has any, make her dinner, or watch a movie. Most importantly, just be present.
Sarah Gregory is a Christian Education freelance writer, consultant, and musician. Sarah lives in St. Louis with her husband Kaleb and her son Cecil.