sharing your stories and remembering your children
By: Carissa Dobson
Karen was a mother of four healthy boys and pregnant with her fifth when she was told that her baby might not make it. She was induced on her due date, September 10th, and gave birth to Stephen, who survived only a couple hours. “I’m a tender person, and I remember… it was so hard to talk to people without tears coming out my eyes, and that’s hard. That’s really hard,” she said. “Because, you know, you’re very vulnerable. And it’s not always fun going around with tears in your eyes, or stuff like that. It’s hard. Tears help to bring healing, it’s true. But it’s not easy.”
After the sorrow of losing Stephen, Karen decided to have a surgery to prevent further pregnancies. She later regretted her decision and had a reversal done. “I was excited. I said, ‘Oh, wow, I can go ahead and have kids now!” Karen said. Only two months later she was pregnant again, and she felt ready to have her next child.
Unfortunately, before even seeing a doctor she began to experience spotting and cramps, and then she miscarried. “I was surprised I had a miscarriage because I’d been really healthy all along without any problems, so this did take me by surprise,” she said. Karen was shocked and devastated by the loss.
Karen and her husband, Mike, decided to try again, and she found out several months later that she was pregnant for the seventh time. She went in for an ultrasound, and was met with shocking news. “The woman who did the ultrasound was really surprised. (She said,) ‘You know you have three sacs here?’ I said, ‘Are you serious?’” Although Karen was pregnant with triplets, it looked like none of them were alive at that point. “I just prayed and prayed that one or two of them would still be alive,” Karen said.
Once more, she miscarried. She lost all three. “I did miscarry on my own and it was just a horrible time again… Oh, it is just a scary, hard time. And you’re doing it by yourself, you know?”
Karen was devastated, and she felt alone. She had emotional problems, stress, weakness in her muscles, and the numbness and tingling continued. “I was crushed after I miscarried… It was very, very difficult.”
During this time, Karen would cry and talk to God, trying to sort out what was happening. “I knew I needed God, I knew He still loved me, I knew He was in charge, but yet it was hard,” she said. Her health was declining, and she didn’t feel comfortable going out of the house.
Karen kept her grief to herself. “I didn’t know a lot of people that had miscarriages at that point. Now it’s much more open and common… It was kept more inward, so those were some inner issues that I had to deal with.” This was a different experience than losing a child after birth. “I remember getting a card or two from people with Stephen, because that was public, of course. But with the miscarriages it was pretty much on my own with the grieving. ”
Following the loss of the triplets Karen suffered a long and difficult season and she thought she might not ever become pregnant again. Eventually, Karen had reason to think she was finally pregnant again. “I noticed toward the end of December going into January of ’98, I felt like I might be pregnant again, because my cycle was a little late. And I was excited, but I was so scared. Because I didn’t want the same thing that happened to Stephen, and I didn’t want to miscarry again. So, I was thinking, trust in God.”
Fortunately, this time, Karen had a friend who came alongside her and encouraged her through her pregnancy. “She was pregnant at the time, too. And we would go on walks and we would talk, and she was so dear to me… she just encouraged me… and I am so grateful.”
Eventually, it was time to check on the child’s health. “I ended up going in for an ultrasound, which scared me to pieces because I hadn’t had one done that was ever good,” Karen said. Luckily, for the first time in years, Karen had a positive ultrasound. “I could just cry now. I was laying on that table and they said everything was okay. Its heart was beating, things were developing, things like that.”
Karen delivered a beautiful, healthy baby girl named Katrina. She and her husband were overjoyed. “I just had a hallelujah time of praise to God. Because the baby was born… And it’s a girl!” Katrina grew up healthy and strong, and Karen thanks God for it all.
Karen knows her happy ending isn’t consistent with everyone’s experience. “I know this does not happen to everybody, that you’re allowed to end up having another pregnancy and everything goes well,” Karen said. “And it’s gotta be really hard for those women that it doesn’t happen to. And God showed a lot of grace towards me. And I’m so grateful.”
Carissa Dobson is a junior Professional Writing and Information Design major at Cedarville University.
By: Nick Carrington EPLA Editor
Losing a child in the womb obviously causes a lot of pain. The heartache may linger at varying intensities for a lifetime. But, miscarriage also has other negative effects, including sometimes causing extreme anxiety. In fact, some studies suggest that around 20% of women who miscarry suffer from anxiety or depression.
These anxieties often manifest themselves during subsequent pregnancies. I’ve known women who have had panic attacks the night before an ultrasound, haunted by the result of their previous visit. Some mothers become compulsive as they try everything they can to “prevent” another miscarriage. However the anxiety is expressed, it’s a serious matter that takes away from the joy of another pregnancy.
If you or a loved one are struggling through anxiety after a miscarriage, what can you do? Everyone is different, but these strategies are a good starting point (you should always consult your doctor about feelings of anxiety and depression).
See a Counselor or Religious Leader
Miscarriage attacks women physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Even after a mother’s body has recovered, she may still have emotional and spiritual wounds that need to heal. Professional counselors and religious leaders can help you work through not only your grief, but also your anxieties about loss and future pregnancies. These professionals have likely counseled many people through a plethora of mental and spiritual struggles. Their listening ear and words of wisdom are invaluable.
Talk to a Loved One Who Has Gone through It.
While they cannot provide the depth of professional advice that counselors and religious leaders can, loved ones who have fought through their own anxiety battles may provide comfort in a time of need. No two situations are the same, but a friend or family member’s miscarriage experience likely has similarities that will allow them to sympathize with you. We have already highlighted just how helpful having a loved one present can be, but those who have experienced miscarriage may be especially helpful as anxiety rises.
Read the Facts
Miscarriages are almost never the mother’s fault. They typically result from chromosomal abnormalities that cannot be avoided. Women who experience a miscarriage will most likely never have another one. In fact, only 1 percent of women have two or more miscarriages. These facts and others may ease a mother’s anxiety when they get pregnant again. They certainly aren’t guarantees, but they do provide perspective on a family’s situation.
After healing, mothers should consider regular exercise to reduce anxiety. If you suffer from anxiety attacks, exercising four times a week may reduce the severity of these episodes. You may need to spend only 20-30 minutes exercising at a time to see some success, and for most women, working out during pregnancy has plenty of physical benefits as well.
Ask Others to Pray
If you believe in God, knowing that people are praying for you can comfort the soul. You may not feel comfortable sharing all the details of your anxieties with others, but if they generally know you are struggling, they can beseech the Almighty with some direction to your needs. This support often goes a long way to providing inner peace.
Anxiety is common after a miscarriage, and it manifests in different ways. Remember to always consult your doctor about your anxieties. It may require professional or medical attention. Even so, one or more of these ideas may provide some relief for women and families as they battle their fears in subsequent pregnancies.
Nick Carrington is an Editor for the EPLA and Assistant Professor of Professional Writing at Cedarville University.
By: EPLA Editors
Parents who lose children to miscarriage have a long road of healing ahead. In the immediate aftermath of most deaths, families mourn with loved ones at memorial services and funerals. They receive gifts as people seek to contribute to the recovery process.
Not so for parents who lose children in the womb.
The lack of recognition by our culture that a death has taken place only exacerbates the pain that parents feel. That’s why we stand behind Grace Emily Stark’s suggestion at Verily to send flowers to families who have miscarried.
Ms. Stark writes about why the flowers sent to her after she miscarried meant so much:
“I now know that was exactly why those flowers we received in the wake of our miscarriage were such a perfect gift—they were a recognition, and therefore a validation, of our very real grief. We had after all experienced the death of our child, and those flowers spoke to that reality in a way that nothing else seemed to. As simple a gesture as they may have seemed by those who sent them, those flowers were the recognition of the traumatic card we’d been dealt, and the permission that recognition gave me to grieve started me on the path to eventual healing. Even if I didn’t realize it myself at the time.”
It's a beautiful piece, and we encourage you to go read the entire article.
At Hope Blooms, we have suggested ways that you can encourage loved ones following a miscarriage. We hope you will also consider sending flowers to parents of miscarried children to acknowledge the loss of their child. It might mean more than you could ever know.
By: Emily Carrington EPLA Founder
Winter has always been hard for me. The long dark nights and the cold short days always seem endless. By February I am often tired of even the special joys of winter. Snow is no longer magical; it is burdensome. Sweaters are no longer cozy; they are itchy. My stomach is tired of soup, and my feet are tired of boots. And every winter my mood shifts to reflect the weary world. February is hard.
But the winter of 2015 was the hardest. Once Ohio natives, my husband and I had recently returned to the cold midwest after a glorious five year sun-filled stay in Texas. Our first winter in Michigan was brutal, one of the worst on record, but that is not what set this winter apart.
This was the first winter after we lost our first two children in early pregnancy. Our first baby died in May of 2014, and our second little one died in September. Our arms were empty, our hearts were broken, and the weight of death haunted each winter day.
As we navigated our new life I struggled with my own identity, purpose, and path. In the face of pregnancy loss, my ability to exercise control in my life had been stripped from me. While I grieved the deaths of my children, I also grieved the limits of my own autonomy.
This season of life often felt volatile, hopeless, and unpredictable; much like the winter we continued to endure. We did not know what else the winter would bring, or when it would end. Would life ever come again?
As spring broke my heart was lifted. The first warm day. The first daffodils poking out of an otherwise dreary landscape. That winter I knew suffering, but that spring I felt a inkling of joy and hope. A small glimmer of hope that I would learn to live with my grief and find joy in the places it is offered.
Four years later I now appreciate the rhythm of seasons; both atmospheric and personal. Since then, I have seen more suffering, and I have also seen more joy. This is true not just in my own fertility journey, but in my life, relationships, experiences, and faith. In my sufferings I have relied on others, and I have relied on God. I have asked for help and been honest about my suffering. And it was in these places, in my vulnerability, I was blessed with love - a vision of spring.
Because of the winter of 2015, I look forward to the springs. I look forward to the seasons of spring or even just the moments where I am offered a glimpse of spring. I am also more patient with the winters.
Dear reader, if you are suffering a weary winter know that it is okay to seek help. It is in these places of community I found love and hope. A counselor, pastor, or support group might be a place to connect with others who identify with your suffering. Over the last few weeks we have been highlighting the work of a group called Share Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support. If you are not sure where to start, we encourage you to visit their website and consider their resources.
Emily Carrington is the founder of the EPLA and mother to four children.
In this edition of the Hope Blooms podcast, Emily is joined by Patti Budnick of Share Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support to discuss their wonderful organization. Emily and Ms. Budnick talk about the needs of families after child loss and how Share seeks to address those needs.
By: Maria Servold EPLA Editor
Last week, three members of the Early Pregnancy Loss Association’s board of directors went to a meet-up for loss support groups in the Detroit Metro area. The gathering, hosted by Detroit’s chapter of Share Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support, brought together a handful of organizations that are each doing their part to relieve the burden of loss for families.
While the gathering was small, the energy and drive in the room was palpable. The groups shared stories, ideas, and made plans for how to help women and families who lose babies during and after pregnancy. Many of the people in the room had experienced losses of their own.
The conversations at the meeting felt like a stark contrast in a society that does not always affirm life or address the pain of pregnancy loss. We must care for a mother in the midst of her loss and give her space to grieve the loss of her little one. Unfortunately we do not always have a positive life affirming public dialog that celebrates the unique and infinitely valuable life in the womb. This only adds to the confusion of early pregnancy loss.
With those heavy thoughts bouncing around my head, it was a blessing to meet wonderful people working hard in their own communities to support those experiencing pregnancy and infant loss. Several of the groups present were foundations created by parents after losing a child. The money they raise is given to other families experiencing loss - often to cover things like cremation and funeral expenses. It is sad that such beneficial groups are often born from tragic situations, but it gave EPLA board members hope to see that even though our groups may be small, together we can do great things.
Maria Servold is an Editor at the EPLA, Assistant Director of the Herbert H. Dow II Program in American Journalism, and Lecturer in Journalism at Hillsdale College
By: Rose Carlson, Program Director of Share Pregnancy & Infant Loss Support
Like many of you reading this post, from the moment I saw my first positive pregnancy test, my life changed forever. When my first two pregnancies ended abruptly at 11 and 6 weeks, I was truly unprepared for the intensity of my feelings and the seeming lack of concern from my friends and family. My heart was completely shattered, not only by the losses of my babies but also by the reactions of my loved ones.
Nearly two years after my second miscarriage, I gave birth to my son Brandon, who will soon be 28. I breathed an enormous sigh of relief and assumed my experience with the heartbreak of loss was over. That was not to be, and I went on to have two more miscarriages, at 13 and 10 weeks. I was devastated. And back in those days, in the late ’80s and early ’90s, support for women like me was practically non-existent.
Nothing I received back then was anything close to what this brokenhearted mom needed.
I received no flowers, sympathy cards, or meals after surgeries. No mementos to fondly remind me of my babies. No bereavement information from the medical community. No support groups to help me feel less alone. Most distressing, I received no acknowledgement that these babies were great losses to me.
Rather than the loving care I desperately wanted and needed, I instead received hurtful words such as:
“These things happen for a reason,”
“There was probably something wrong with ‘it.’”
“At this stage, it’s not a real baby.”
“Be grateful it happened early, before you got attached.”
“Move on and have FUN trying again!”
As anyone who has experienced an early pregnancy loss and heard similar sentiments knows absolutely none of those words were helpful or comforting. But sadly, that was all I was hearing, and without any other support, I believed my feelings of grief were unnatural.
I did (or, I thought I did) what was encouraged and expected of me: I pushed my emotions aside. I “moved on” and had three more children. I was a busy stay-at-home mom who forced myself to quickly dismiss any thoughts of those four babies whenever they made their way into my heart. It wasn’t until I began volunteering at Share, nine years after my last loss, that I learned my grief was not “unnatural” at all; I received permission to acknowledge the confusing feelings I had pushed aside for so long.
One of the most profound things I felt when I started volunteering at Share was, “Wow, I wasn’t crazy back then!” It was eye-opening, both the acknowledgement of my feelings as well as the support I came to receive. As I met and got to know other grieving parents and read articles in the Share newsletter, I realized that compassionate support truly can make a difference, and I knew what a positive impact that kind of support would have meant to me.
“Indeed, it is a uniquely powerful experience to be surrounded by other people who have experienced the death of a child.”
I love quotes, and I especially love this one, as it perfectly sums up my feelings about the value of the support bereaved parents receive from others who have also experienced a miscarriage or other pregnancy loss.
There is a common misconception that those who lose a baby, especially early in pregnancy, will not grieve as deeply as someone who loses an older child or a full-term baby. This is not necessarily the case. Many parents who experience early pregnancy loss often are in great need of support yet, like me, are unable to find it among their family and friends.
Attending a support group, either online or face-to-face, can fill this void and provide meaningful, healing support. Being with others who are grieving and seeking a path of healing after a miscarriage can help parents cope, as well as provide hope that they too can survive this loss. A support community offers bereaved parents safety and acceptance as they share their hearts and stories among others who understand and are walking a similar journey.
Support groups offer additional positive effects on healing, too. Support groups can:
At Share, we have learned that it can be uncomfortable, even downright scary, to walk into a support group meeting for the first time. Parents may feel uncertain of what to expect or even of what they might need, but we have seen firsthand the value of shared support. Keep in mind that peer support groups are not meant to be “therapy,” which can feel intimidating. A support group is simply meant to be a safe, loving place where grieving parents can talk about their baby and connect with others in a similar situation.
Thankfully, there is more support today than ever before, through support groups both in our communities and online. Because I did not have the opportunities for support that are available today, I have made it my personal mission to help parents find the support that leads them forward in their healing journey, and memorialize their baby. That is how I honor and remember the four babies who touched my heart in countless ways.
Rose Carlson is the Program Director of Share Pregnancy & Infant Loss Support
By: Nick Carrington EPLA Editor
I never know what to say.
Jessica, a student of mine, stared at me, eyes dampening as she swallowed to clear the lump in her throat. She didn’t have to tell me; the pain within her had already filled the room. Still, she managed to choke out four words: “she lost the baby.”
My heart sank. Only a few weeks before, Jessica had revealed that her brother and sister-in-law were expecting. She divulged that information with such exuberance that our entire class rejoiced with her. Now, despite her best efforts to hide her anguish, Jessica radiated despair.
I care deeply for my students, desiring the best for them academically, professionally, and personally. When Jessica told me the news, I desperately wanted to assuage the soreness in her soul. My mind flooded with stories of loved ones who had given birth to healthy children after a miscarriage. Would those encourage her? There was no promise of a happy ending for her family.
I considered appealing to our common faith by exhorting her to rest in a God who knew all about suffering. Would that bring peace? She already clung to that truth, yet the wound was still raw.
I almost rattled off statistics about how common miscarriages were and successes in subsequent pregnancies. Would that quantitative appeal be a balm to her broken heart? Her family was on the unfortunate side of those statistics right now; they seemed irrelevant.
“I’m sorry, Jessica. That makes me so sad to hear.”
It’s all I could get out in the moment, and while it felt inadequate, it was much better than what I had thought but not verbalized. As I walked back to my office, I hoped she knew I cared, that her loss mattered to her classmates and me.
Suddenly, a thought hit me, widening my eyes and quickening my step. I sat down at my computer; I had something else to say. My fingers could not move fast enough across the keyboard as I typed a short email to Jessica: “I remember the pain of seeing loved ones struggle through a miscarriage. I’m praying for you and your family.”
Send. It wasn’t much, but it communicated what I needed it to: I was mourning with her.
Sitting at my desk, I stared into space, fingers tapping on the wood. This news never got any easier. I never know what to say. But, I’ve learned that we don’t always have to say much in the immediate aftermath. Family and friends need to know we care. They do not need the perfect words that will immediately ease their burden; those words do not exist.
When you learn of a miscarriage, being present for those hurting around you is more valuable than the words you say. The cavernous wounds of miscarriage won’t heal in a moment, so don’t force encouragement; it may have more potential for harm than good. Instead, be quick to listen, quick to embrace, and slow to speak.
Nick Carrington is an Editor for the EPLA and Assistant Professor of Professional Writing at Cedarville University
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.
By: Maria Servold EPLA Editor
The support a woman or family receive during and after a miscarriage is crucial. The Early Pregnancy Loss Association strives to help women immediately following loss and in the days, weeks, and months afterward. But, there is only so much our organization can do, which is why we are glad to promote other local and national organizations that provide support after loss.
One such organization is Tiny Purpose, located in Adrian, Michigan. A non-profit group, Tiny Purpose began as a support group for women in the Adrian area who had suffered loss. The group’s founder suffered a stillbirth in 2003. Since 2004, groups of women have been meeting monthly through Tiny Purpose to find support and healing.
Tiny Purpose also provides boxes to mothers who have had losses that contain memorial items. According to its website, the group hopes to also begin a support program for mothers who have received diagnoses of incurable diseases in their unborn babies.
“Tiny Purpose was born out of one hurting mother’s desire to connect with other mothers who have experienced the pain of losing a baby at any stage of pregnancy or during early infancy,” the group’s website states. “This website was created as an extension of that desire to connect with you. It is our hope that in the safety of your own home, you would reach out and receive the comfort and hope that this site has to offer. Please know that you are not alone and that your precious baby’s life has a purpose.”
Tiny Purpose’s support groups provide a personal and caring resource for hurting women, which is immensely important.
Through a network of locally-based organizations like EPLA, Tiny Purpose, and many others throughout the country, we can begin to reach many more mothers who have lost children to miscarriage.
We may not each be able to reach everyone, but together, we can reach many.
Maria Servold is an Editor at the EPLA, Assistant Director of the Herbert H. Dow II Program in American Journalism, and Lecturer in Journalism at Hillsdale College