sharing your stories and remembering your children
By: Rachel Bulgrien
Only a few days ago I heard the words. Pointing at the screen, she said, “Here’s your baby, but I’m so sorry, there is no heartbeat.” In my gut I had already known. This was my third time after all; I knew the signs. It was eerily similar to the first but with one BIG difference.
The most common emotion we associate with miscarriage is grief - the horrible, heavy feeling that something precious and irreplaceable has been stolen from us. A piece of ourselves is suddenly missing. Our empty arms ache along with our cramping belly. We weep and we bleed. Our body feels broken right along with our heart.
After my first miscarriage in 2008, despite many reassurances and the doctor’s confident words to the contrary, I convinced myself that my unhealthy body betrayed my child, that his death was somehow my fault. After all, I had three living sons. The only thing different this time was my extra weight and the fact that I was still nursing our third child (only 8 months old). In my state of grief, it seemed clear that my body could not support feeding two babies. Why didn’t I wean the baby right away? So guilt heaped on top of the grief.
The next year we had another child, our first girl. Due to early onset preeclampsia, she was born at just 26 weeks gestation, weighing only 1 lb, 5 oz. The first three weeks we didn’t know if she would live. This only served to reinforce the notion that my ill health contributed to or even caused the harm to both children.
Though our daughter lived, a second miscarriage in 2011 sent me even deeper into guilt. Why could I conceive but not carry to term? Were we acting recklessly by risking another pregnancy that would only end in the death of yet another child? Fear and shame added to grief and guilt. But these thoughts were not ones I could speak out loud. I carried my shame in isolation.
It took much research, spiritual counseling, and time (so much time) to work through this false belief that, had I been healthier, those children may have lived, and our daughter would not have suffered such terrifying complications early in life. Though the guilt, shame, and fear are gone 10 years later and have been replaced by forgiveness, healing, and trust, the grief still lingers. Every time a friend, family member, or acquaintance shares her miscarriage story, whenever we take family pictures, the time my husband bought a lovely mother’s necklace for me, there was the old ache, the sadness, the longing. It’s still there.
But God always works things out to our good! We welcomed another daughter in 2013 and twin girls in 2014. Seven beautiful, living children and two in the arms of Jesus. We love having a big family! We celebrate every child knowing what a precious gift each one is. But there is more sadness in our story and more guilt and shame because it happened again.
This year (2019) my husband and I both turned 40. Our twins are almost five. We have moved out of the baby, toddler, potty training, up-in-the-middle-of-the-night years into teens, tweens, and school-age children. A new and exciting season of life for all of us, living out the life we’d dreamed of as newlyweds. My husband landed his dream job two years ago. In February, we moved into our dream home on our dream property. God provided beyond our wildest imagination! Though still homeschooling the four girls, I decided to go back to school and pursue the Master’s degree I’d been considering for several years. Everything was falling into place.
Then it happened, so unexpectedly. Just six weeks after my birthday - a positive pregnancy test - utter shock and the seeming death (or at least delay) of our future plans, especially mine. Truthfully, we didn’t want any more children. We didn’t want to go back to the baby days. We thought we were much closer to being grandparents than parents of a newborn.
Shame returned. We were guilty of not wanting this precious life. We know, truly know, the gift that each life is, but in our selfishness we didn’t want to be responsible for this one. Shock, disappointment, anger at ourselves that we weren’t more careful, frustrated by this change in plans, fearful of what others will think or say behind our backs and even to our faces.
“They’re 40. What are they thinking!”
“They already have seven. How many more do they want?”
“I thought you had that taken care of.”
“You ought to know how that happens by now.”
But we love children. We’re already raising seven. What’s one more? Forty isn’t so old. We’re financially stable and in better health now. God’s timing is not our timing. His ways are not our ways. We must continue to trust. He will provide again. All the layers of emotion were suddenly present - love, fear, doubt, excitement, pride, anger, uncertainty, confidence - so many opposites. How can one person feel such polar opposites at the same time?
As the weeks went by, the pleasant emotions grew and the unpleasant ones began to fade, but they still lingered quietly in the background. At 11 weeks, 5 days, I was hit with a terrible migraine, the head splitting, light sensitivity, nauseating kind. The same kind I get with big hormonal shifts.
The kind I had just a few months ago that was the first indication of pregnancy. The next day brought light spotting, but I still had hope. I rationalized. Spotting isn’t that uncommon in early pregnancy. I’ve had it before, and things were OK. But the next day, 12 weeks exactly, came with more blood, more than just spotting. A trip to the ER and the dreaded words.
“Here’s your baby, but I’m so sorry, there is no heartbeat.”
Tears and GRIEF, that tightness in my chest, holding my breath to keep back the sobs, not wanting to embarrass the poor ultrasound tech. After all, I had known before she said it. Then SHAME. I hadn’t wanted this child. I didn’t receive the news of his existence with joy or love him right away.
As I arrived home to share the news with the other children, there was also a great sense of RELIEF. We could go back to plan A; the next four years just became far less complicated. I can enjoy a glass of wine with my girlfriends as we celebrate turning 40 together this fall. JUDGMENT.
What kind of mother feels relief when her child dies and then thinks, well at least I can do the things *I* want. GUILT, again. This time it’s different. The grief is tempered by relief. I don’t know HOW to feel about that.
That afternoon passed quietly. Still in shock, we shared the news with family and close friends one by one. In the evening, when the quiet house felt so oppressive, I went out to the lakeshore to pray, to cry, to ask forgiveness, to feel all the things again, to question God. Why? Why does He give what we don’t think we want, then take it away when we realize He’s right and we do want it? What was the point of this three-month rollercoaster?
Questions unanswered, emotions raw, I tried to sleep. The contractions began at 3:30 a.m. They brought vomiting, diarrhea, blood, indistinguishable masses of tissue, clots, tears, groans. I spent all day in labor moving between recliner and toilet. I shared a small part of my experience on Facebook, grieving my child and grieving for all the other mothers who suffer this same loss, this same pain. The messages poured in - prayers, offers of help, sharing our grief, thank you messages for our courage and openness, other women sharing their story - human connection.
And that’s the gift - Human Connection. When we share our stories and our true emotions, we find out we’re not alone. Human beings are created to live in relationship. If we hide our unpleasant emotions from one another, we hide a piece of ourselves, we cannot be truly known by others, and we keep ourselves from the human connections that help us heal. We all have ugly parts that we think cannot be loved. Nothing is further from the truth.
In recent years I’ve learned the importance of sharing unpleasant emotions. When we say them out loud to another human being, telling it like it is, that's when healing begins to happen. We learn to navigate the unpleasant together. We move THROUGH the pain, shame, guilt, judgement, and grief instead of avoiding, covering up, pushing down, hiding, and isolating ourselves. Our suffering becomes a gift to others, an invitation for them to share their hurts, or to simply stand with us in the brokenness of our shared humanity.
This child, our tenth, the third that we will not meet until heaven, the one we didn’t want at first, this child has touched so many lives. His existence forced us to examine those old, unpleasant feelings, forced us to relive them at a time that would bring healing to our family and comfort to so many others. God brought him at just the right moment and numbered his days perfectly. We are so grateful for that gift.
Rachel is a wife, mother, and women’s transformational mentor working on a master’s degree in deaconess studies. She’s passionate about helping women uncover their unique identity in Christ while confronting their shame and self-judgement in exchange for human connection and genuine relationship. Rachel loves Jesus, her huge family, coffee, dark chocolate, CliftonStrengths, essential oils, and barefoot walks.