Spring is in the air where I live and there seems to be a rash of new pregnancies among the adult children of many of my friends and coworkers. We have frequently come together to congratulate each other on the new grandchildren to be born who will bring new life to our families, and catch up on how each mom-to-be is faring.
But recently our gathering took a traumatic turn when we learned that one of our friend’s daughter had miscarried just days before. The joy we’ve worn on our sleeves for each new life suddenly dimmed as our hearts wrenched in sadness for the new mom-to-be in her loss. “How is she?” we all asked. Our friend simply said she was okay physically, but still “kind of stunned.” She observed that with pain medication her daughter was a little calmer now. She seemed “cried out for the moment — like I am,” our friend finally admitted numbly.
I have not experienced a miscarriage, but my mother’s heart tells me this grief is like no other. Frequently in our mourning-avoidant culture supporters might say that we never really knew the tiny soul that lived such a short life in utero, so there is really nothing to grieve. “It’s no big deal, you can have other kids,” they sometimes add, unaware of the consequences of such a statement.
Those who have experienced this kind of loss know that there is much to grieve.
The infant that grows inside a woman, even without being seen or held, is very real from the moment she discovers she carries this God-given treasure. She bonds with the baby in ways only a mother can, dreaming of a bright future of happy milestones and successes for her charge. As her body changes to accommodate the growth of new life, she plans not only for the physical birth of her little one, but for his or her entire life’s path.
So when her baby dies during a miscarriage, she grieves not only for the loss of her offspring, but for all the future hopes she held in her heart as well. Many young mothers have the compassionate support that allows for public mourning and are able to move through their pain by embracing the hard work of mourning. They may have a safe person or group who will sit with them as they talk, cry or memorialize their treasured little one over time.
Unfortunately there are other mothers suffering from the loss of miscarriage who may be bombarded with the push from those around them to get past their “invisible” grief and start over. These women may not feel safe to discuss the pain of losing their child and all her hopes and dreams.
And what of the fathers of these lost babies? Many times these young dads are not even acknowledged in the process as the baby was never viable outside the womb — therefore considered by some as not a baby at all. Because they never held their baby in their arms these dads are encouraged by current cultural misperceptions of grief to “just try again.”
My friend’s son-in-law, not surprisingly, finds himself feeling a similar state of shock that he sees his beloved wife in. Yet for now he has stepped into his role as provider/protector and in spite of his grief he is simply taking care of the business of the day.
And of course, this loss affects other family members as well, evidenced by the pain in the eyes of our friend who lost her grandchild, as she speaks of her entire family’s grief, from grandpa to aunt to in-laws.
As my group of grandmas discussed this sad situation, I found myself surprised at the number of women who have experienced a miscarriage but never spoke of it. One of the grandmas spoke with courage when she acknowledged that her first pregnancy many years ago ended in miscarriage. She was able to relay how painful it was to lose her child and that the norms at the time required she simply not speak of it again, even behind closed doors. How unfortunate, she lamented, that she and her husband carried their grief quietly, shrouded in the solitude of their hearts all of these years.
Another of the grandmas spoke of how her own sister endured a miscarriage several years ago. To their credit but against family wishes they held a memorial service replete with a beautiful little casket, Scripture, music and prayer. She felt the ceremony was a powerful beginning to the healing process for the young couple as they grieved the loss of their child.
I have learned that child loss is a layered loss of hopes and dreams for the future. The need to express the inner grief is as relevant as for any loss. When we are open to grief, whether ours or another’s, we can honor even the loss of the unseen gifts of life.
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