Unsuccessful pregnancy… fetal demise… no heartbeat… dilation & curettage… miscarriage. These ugly words brought with them painful thoughts, grief, loss and disappointment. “It feels very surreal,” I told my friend. “Maybe when we hear the heartbeat, then it will feel real. I have wanted this for so long, that I have a hard time believing I’m actually pregnant.”
Perhaps this is one way that we protect ourselves from the potential disappointment and pain of miscarriage. I have heard that in certain tribes in Africa, mothers wait to give their babies a name until they are a year old, a practice that corresponds to high infant mortality rates; however, these mothers do give their babies a secret name which no one else knows about. I suppose as a mother, you can’t help it. You are going to be attached. Even for a short time. Even if it’s only for nine weeks.
Maybe God was protecting us from disaster. Most miscarriages are a natural form of eliminating genetic abnormalities. It feels like punishment, though. I hear the friends of Job in my head as I wish I knew what we did to deserve this.
Amid those voices, I also hear the voice of God, “I am with you always.”
“Come to me, all who are weak and heavy laden and I will give you rest.”
“For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
“Nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.” Not even miscarriage.
The anesthesiologist recommended a book called, I’ll Hug You in Heaven. Does a 9 week-old fetus have a soul? When does a person become a person? I don’t know. I cried thinking that if indeed there is a little person in heaven now, daddy and grandma would be there to welcome him, or her. That made me feel a little bit better.
I’ve always cried easily. This situation is no different in that respect. Even things I normally love seem to make me cry. Yesterday we listened to Don Williams sing, “You’re My Best Friend,” a song which really speaks to my marriage with Jamey. It is more our song than anything else that I can call to mind. I completely fell apart when he sang, “You gave life to our children.” What if I can’t? We know we can get pregnant, but we don’t know if I can carry a healthy baby to term. I sure hope that we can. I don’t want to have to go through this again. It’s awful. And yet I’m not alone in this journey. A lot of women have gone through this before, some of them many times. How much suffering do we women go through alone in this life?
I chose to share our grief with my congregation. This is a tricky thing to do. Often, when a pastor goes through pain and suffering, and tells the congregation, she ends up taking care of them and helping them through their own feelings about the situation, rather than receiving genuine help and support for her own grief. Sometimes it’s just easier to keep it to yourself and deal with it alone. This is a special place, though, filled with good people. They are taking good care of us. I am blessed and thankful for that. I told the session about my loss and asked them to pray for me. They did. I asked the personnel committee to give me an extra Sunday off this year so that I could heal emotionally and return in two weeks ready to celebrate the Lord’s Supper together with joy and thanksgiving. They all said yes. The congregation sent flowers and cards. They sent lasagna and chocolate. They gave us time to be alone as a family and heal together. I am thankful.
Perhaps in sharing this grief with my congregation and with my friends and family, they, too can experience a deeper level of healing and God’s presence. Hearing our story may bring up painful feelings and past grief, but my prayer is that as we journey through the valley of the shadow of death together, we also see the Shepherd walking alongside us, guiding and providing, leading us to green pastures and quiet waters, protecting us.
This liturgy from the Iona community, adapted from The Pattern of Our Days, is helping me to heal.
As one whom a mother comforts I will comfort you, says the Lord.
We come here to thank God for this baby. To thank God for conception, to thank God for the moments this baby was carried in Hanna’s womb, and in Jamey’s heart.
To thank God that in this short life, this child brought joy and laughter, anticipation and hope for the future.
We gather to share our grief and our anger that a life promised has been taken, that hope seems to have been cut off and joy destroyed.
We are here as parents, grandparents, friends and family to lay our questions, our sadness, and our hope at the feet of Christ, who opened his arms to receive all who were wounded and distressed.
We have come to acknowledge our feelings of guilt and failure, and to affirm our conviction that death is not the end but a new beginning.
Jesus says: Those who come to me, I will not cast out.
O God, as this child was cradled in the womb, cradle and hold this child so that as we let this baby go, we may know that this baby has gone from our loving presence into yours forever. In Jesus’ name we pray. AMEN.
Kate McIlhagga, “Liturgy for a Stillborn Child,” in The Pattern of Our Days: Worship in the Celtic Tradition from the Iona Community, ed. Kathy Galloway (Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1996), 6-7.