Life to Death to Life Again: One Man’s Journey through the Grief of Miscarriage

I wrote this essay in July, reflecting on how I grieved and healed alongside my wife after she had a miscarriage. I’ve tried to be as honest as I can about the experience of grief, so that someone might read it and know that they are not alone, and that what they are feeling is okay. I share it now during October, which is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, in the hopes of spreading an awareness about the often unspoken, isolating loss of miscarriage:

 

If you or your loved one has recently had a miscarriage, then you are probably feeling something like I felt at the time: lost, confused, depressed, and weighed down with a mess of emotions that you don’t know what to do with. If you are anything like me, you have been up searching for articles online to tell you what you should be feeling and doing, because you are dreading the silence that awaits you in the rest of your house. Maybe you have been praying, afraid that no one is listening on the other end.

 

If I’m honest, I really don’t know how you feel. Your story is probably quite different than mine. You might be thinking right now, you don’t know me. And you’re right. I don’t. But I hope my story might help you.

 

You see, I think stories help us heal. They make us realize we are not alone. I’m a Christian, a pastor, and a man: because of this, I often want solutions to problems I can’t solve, and answers to questions no one has ever figured out.

 

My miscarriage story is about how I came to grip with my own helplessness, my utter dependence on the grace of God. It wasn’t easy.

 

My prayer is that my story might help you feel less alone and nudge you closer to healing and wholeness. Things have actually gotten a lot better, but at the time I was a complete wreck. I’ve tried to describe my feelings, using my actual prayer journal and what I remember from the time. I’m sharing this so you might know that whatever you are feeling right now is okay, and to give you some hope that you will not always feel the way you feel right now.

 

You ready? Here we go.

 

The Expectation

 

My wife Molly and I decided in December of last year to start “trying” to have a baby, which I have always found an uncomfortable phrase to hear from other people (I remember as an adolescent hearing this from what seemed to me an older couple, and thinking, “I don’t want to think about that!”).

 

Well, “try” we did, and come February Molly took a pregnancy test. After a few minutes of screwing our eyes at the test stick’s little black cross, we realized Molly was pregnant.

 

This happened more quickly than we thought it would, but we were overjoyed, scared, amazed. I couldn’t believe that I was going to be a father in nine months to a beautiful, crying, living child. It completely changed the way I viewed Molly—it forced me to recognize the holiness of an expectant mother, a carrier of life. It brings into sharp focus the sheer abundance and wonder that anything is alive at all.

 

We didn’t tell anybody. We had heard that it was good to wait until at least twelve weeks, in case anything happens. And so we harbored this secret in our hearts, anxiously awaiting the time when we could share the news. This is what I wrote in my journal at the time:

 

2/23/17

Father, I am carrying a secret around with me, that you and me and Molly know. Molly is pregnant! …

 It’s hard to describe the feeling I have. It’s like everything is about to take on a new level of significance in a way—our home is preparing to receive a lifelong guest, a child of God, one that you are giving into our care…

Who will this person be? This little child? It’s such a gamble to let people be free, God. To let us grow wild, to let us turn from you if we really want to. To let us fall, and fall again, and lose ourselves in the whimsy of our sin. I pray that this little person, this little boy or girl, that they might see in Molly and me a pattern of life that they want to emulate. I pray that through us they might witness and encounter your grace…

 

You can see that in my thoughts, in my prayers, I am trying to wrap my head around the idea of this new life that was coming my way. What would change? How should I prepare myself?

 

The Fear in Waiting

 

Around the seventh week in the pregnancy, Molly started “spotting”, a word I did not yet know to fear. She had some cramping pain, and she began to get worried. We called the doctor, and they said that it might be nothing, but that if it gets worse we needed to go to the hospital and get an ultrasound. This is how I described it at the time in my prayers:

 

2/25/17

…I am living in “forethought of grief” today, as Wendell Berry would say, “in fear of what my life” may be. I don’t want us to lose the baby. I also don’t want to see what it will do to Molly. She’s such an innocent, humble, joyful person. I find it incredible painful to see her in suffering, to see her crumple into herself with disappointment and fear, and shame. I’ve seen it before, when she got laid off in Durham. I hated it. I never want to see her like that.

 Lord, please let us be wrong. Please be the giver of life to us. I know that we are no different and no better than the millions of people who have faced miscarriage or loss of a baby. I also know that this is not your desire, that death is never your desire. Please keep us and sustain us no matter what happens. But Father, please, let me be a father. Let me witness your creating grace. Let me have a healthy, happy child.

 

We didn’t know what else to do but to wait and pray. Maybe it will be okay, I thought. I wasn’t prepared yet to face the alternative.

 

That Saturday, things began to get worse and we decided to go to the emergency room. Things took forever. We waited in the room, just sitting quietly with each other, afraid of what we might discover. They did an ultrasound, but they couldn’t explain it to us. I saw the heartbeat on the screen, though I was afraid to hope that that’s what it was. They took a blood test to measure Molly’s hormone levels. The doctor finally, after many hours, came in and told us there was a heartbeat. But, the hormone levels were way too low. The only thing we could do was wait.

 

We had to wait until Thursday to see if the baby was going to make it or not.

It was probably one of the hardest weeks of my life—I have never felt more helpless, more hopeless, more alone.

 

2/27/17

We still don’t know. We went to the ER on Saturday, and they told us that it was still a “viable pregnancy.” Molly continued to bleed, and had painful cramping on Saturday night. It’s gotten a little bit better. But I don’t think we’ll know for sure if the baby is alive until Thursday. I want to be strong for Molly, but I don’t even know how to feel. I hate the limbo of it, the hanging on for hope, the guilt of not feeling hopeful, the shame of feeling hopeful, the jealousy of people posting about their babies on Facebook.

God I know that all life is yours. You are the Lord of life. I have no right to a child, no rights at all. I come before you only on the grounds of your mercy. Until we know, God, I will plead to you to let life win. Let our child live. Let my bride be flooded with happiness and joy, with health and peace. I don’t know how to encounter her sadness, O God. I don’t know how to accompany it with grace and with dignity, with the presence that it needs to be nurtured and loved. God I fall before you, for there is nowhere else to fall. Only you can rescue from death. Christ, you are the great healer. Come and heal. Come and save. Come and hold us. Come and help us. Please do not leave us to hang with the shame of death, with the pain of loss.

Ash Wednesday is in two days. I do not want to preach about mortality and death, about their inevitability, about their status as fact. I do not want to contemplate the darkness of ashes upon forehead. I do not want to face the abyss, the pit into which we all must plunge. Keep the darkness at bay, my Lord. Order my thoughts, place the dark in its proper place—put death in its rightful place. Make it go! It is conquered, is it not? Why let it linger? Why let it lord over us in a false reign? To what end?

 

I told a few close friends that week what was going on. Molly told her sister and her mom. Her mom came up that week.

 

I told my friend who I’ll call James that I needed to talk, and we went to Mellow Mushroom and I told him what was going on. His compassion, his listening, his willingness to just say “this sucks,” his refusal to explain or provide reasons or false hopes, it was exactly what I needed at the time. If you have a friend going through this, be a James: say “I’m so sorry this happening. This is horrible. I love you, friend.” Do not try to account for another’s suffering. Don’t explain what God is up to. Just witness it, hold it, comfort it. Bear with it.

 

The Great Sadness

 

This is what I wrote the day after we knew for sure that the baby had died:

 

3-3-17

Father,

 

We found out yesterday that Molly had a miscarriage. Our doctor had to help pull some of the tissue out, into an antiseptic little jar, full of what looked like bloody water. It was just horrible. The doctor was very kind, and said that this would not affect future pregnancies. We made an appointment for next week.

When we got home, we sat on the floor and cried. Molly cried harder than I’ve ever heard her or hardly anyone cry, and her face was buried in my lap, and I tried to cover her with my body and hold her, and I was crying too. It was such a shattering of hope, God. I can’t understand it. I know that we are not promised a care-free life, that we are never promised from you a life without suffering or pain or death. But it is so hard when it happens. I don’t believe this is something that you wanted, Lord, I don’t think you wanted death to be in your creation. Or loss, or pain, or tears. I know that you are ushering in a kingdom where you will wipe away every tear from our eyes. But until then, there is such an emptiness.

I feel empty and cold. I’m mad that you didn’t heal this child. I’m disappointed, maybe that’s the better word. You are the God who heals, but you didn’t heal. I know that your ways are not our ways, and that your will is beyond my comprehension. I pray that through this Molly and I could both grow closer to you, and closer to each other. I do feel that I’ve gained a greater perception of life through all this, of the fragility of life. I’ve gained an understanding of how scary the hospital is, of how much fear there is in the waiting, in the little fluorescent-lit rooms, in the technical words to mask such a horrible reality.

We went out to get Mexican food at Garcia’s last night, just to get out of the house. I talked to my family on the phone. What can we say at such times? I’m learning that talking about you of all things is not all that helpful. I remember someone said, “You know, God will help get you through this,” and that just made me mad. I know you will help me get through this, but I don’t think I was ready to hear it said. We watched Pirates of the Caribbean to get our minds off of it, which it did. But when we got in bed, laying down in the dark, there was nothing to distract. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and for the first time in a very long time I fell asleep with tears in my eyes. There’s no cure for this feeling. No short-term one, I mean.

We just have to sit with it, host it, like an unwanted house guest. Grief is sitting there next to you on the couch, expecting to be served and catered to. You can ignore it for a while, and go to another part of the house, or leave the house, but eventually it will come sneaking in, taking off its coat, and just sit and look at you.

I’m trying to write all this because I want to remember what it all feels like, God. I know I will minister to people going through similar things, and I want to remember so I can bear people’s burdens, and lighten their loads. (James’) call was the most helpful. He just said, “I know this is horrible. I am so sorry. We love you. If you need me, I’m here. We can get a drink, or whatever. We love you guys, I hope you know that.” That’s really all I needed to hear. And I could tell in his voice the struggle he put in to say the right thing, to say the least amount he could to express his love.

I probably need to tell some more of my friends, to let them help me. It’s a hard thing, because it seems like the more people we tell, the more real it becomes. And if we keep it private, we can make it a secret, unreal thing, a thing we can forget more easily. But to share our suffering, it is lodged in the collective memory, it is a thorn planted in many sides, making it more difficult to someday dislodge. Or does it make it easier? I don’t know. This is a new kind of heartache for me God. And it is strange because it is more the heartache of a dead hope—a loss of the future—a rupture in what might have been. It is the fear that it might happen again. Or that we may never have children. I hate to even write those words, though I know it may be a possibility. May it not be so, God.

Lift my spirits, O God, and give me the wisdom to find the help I need, to accept the love I need, to embrace the friends I need. I cannot grieve apart from you, I cannot heal apart from you. Be my all in all, be my Father, be my God. In Christ’s name we pray, that holy name of Jesus. Amen.

 

The next few weeks felt like a great undoing. We slumbered through our daily tasks in the long process of grief. As a pastor, I was at pains because we were not ready to share what was going on with our congregation. We did not want to deal with the painful responses people make (“The Lord was just calling it home,” “Sometimes this is how the Lord works,” “God is in control,” etc.). I was barely able to do the minimum tasks of my very full time profession. I felt totally lost, incredibly alone.

 

The most surprising thing to me was how exhausting it was to grieve this deeply. I was tired—tired of my emotions, of my emptiness, tired of the hopelessness I felt. I wanted to make Molly happy, and I couldn’t. She has always been the light of my days, and to see her so crumpled and hurt, I just had no idea what to do.

 

3/15/17 (about two weeks after the miscarriage)

I had a bad day yesterday.…Molly wanted to go out to eat, and I really didn’t want to, but I went because I thought it might make her feel better. We walked around the mall afterwards, and I was just depressed. Just tired of feeling the way I am feeling. I texted (my friend) some, and Molly was inside Payless looking at shoes, and I just felt like running away, or like just going home and crawling in a hole. I’ve just started to feel an undoing of what I am doing here. How do I know if I am doing what I am supposed to, how long can I keep up what I am doing…

 

On the drive home, I kind of broke down, telling Molly that it is so hard to keep up with everything when I just don’t feel like doing anything. I don’t feel like it. I don’t really care right now. When we got inside, we both put on our comfy clothes, and I really broke down and started crying, and Molly and me just hugged in our walk-in closet, and I said, “Molly, I was just so excited.” … It’s amazing to me how this pain, this depression, seeps into everything I’m doing, like a dead weight. Like a sickness, really.

 

All I want to do is curl up into a ball and watch TV until I feel better. But instead I am in the office, and I am going to try and finish writing my sermon. God, I need your strength. This is beyond my ability to deal with. This is beyond my power. Your power is made perfect in weakness. Your grace is sufficient to me. I pray that this pain might someday be made into glory. I pray that you would take this affront to your creation, this small victory of death, and use it in your ultimate defeat of sin and death and all that plagues your creation—that it might become a testimony of your power and your kingdom breaking into this world. I am only in the midst of a story, my story, and I am afraid that I will not be able to get up as soon as I’d like. I don’t know exactly what will happen, or if I will be able to deal with it. But I got up today, and walked in the brisk March air, and I have to take this one day at a time. I am learning to lean upon you, God, as so many people have learned to do. Give me the wisdom to lean in ever more, O God of the suffering cross.

 

Amen.

 

Things would get better, then get worse. I would forget, and then remember. Pain, and then small joys would sneak in. Somehow.

 

From that hard winter, slowly but surely, spring emerged. It helped my grief begin to recede.

 

 

3-21-17

Father,

 

I am sitting outside on the back porch. It’s only the second day of Spring, officially. Gracie is leaping happily outside in the yard, eating grass, rolling in it. It’s cloudy, but it’s pleasant. My neighbor John is out in his yard with his shirt off. I went over a little while ago and talked to him. The rooster just crowed, and I can hear the goats far off, bickering with each other, crying like a pack of babies. The birds are tweeting and whistling as they do, and there is a strange newness to the sky, like the blue is trying its best to break through.

Molly and I have planted a garden. Well, we tilled the soil, and on Sunday we put in the chicken wire fence to keep out rabbits. Molly put in the lettuce and the spinach I believe. It’s kind of a memorial garden. A way of remembering and a way of letting go.

I remember as I was out there a few weeks ago with Molly’s dad, and her dad was tilling and I was shoveling, and Molly and her Mom were inside. I realized that I was inheriting the ancient curse. Me toiling in the soil according to my manhood, Molly toiling with the pain and loss of womanhood. And yet there was a solace in becoming a part of an ancient story, of realizing the pain of being human…

I accept that I am grieving a strange loss, and grieving the happiness of myself and almost more the happiness of my bride. The weight of the emotion is draining to me. I’m worried that we may have another miscarriage someday, that we may never have children. I’m worried that pregnancy is now going to be a scary thing, as opposed to a happy thing. I’m worried about my ability to bear loss with courage and grace…

 

 

It’s hard to say how things start to get better. If you are in the middle of it, it feels like it will never get better. But hear me: it does. It will. Things might be terrible now, but you will not always feel the way you do now.

 

I had said that to people before as a pastor, assuming they were true. But now I can say with confidence: healing is possible. Things can and will change. Light will overcome the darkness. Especially if you let others into your life to help you heal. That’s exactly what Molly and I did. We told our friends one by one, and they helped bear our burdens. They lightened our load.

 

3/29/17

…Travis and Erin were in town this weekend, and it was such a blessing to have them stay with us. Being with them is like having home come to us. And on Sunday we had friends over to watch the UK game, and even though we lost to UNC in a buzzer beater, we had such a great time—afterwards we had a fire in our backyard. I felt such a sense of community and wholeness…

The sun is shining, Lord. And it’s strange how good it has made me felt. The weather was warm and kind today, and in it I felt your kindness and your warmth. People are coming outside in the neighborhood, and coming alive again after a mild but long winter. It’s warming the bones of my soul, if I can say such a thing. Molly too. Molly is getting somewhat better too. She got a picture of the ultrasound of our baby from the hospital, and she has put it in a white frame on her bedside table. I hope this helps her to grieve. I am more inclined to just let it go and forget about it, but I doubt this is the wisest path. I know people need to remember, so that they can say goodbye. Lord, please help Molly to say goodbye. Help me too…

 

New Life

 

We were overjoyed to find out on April 30 that Molly was pregnant again. It is July 28 now, and yesterday we heard the baby’s heartbeat for a second time. All is well so far, and Molly is due to have the baby in January. And in all honesty, this new pregnancy has helped push away a lot of the grief we felt. It gave us a new hope to help heal our past hurts.

 

I know that for a lot of people, the story is very different. More miscarriages happen. People have trouble getting pregnant again. No children ever come. And I don’t know what that feels like. I imagine that it’s incredibly painful, and probably at times feels very hopeless.

 

All I know is that through my own experience of loss, I was able to understand the grace of God anew. I did not go through a phase of being angry at God, though I’m sure people do. I think I just became more aware of the deep sadness embedded in creation, the groaning that Paul talks about in Romans 8, the way all of the earth is yearning for a day when pain and death will be no more. We may not all go through a miscarriage, but we will all face that groaning in one form or another.

 

The Christian response to that groaning, the Christ-like response to loss and death, is to be angry and cry. After Lazarus died, Jesus got angry and he cried. This is the way through. He talked with his grieving friends in the words they needed to hear. He comforted them. He went with them to the tomb. And he showed them, in the raising of Lazarus, a glimpse of the future hope: a glimpse that there will be a day when our tears will be wiped away for good. It’s just not here yet.

 

Molly and I have come to understand our utter dependence upon God. We simply don’t know if our new baby will be healthy, or if something terrible will happen. It is absolutely out of our control—it’s not about how much we pray, or how much faith we have.

 

There’s this great part of Finding Nemo when Dory and Marlin are hanging off of a blue whale’s tongue, and Dory is about to let go and drop into its mouth, and Marlin asks her: “How do you know something bad isn’t going to happen?” Dory says, like we all should say, “I don’t!” Then she lets go and falls into the dark abyss, into a future that she cannot foresee.

 

Experiencing a miscarriage was horrible, and I wish it upon no one. I do not believe God wants it to happen. However, I have also grown immensely from my grief. I’ve come to find solace in the idea that there will never be a single moment when I am in control, when I can make this world free from pain and death. I can cling to my worry and my control, I can remain in my illusory pockets of safety. But life, abundant life, it comes when we let go of all that and allow ourselves to fall into the deep things of God. And that is the only way through: in the long, slow process of learning to trust him with everything. Even the lives of those we love.

 

Encouragement

 

If you are going through a miscarriage, here’s some ways I would encourage you to find healing, though I am certainly no expert.

  • Remember, there is no easy way to get rid of grief. The only way is through.
  • I encourage you to find a friend, find a counselor, find a pastor, and tell them what’s going on. They will listen. It will help you to heal. If you are a man, I understand that you are bearing the double pain of the loss itself, and the inability to fully understand your wife’s loss. Others can help you process what you are feeling. Let them help you do this.
  • Resist the quick healing. Healing will take time, longer than you want it to take.
  • Be vulnerable with people you trust. Protect your heart. Some people are not helpful, and some people are. When people are harmful, forgive them; they probably have no way to relate with what you are going through.
  • Lean into your love—don’t run away from your spouse or partner. Support each other. Let each other take turns crying. Let your man cry, he is going to want to feel strong. Let your wife cry long after you have “gotten over it.” We all deal with this stuff differently.
  • Have grace for yourself. Meaning eat too much, watch too much TV. Be less productive. Forgive yourself for doing these things. You are facing a real loss, and it is going to affect you in every way.
  • Pray. Meaning be honest with God. Be angry, be depressed, be sad, and bring all those dark emotions to God. He can handle them, and he can guide us to a place of healing. We can do nothing to separate ourselves from his love: if we bring our true selves to him, we can become more aware of his saving presence even in our times of trouble.

 

If you are supporting a friend who is going through a miscarriage, here is some encouragement and advice for you:

 

  • Do not talk about how common it is to have a miscarriage. It is common to get cancer as well, but that does not seem to be the compassionate response to it. This is a real loss of a real child—understand that felt reality, even if the child was only a few weeks old. Knowing that thousands of others are experiencing it at that moment does not make it any easier.
  • Silence is always better than harmful clichés. Do not say anything about God’s will. Do not explain the problem of evil. Do not say God works in mysterious ways. These are things beyond our understanding. They are never helpful and often harmful.
  • Listen deeply, and say “I’m so sorry this happened. I love you so much.” Repeat.
  • Talk about what happened. If you have a friend or family that is experiencing a miscarriage, don’t ignore it. Write a note. Make a phone call. Visit them! Bring them a meal. They need you, but they might not be able to communicate that. Take the initiative. Go and listen in whatever way you can. This may be uncomfortable for you, but we need each other.
  • Pray with people, when you are with them and when you are not. They need it. (We had friends pray for us immediately when we told them—this was exactly what we needed, and it brought our friendship with them to a new, deeper, and more intimate place).
  • Share your story. If you have had a miscarriage, your story can help people. Reach out, write a note, say I’ve been there. It helps more than you might know.

 

*Also, update on my wife’s current pregnancy. She is in the third trimester officially, and everyone, wife and baby boy, is healthy and happy. We are looking forward to meeting him in January!

 

 

 

 

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