How do I deal with Pregnancy Loss?
First know, You are Not Alone
A friend of mine just had a first-trimester miscarriage and is grieving deeply. Another friend just shared with me how several years ago she lost her third baby at 24 weeks. Many, many of my friends and women in my family have suffered pregnancy loss; at this point, I find it more unusual to meet women who haven’t.
My Personal Story
Several years ago I lost twins right at the end of the first trimester, just before we were about to share our excitement with the world. Then I had another very early first trimester miscarriage after the birth of our most recent little boy. Losing the twins was the hardest, but even losing a baby I’d only known about for a few days was wrenching.
Miscarriage is devastating. I plunged into a depression that lasted months. I felt like my body was a vessel of tears that just kept spilling over. I cried every day, and anything and everything set me off. I was haunted by the mental image of an ultrasound screen with no heartbeats. My body was a mess trying to reorganize itself and the changing hormones gave me terrible headaches. And I felt so terribly empty.
I can’t imagine the pain of this happening over and over again, as many of my friends have experienced. And our culture has no rituals to help us process. In fact, we tend to often be so private about our loss that few people know, and maybe we really don’t want them to know, so we end up putting on masks to hide our pain. We have to figure out how to muddle through and live again on our own.
How does faith play a role in loss?
I am a Christian passionately following Jesus; and this is a key part of my story in processing my loss. If you aren’t a Christian, I hope that you can find some gems here anyway to encourage you. Loss always tends to provoke us to take out our spiritual beliefs and examine them, and try to figure out where this profound event fits into our worldview, and I would not be surprised if you can relate to my processing experience even if you are of a different faith or not of faith at all.
I have experienced enough devastating loss in my thirty-eight years on our planet to know this: walking through dark valleys of pain and grief always yields blessing on the other side. These valleys are horrible, we don’t want to walk through them, we do everything in our power to avoid them, and it can feel like we are walking through smothering darkness forever. But as you drag yourself, broken and bleeding, over the rocks and wasteland, there will be rays of light that suddenly break through. Leaving the valley may be a long period of brightening twilight, or it might be a sudden emergence into blinding sun, but you WILL get there. The powerful strategy of the darkness is to try to convince you that it is eternal and will never let you go.
Blessings on the other side? Really?
Blessings on the other side? Really? Yes. You are at a crossroads right now- the path to the left is the one of anger, bitterness, and hopelessness. Those who take it do not grow, or mature in character, but hold onto their anger and let it form and shape them.
Imagine at this crossroads there is an old woman standing in each path. The old woman on the left is bent over, angry, and remembers every bad thing the universe has dealt her. It feels easy to take this path and let your emotions run down it.
The old woman on the right may be a bit bent, but she holds her staff with confidence. Her eyes look at you with kindness and compassion, and wisdom shines out of her wrinkled face. She invites you to come with her, to grieve, and to heal, and one day stand on that path yourself, waiting for others, limping and bloody, to arrive seeking help.
I am pretty sure I’d prefer to follow the old lady on the right!
Which Old Lady will you Listen to?
These two old ladies represent the path you choose for yourself in your healing process. The first old lady will berate you, pile on guilt and shame. She will tell you that to properly respect the loss of your baby you need to hold onto your grief. She will tell you all the things that you should have done that might have changed how things turned out. She is likely to tell you that it is all your fault, no matter what anyone else says. In the Christian worldview, we believe this old lady is the age-old enemy of humanity: Satan, the father of lies, who wants nothing more to spite God by dragging His beloved children in the dirt and twisting and deforming them. Nothing this old lady tells you can be trusted! She wants to turn you into her image, to become ugly and resentful to the end of your days.
The second old lady is the one most of us want to be at our life’s end. She lets you experience your painful emotions, she won’t tell you to stuff them down. She will give you grace and whisper to you : You are loved, your baby is loved, and safe. She encourages you to look for beauty each day around you and in other people, and reminds you that this season does not last forever. As you emerge from the valley of grief, you find your heart enlarged and more compassionate and merciful, you hear of other women suffering this loss and you want to do something to help them and comfort them, to let them know that someone understands and cares. In the Christian worldview, this old lady is Jesus, looking at us broken women with deep love and a desire to bring us through the valley not just intact, but rooted deeper in love and wisdom, hope and peace.
Where do you go from here?
1) Give yourself Permission Feel Bleak and Empty
If you are struggling through the first days of loss, it’s okay to feel bleak and empty. Grab a journal and just start writing down what you feel. Put it all out there. Write down the thoughts in your head and ask yourself: which old lady is talking to me? Are these thoughts worth believing?
I find that the first days are the most dangerous in this respect, the assault of worthlessness and guilt and should-haves are like a storm raging in the night. Write down the good things that you DO believe are true and hold onto them with all your might while the winds blow and try to dislodge you.
2) Don’t go it Alone: Reach out to others
One of the things that my friend that just miscarried did that I think was invaluable was reach out to the women of our church. She asked us to pray for her and also asked if anyone could bring meals for her family the next couple days while she goes in for the D&C and recovers. And you know what? We were thrilled that she asked. We are grieving with her and so glad for the opportunity to show our love in a practical way. It takes courage to ask other people to care for you. Reach out to the people in your life that you know will respond in love. You NEED support, don’t try to keep it all inside and go it alone. I am so thankful for friends that didn’t mind me being a depressed lump for months. They were still willing to hang out with me even though I sure wasn’t much “fun.” They took my children on occasion when I needed some time alone, they dropped off meals unasked for. If you are reading this article trying to figure out how to support someone who has experienced pregnancy loss, I just gave you some great ideas… be there for them, weather the storm with them… be that old lady full of grace and compassion.
3) Celebrate the Memory of Your Little One
Doing something in memory of your little one may also be very helpful. A friend of mine devoted a section of her garden to white flowers for her baby. My husband bought me a necklace with a mother holding two babies. He put it in a little box with an ultrasound picture and a Bible verse that our pastor had shared with us in the hospital that really spoke to our hearts. My sister planted two trees in honor of my babies. A musical friend wrote a song. Another friend had a special Christmas ornament made for her baby that she lost shortly after a full-term birth, and each time they hang it up they talk about this brother with the other children. I saw a nineteenth-century painting once that completely did me in: a family portrait with angels painted in the sky over their heads that represented the little ones they had lost. Our babies were real people, full of life and potential, and I think that finding ways to acknowledge that is deeply healing.
How did I heal?
In the end, my full healing came like this: I was sitting in bed one morning four or five months after my loss, crying and praying and journaling. The image of that lifeless ultrasound kept coming back into my mind. It came into my mind to ask this question of Jesus: where were You, that morning, while I was lying on the exam table, when it felt like a knife was plunged into my heart? And suddenly I saw Him in my mind’s eye, standing next to me in that room, and He was wrapping me up like a mummy, but the strips of linen were His love. He wrapped me up head to toe in His love so tightly that there was no room for pain or grief or fear, only love. My memory of that moment was literally transformed- to this day that image no longer haunts me. When I see it, I see myself wrapped up in that love. And I left my room that morning blinking in the brightness of coming out into the sun after so many months in the dark valley. It still remains one of the most transformational experiences of my life. If I look at my “spiritual-life-timeline” in terms of my growth in loving and being loved by God, this is one place where instead of incremental baby-steps upwards there is a mighty jump.
Sisters, if you want to share your experience here in the comments or leave tidbits of hope for others coming behind, please do.
What did you do to process your loss?
I’d especially love for you to share what others have done that helped you, because many are likely to read this who want to know what to do for their grieving loved one.
Be blessed in your journey.