A Silence God Doesn't Want For Us
I have two very early memories of being 2-years-old… seriously, two memories, clear as day. In the first, I’m in the den of my childhood home, happily tearing a bunch of file folders to shreds. In the second, I’m jumping on my parents’ bed while my mom stands off to the side (probably making sure I don’t hurt myself). Mom has permed 80s hair and her belly is big, like a ball is stuffed underneath her dress. I leap off the bed into her arms. My father runs into the room and starts yelling at me not to jump on my mother again because I will hurt the baby. I get mad because dad clearly ruins all the fun I will ever have.
I’ve sat on those two memories for a long time. Neither of them really mattered until one day in 4th or 5th grade when my dad took me to the cemetery. We were paying respects to one of his family members, maybe his father or mother. I looked around at the markers in the ground and dad explained who each person was in relation to me. I wandered just a few feet away, to a little fenced-in area, where toys, and wind chimes marked the graves and little statues of angels and lambs stood guard. It was called "Lullaby Land" and I realized it was a cemetery for little babies. I was very cautious and interested as I read each plaque. I was mesmerized by the short-lived dates on each one, and then I found one with my last name. It read “Infant Son of…” I remember being confused and my dad explaining to me that this was not the first time I’d visited this grave, I’d just forgotten – the leftover roses were evidence.
I felt this feeling of shame. Like I had discovered something private, and I felt stupid for clearly remembering my pregnant mother, but not being able to do the math and realize that my sister was much too young to be the unborn child I remembered. And what I wondered, but didn’t voice for years, was, had it been my fault? Did I hurt my mom’s belly? Am I the reason we don’t talk about my little brother without a name on his headstone?
I was older when I finally found the courage to ask my mom what happened. And no, it wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. It was an infection she contracted from food-borne bacteria, one dangerous to pregnant women. Mom told me that no one had really known how to handle stillbirth in the 80s; that the funeral happened while she was still in the hospital; that doctors gave my father really bad advice on how to “move on.”
People told her, "God doesn’t give us anything we can’t handle." She told me that’s a lie and to never say that to anyone. Ever. She doesn’t talk about it often, but it haunts her for sure. I notice the tremble in her hands each Christmas when she hangs his special ornament. I heard it in her voice as my sister and I shared our pregnancy milestones. And I saw it on her face when my daughter’s heart rate dropped during labor. She voiced concern moments before the machine roused an army of medical professionals to my bedside.
Why am I telling you this story? Because October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, and it’s something we need to talk about. An estimated 20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage. Most have no cause, no explanation, as my doctor gently explained to me in 2013, after what I thought was food poisoning left me cramping and bleeding. She called it a chemical pregnancy, which I preferred.
I think we don’t talk about it because so much of pregnancy is private. It’s not okay to touch women without permission; we know not to ask if the pregnancy was planned. So I think we’ve convinced ourselves that pregnancy loss is taboo, along with questions about weight gain and body changes. It’s a different type of loss. It’s a stain in your underwear. It’s blood and retching. It often happens when you’re alone in a bathroom. It’s all the things we don’t talk about. And we need to change that.
I don’t think this silence is what God wants for us. It’s clear that we are to lift up our pain to our maker, but I think we are also called to mourn with one other.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ tells us that those who mourn are blessed. The psalms are full of lamentations, and they were meant for public worship. Christianity is meant to be a communal experience, a family in which to share joys and pain and to learn about God together. If we leave out this tragic, common experience, if we treat it like something to be ashamed of or a private medical matter, we leave hurting people out to dry. We abandon them to handle their grief alone. It is the very paradigm of innocent suffering, so it deserves more than a mention. Because it pops back up, again and again, and can reopen the wounds of loss each and every year.
It is also beyond frustrating that the Bible doesn’t address the realities of miscarriage. Usually when it is mentioned it’s a clear punishment or some sort of character building exercise, and I don’t think that’s how God works at all. God has known the loss of a beloved child, and I don’t think God could speak of that loss as callously as some of the stories do. It bothers me that Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, fully human and fully divine, never knew what it was like to carry life in your body, the anguish of that life falling away, and the ever present fear that it will happen again. I wonder if he would have understood, or would it remain a female mystery?
I had a professor in seminary, who spoke of her numerous miscarriages before her children were born. She named her losses, not just of the children she had desperately wanted, but also the sheer possibility and promise she lost with each one. She told our theology class about a medical study that found there were microscopic differences in a mother’s blood with each pregnancy, and she found it comforting to know her pregnancies had changed her, like they were with her always. I don’t know anything about medicine, so I don’t know if it’s true, but I think it’s a beautiful sentiment.
Because they stay with us. And God is with us, too.
“But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me.”
Can a woman forget her nursing child or show no compassion for the child of her womb?
Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.
– Isaiah 49:14-15