We recently lost our daughter to miscarriage. It happened somewhere in the 10-14 week range of the pregnancy.
My dear friend summed up the emotions best when he said, “It’s a unique grief.”
Its a unique grief because there's child to hold in the grief. We don’t tend to use the language of "a son" or "daughter" when speaking of a miscarriage; at least in my experience. It almost becomes a disembodied experience because we do not have a child in our arms. Sometimes, we don't use the terms son and daughter because the pregnancy just isn’t far enough along to know whether its a boy or girl. But other times, we just tend to use different terms when referring to the unborn because they are...unborn.
A child in the womb is different that a child in the arms, but only by location. The child in the womb is still as much as child as the one in our arms.
And so, while we tend to make a distinction between the two, even unconsciously, we can’t do that. It’s not a Christian way to think. It’s not pro-life thinking.
To be Pro-life is to recognize that all life, from the moment of conception, bears the precious and unique image of God,—and we know that life in the womb and in the world is sacred, worthy, and fully human.
Those little ones in the womb are our sons and daughters.
While our daughter was only several weeks old, and still forming in the womb, she had a body complete with head, torso, arms, and legs. I vividly remember the fear and joy my wife and I shared when, holding hands, we saw the first ultrasound images of her little life flash on the screen. We could see her heart beating on the screen, and then the ultrasound tech flipped the switch, and the sounds of that heart came beating through the speakers. Her life was unmistakable. There she was. Alive. A miracle.
We found out on Sunday, July 2, that the little life inside Tera’s womb was a daughter. We were all set to add another little girl to our family — 3 boys and 3 girls!
But on Friday, July 7, we learned that the little heart we had once heard so strongly was no longer beating. An ultrasound confirmed it. Where there had once been a visible and audible heart beating in her chest, there was now only a deafening silence and paralyzing stillness.
Our daughter had passed away. It ranks among the worst days of my life.
I’m writing this post for two reasons:
First, I’m writing to process my own grief as a husband and father.
And second, I'm writing for the sake of others who have, and will walk this dark road.
It's estimated that 10% of clinically recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage. That’s not a small number, and it means this happens somewhat regularly.
But even with its regularity, we don’t seem to be all that good at talking about it, or thinking through it. I am learning in real time that I had not thought well enough about the issue before it happened to us.
But, I do believe we can process this pain and suffering biblically, in a way that’s honest, but also helpful and hopeful.
First, the Grief: Miscarriage is loss, and loss brings Grief.
The Grief of Bodily Pain.
Pregnancy brings great suffering upon a woman’s body. Her hormones change, her insides begin to shift, her body is preparing itself to host and grow new life inside her. It really is an incredible mystery. But, miscarriage brings about its own unique bodily pain.
After the miscarriage was confirmed, Tera could sense movement in her womb. While it wasn’t our daughter, something was giving the sensation of movement, and that was torturous for Tera.
Her body also began to cramp and prepare for what was to come, even several days before the procedure. And on the day of the procedure, she had to take medication that sent her body into labor-like preparation, all to deliver a baby that we would never hold in this life.
God has specially equipped mothers to endure the pain of childbirth for the sake of their children; but for a woman to endure that pain when there is no child to receive in the end, that brings tremendous suffering and grief.
The Grief of Lost Hopes.
As soon as a couple learns they are pregnant, they begin to prepare. They begin hoping and dreaming, planning, and preparing. And this is how God made things to be. The Psalmist says, “Children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.”
Pregnancy is a time of joy, happiness, and blessed preparation. But, miscarriage is the painful and grief-stricken interrupting end of that all-too-joyous process. All the preparation and anticipation violently comes to a halt; and all those hopes and dreams quickly become painful reminders of lost hopes and a life not to be.
The Grief of Doctor Visits.
When a miscarriage occurs, the nature of doctor visits shift so rapidly that it’s disorienting. When we walked in the OB on Friday morning, July 7, we expected to hear our daughter's heartbeat on the doppler, and to schedule the next check up. Instead, we watched the facial expressions of our doctors change from one of happiness to one of concern, and eventually, to grief.
And instead of scheduling our next check-up, we were scheduling a D&C with the hospital.
All of that change within 20-30 minutes.
The Grief of Shame.
“Should I feel this way? Should I feel like I’ve lost a child? Should I not just get over this?”
Maybe lots of parents that suffer miscarriage have these questions. Maybe they don’t. But we certainly did.
The answer to these questions is: Yes. Parents should absolutely feel this way. Why? Because we did, in fact, lose a child.
I think some moms feel that their bodies may have let their unborn child down in some way; or perhaps they just carry that shame of loss in their own bodies in unique ways. Miscarriage is a unique suffering because it is thoroughly a body and soul experience.
But for whatever reason, miscarriage tends to bring on feelings of shame, and that shame is often born in silence.
The Grief of Burial.
Our little girl had a body. We saw and heard her heartbeat. She was a divine image-bearer of God, made up of body and soul. I saw her body on the ultrasound screen; my wife felt her life inside her womb. Pregnancies are beautiful mysteries of God’s grace. I think of the Psalmist’s description of pregnancy:
“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”
Deep inside the sacred space of my wife’s womb, God was knitting together a person; a sacred life both body and soul. And when that little life passed away, she left her body just as we all do. And the Bible speaks to us about how we are to properly handle the body after death has occurred.
We commit the body back to the ground in the hope of the resurrection.
So, at a private graveside, our little family gathered and laid our daughter to rest; we committed her back to the earth knowing that there is coming a day when God will raise her little body incorruptible in eternity. And that will be a good day.
The Grief of a Missing Child.
Somehow, in the span of 14 weeks, my perception of my family changed, and I know it did for Tera as well. In April of this year, I would have told you that our family was full to overflowing. I often say that our 3 children are equivalent to 4-5 normal ones!
But, just a few short weeks later, I find that I feel a void. I have a child missing. And I’ll always have a missing child. I wasn’t ready for that feeling, nor was I prepared for it; but it is a real, and sometimes paralyzing feeling.
The Grief of Anger.
I have a settled doctrine of God’s providence and sovereignty. God controls all things. He presides over good and evil; blessing and suffering. I believe this. I love this. I teach this. It steadies my life.
But even as those biblical truths speak into our grief and loss, we also find that the human experience of loss to be challenging and fraught with emotions…mainly, anger.
I’m angry that my daughter passed away.
I’m angry that my wife has had to endure all that she has and will endure.
I’m angry that I have to deal with the fallout of it all.
I’m angry that my children don’t understand and don't obey more when things are hard, even though they’re doing their best.
I’m angry that I’m angry about that.
I’m just…angry. And it’s grieves me.
James teaches me that my anger doesn’t produce God’s righteousness in me...and I see that first hand. Loss brings grief, and grief often brings anger.
The Grief of Other Pregnancies around You.
This one is tough. When a pregnant mother miscarries, she cannot help but notice the other pregnant women around her. And those other pregnant moms cannot help but feel pity and grief of their own while their pregnancies continue along.
No one has done anything wrong, but a mom who loses her child to miscarriage feels the acute pain of seeing other pregnant mothers. And while we continue to give thanks that God is blessing families with the births of new babies, the loss of a miscarried baby brings grief.
What was once a shared joy is now a reminder of loss.
The Grief of a World that Cannot See Beauty.
Our world is so full of beauty, in so many ways, and yet, so much of our world intentionally overlooks the beauty of life in the womb. In a world that treats unborn life so cheaply, it can be difficult to mourn the loss of an unborn child after a miscarriage.
The world says that these precious children can be thrown away with little thought and no consequence. But we know that this is not at all true. All life is sacred. All life is infinitely valuable. And those little lives that pass in their mother’s wombs are just as sacred and meaningful as any other.
It’s good and right to be honest about the grief and pain that miscarriage brings. It's real suffering; its real loss that actually happens. We need to talk about it.
But we also need to talk about God’s mercy, grace, and goodness.
But God gives more Grace…
Even in real grief, God’s mercies are new every morning…and He gives us what we need to make it one day at a time. He is faithful in the dark and troubled times of our lives. He meets us there with His presence, His promises, His Word, and His people…
The Personal Ministry of the Lord: He is My Shepherd.
I recall the moment I read Psalm 23 as a personal Psalm for the first time. “The LORD is My Shepherd.” He’s mine. He watches over me. He knows my name; my face; my emotions; my sorrows; my shame; my grief; my joy, and more. The Lord of heaven—He is my Shepherd—He knows me.
And what does He do with this knowledge of me? How does He go about shepherding me? The Psalm tells us…
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for His Name's sake.”
This is how God cares for me. He is my Shepherd and He moves me into places that are good for my soul. He takes me to places where I can rest, where my soul finds nourishment and refreshment, and where He meets me with all the wonders and glories of His everlasting Name.
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”
The Lord not only shepherds me into places of refreshment and satisfaction, He faithfully shepherds me through the difficult sufferings of this life. Sometimes, those sufferings are valleys in the shadow of death—the death of a loved one, or the loss of a child. And sometimes, that valley brings with it the shadow of our own death. Either way, the God of heaven, Who is my personal Shepherd, is with me to calm my fear and to provide comfort, security, and guidance.
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
Here we find the true and lasting promises of the gospel, even in the midst of deep grief. The God of heaven shepherds us through the difficulties of this life, refreshing our souls, and ultimately leading us to eternal life with Him. Because of the perfect life, sacrificial death, and eternal resurrection of King Jesus, I am assured that through repentance and faith I am eternally welcomed in the house of God forever. Because Jesus lives, my hope of goodness and mercy are secure and eternal. They will never fade. In my pain and sorrow, there remains goodness and mercy from heaven.
I am also reminded here that my heavenly Shepherd knows what it means to lose a child. He shepherds from personal experience. He knows what it is to have His child die. And He knows what it means to have His Child die because of the effects of sin.
Our daughter died in the womb because sin has broken our world. Babies aren’t supposed to die. And praise God, there is coming a day when death itself will die, and it will be no more…all because God knows what it means to lose His child. He knows what it means to loses His child because of sin.
So, in my grief, I am comforted by my personal, heavenly Shepherd Who not only cares for me, but intimately understands my grief and pain. He walks with me and He feels with me.
The writer of Hebrews tells us, “...we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One Who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
God is with us, and He is for us. He ministers to us personally and shepherds us through the valleys of life.
The Personal Ministry of the Holy Spirit, My Helper.
There is an incredibly comforting and humbling promise in Romans 8:26-27 where Paul writes,“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And He who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
This promise shows up in the middle of Paul’s great explanation of the gospel of hope. Through Jesus Christ, we have the great promise of future glory where we will be freed from all suffering, evil, loss, and death. And that future glory, Paul says, is not even worth comparing to what we experience and endure now; its beauty and splendor will overshadow and explain all the sufferings we endure in this life.
But, while we wait, we walk through hard things. “Through many tribulations we shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” And those hard things often tear us down and make us weak…so weak we often don’t even know what to pray for. I can identify with that; Tera can identify with that. We’ve both had hearts heavy and broken with grief, anger, and confusion. We’ve both had a hard time praying the right things…or even praying at all.
But, because of Christ and the promises of the gospel, we’ve known that even in our weakness, the Holy Spirit of God has been before the heavenly throne, praying for us in a language known and heard only in heaven. A language that gives meaning and value to the deep and inexpressible groanings of our pain. And because the Spirit prays for us, we are helped.
Paul goes on to write some of the most beautiful and hope-filled words in all of Scripture saying,
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, 'For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.' No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The Ministry of God’s People.
Finally, we have been helped so very much by the ministry of the people of God; the body of Christ. Our local Church. and larger Christian community have truly been the hands and feet of Jesus to us during this time. We have been upheld in prayer, encouraged through text and phone calls, and cared for with food and other supplies.
Our Church has loved and supported us so well. I was able to be away from the office most of last week just to be with my family, and have some private time with Tera. We grieved, prayed, laughed, cried, and more. Our kids were attending a local VBS in the mornings, so we snuck away for breakfast dates, and enjoyed a humid stroll around Duke Gardens.
All of these gifts and blessings because the people of God cared for us in our time of need.
We have felt Paul’s words from 2 Corinthians 1:3-5, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, Who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.”
We are overwhelmed, humbled, and truly grateful.
Miscarriage brings grief, but our Lord Jesus meets us in our grief with healing and hope.
The Ethics of After-Death-Care for the Miscarried.
A final note before I bring this post to a close. I have found it important and pressing to think through after-death-care for the unborn who die in the womb.
I confess that I had not given this question much thought before now; and mainly because I have never been asked the question, and have never personally faced the situation. But, I wanted to be faithful in the process of handling my daughter’s unborn body, and so I began to research what happens to the baby’s body after a D&C or D&E procedure.
We tend not to think about the unborn child’s body because it is not yet fully formed, and it is not seen; it is hidden away in that sacred and precious space of the mother’s womb. Add to that the rhetoric of our modern culture, and it doesn’t often seem like a big deal.
But, for Christians, we cannot not think about it. For the sake of our own obedience to the Word of God, and for the honoring of the human body, we must think about this issue.
I will not spell out the details of how hospitals usually handle the remains of the unborn, but you can read about it here. I did learn that parents can either request the remains be transferred to a funeral home for burial, or transferred directly to them for burial. Some States have laws and regulations around this, so it is important to assess the situation wherever you live.
In North Carolina, the process was very easy. I signed a form before the procedure, designated a funeral home, and that was that. Our local funeral home was very generous and professional. They handled our daughter with dignity and respect, and prepared her for burial.
As I wrote in an earlier post on the topic of Christian burial, the most biblical way to bury the body is simply to put it in the ground; no cremation, no embalming. And that’s what we did. We had the funeral home prepare our daughter for natural burial, and we buried her in a private ceremony next to my mother.
Here are the words I shared as my wife and three children stood with me at the grave,
“Forasmuch as it has pleased Almighty God, in His wise providence, to take out of this world the soul of our Daughter, we, therefore, commit her body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust: We do this looking for the general resurrection in the Last Day and the Life of the world to come, through our Lord Jesus Christ, at Whose Second Coming in glorious majesty to judge the world, the earth and the sea shall give up their dead; and the corruptible bodies of those who sleep in Him shall be changed and made like into His Own glorious body, according to the mighty working whereby He is able to subdue all things unto Himself. Until that day, we say: Amen.”
We will see her again and will meet her one day. And that is a day, for so many reasons, I look forward to with great joy. Until then, we continue to say, “Amen.”