Catholic Exchange: The Profound Agony of Miscarriage

I have been in the Outer Banks for the last few days spending some time with the family on the beach. I haven’t had a chance to post my most recent Catholic Exchange article so here it is:

I am writing this article because I know that I am not alone. I know that even in the midst of my deep grief and agony, there are others like me. I have just lost my fourth child to miscarriage. I don’t have profound spiritual insight to offer right now. Even though I am a student theologian, I won’t be offering theological explanations today. That will come later when the pain is less acute. For now, the pain, sorrow, and intense suffering must run its course.  I want to explain the agony of miscarriage. First, this is to minister to those who suffer with me, and second, it is to explain that a miscarriage is the loss of a child; something that needs to be explained to a culture that has dehumanized unborn babies.

We live in a culture that tells me I did not lose a child. We are told that my husband and I lost a blob of tissue and that is all. A mother knows better. A mother knows that she was united to that child from the moment of conception and a mother knows the intense and immediate love she has for the child from the very beginning. A mother (and a father) knows the wonder and joy of the tiny heartbeat of her baby flickering on the ultrasound screen. The very same beating heart that can be seen by some ultrasound technology at 5.5 weeks pregnant. This may be inconvenient for the culture of death, but it is reality all the same. I’ve seen it with my own eyes and wondered at the beauty of my child on the screen.

This miscarriage seemed crueler in some ways than my others. My third was the most traumatic in that I hemorrhaged and needed emergency surgery. This one my husband and I were given the joy of seeing the heartbeat, a strong heartbeat, on the ultrasound screen. We saw it not once, but twice. There was our child with his heartbeat growing stronger two weeks in a row. Then the spotting started. I tried to reason it away. I read forums and talked to friends who told me that spotting can be normal in the first trimester. Then the spotting gave way to streaks of bright red blood and I knew deep down what was going on.

My husband and I rushed to the ER, as my OB/GYN’s office instructed us. The ER staff got me right back. They began their work drawing blood and ordering tests. I knew the drill. I had been there before many times. Then the ultrasound tech came to take me back for an ultrasound to check the baby’s heartbeat. When you’ve been through enough of these you can see it on the staff’s face and in their mannerisms when something is wrong. When an ultrasound tech does not talk to you during the test it means the baby has died.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Miscarriage: Ramblings of the Grieving

Today I am on my way to the Outer Banks in North Carolina. My husband and I decided to make a very last minute mini-vacation, so that we could spend some time together as a family during this period of grief. Ever since I learned that our baby died, all I have wanted to do is sit in the sand and listen to the waves. Nothing more. Just the crashing of the waves and the sense of smallness that comes from proximity to the ocean. This isn’t a typical response for this mountain girl, but it is what I need at this time. I’ve always wanted to visit the OBX and while the timing could be better, perhaps now is when we were supposed to go all along.

There is no running away from grief, but a change of scenery can offer new perspective and even the freedom to fully grieve. It seems perfectly natural to cry and unleash sorrow while sitting beside the ocean. There is a type of purification in it. The raging waves match the agony of loss, while the water washes away and cleanses the anguish. Water is always a reminder of Baptism. That may be why I need to go. I am struggling to see the goodness of God in all of this. He knows that. He also knows that my healing begins with beauty. That is why I have a rose garden dedicated to all of my babies. My husband will select a rosebush for the loss of baby Andrew.

Once the initial grief has subsided, it is beauty that always brings me back to the Father. In the beginning the anger, anguish, and pain is too overwhelming for me to turn readily to Him through the overt actions of the Catholic tradition. I am weak that way and my faith is still too fragile. I haven’t been able to pick up my Rosary, pray Lauds, or even pick up my Bible in a week. Holiness is a journey and there are times I feel like I haven’t even stepped onto the path. My trust has been shattered. I am still a baby on the spiritual journey and while the loss of my four babies has not turned me into an atheist, it has certainly returned me to a childlike state. I guess that is part of the point of suffering. All of the theological study in the world cannot prepare me for the devastation of losing four babies. All of the answers are in my head, but they cannot get past the immense emotions and pain that are raging inside of me right now. I know in time I will find consolation in theological study, which I enjoy so much, and the answers, the few we have in the face of such mystery, will sink deep once again. My copy of the International Theological Commission’s, The Hope of Salvation for  Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized, sits on my desk waiting for when I am ready to re-read it.

None of this means my faith is gone. I do not grieve without hope, but the pain is too new for me to pretend that I am handling this situation in a saintly manner. Although I am not sure most of the saints would be able to ignore their humanity and the devastation of death completely either. We grieve precisely because death is unnatural for human beings who possess an immortal soul. We are the bridge between the material and the immaterial. Our human experience is through body and soul. Grief has become a “natural” byproduct of the Fall.  At this point, I am not able to chalk this all up to the will of God and move on. I am not going to pretend that I am anywhere near that point right now. No. It doesn’t contradict any of the words I have written in the past. Even though I hurt now, I have no doubt that somehow I will come out of this a better Catholic. I don’t know how or when. Even though I am angry at God and feel like He has taken my beloved child from me and I cannot understand why, He will lead me through all of this, even if I keep a bit of distance in the beginning. This is an honest look at grief, at least my grief.

Mass is hard right now. All I can do is sit in the back and sob all of the way through. There are so many babies. Their cries, laughter, and squirming reduce me to a pile of blubber. They are the reminder that I will never get to hold my child, or hear them laugh, or fight them through Mass because they can’t sit still. What a blessing to fight a child through Mass! How many parents, including myself, have never thought of it in that way? The first Baptism after this loss will be very hard. The Baptisms always hurt right after the loss. It reminds me that I won’t get the joy of bringing my child to become a member of the Church and to have original sin washed away. I have been robbed of that joyous occasion. True that I trust that they are in Heaven, but that aspect of my motherhood is gone.

I can’t bring myself to go up to Holy Communion. My agony is so great at this point that I can’t seem to put one foot in front of the other to go. I still go to Mass. In times like these, it is a blessing that Mass is an obligation and requirement of the Faith. It keeps me going, when my pain would rather keep me home. The sense of betrayal I feel makes it hard for me to go forward. Somewhere beyond the grief, I know that He is waiting for me, but I am having the hardest time going. I need to get to Confession, not because I am particularly concerned about grave sin, but because it has helped me after all of my miscarriages. It helps me get through the anger and gives me hope in the darkness. Confession is a habit my husband and I formed early on in our marriage. He goes weekly and I go bi-weekly. I should probably go weekly while I am grieving and because it will help on the path to holiness. I should start going weekly, period. Confession will give me the strength I need to walk up for Holy Communion during this time of great suffering.

Losing someone we love requires us to learn to walk again. We have to learn to live differently. Our hopes and dreams that revolved around that person are gone. There will be no crib. Our daughter will not get to know her brother, or her other brother and two sisters we trust are in Heaven. We don’t need to re-organize her room so that she can share a room with her new baby sibling. All of the baby items we purchased are in a corner upstairs next to my desk. I harden my heart whenever I look at them otherwise it will reduce me to sobs. We were planning that this Christmas would be about preparing for the baby and now I can’t even bear to think about Christmas. I don’t need to buy big sister items for my daughter or to ask my family that their gifts this year be for the baby. These are all things I had already thought out and planned.

My dad pointed out to me the other day that because our culture dehumanizes the unborn, we often forget that a person has been lost in a miscarriage or an abortion. An unrepeatable, incommunicable (to use a philosophical term), unique person. The baby I just lost had within him all of the potential that God created Him to be from the moment of conception. His DNA was formed, the God given life within him that would make him the man he would become was all present. The baby I would have given birth to would have become a child, then a teenager, and then a man. This is reality. I wasn’t going to give birth to a water buffalo. I was pregnant and going to give birth to an amazing, unique person and that person has died. There is a void in my heart that will never be filled for the rest of my days on this mortal coil. There are four persons who I have lost and who I miss every single day.

Side Note: I am intentionally putting the word “miscarriage” in all of my titles on this topic. This is to help those who are also grieving a miscarriage to see that these posts are about miscarriage grief. It works better for search engines too. My ramblings may just be ramblings, but I hope that they help others feel not so alone who have been through this type of suffering. PAX.

Miscarriage: The Pro-Life Movement’s Inconsistency

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Has the pro-life movement fully embraced what it espouses? This is a question I am left pondering in the wake of my most recent miscarriage. I have sensed for some time that there is indeed serious cognitive dissonance going on within the movement of which I am a member. My miscarriages have taught me that while we preach to the world that a child is  murdered through abortion, we do not fully live that message in our response to families who have experienced a miscarriage or recurrent miscarriage.

As we pray in front of Planned Parenthood, we are so sure that a child is being torn apart, limb-from-limb with each abortion. We even believe this about a child aborted at 7 weeks, which was the age of my child who died a week ago in a miscarriage. Our hearts ache, we grieve, we pray fervently. I know from personal experience that surgical abortion day is truly tragic. It is not only heart-breaking because a child has been murdered, but it is painful to watch these women stagger out of the clinic. I have watched women unable to get home, who were either too sick, hopped up on medications, or too emotional to leave. I can’t approach them or offer them comfort lest I be arrested, although, the compulsion has occurred more than once in me. There may come a day when I say “the hell with it” and walk over to check on those women regardless of the consequences. This desire grows in me after each of my losses. They may not know that they have killed their own child, but I do, and the denial of their motherhood will have long term consequences. I weep for them and greatly desire to console them.

I have never questioned, even before I lost a child in miscarriage, that a child dies in an abortion or miscarriage no matter the gestational age. When I found out that I had lost my daughter’s twin, I mourned the loss of a child. With my third miscarriage the child died days after conception, and yet, I knew that I had lost my child and I grieved as one who has lost a child. My grief has compounded over the years as I have now lost four babies.

So what is the disconnect I see? People within the movement far too often do not show the same care, concern, or understanding of those families who have lost a child to miscarriage as they do to an abortion. Now it is understandable that abortion is truly horrendous and it is the great moral and human rights issue of our day. There is no doubt of this fact, but a miscarriage is also the loss of a child. Why is it then that rather than allow or encourage the grieving process we tell people who have suffered miscarriages some of the following: You can always have another child (can I really?!), they are in a better place, how disappointing for you (I just experienced this one), something was clearly wrong with the child, a miscarriage is just a hiccup on the road to parenthood, and the list goes on and on. If we truly believe what we say, then why are we treating families grieving a miscarriage in this manner?

Life is sacred. All human life is worthy of great dignity because all human beings are made in the image and likeness of God. The image is no less at the moment of conception when full potentiality has entered the human being or in a person who is 107 years old. When a woman finds out that she is pregnant, she isn’t rejoicing over tissue. We constantly state this argument to the pro-choice side, and yet, we don’t fully embrace it ourselves. If we truly understood these words then we would be grieving with miscarried families. We would be reaching out to them with support and resources and we would be learning from their experiences.

The available resources are sparse. I’ve looked and only recently has miscarriage become a more open topic of discussion in social media. We should be recognizing that they, that I, have lost a child or children. We certainly should not tell them that they can always have another child or that a miscarriage is disappointing. A miscarriage is agony and comes with profound grief. While we all grieve differently, a person who truly understands when life begins, knows they have lost a child in a miscarriage. A child they will never hold.  Would we go to a funeral and tell someone that the loss of their loved one is a great disappointment?

The reality is that many times we are not fully aware of the philosophies within our culture that influence us. It took me taking an entire graduate course that focused on the philosophy of nihilism for me to understand how I too have been shaped by false philosophies. The advent of medical technology in the area of fertility and sexuality has completely reshaped how our culture understands children. Even within the pro-life movement, the lie that we are in control of our own fertility is believed. This blog post is not meant to address the contraceptive mentality, but that is an issue I plan to address at a later date. While it may not be intended, this influence is betrayed in words which imply that a family can control whether or not they have a child or more children. We do not know if we can have more children, if any. It isn’t up to us, it is up to God. This erroneous thinking is largely subconscious and unintended, but it can do damage to those who are suffering from the real pain of miscarriage and infertility.

Tied to the on demand fertility of our culture, is the belief that each pregnancy is a part of the journey to having a child. In some cases the desire to become a parent supersedes everything else and miscarried babies are disposed of and not even recognized as lost children. They are dehumanized. This understanding that miscarriage is a part of the process points to a disconnect within a movement that argues the sacred nature of all unborn children in the case of abortion. This is precisely why implying that the loss of a child in miscarriage is merely a disappointment betrays the errors of our culture. Pregnancy is not a trial and error presupposition. I do not get pregnant as if I am playing Russian roulette. I get pregnant in the belief that I will give birth to each unique child I carry. My immediate response to a pregnancy test is one of love. When that child dies, no matter what age, the loss is devastating precisely because it is the death of a child. I am not test driving a car. I am a co-creator in an “embodied spirit.” Each unique baby is a gift and many of us can forget this fact, even if we do not mean to forget.

When an individual said that I must be disappointed in my loss, I was taken aback. Disappointed is not a word I would use to describe my emotional state at the moment. I didn’t just lose my job or the house of my dreams. I lost my fourth child. The bleeding of this miscarriage has only begun to let up. Grief-stricken, agonized, in anguish, angry, sorrowful, suffering, these are words that describe how I feel right now. I am not disappointed. I am suffering tremendously from the loss of my fourth child. And, no, it does not appear that I can just have another child. While I know this person meant well, it is crucial for us to understand that words matter. If we want to win this fight and end abortion, then we need to truly live the pro-life message. We need to celebrate each human life as sacred and discard any part of the “throw away” culture or erroneous philosophies which may have infected us. We need to stop telling people that they can always have more children, that a miscarriage is only a stumbling block on the road to parenthood, or that parents who have lost children in miscarriage should not grieve as if they lost a child. These are all lies. They are lies that we have mistakenly taken on from the culture of death.

I understand and I have learned that people do not know how to respond to grief. It’s awkward for people, which I understand to a point; however,  if we are truly going to bring a Culture of Life to the world then we need to stop ignoring the very real grief families suffer from with miscarriage. We need to stop using accolades and partial truths in response to their pain, to my pain. After four miscarriages, I pray at Planned Parenthood precisely because I understand, better than most, a child is being lost, as well as motherhood. A mother who has miscarried understands abortion in a completely different light. No, we don’t know the trauma and horror of abortion, but we certainly know what it is like to bleed out our beloved child. We know intimately that life begins at conception. We know it in our very being.

Compassion for the grieving goes a long way. Movement towards the grieving and tangible support can in some way lessen the burden of grief. We cannot take away another’s suffering, but we can walk alongside those suffering from miscarriage. I have learned from relief work during the largest terrorist attack in our nation’s history, as well as in my own suffering, that the grieving are not looking for great gestures, profound thoughts or answers, or for someone to fix their pain. The grieving only desire a recognition of their pain and the understanding that it is warranted.  They are looking for a human response from the people around them. “I am sorry for your loss” is enough, because, quite frankly, it is all that can be said. This type of response recognizes the child lost and does not minimize or dehumanize the unborn child. In the case of miscarriage, people are also looking for guidance. They need to know how to respond to a miscarriage, especially Catholics. There is no reason why the pro-life movement cannot devote some time and effort into resources and ministries for those bereaved by miscarriage.

The pro-life movement cannot be fully effective while ignoring its members and countless families who have experienced miscarriage. We cannot continue to treat miscarriage like an “unfortunate” event. This type of approach is patronizing and insensitive and it is completely contradictory to the arguments, the true arguments, we use to fight abortion. It flies in the face of the very mission we have all signed up for, which is the protection of children, women, and men. It is incoherent to fight abortion in one breath while remaining silent or responding hardheartedly to the pain of miscarriage. Either life begins at conception or it does not. We don’t get to hold onto abortion as a great horror while ignoring the anguish of miscarriage. Both result in the tragic loss of a child. The pro-life movement needs to fully embrace the message found in the Culture of Life and that means responding to the great sorrow of families grieving the loss of a child to miscarriage. If life does begin at conception, which it does, then miscarriage should be recognized as the great tragedy it is, which is the loss of a child that comes with profound grief.

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Miscarriage, Grief, and the Need to Write

I fully intended to take a break from writing. I thought that my anguish would keep me from putting down a single word, but the opposite has happened. I have written and submitted two articles on miscarriage in the past 48 hours and written 30 pages in a journal I purchased for this trip into grief. Countless people have asked me to write a much needed book on miscarriage. Perhaps it will come out of this fourth loss and perhaps not. All I can do is scribble in my journal what feels like the ravings of a person detached from myself.

For the writer, pain tends to bring forth work that is more real, raw, and intense. It is as if we can see the human condition more clearly through the haze of our grief. It is the only clarity given as all else appears a dull gray. There is beauty all around, but I cannot touch it right now. I sense it from memory, but there is no deep connection to it at present. This is typical of the grief stricken.

I am re-reading C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed. In my view, it is the most honest look at grief that has ever been written. I largely skipped over the Introduction. I have been a Madeleine L’Engle fan since childhood, but her theology always leaves something wanting and is too relativistic. She is a much better fantasy writer. I recommend skipping straight to Lewis’ work if you have the same volume as I do.

While some of the experiences of grief may differ from person-to-person, Lewis looks at every aspect of grief in relation to himself, his lost wife, and God. He freely admits the struggle between believing in a benevolent God and a malevolent God. The problem for a Christian is that we tend to no longer be capable of atheism. Once we have met the Living God, even our grief doesn’t fully send us into an existential crisis that ends in materialism. We may have an existential crisis, but we usually end up in the Father’s arms once the intense pain and anger has subsided. No. The battle wages over God’s goodness.

I am thankful that Lewis delves into this struggle. It is one I face, and have faced, through all of my losses. A pregnancy feels like a promise and a miscarriage makes it all seem like a lie. The heart beating on the screen is the definition of hope and then that hope and joy is stolen. Instead, my heart is ripped from my chest and I am left reeling. I am turned into an empty shell that has to be filled up again. My previous joy and excitement over the coming of another child is taken away and I am left sobbing in front of an ultrasound picture and the onesies I picked up to celebrate the new baby.

The problem with the grieving is that we are a bit inconvenient for everyone else. We are a reminder that death is real and that deep suffering and agony await all of us. We don’t know when that time will come, but we don’t like to be reminded of it, especially us Americans with our keep-insanely-busy-in-an-attempt-to-outrun-fate-or-destiny-or-whatever-we-imagine-is-really-in-charge. Pain makes people scatter and only the truly brave are able to stick around and enter into the suffering of others. This is an experience that I have been through four times, as well as in the grips of PTSD and post-partum depression, and as a  9-11 relief worker.

In truth, it has made me more patient with the weaknesses of others. I know that most of my friends will run away during this time. The truly close ones will stick it out, but others will wait until I am less likely to break into uncontrollable sobbing or when I can at least hide my pain better. My suffering makes people uncomfortable and I know it. What they don’t realize is that I am not looking for them to fix it. They cannot fix it, nor can I. All that is needed is authentic compassion, but even that is hard for people to summon. We assume because we have never been through something that we cannot be compassionate. I didn’t lose anyone in 9-11, but I rushed in to help as a relief worker. My presence was enough. Your presence is enough to the grieving people in your life.

Platitudes get the grieving nowhere. It is useless to tell us that they are in a better place, something was clearly wrong with the baby, or it was God’s will. How is that supposed to take away our pain? Somehow the loss is supposed to be assuaged by this knowledge and yet the ache still remains. The grief doesn’t lessen because somebody tries to tell us something that makes them feel better in that moment because they are not the grieving. In reality all we can say to someone who has lost a loved one is “I am so sorry for your loss”. That’s it. Nothing else will help or matter to the person who is mourning for someone they loved. Nothing will bring my child back. Something being wrong with the child does not take away the pain of lost motherhood. Even though A Grief Observed is about his wife, Lewis has the clearest understanding of what miscarriage or the loss of a child means, and why theological platitudes are unhelpful to those in the grips of early grief:

If a mother is mourning not for what she has lost but for what her dead child has lost, it is a comfort to believe that the child has not lost the end for which it was created. And it is a comfort to believe that she herself, in losing her chief or only natural happiness, has not lost a greater thing, that she may still hope to ‘glorify God and enjoy Him forever.’ A comfort to the God-aimed, eternal spirit within her. But not her motherhood. The specifically maternal happiness must be written off. Never, in any place or time, will she have her son on her knees, or bathe him, or tell him a story, or plan for his future, or see her grandchild.

C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed.

We have a tendency within the Church to not allow people to grieve. We think that theological explanations should be enough. This is an utter denial of the human experience. It is to ignore the horrendous reality of death and the toll it takes on all of us. The separation between a mother and her lost child is an infinite chasm on this side of eternity. The pain of never hearing the child’s first cries, or seeing their first steps, or witnessing the man or woman they would become renders a mother heartbroken in ways previously unimagined. I cannot make you experience my pain, but the level of its intensity on certain days almost makes it seem like it will kill me, but it won’t. Grief takes us to the outer reaches of suffering. It takes us to our limits, but we survive it, even if we don’t think that we will in certain moments.

So why is it that we try to brush this pain off and pretend that the tenants of our Faith are enough to take away that grief? This isn’t even a Catholic approach, for Pete’s sake! We are body and soul and our bodies and souls grieve. We do not pretend that death isn’t real. We do not pretend that grief is not crushing. It is soul-crushing. It is a journey that must be walked. No amount of exegesis is going to remove the suffering that must be experienced when a child dies. The theological and spiritual answers and eschatological hope are only healing after the deep pain has run its course. I am a theology graduate student. I know what the answers are supposed to be, but that doesn’t take away the intense agony and grief. The hope of Heaven cannot shorten the journey that must be walked through this grief.

The Cross comes before the Resurrection and the Cross must be endured first. I once again must walk to Golgotha, to the foot of the Cross, and take the agony I feel to His feet. I must cry out “why” and endure the pain of loss. And, yes, I will wonder if God is good or not. It is hard for a mother to imagine why she got to see a strong heartbeat two weeks in a row only to have it snatched away from her days later. It makes a person question, but God makes us stronger through the questions and the suffering. At least, that is what I remember even though I don’t “feel” it right now. My faith isn’t dependent upon my feelings. If it was, I would have left after 9-11, or during the PTSD, or when I lost my first child in miscarriage. Thank God my feelings matter so little.

Side Note:

  • Some of the resources for Catholics who have suffered from a miscarriage are dreadful. I think this is a cause of frustration for so many families. I know it has been for me and my friends who have suffered from miscarriage. The resources are sparse and some of the ones that are available are inaccurate or do not clearly understand Church teaching. The concept of unbaptized babies is a gray area theologically, but the nature of the Sacrament of Baptism is not.

    There is no doubt that a devout Catholic would have Baptism in mind for their lost child; however, a miscarriage means the child has died. We do not baptize the dead. Sacraments are reserved for the living. There may be a rare case when the child is born from induced labor and may take a few breaths. That child can be baptized. Those of us who have suffered from 1st trimester miscarriages are not able to baptize our children. By the time the baby’s body passes out of our body the child is dead. More often than not, we are not even able to find the body for burial. I have never gotten a funeral for any of my miscarried babies.

    Even though we cannot baptize them, we leave our children to the mercy of God since He knows we most certainly would have baptized them had they been full-term. In the grips of grief with my second one, a priest had to kindly remind me that I could not baptize my dead children. This realization was painful, but I appreciated his willingness to be honest and remind me of the nature of the Sacraments. This in no way lessens God’s power or mercy. Grief does make us grasp at straws….