Miscarriage and Abortion: To my Interlocutors

I know that it is hard to understand me. Things I say and do are maddening. It is easy to push me away and to reduce my actions, words, and love, yes love, to hatred or envy. Often when we make choices out of fear, power, ignorance, or even apathy, we turn on others because they reveal those choices to us in some way. This is why when someone like me honestly shares the truth about pain and loss, I am accused of hatred or envy. I get it. In openly discussing the reality of miscarriage and the loss of a real person, I am implicating abortion. This implication is abhorrent to some, ignorant to others, and a long awaited sense of freedom and healing for so many.

I was supposed to grieve silently and on my own. I am supposed to take my cues from the abortion culture and pretend that I didn’t lose a child, or if it was a child, to grieve behind closed doors. I won’t grieve silently anymore, and neither should anyone else. In doing so, my desire to share my suffering in the service of others was greatly misunderstood by many. I knew this would happen, but I am not who you say that I am.

It has been a painful road, but that is the nature of this life. Suffering is an aspect of being human that comes to us all. It is what we do with the pain that matters. I choose to share it, not only for mothers, fathers, siblings, and grandparents who grieve miscarried children, but for women and men who have had abortions or who are contemplating an abortion. My bringing to light the miscarriage-abortion problem is not a condemnation. I condemn no one, but I have an obligation to save women, men, and unborn babies from abortion. This obligation is not born of envy and hatred. It comes from love. I want to address two accusations from my interlocutors. First, that I am envious of women having abortions and second, that I hate abortion supporters and those who choose to have an abortion.

First, envy by its very nature will not drive a person outside of themselves in the service of others. Envy is to covet, desire, or want to take something that is not ours. It is to hold what someone else has in such a high regard, that we do damage to ourselves. We no longer see the good within us, because we want what someone else possesses. Envy is deadly for a reason. It causes us to cave in on ourselves and to focus on what we have not been given or earned. Envy steals gratitude and robs us of happiness. I do not pray at abortion clinics, Planned Parenthood in these parts, out of envy. How could I? Why would I want to share anything with a person of who I am envious?

It is true that for a woman like myself, and I know countless other women, it is difficult for us at times to be present at a clinic where women are choosing to deliberately end the lives of their own children. We live in a world where I apparently can only have one child, who I am eternally grateful for, but where millions of women who can keep a pregnancy kill their children and their own motherhood of their own free will. I wouldn’t be human if it didn’t hurt me, but I am not envious. Their children, your children, are not mine, although my husband and I would adopt them in a heartbeat. I do not have a claim to them and I know this, so I am not driven by envy. I would stay home and write angry articles and blogs, rather than go pray in front of an abortion clinic. I wouldn’t share my own suffering in the service of others, instead I would rant and rave about what I don’t have in my own life. Some of you took the sharing of my pain as complaining, but you completely misunderstood my desire to help others who suffer as I do. Reducing me to a whiner is to completely disregard my purpose and my point, and quite frankly, it is to let yourself off-the-hook in trying to understand me.

In our culture, civil public discourse has been completely abandoned. Social media has become a place for people to spew vitriol in a vile manner because it is easy to hide behind apparent anonymity on the Internet. We should know by now that nothing we do or say on the Internet is ever truly anonymous or private. This has created an environment where anyone who disagrees with us automatically hates the other person or a group of people. This is a way to discard, discredit, or label a person. More often than not, however, this charge is false and it betrays the accuser’s own anger and inability to listen to opposing viewpoints. In the case of someone like myself–and the vast majority of those who pray diligently in front of abortion clinics, provide resources or time to crisis pregnancy centers, who gather items for poor women in crisis pregnancies, or who even write or speak on this topic–it is to confuse hatred and love.

Like envy, hatred does not drive us outside of ourselves. If we choose to publicly unleash our hatred on a particular issue, our message is automatically ineffective and revealed for what it truly is: An impotent clanging gong. Hatred is not accompanied by charity. Hatred is not sustaining and it consumes us, not the people we are trying to attack. I do not hate you. I honestly do not hate anyone, not even terrorists, and I saw the horrors of 9-11 in person as a relief worker. Hatred destroys us and I know that, so I do not fall for that trap. No, I love you, your baby, the father of the baby, and your family and friends. I don’t stop to ask whether or not that love is deserved. I love the people who have screamed at me. When I pray at the local Planned Parenthood the sign I hold is one I made and it says “You and your baby are loved beyond measure” and my daughter holds a picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Help holding the baby Jesus. I am not there to condemn you, but to be a loving and peaceful presence during a time of fear and confusion.

Love is not a feeling. Feelings may accompany love, but love in itself is not a feeling. Feelings are fleeting and change from moment-to-moment. Love is to will the good of another. It is to desire the genuine good for someone else and to go outside of ourselves in the service of that good. My miscarriages have taught me the deepest compassion and love for women seeking an abortion. It may seem “logical” to the culture for my pain to turn to hatred and envy, but it has not. The opposite has occurred. My pain has been transformed into a deep desire to help those women I see walking in and out of Planned Parenthood in my community.

As I said, love is to desire the good of another. That means my desire in love, the reason I am in front of our abortion clinic, is because I want those women to know that fear does not have the ultimate say. Whether it is fear of poverty, motherhood, dropping out of school, anger from family and friends, pressure from the boyfriend, husband, or parents, fear of medical conditions or whatever it is driving that choice, we all have the ability and courage to stand up to fear and pain. What is lost in choosing an abortion is tremendous. It is not only the loss of a child, your child, it is the loss of motherhood. It is a loss of the greatest opportunity to love and be loved.

Motherhood transforms a woman into the greatest person she can be, whether it is through biological, adoptive, foster, or even spiritual motherhood, for those women who cannot have children, those who have chosen chastity in the service of God, and those women who serve children in a variety of ways. In having children, our lives move away from being so much about ourselves, and they are changed into the service of another. This may sound daunting and burdensome, but we were made to and for love. In truth, the more we give of ourselves, the more we receive in return. There is a profound joy in motherhood that cannot be attained anywhere else. We only have to be open to love, sacrifice, pain, and joy.

I would never say that choosing motherhood is easy. It is not. It comes with tremendous sacrifice. There is nothing that has taught me more about my selfish nature, a nature we all have, than motherhood and marriage. Yes, my career path changed drastically when I became a mother. I did a lot in my Twenties. I served in naval intelligence, went to college, interned at The Heritage Foundation, lived in Europe, and the world was my oyster, but even with all of my accomplishments I knew that I wanted something more. My daughter is that more.

My daughter is greater than anything else I have ever done or been given. She teaches me daily in the art of wonder, beauty, self-sacrifice, and innocence. There is nothing in this world like hearing someone call you “Mommy” and in hearing your child tell you they love you each day. It is this joy, mingled with immense suffering through the four babies I have lost in miscarriage, that drives the compassion inside of me to pray at abortion clinics, collect supplies for women in need, and write about this topic knowing that I will be attacked for my honesty.

I know what lost motherhood feels like. I know what it is to lose an unborn child. I also know the abundant love of motherhood. No, I don’t hate you or envy you: I love you. I know that love can seem unbearable, unwanted, or burdensome. At the deepest level of our existence, we are made for love, genuine love, and that is what I am doing at Planned Parenthood and in my writing alongside the countless others striving to build a Culture of Life. I am striving, imperfect as I am, to will the good of another.

Catholic Exchange: Reaching Out to the Suffering

One of the dangers of our weakness in the face of suffering, is the propensity to cave in on ourselves. We can turn inward and isolate ourselves from the people around us and the world. This is a natural response to pain. We want to lick our wounds and deal with the pain on our own. The problem with this tendency is that it cuts us off from others and our loved ones. Suffering and grief are not experienced in a vacuum. Oftentimes we overlook the people grieving beside us. We also can forget that suffering is not a unique experience. We are not the only ones who suffer, far from it. This is not to limit, deny, or ignore our own personal sufferings. Suffering is universal, but the experience of suffering is as varied as there are evils and pain in the world. There are people who are starving, victims of violence and war, cancer patients, those battling natural disasters, and yes, people like me who are grieving the loss of a child in miscarriage. It is important that we not isolate ourselves or the notion of suffering when grief and pain come our way. We must suffer, but it is important for us to avoid self-pity.

Suffering is often a missed opportunity. We live in a world that runs from suffering. This is of course logical, since suffering is to endure immense pain. The reality is, however, that we live in a Fallen world where suffering and sorrow are an everyday occurrence for somebody. Oftentimes that suffering is a shared experience, like miscarriage. There are many, even millions of people, who know the profound pain of loss. The opportunity in the face of this type of suffering, or any type of suffering, is to learn to minister to one another. In giving of ourselves, our pain is lessened. In giving away love, we are filled up. It is one of the great paradoxes of Christianity.

I thank all of you who took the time to write to me or post a comment on my recent piece on miscarriage, both here at Catholic Exchange and on my personal blog. Your comments were appreciated, but they also revealed to me that the suffering brought on through the loss of a child in miscarriage is widespread and often ignored. It showed me that by sharing my own pain, I am able to share in the burdens of others. This is one of the great lessons of suffering. If we turn inward and ignore others while resting in the delusion that we are alone, then our pain intensifies. We become cut off from others and from God. In suffering we are called to give of ourselves in order to lessen the pain of those around us. Grief cannot be taken away. It must be endured by the individual who has lost a loved one, but we can reach out to others and simply remind them that they are not alone. We make helping others too complex. We can’t take away another’s pain, but we can recognize it. All we can tell the grieving is, “I am so sorry for your loss” and continue to be a presence walking with them on their journey.

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….

Holy Thursday: Ending the Cycle of Violence

As another nation, this time Belgium, faces the aftermath of terrorism and its clarion call of hatred, the message of Holy Thursday and the need for Christ becomes ever more apparent. After Our Lord instituted the Holy Eucharist to be food for the Church, He went out to pray and submitted to the will of the Father. It was then in the darkness of night that Our Lord was betrayed and arrested:

While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived, accompanied by a large crowd, with swords and clubs, who had come from the chief priests and the elders of the people. His betrayer had arranged a sign with them, saying, “The man I shall kiss is the one; arrest him.” Immediately he went over to Jesus and said, “Hail, Rabbi!” and he kissed him. Jesus answered him, “Friend, do what you have come for.” Then stepping forward they laid hands on Jesus and arrested him.  And behold, one of those who accompanied Jesus put his hand to his sword, drew it, and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot call upon my Father and he will not provide me at this moment with more than twelve legions of angels? But then how would the scriptures be fulfilled which say that it must come to pass in this way?”  At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to seize me? Day after day I sat teaching in the temple area, yet you did not arrest me. But all this has come to pass that the writings of the prophets may be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples left him and fled.

(Matthew 26:47-56)

This passage is filled with the sinful inclinations of human beings. Judas demonstrates greed and how easily people can cast aside one another for material gain. Of course, we know this does not end well for Judas. He does not find fulfillment in the money he desired for his betrayal and he hangs himself in despair.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Strange Beauty in Art and Life: The Agony in the Garden

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Today I am waiting for my dad to undergo some medical tests to see why he is so sick and whether or not it is life-threatening. Ever since I got word last week that my dad’s chronic illness was not the cause of his weakness and he is bleeding internally, I have been thinking and contemplating the Agony in the Garden.

Agony is a part of the human experience and it comes at unexpected times. My dad is only 59 and while he has had rheumatoid arthritis since he had rheumatic fever as a child, I am struggling to be ready for whatever comes next. Today we will find out why he is bleeding internally, whether it is cancer or something else. Please pray for him and for all of us who love him dearly.

So it is that we are faced with the terrible and beautiful paradox of the gift of suffering. The Agony of the Garden goes into the depths of human experience in all of its pain, horror, suffering, and death, but it isn’t the last word as we know living through this Lenten season awaiting the joy of Easter. Pax Christi.