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.

Teaching Beauty Over Sexy to Our Daughters

My family and I just spent 5 days at the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It was my first visit to the islands. It is an absolutely beautiful area. My husband and I are not big on the most popular beaches near us such as Virginia Beach, Myrtle, or Hilton Head. We don’t like crowds. The nice thing about the OBX is there are miles and miles of beach, which helps to minimize crowds and make for a peaceful vacation. While we were there my daughter and I perused a couple of the beach stores. She wanted a souvenir and needed some new sunglasses since she had left hers at home by accident. While we were in one of the stores, my daughter found a Frozen bathing suit that she really liked, a two piece.

In my early Twenties, I gave into the predominant culture that says women need to show off their bodies. This was further driven by the fact that I was in the military and in peak physical condition. I worked out 6 days a week and while I do the same thing now, vanity is always a struggle that must be fought against. I dressed modestly, but smartly back then. I never had any desire to wear short skirts lest I be stuck pulling them down all day and I also never had any interest in tops that showed a lot of cleavage. I am outdoorsy, so I had a more Eddie Bauer or L.L. Bean look to me than anything else. I still do. That is my Montana upbringing influencing my style choices.

When it came to going to the beach with my friends, I ended up choosing a bikini with short board shorts. It was what everyone else had bought on our shopping trip and I decided to join in. In reality, I felt self-conscious and realized any male attention I was drawing was not the kind I was ultimately looking for. I remember quite clearly trying to hide in the waves as much as possible on the crowded Ocean City, MD beach. Plus, nobody mentions that string bikini tops get knocked off by the waves, so that creates it’s own battle and embarrassment.

Flash forward 15 years and I now see why I felt so uncomfortable. Women are beautiful creations of God. Paintings, sculpture, and all mediums of art have portrayed the wonder of the female form. There is something good, mysterious, and alluring about the female sex. The problem arises when we distort that beauty and turn it into lust. The culture preaches lust and sexy over beauty. The skirts these days stop just below the butt and the tops leave very little to the imagination. Prom dresses look more like swimming suits than gowns. All of this tells our daughters that sex is the only way to get a man. It also doesn’t allow them to be comfortable in their clothes or their own skin. Watch teenage girls these days. They spend a lot of time re-adjusting their clothes because they feel self-conscious with so much skin showing.

Men are visual creatures. There is nothing wrong with admitting this fact. Ask any man and he will admit this truth. Men are drawn to the female sex because God made us as their helpmate and for the propagation of the species. We are meant ‘to go forth and multiply.’ This call has of course been sterilized, no pun, by the contraceptive mentality of Western culture. This is part of the reason women have been reduced to an object and told that being sexy is a requirement. We have not been freed by post-modernism. Instead we have been enslaved and reduced to the sex object we supposedly were fighting to avoid.

A woman should desire to be beautiful, body and soul, to a man; not an object of lust. Sexual desire is a healthy and even holy aspect of marriage. Sexuality is a gift from God and in no way should it be viewed with derision. Any thoughts that sex is dirty or wrong comes from Puritanical views of human sexuality that are diametrically opposed to the Catholic worldview. Sex is holy, period.

We need to teach our daughters that modesty is beautiful. If they want a man to see them as a person, then they cannot dress in a manner that is meant to incite lust. That is hardly just. Women cannot claim that men should learn to control themselves when we are intentionally trying to insight desire in men who are not our husband. We have an obligation to protect our brothers in Christ and to not be a near occasion of sin for them, but it is more than that. We should be respecting ourselves as unique creations from God who are meant to complement men. We are shrouded in mystery because of our ability to be co-creators with God. A woman can be beautiful in a bathing suit that is meant to complement the features of a woman, rather than show as much as legally possible. A knee length dress shows off the natural curves of a woman more than the shortest skirts. I tend to hold to the rule if I can’t genuflect in it then I am not wearing it.

I can’t explain all of this to my 5 year old right now. She doesn’t understand why I told her we don’t buy two piece bathing suits, except a tankini that covers as a one piece. We will have these discussions as she matures into a young woman, and often. I plan to tell my daughter that modesty reveals her dignity and beauty to men. I am not saying frumpy. I am saying modest. She can save sexy for her future husband. There will be plenty of time for that when marriage comes, if that is the vocation God calls her to in adulthood.

It is time to teach our daughters that they are beautiful gifts from God and that is how men should view them. We need to stop being a part of the problem and treat our brothers in Christ with the charity and respect they deserve. We’ve bought into the lies of our culture. Let’s abandon those lies for the beauty of our Catholic faith and the true dignity of men and women.

Thank YOU for Sharing Your Stories

In the past week, I have received more emails and comments from readers than I have in the last year and a half as a regular contributor at Catholic Exchange and in my years as a blogger. People from all over the world have written to me about their experiences with miscarriage. More often than not, these families have suffered grief in silence and not even shared it with family members. Most of them felt like they had to keep their pain to themselves. A good many of these people are Catholics; members of the Church that tells us to be open to life and to celebrate each life, and yet, so many suffer in private.

I am not entirely sure why this miscarriage unleashed a fury of writing inside of me. I have barely been able to stop since I learned that I lost my baby, Andrew, two weeks ago. If I am not blogging or writing articles for other websites, then I am writing pages upon pages in my journal. It’s as if the pressure of so much loss and pain has been released and it is coming out at an astounding rate. In sharing my own agony, I have been able to share in yours. Thank you for your courage to write to me or even to write public comments in an arena that is often unjust, uncivil, and insensitive.

What all of this has revealed to me is that there is a serious disconnect going on in our culture, and at times, within the Church when it comes to miscarriage. As I wrote at The Federalist today, abortion has a major part to play in this problem. Since unborn life has been dehumanized and discarded within our culture, miscarriage is not recognized as the loss of a human being. The families who have experienced miscarriage, and who have not been blinded by the ideology of abortion, know they have lost a child. The problem is, that when the loss occurs, they feel that they have no one to turn to, not even the Church.

I don’t have all of the answers to this complex issue, but I am trying to find as many of them as I can. I, and a few other brave writers, have identified this issue and are trying to bring it to light. It will be a process. In sharing the pain of miscarriage, we are automatically stepping onto the battlefield within our culture over the dignity of the human person. In sharing our own stories, we will be attacked by those who hold abortion to be sacred, and it is a religion for some. It is this assault that I fear has kept so many people silent. No more.

The lives of our babies are precious, unique, and beautiful. We have every right to mourn their passing and the loss of motherhood and fatherhood here on earth. We will live the rest of our lives wondering who our sons and daughters would have become, while hoping to meet them someday before the Beatific Vision. The hope of eternity does not mean we do not suffer and ache because of the death of our unborn children. Death is a product of the Fall and not a part of God’s original design and desires for us. That means death is painful. It is painful in losing someone and it is painful in that it will come to each one of us eventually.

I will continue to write on this issue and to clarify the abortion-miscarriage connection. I also want to advocate for those who have experienced miscarriage and recurrent miscarriage in any way I possibly can. I want families to know that they are not alone and grieving over a lost child to miscarriage is completely natural and warranted. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. This is a journey. I don’t know where it will lead. That is up to God. I am still in the throes of grief myself, but I am trying, granted imperfectly, to use my pain for good.

Thank you to all of you who have shared your stories with me. I am sorry that I haven’t been able to respond to all of you individually. Part of that is because my own grief makes it difficult for me to write everyone back at this time, but I do hope to respond in time. All of your emails and comments are read. I briefly engaged a few naysayers at The Federalist today and was able to maintain a good sense of humor and a level head in the face of great ignorance and insensitivity. That must be God’s grace, because my grief should have warranted a different response. I guess I realize that in my walking onto the battlefield, I have to learn to deflect such attacks without emotion. The problem is that our culture cannot engage in reasoned discourse, so all arguments are seen as emotional. Engaging while grieving is definitely a test of mettle and patience. It is the perfect learning ground. I study philosophy and theology regularly and as a formal graduate student. I have the tools at my disposal to focus on reason over emotion and I want to keep it that way, even when truly hateful things are leveled my way. Above all, prayer for conversion is key. God bless all of you.

The Federalist: Our Abortion Culture Steals the Grief of Miscarriage

Miscarriage comes with deep anguish and grief. I know, because I have just suffered my fourth. Those of us who have experienced a miscarriage, or recurrent miscarriage, largely grieve in the shadows or behind closed doors. We live in a culture that tells us we have not lost a child, but a blob of tissue.

The inconvenient fact is that a mother knows better. We can cover it up. We can veil the truth in secrecy, but ask any mother or father who has lost a child to miscarriage, and they will tell you they lost a child.
On our wedding day we cannot foresee the profound suffering any of us will experience in our married lives. It doesn’t occur to most men and women that they may lose a child, or many children. There is little talk of infertility, hormone issues, or genetic incompatibilities. When a family decides to begin having children, few immediately anticipate that any children conceived could die.

My first miscarriage happened four months after I married. My husband and I went in for our first ultrasound to check our child’s heartbeat. There was a heartbeat, a strong one, but next to our daughter was another sac where her twin had died.

Vanishing Twin Syndrome, or the early miscarriage of a twin, is rather common. Our doctor informed us that transvaginal ultrasounds detect the loss of a twin in early pregnancy with greater frequency now. I was stunned. My great joy became intermingled with sorrow.

Read the rest over at The Federalist.

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, 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….

Turning to Mary and Trusting When It’s Hard

Trust is constantly on my mind these days. My husband and I found out that I am pregnant. Anyone who has read my previous work for Catholic Exchange knows that I have had three miscarriages and spent 3.5 years afflicted with post-partum depression and anxiety. The doctors know why I had miscarriages and my Catholic NaPro doctor told me three years ago that she could possibly help us have another successful pregnancy. In the meantime, she was able to begin treating my severe hormone deficiencies.

At that time, I had just suffered my third and most traumatic loss which resulted in emergency surgery. The post-partum that had developed 10 weeks after I gave birth to my daughter, deepened after each loss. That was not the time for another child. My husband and I knew that God wanted us to heal and walk the Cross of post-partum depression. My body also needed major healing after all it had been through. We didn’t know when the post-partum would lift and we knew the risk of me getting it after another pregnancy was high. Thankfully, NaPro offers a post-partum depression progesterone treatment that has helped a lot of women.

After that difficult time, we didn’t know or think we would have any more children, but God’s ways are not our own. It would have been imprudent to try and I wrote about the need for prudence in such decisions. God calls each one of our families to a different path to holiness and we cannot compare our situation to the person sitting next to us in the pew because we have no idea what they are going through, can handle, or what God is asking of them. Being judgmental is a sin for a reason and it stems from the destructive sin of pride. But, God is also not done with any of us. Crosses lift, evolve, or take a new shape. Old Crosses disappear and new ones take their place. In all of these we are called to trust.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.