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….

Friday is for Beauty Theme: My Favorite English City, Oxford

I had the great privilege of living in the United Kingdom for 14 months. I actually lived in Lincoln which is located in Lincolnshire county in the middle of the country. I was rather astounded that many Londoners had no idea where Lincoln was located even though it was only 1.5 hours away by train. While I lived there I made a point of visiting Oxford because I am a big C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Inklings fan. It is a beautiful city. These pictures cannot even do it justice, but still enjoy! All images were taken from a Google Images search for “Oxford”. I hope you have a very blessed week-end (as they say in Britain).

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Let God Woo You

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This morning I looked out the window and was reminded of one of my favorite movies: Shadowlands. It is the story of C.S. Lewis as played by Anthony Hopkins. It focuses on Lewis’ years well into his conversion when he marries his wife, Joy. At one point he is sitting in a library at Oxford talking to one of his Inkling friends about March, that is late winter. He talks about how the snow is gone and the gray rains have come. Not the beautiful rains of April or May, but the dark rains of winter. He calls this time “the waiting room of the world”.  If you have not seen the movie or read any of C.S. Lewis’ work, I highly recommend it all. My favorite of his is the novel Til We Have Faces, which I read every year or two.

Looking out my window, I see his point. The grass is still brown and the sky is that gray that is only seen in winter. If I was in Montana, I would expect snow, but here in Virginia it is rain. The hope of spring is beginning. The world around me is in a yawning phase. The bulbs are beginning to poke out of the ground, except for the daffodils which are standing erect waiting for a sunny day to open up their golden blooms. Many of my daffodils were destroyed by our heavy snowstorms last month. They came up too early and our typical mid-February storms ruined them. There are a few that will bloom, but many I will have to wait to see again until next year.

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Spring is a glorious time of year in these parts. There really is nothing like it. The trees bloom in incredible colors and the tulips dance in the breeze. Perhaps my love of spring is tied to my April birth, but more than anything it is my connection to dirt and flower that solidifies my joy. This time of year means that garden season is near. That time when I can wander local greenhouses and Lowe’s to find new beauty for our yard. All the colors, shapes, and sizes remind me of what a joyful Artist God is in His Creation. Whether it is a delicate little flower or a large tree, God demonstrates Himself to us through His secondary causes (think creation).

The cliche of stopping to smell the roses is a cliche precisely because it is true. In our adult lives we can quickly abandon the beauty around us because we are so busy and focused on ourselves. I am thankful that I have never lost my childhood wonder. It is something that neither of my parents have lost either. My mother taught me the love of earth and flowers, and my dad has taught me the wonder of theology and philosophy. Growing up in Montana, the grandeur of nature becomes imbedded in the soul and experience. Moving to Virginia showed me a different side of God’s beauty, as has every other place that I have lived whether it is the coast of California, the white buildings of Washington, DC, or the farmlands of central England.

Beauty is everywhere and it is universal. It is everywhere because God is beauty and that is reflected in His creation. Since He is beauty, it would be impossible for us to live in an ugly universe. It may be hard at times to see it, but we only have to open our eyes to find it. I see it in my daughter’s smile, the sun streaming through her hair, or in her laugh. I see it in my husband talking to our daughter after temper tantrums or him sketching out plans for our garden. I see it in this “waiting room” through the increase in birds flying about and the green of tulips beginning in my front yard.  I see it in the buds on the skeleton trees that hold the promise of May. I see it in the strength and courage of people who are afflicted.  Beauty is in the quiet places and in the hard places. It is God whispering to us. I see it most clearly in the Blessed Sacrament who is Christ Himself given as our manna from Heaven.

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We have to look, though. We have to look up and out. Instead of internalizing and focusing on the millions of things we have to do, we must take moments to pause and wonder. There is a reason Jesus tells us to be like little children.  Children wonder at everything. The world is new and glorious. Adults are marred by pain and suffering, but that wonder cannot cease. That wonder can be found in a novel, a building, a person, flower, mountains, ocean, blades of grass, the universe is the limit. I frequently go into Google Images and search out beauty that I have never seen before.

When I was a child of 8 or 9, I wanted nothing more than to be an Astronomer. My prized possessions (besides the Pink Panther stuffed toy my mother had given me at birth) were two books about the planets and universe. We couldn’t afford many, so these were truly special to me. I would spend hours pouring over them and looking in amazement at the vastness and indescribable beauty of it all. Venus was my favorite planet. Unfortunately, my love was tempered by my lack of gifts in mathematics and the natural sciences. God had something else in mind for me. I still search out images of far off galaxies, stars, planets, and beauty. Looking at a picture of the Horsehead galaxy still takes my breath away. I can almost hear the angels of Heaven singing to God’s glory when I see it; the beauty is that amazing to me.

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In our fast paced culture we can lose sight of the beauty around us. As a friend of mine frequently says: “God woos us through beauty”. God wants to share His love and beauty with each one of us. God is always giving Himself, which is infinite, but we have to accept. Think of a courtship, in order for a woman to be wooed, she must accept the affections. The same goes for God and each one of us. God gives everything to us, most especially in the Sacraments, but he will not violate our free will. He will not force Himself on us. A lover, in its truest sense, could never force themselves on their beloved. We must accept the love given to us.

God is going to use His beauty on each one of us in the way we were created. I love to dig my hands into the dirt and watch God’s artistry in my gardens. I am drawn into amazing scenes whether mountainous or an ocean. I am also drawn in by the small things. A blooming tulip can stop me in my tracks. I will stand and admire it for quite some time. God knows that I have a deep understanding and love of His creation.

I was watching a movie with my daughter last week. It is the new Disney movie Big Hero 6, which I enjoyed.  There is a scene where the robot, Baymax, has just been fitted with his military grade suit. Hiro, the teenage boy who outfitted him, is showing off his new tech when a butterfly lands on Baymax. Baymax then proceeds to walk off following the butterfly. I saw that and laughed because that is me. I can be ready to go and focused on a task at hand, but then, some beautiful thing will stop me and I will follow it. That is because that beauty is revealing an aspect of God to me and it is more important for me to investigate and hold onto that gift.

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God is using beauty to woo you. Are you paying attention? One of the ways we can evangelize is just by pointing out the the beauty around us. Reason can at least get us that far and God infuses us with supernatural Faith to help us to get to Him. The next time you are overwhelmed, stop and look around. How is God trying to speak to you? Listen and watch your children, spouse, or friends. Whether you live in a city, the country, or in-between, God is using secondary causes to show us His love. Today, take a moment in this “waiting room of the world” to find some beauty and let God woo you.