Her hair was bright red. Her dress was flamboyant. Her smile was infectious. After sizing her up for just a few short minutes at my book table where I had been speaking, I knew she was the life of the party. She was a lovely, extroverted woman.
And yet she pulled me aside to talk to me. She had a problem, she said.
“Everyone thinks I have a great sex life because I look like such a passionate person. But it’s never felt that good for me. It’s just something I endure. I don’t want it to be like this, but I just can’t get excited about sex.”
We talked for a while, and it eventually came out that while she has three lovely children with her now, she has two others waiting in heaven. In just a short period of weeks she lost a toddler to cancer right when she delivered a stillborn baby. They were her first two babies and they were gone.
And I just knew. As we both started getting teary, I said to her, “I don’t think you can touch that deep place inside of you where your sexuality lies until you can also touch that deep place where grief lies. I think you’re afraid to open up to your husband, because if you fully open up, there’s grief there. And that’s scary, because what if you open the door and you can’t shut it again?”
Grief affects us so profoundly.
So many of us are the walking wounded. We’re just like this woman: we look great on the outside, but inside there’s this deep hurt that is so hard to touch. And yet by not touching it we are hurting ourselves in other ways, too.
Today is Hallowe’en, and all over my neighbourhood people have “decorated” lawns with gravestones and ghosts and ghouls and it’s all quite awful. Today people celebrate death.
I don’t want to celebrate death. But I do want to talk about grief, and give some hope. October 15 is officialy Miscarriage and Baby Loss Day, but I think it’s okay to talk about it today instead.
How Miscarriage Sears the Soul
I remember the day I miscarried. It was January 30, 1994; my husband and I had just seen the movie Schindler’s List in the theatre, and it had really thrown me. I was six weeks pregnant. And when I got home I started to bleed, and bleed heavily. It was so heartbreaking. And yet the next day I had to go to class (I was finishing graduate school) just like any other day. No one knew. And yet I had lost all my dreams.
Two and a half years later I would hold the body of my son Christopher, who passed away at 4 weeks of age. And yet I can tell you that the miscarriage at six weeks was also incredibly painful. I think often we don’t give enough understanding to how hard miscarriage is. And after going through both losing a baby and having a miscarriage, I can tell you that both are extremely painful.
And Then You Were Gone–Walking through Miscarriage
Last weekend I sat down and read And Then You Were Gone by Becky Avella. Becky lost four babies at different stages in pregnancy, and I haven’t cried like that in a long time! It touched parts of me I had forgotten were there. What a great book. She’s so practical, and so real, and so authentic, and those who have gone through this will relate to everything she says.
She opens with her heartbreaking story of losing the babies, and I just want to give you some snippets from the book to give you a flavour for it. Becky writes of those days in church after the first miscarriage,
I also wanted to pull away from other people. Church was an almost unbearable place to be. Each week I would think, “I’m fine today,” but the desire to leave the building would hit immediately upon entering. Week after week I tried to “be strong this time” and would make myself sit in the sanctuary. As worship began, the music stirred my emotions, leaving me vulnerable, and the tears would inevitably start falling. I thought, I have to get out of here or I’m going to start bawling, but I realized walking out would allow everyone to see I had been crying. If I stayed, I wouldn’t be able to keep from sobbing and causing a scene. I was trapped. If I did choose to leave the sanctuary, I would wander around until the service ended, trying to get myself under control and presentable before anyone could see me.
I know EXACTLY what she means. Music always hit me the most. I couldn’t sit there, and I would just want to bawl. You can feel it starting, this horrible feeling in your throat, and you try to stop it, and you can’t. To this day there is still one hymn I find it very difficult to sing–“It is Well with my Soul”. I will always associate it with my son’s funeral, even though I completely agree with the words.
After that real teary period you get that bargaining stage–you’re sure that at some level God’s displeased with you or punishing you, so you try to be perfect so that you won’t jinx the next baby. God doesn’t work like that; but in our pain that’s often how we experience Him. And then we find ourselves pushing Him further away.
I had to understand that God would heal me, not time. God would heal me, not another baby. God would heal me, not medication. He may use time and another baby and modern medicine as part of His planned work, but He would do the work.
He can’t work until you allow yourself to grieve–to touch that deep place in you. We need to let ourselves touch that pain–just like I told that woman with the red hair. Until we do, we will never be able to live in fullness because we’ve sealed off a part of ourselves. I know it’s scary to touch it–but you need to, even if it’s hard. Becky says,
This was a boxing match I never signed up to fight. The first miscarriage knocked me flat. I jumped back up quickly, afraid to stay down long. I had enough energy to get back up again and keep fighting. I wasn’t going to allow the grief to get me. Besides, I clung desperately to the hope of another baby. Another baby, I reasoned, would make this nightmare go away. Blow after blow came as I endured three more pregnancy losses. It became harder and harder to get back up again, until one day I had no fight left in me. I was knocked out, completely unable to fight grief any more. I felt defeated, and I sank into the dark night of the soul.
She then goes on to outline how to live through that dark night, and how to emerge on the other side. Whatever you do, don’t stop tears when they come!
Healing, though, does not mean that we will return to the person we were before–and I have found this, too.
Experiencing the death of my babies changed me forever. I will continue to heal, but I will never be the same person.
And I’m not. I think I’m a little quieter than I was before. I like thinking on my own more–like maybe I’m a little more introverted. There are parts of me that I’m not afraid to touch anymore, but I still like to touch them on my own, just me and God, and not with other people. I find that even joy has a tinge of sadness now, because I know that this world is really tainted. But the good in that is that I’m also looking forward to heaven in a new way. And I find myself being much EASIER on myself than I was before.
Probably that’s because I’ve walked through that whole bargaining stage with God, and the wondering if I’m being punished, and I’ve worked it through. I talk about it in my book How Big Is Your Umbrella, and I come to a lot of the same conclusions Becky does. She says,
Satisfied with the answer that suffering isn’t punishment, I then wondered, If it isn’t punishment for sin, why do Christians suffer? God turned the question around on me and asked in return, “What would happen if Christians didn’t suffer?”
Immediately, I answered, “People would choose You for the wrong reasons.”
It’s so true! We turn ourselves inside out trying to figure out if God wants to hurt us, or is trying to teach us something, when really maybe it’s just that life is tough. It always is. The question is just whether we’re going to go through it without God, or whether we’re going to lean on Him and let Him help us.
Becky goes through all of the spiritual and practical ramifications, and then gets to the chapter, “Did she really say THAT?”–about the stupid things people often say to you. It’s funny, because my very first article I ever sold to a big magazine was on what NOT to say to friends who are grieving, growing out of the same experiences Becky had!
I love this truth that she shares, too:
For lack of a better way to label each miscarriage, I’ve caught myself saying, “When I lost David” or “When I lost Micah, James, or Sarah.” It is an easy way to explain the timing of my story, but the truth is I did not lose them. I suffered a pregnancy loss, but my babies are not lost. My babies are eternal beings. They are not lost: they live!
I felt that, too, in such a real, tangible way a few years ago. My son is alive; and my first baby is there, too. And we will be united again in heaven.
If you’re walking through this, or if you have grief you’ve never really worked through, I can’t recommend And Then You Were Gone highly enough. It’s beautifully written and it deals with all the things we go through–the hormones, the grief, the loneliness, the shame, the guilt, the anger, the bitterness. Or if you have a friend who is walking through this, I know this will help her, too.
Miscarriage is the invisible grief, I think, because people don’t see. But it is there, and it’s real, and it’s horrible, and we need to acknowledge it and confront it, because God never meant for us to bear the pain alone. I hope that in your dark night of the soul he will speak to you, too.
Resources That Can Help with Grief from Miscarriage:
And Then You Were Gone by Becky Avella (available in ebook or paperback)
How Big Is Your Umbrella (my book on walking through grief)
Heaven is For Real (just a wonderful book about a young boy’s journey to heaven that reassured me about my son)
It is Well with My Soul necklace
Locket for Baby’s hair