Although the thought of writing this makes my heart ache, I truly have felt the Lord calling me to express my thoughts on this topic. I got married less than two months ago, and shortly thereafter my husband and I received the exciting news that we were expecting a honeymoon baby. However, within these short first two months of marriage, we lost our child. It has been a roller coaster of emotions from the excitement of this new life as husband and wife, to being parents, to losing a child. And the emotions were not helped by the simple word of miscarriage.
Miscarriage is the more politically correct way to term what the medical field calls a spontaneous abortion, when a baby dies in utero—most times within the first 20 weeks. However, after hearing the term multiple times within a short period—the result of having to tell numerous people, “We miscarried”—I began to mull over why the term kept bothering me; I found it to be heartbreaking. As a mother, all I could think was “my body was not hospitable to the baby and I miscarried him or her.” The devil gets into your thoughts; and all I could think was that I was not a good enough mother to support a baby and that, the Lord really does not desire me to be a mother. The whole term got me thinking, if women really “miscarried” their baby, they did not do it intentionally. If they had, it would be called an abortion. In discussing this with a good and holy priest, he had similar thoughts. He told me to truly pray to the Lord and ask for a way to describe the terrible event of losing a child before even meeting him or her. After some researching, praying, praying some more, and being receptive to the Lord, all I could think was to call it what it is: the death of a child. Yes, the death may have happened prenatally, but it was still the death of a child.
If miscarriage really is a death of a child, why do we sugar-coat the reality and say miscarriage? It doesn’t really seem to describe the human life that was created and is now in Heaven. The dignity of the child seems to be forgotten about. The term almost seems as a coping mechanism, so parents can forget about what truly happened, and move on and try again. Often, parents forget about all the physical, emotional, and spiritual pain they are going through and call it miscarriage. Helping them to think, it just happened, let’s move on. I’d like to offer a separate view, one guided by the words of Kimberly Hahn in her chapter on miscarriage in Life Giving Love: Embracing God’s Beautiful Design for Marriage. A view that says, let’s truly grieve the loss of our child, who exists and always will exist, yet did not get to experience the world outside the womb.
This alternative view, although difficult to process, is one of abundant graces. Having a family member in heaven praying for your family can bring a great deal of grace, peace, and help to who are hurting. They are not a little fat angel in heaven though; they are a child who should be named and seen as a member of the family. God willing our future children should know their sibling and pray through their intercession. Parents should do the same and call upon their child in heaven, asking for his or her intercession as well. What better thing for a family to do than be truly together in prayer, and most especially at Mass, in the communion of saints? The reality is that a lost baby is a child who exists in heaven. This was something beautiful I was reminded of during my discussion with that holy priest. Those in heaven have infused knowledge; so my child that I picture in my head as an infant being rocked in the arms of Mary is a mature soul, who knows and loves and can truly provide grace through the Lord.
Seeing the recent events of my life with this new lens provided me, a grieving mother, with a great deal of peace. My child who I had grown to know and love even for the few short weeks we were united, existed and always will exist. My baby has a gender and a name. She will always be Frances Caritas Ostendorf, my first beautiful little girl, a thought that brings me to tears even now. She is not just some blob of tissue that I miscarried and who left me before growing and maturing within me. She is the daughter I have always wanted. The daughter I wanted to teach to pray, sing, dance, and live a life full of joy! She is the life that my husband and I help the Lord create. The daughter that brought tears of joy to my eyes when I realized she was there. She is the daughter who was truly present, and led my dear friend to believe she should pray over my womb, two weeks before I even realized I was even pregnant.
This new lens was guided by reading Kimberly Hahn’s thoughts on the topic and by my own prayer. After reading this short paragraph from her book I was reminded of the true reality that happened. Hahn writes, “The loss of a child is a painful experience. So many families have had at least one miscarriage that we can say it is a common experience. At the same time, it is an intensely personal experience.” Her writing validated my thoughts and feelings. The next few lines also helped, as I had each of the following experiences she describes, as the week continued. “Sometimes people say and do just the right things that lessen the pain and ease the difficulty. Others suffer from foot-in-mouth disease—they are so awkward in their attempts to be helpful that they deepen our suffering.” Yet the words later on in her chapter, written by a fellow grieving mother, really hit me hard and allowed my heart to heal a little. “I did lose her. I never felt her move inside me because she wasn’t old enough. I never watched my stomach grow, because it didn’t have a chance to, but I always had the knowledge that she was there and I loved her.” Hahn provided a little solace to my wound. “If the goal of Christian parenting is getting your children to heaven, then we have already succeeded with this child.” I had not miscarried my baby, I carried her with love and strength to the place we all aim for, heaven. I had done something right. I wasn’t a terrible mother. I was a mother who succeeded. But nothing hit me as deeply as the poem Hahn shared from Ms. Susan Erling which reached into the place I needed it the most:
Just Those Few Weeks
For those few weeks…
I had you to myself.
And that seems too short a time
To be changed profoundly.
In those few weeks…
I came to know you…
And to love you.
You came to trust me with your life.
Oh, what a life I had planned for you!
Just those few weeks…
When I lost you,
I lost a lifetime of hopes,
Plans, dreams, and aspirations.
A slice of my future simply vanished overnight.
Just those few weeks…
It wasn’t enough time to convince others.
How odd, a truly unique person has recently died
And no one is mourning the passing.
Just a mere few weeks…
An no “normal” person would cry all night
Over a tiny, unfinished baby,
Or get depressed and withdrawn day after endless day.
No one would, so why am I?
You were just those few weeks, my Little One.
You darted in and out of my life too quickly.
But it seems that’s all the time you needed
To make my life so much richer
And give me a small glimpse of eternity.
This woman had put into words everything I was feeling. My pregnancy was only a few weeks, but it changed everything. Susan Erling brought healing to my thoughts about “miscarrying” my child. She reminded me that I really was allowed to grieve, to cry all night, and to be withdrawn for a time, all because of an “unfinished” child; my child, my Frances. It helped me realize too that we all process things differently. This was especially true for me, as I tried to deal with how my husband was dealing with the pain and suffering of our loss on top of dealing with myself and my own emotions. The night we first prayed through her Frances’ intercession really made our loss real to my husband. We are parents, and our child died. Her name brought my dear husband, who I’ve only see cry once in our 5 years of friendship, to weep. Her name brought him face-to-face with pain, thus brought me face-to-face with the father of my child in grief.
Despite the grief, there is a reality that we must claim: we are parents, and always will be. My husband is a father and I am a mother. Knowing this reality is hard, but is also such a gift. My husband and I are extremely blessed with amazing parents, who taught us all about life and continue to do so. We have forever changed their lives, and they ours. We forever changed the life of our child as well, by cooperating with our Father in heaven to bring her into existence. Our deeply rooted love was receptive to God’s plan and forever changed the Body of Christ, by adding another member. In discussing miscarriage with dear friends who also lost their first child after 12 weeks, the father said, “I was changed more in those three months of pregnancy, the first time, than ever before.” Hearing him say this spoke such truth in my heart. Even if the world does not see a child in my womb, or in my arms, I will forever be a mother and those short weeks changed me.
Motherhood and fatherhood are not something we deserve or have a right to, but rather are the most amazing gifts we could ever receive. We brought life into the world with the help of the Lord and will forever be changed. Those few weeks will guide us as we continue to have more children, hopefully who we can meet in person. Yet, knowing we have children in heaven waiting for us to join them is quite a gift as well. Right after losing the baby, my husband and I went to the place where we got engaged just a year prior, the Mother Cabrini Shrine in Golden, CO. At the top of the shrine there is a bench with an engraving that states, “I thought nine months was a long time to wait to meet you.” This line from another grieving parent speaks a great deal of truth. We are now parents and must strive for holiness with such passion that hopefully one day we will not only be united in adoration of our Lord and God, but also see our child in adoration of our Lord in heaven.
Emotions like these are never easy. But as it turns out, I have lots of cousins and aunts who have had the same experience. According to the March of Dimes, as many as 50% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage—most often before a woman misses a menstrual period or even knows she is pregnant. About 15% of recognized pregnancies will end in a miscarriage. It seems most couples’ first pregnancy ends in miscarriage. The Mayo Clinic stated that about 60 to 70 percent of women with unexplained repeated miscarriages go on to have healthy pregnancies. However, most images and stats do not show the pain, but only bear the name, miscarriage. Why miscarriage? We carried them the best we could, with love and courage. We did not do something wrong. Why a term that feels like we went up to bat and struck out? Why do we use a term that seems as if we could have done something about it? Why not reality instead? Why not refer to the incident as a death in the family, a young one whom we only knew a few weeks? Why not call them by name and ask for their intercession in prayer? Why not remember them as a life that God called home much earlier than we would have liked? Why not call it what it is: call it a prenatal death?