I am writing this article because I know that I am not alone. I know that even in the midst of my deep grief and agony, there are others like me. I have just lost my fourth child to miscarriage. I don’t have profound spiritual insight to offer right now. Even though I am a student theologian, I won’t be offering theological explanations today. That will come later when the pain is less acute. For now, the pain, sorrow, and intense suffering must run its course. I want to explain the agony of miscarriage. First, this is to minister to those who suffer with me, and second, it is to explain that a miscarriage is the loss of a child; something that needs to be explained to a culture that has dehumanized unborn babies.
We live in a culture that tells me I did not lose a child. We are told that my husband and I lost a blob of tissue and that is all. A mother knows better. A mother knows that she was united to that child from the moment of conception and a mother knows the intense and immediate love she has for the child from the very beginning. A mother (and a father) knows the wonder and joy of the tiny heartbeat of her baby flickering on the ultrasound screen. The very same beating heart that can be seen by some ultrasound technology at 5.5 weeks pregnant. This may be inconvenient for the culture of death, but it is reality all the same. I’ve seen it with my own eyes and wondered at the beauty of my child on the screen.
This miscarriage seemed crueler in some ways than my others. My third was the most traumatic in that I hemorrhaged and needed emergency surgery. This one my husband and I were given the joy of seeing the heartbeat, a strong heartbeat, on the ultrasound screen. We saw it not once, but twice. There was our child with his heartbeat growing stronger two weeks in a row. Then the spotting started. I tried to reason it away. I read forums and talked to friends who told me that spotting can be normal in the first trimester. Then the spotting gave way to streaks of bright red blood and I knew deep down what was going on.
My husband and I rushed to the ER, as my OB/GYN’s office instructed us. The ER staff got me right back. They began their work drawing blood and ordering tests. I knew the drill. I had been there before many times. Then the ultrasound tech came to take me back for an ultrasound to check the baby’s heartbeat. When you’ve been through enough of these you can see it on the staff’s face and in their mannerisms when something is wrong. When an ultrasound tech does not talk to you during the test it means the baby has died.
They wheeled me back to the room and I knew the baby was gone. Tears began to stream down my face as my husband confirmed that the baby was no longer moving and he could not see a heartbeat on the screen. Tears glistened on his cheeks. The Physician’s Assistant who was treating me came in a short while later to confirm the news. We told him we could tell. For the first time, the PA put his hand on my leg and told me he was profoundly sorry for our loss. Far too many in the medical profession feel the need to remain overly clinical in situations involving the death of a loved one. An overly clinical attitude had been my experience with my last three miscarriages and I was deeply touched and blessed by the PA’s compassion. He reached out to my husband and me on a human level and recognized our grief. Our nurse and my OB/GYN at my follow up appointment did the same thing and I can tell you the smallest gesture makes a world of difference to the grieving. All we need to hear is, “I’m sorry” there is nothing else that can be said beyond those words in that moment.
Once we got home I cried in agony for hours. The bleeding was slowly increasing as the inevitable was about to happen. I cried out to God in anger and frustration. I screamed “why” over and over again. I felt like my heart was being ripped from my chest and I felt like I had been tortured. Our first three miscarriages happened before we could see a heartbeat. In our minds the heartbeat was peace of mind that the baby would survive. It never occurred to us that we would lose this child too, a child we believe was a son.
Grief provides the worst kind of sleep. There is no peace and the body is over-exhausted from the loss of water through the never-ending tears and the shaking brought on by periods of intense sobbing. For me grief also comes with a strong desire to flee. Even though I still had to miscarry our child and bleed my child out, I wanted to run. I paced around my house, I still do as the miscarriage is near its end as I write. Grief awakens restlessness. I don’t want to face the reality of the loss and the pain it entails, but I can’t flee. I have a family who needs me and I have no choice, but to lose my child against my will.
Miscarriage is the most unnatural experience for a mother that is only superseded by abortion. Miscarrying early means to watch the life-blood of your child and the body of your child bleed out of you and then have to flush that child down the toilet. In early miscarriages, it is nearly impossible to decipher the body of the child from the tissue being lost. The body is there and the mother knows it. I know it. Every trip to the bathroom is a reminder. It is to enter into deep and unquenchable agony. My husband had to pick me up and help me out of the bathroom as I cried uncontrollably. My husband is grieving. He is hurting, but he sees, and has seen, an intense pain in me with each of our miscarriages that can only be understood through the lens of motherhood. No mother should ever be asked to flush her child’s body down the toilet, and yet, that is what millions of mothers have to do who have had early miscarriages. Yes, the soul has left the body of the child, but we are “embodied spirits” and so the trauma of this experience is immense. The body matters. We do not get funeral Masses or bereavement ministries. No. We are left to grieve behind closed doors in our homes.
Miscarriage is the same as losing any other loved one. Losing a child at any age, whether unborn or born, is the hardest experience any parent will ever face. The immensity of the pain and sorrow is difficult to put into words. I can’t even do justice to this suffering and the suffering of countless others. What adds insult to injury is that we live in a culture that does not recognize our grief. We are largely left to our own devices and must rely on one another within our families for support. There is little doubt that within the culture and in much of the Church, we have forgotten the millions of families who are grieving the loss of a child or children in miscarriage. This is not meant to come across as angry and bitter. It is a reality that I have experienced time-and-again, as well as every other family I know who has lost a child in miscarriage, whether Catholic or not. There are millions of people sitting in our pews who know this agony. There are millions of mothers and fathers with broken hearts silently weeping, but we cannot see or hear them. My husband and I have been, and are currently, one of those families. We are the silent grieving.
I am writing today so that I can recognize the other fathers and mothers who are suffering, or have suffered, from the loss of a child in miscarriage. You are not alone. Your agony and pain are real and warranted. When grief is this acute, theological platitudes and explanations largely fall on deaf ears. We already know the answers. My husband and I trust that our children are in Heaven. We would have baptized all of them and so we trust in God’s mercy. That, however, does not take away the grief now. We pray and I feel God’s presence in my most agonizing moments, but I still feel anger, numbness, and an unquenchable ache. I feel as though something was taken from me, and yes, the child was always God’s, but it is natural for a mother to feel robbed of her child. My arms ache for the four children I have lost and that is okay. We can’t dress grief up in syrupy piety. It does not minister to the suffering. We must recognize that grief is a part of our Fallen experience. We must allow people to go through their suffering and we must have the courage to walk with those in agony. Far too many of us flee when suffering happens to others.
I am a mother who has lost four children. If we want the world to see the Culture of Life, then we must help those around us who are suffering from miscarriage. Miscarriage confirms the Culture of Life. Ask any mother who has bled out her own child against her will. I am not crying for tissue and blood. I am crying for the loss of my child. Those tears are tempered by the hope of one day meeting my four beautiful children I have lost in Heaven, but the suffering has to be endured here and now. I must cry the tears and feel my chest rip open from the heartache. The missing, the due date, the bleeding, and the intense agony must happen first. I must walk this lengthy journey for the fourth time.
This honest look at my grief in no way contradicts any of my previous writing. The spiritual journey includes moments of intense agony, and yes, even anger at God. We must take care not to allow that anger to take over and turn into bitter resentment. Grief is a return to spiritual childhood. We bang our fists against God’s chest because of our pain, and once the grief has become less acute, we are able to fall into the Father’s arms.