I came home to my wife writhing in pain as her body rejected the life that was God’s gift to us for only eight short weeks. We were not prepared for this. No one in our family has had a miscarriage. Everyone who got pregnant stayed pregnant. Why was this happening?
The miscarriage was the most violent and painful thing I’ve watched anyone go through. Labor pains are supposed to give way to life, but this pain served no such purpose. There was no “but for the joy set before her” in my wife’s eyes as she went through these contractions. This pain gave birth to death and we knew it. I felt helpless as I held Joanna’s hand and dabbed her forehead with a washcloth and held the bucket for her to puke in when the pain got to be too much.
In the weeks that followed, the real pain commenced. The physical pain was brutal, but I was not prepared for the deep spiritual and emotional pain that was to follow. There is an incredibly deep bond that God allows to develop between a woman and her baby in utero. Even in these short weeks, Joanna loved this child and had become attached to this person growing inside of her. Add on top of this our Christian conviction that God had “knit this baby together in his mother’s womb.” How does God knit a life only to allow it to be torn apart? This was a painful question that led to confusion and doubt.
Honestly, the pain was not as sharp for me. To me, the child was abstract—an idea, not a reality. Since it was so early in the pregnancy, Joanna was not showing. She had felt the change, but I had observed nothing. It was not as palpable for me.
This affected our marriage significantly. I tried to be sensitive, understanding and empathetic, but could not summon the emotions that validated my sense of loss like Joanna needed. She wondered why I didn’t cry—if I even cared. She needed someone to cry with her and share her pain and I couldn’t do it. Instead, I tried to give her the answers to her grief. I tried to be her pastor rather than her husband, partner and friend. I tried to “fix” her, but she needed someone to hold her.
Unfortunately, the church held her no better than her husband. It’s funny how people in the church fear pain in others. We find it awkward and uncomfortable. We don’t know what to say so we either avoid interaction beyond the superficial or we speak without grace, sensitivity or attentiveness to the Spirit. We needed people to tell us they knew we were hurting without telling us how to heal. We needed people to remind us we weren’t alone without handing out religious clichés or greeting-card anecdotes.
Healing is slow. We could not get pregnant in the months and years following, and we began pursuing adoption sooner than we had intended. We went to specialists and they couldn’t find anything “wrong.” It’s as if Joanna’s body simply refuses to entertain the prospect of such pain again. This prolongs the intensity of the pain she is experiencing. As a young couple in the “prime of life,” you are surrounded by babies. Babies and pregnant women are everywhere! You can’t escape them! Our siblings have had six healthy babies since our miscarriage. Cousins, friends, teenage girls in our youth group and even Clay Aiken and Elton John are having babies!
Each announcement of a new life is bittersweet. We never begrudge someone the joy of their pregnancy, but the sorrow is in the reminder of our loss and the unfulfilled desire we have to be called “mom” and “dad” and to raise a person to love God, others, soccer and art. There are times when people unthinkingly ask, “When are you guys going to have kids?” as if we have any control over it. Others say, “Aren’t you glad you don’t have to put up with all of this?” Or, “Are you sure you want kids?” referring to their screaming, pooping child. The answer is: “Yes! We want to change diapers, clean up puke and get embarrassed in the grocery store! We have an aching hole in our hearts!”
To be fair, some questions came from people unaware of our struggle. This has led me to be much more sensitive in the questions I ask people concerning family planning or flippant comments regarding the inconvenience of child rearing in front of others.
It’s been about four years since our miscarriage and ensuing struggle with infertility and the adoption process. We’ve learned many lessons through these painful trials. Chances are you know someone struggling with infertility or loss from a miscarriage. Here are some suggestions to lovingly navigate the waters of their pain:
- Be quick in compassion. Write a note or speak with them in church, communicating your thoughts and prayers are with them, avoiding advice or Christian clichés.
- Persevere in your concern. So often we are good at triage care. We are there for people in the hours, days and weeks following a painful experience, but then forget to persevere, remembering their pain may last months or years afterward. Try to remember significant dates associated with the loss and keep them in mind when others announce new life.
- Watch your words. Be careful how you talk about children or parenting around childless couples. Be aware of how certain statements or questions may ”hit” someone struggling with infertility.
God is not wasting our pain. We continue to experience healing and He is graciously giving us the joy of anticipating the arrival of a son from South Korea whom we have not yet met. Together, Joanna and I will embark on the journey of parenthood, carrying always the memory of our loss with the hope of comforting others with the same comfort by which we have been comforted (2 Corinthians 1:3).
Jesse Harden is an associate pastor in Albuquerque, NM. He’s married to Joanna and they have one son, Jaxon, who will hopefully be in their home by the end of the year.