Some texts stop you in your tracks: “Doctor said we’re losing the baby.”
Time halts; shock assails. This shouldn’t be happening. Life should be growing. I don’t want her to go through this.
As much as you hurt for her, you know what she’s feeling is worse.
I’ve walked with many women through the devastation of miscarriage and infant loss. Though similar to infertility, and sometimes occurring after long seasons of delayed fertility, it’s a unique grief. Life is cut short. A mother won’t know her child outside the womb, this side of heaven.
Sometimes, she has to go through the entire labor and delivery process, only to come home empty-handed. No matter how early the loss starts, she’ll bear the physical signs of death. Blood sheds; hormones revolt. Joy of new life shatters.
Every woman copes with this loss differently. Some wish to grieve privately, while others choose to talk about their emotions so others can understand what they’re going through.
Every woman, when asked how others can help, answers with a similar plea: “Just acknowledge I lost my baby.”
Far as the curse is found
Childbearing doesn’t come easily for some women, and for others, never happens. Even in textbook pregnancies, the process is painful and exhausting.
The reason for this traces back to the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve sinned and ushered death into the world. In response to Eve’s disobedience, God cursed the childbearing process (Genesis 3:16). Since the mother of the living conceived and delivered Cain, all women have endured reproductive-related pain – menstruation problems, infertility, morning sickness, preeclampsia, miscarriage, postpartum depression, stillbirth.
I mention the curse on Eve because it affects how we view childbearing woes. Miscarriage is the death of a person, and like all death, comes as a result of the Fall. “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12 ESV).
Those who know Jesus understand and praise him that death is not the end. We’re no longer condemned by the wages of our sin because he died in our stead and raised us to new life with him. “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55 ESV).
Because of our Redeemer, the sting of punishment by death is gone. When we die, we enter into more abundant life, fully present with him in his glory. Yet while we’re here, in these bodies of dust, groaning in a broken world aching for complete restoration, the sting of separation by death remains.
Mothers who lose their babies are right to mourn. The life that was being fearfully and wonderfully knit within them ended abruptly, physically severed from their wombs that were designed to nurture growth.
As they ache for lost opportunities to see their children play and laugh and fall down and mature, these mothers experience the tension of living on Earth and longing for eternity.
We know we have heaven to look forward to. But right now, the reality of death hurts.
The problem with platitudes and silence
When a woman experiences a miscarriage or infant loss, people often react in one of two ways: they’ll either say nothing because they’re afraid to hurt her, or they’ll offer platitudes to lessen the sadness.
“Your baby is in a better place,” they’ll remark. “At least you weren’t that far along.” “At least you can have another baby.” “At least you already have a child (or children).” Or, what might be the most difficult to hear: “God had a reason for taking your baby.”
These statements are unhelpful because they fail to acknowledge the mother’s loss. They want, as all mothers do, to hold their babies in their arms, not imagine them floating around in heaven.
Even if they believe in God’s sovereignty, a statement suggesting God let their baby die will inflict more pain. With minds reeling from trauma and hearts flooded with tears, they might not be able to see right away the goodness of their heavenly Father or his will in this circumstance.
Silence in response to miscarriage can hurt just as much as clichéd comments because it implies that nothing happened. To a woman who lost her baby, your avoidance feels like you’re dismissing her grief. We pay condolences when a person dies; why wouldn’t we render the same compassion and ongoing support when a person within the womb dies?
One mother in an online support group described the lingering nature of grieving miscarriage: “It’s not a grief that just stops one day. It has been three years since we miscarried our son, and there are still days I cry in my car. There are still moments where his absence and the loss of experiences with him are huge.”
As members of the body of Christ, we can give the good news of the gospel to mothers who miscarry without being preachy or insensitive. Instead of rushing to point out the bright side or ignoring the pain altogether, we can weep with them, recognizing this world is not as it should be, crying as those who grieve with hope.
Carrying burdens like Christ
Because grief is complex and people mourn differently, there’s no prescriptive 12-step action plan for supporting those facing miscarriage and infant loss. But we can show compassion on these mothers and help bear their burdens in a few life-giving, Christ-like ways.
Keep your sympathy simple. The statement, “I’m so sorry you lost your baby” shows her that you see her pain, and confirms the significance of the heartbreak she’s facing. Offer to pray for her and with her, if circumstances allow. Find out if she had chosen a name and if so, refer to the baby by name in conversations.
Follow up with texts or calls asking “How are you today?”. Remind her, “I’m thinking about and praying for you,” words that are especially comforting when received on significant dates like Mother’s Day and the baby’s due date.
A mother who is grieving, and possibly suffering physical pain as well, can find it hard to complete everyday tasks. Help her cover these basic needs by making a meal or mailing a restaurant gift card, send a care package, or offer to run errands.
Consider buying a small gift to honor her baby, or ask if she’d like to hold a memorial service at church or privately among family. Whatever act of service you choose is probably not as important as your commitment to follow up. When you say immediately in the wake of loss, “If you need anything, let me know,” and never check back, it only adds to her disappointment.
Perhaps the greatest help we can provide a friend who is mourning her baby is to simply listen. Keeping quiet and engaged as someone who is sharing her grief shows that you love and value her enough to sacrifice your time and give more attention to her than to yourself. As she pours out her heart to you, she can process her emotions and affirm what she knows is true about God even though she can’t feel the truth right now under the weight of mourning.
Help her cling to Christ
A mother’s hope for living through the loss of a baby is to cling to her risen Savior. When we join in her lament, we can shoulder the load of grief with her, and help her cast it on him.
“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced or our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4-5 ESV).