Remembering on Infant Loss Awareness Day

SONY DSCMy mom gave me a stuffed animal monkey when we found out we were pregnant with our first baby. A few weeks later I would hold this little monkey as we lost our first baby, thinking of all the things we’d never get to experience. Never would I have guessed the years would add two more babies to that list.

Today is Infant Loss Awareness Day. One in four women experience infant loss (miscarriage, stillbirth, infant death). It’s a staggering number for a topic that doesn’t get talked about much. Today I’ll be sharing a bit of my story—the grief, the journey to healing, pregnancy after miscarriage, and why so many of us are talking about it. It doesn’t have to be a lonely journey.

Why do we share?

These babies are real. They may not have been wrapped in blankets snuggled in arms of love or breathed on their own, but they were ours and their hearts beat inside of us. Woven together in our innermost being they bore the mark of their Creator, whether their lives lasted 9 weeks, 19 weeks, 39 weeks, 2 hours, or 3 days. We share because we want you to know they existed. They’re real.

Wearing the badge of 1 in 4, women often feel the weight of being the sole bearer of their remembrance. If we don’t remember them, who will?

We don’t share our pregnancies before 12 weeks to make you uncomfortable. We share because we know life is short. We don’t share our losses for a pat on the back for bravery or even for your sympathy. We share because we want your empathy, your understanding (this could be you—your sister, co-worker, best friend, your mother). We share because we want to remember our children who’ve left no mark on the world. We share because we want to know we’re not alone.

We had lots of plans for our first 5 years of marriage. Children were 2-3 years into that plan, so when we found ourselves married for 5 months and pregnant it was a surprise. A welcome surprise, but a surprise nonetheless. It came as a shock when two months later I began to miscarry. I knew it happened to some women, I just never guessed it would happen to me.

I went through the stereotypical cycle of grief—denial, bitterness, anger, and on. Denial to the point I was convinced the doctor and the blood tests were wrong and I was still pregnant. It didn’t help that the pregnancy symptoms didn’t exit as soon as the baby did. It was two weeks before I could even confess this to my husband.

I remember the day the anger broke. An older family friend stopped me at church one day, she’d never been able to have children herself, and all she said was, “I just remember getting to the point where I wanted to go to a baby shower and be happy for the person.” It didn’t change my situation, but it broke something in me and I realized I wanted that too. Being bitter and angry is exhausting.

I came out of that season with a greater trust that God was good…even in this God was good. I believed it to my core.

Thanksgiving a few years later, with a 3 year old and 10 month old, my family pointed out my exhaustion seemed to be more the pregnancy variety than the general motherhood kind. Sure enough I got home and the test was positive. I was about 8 weeks along.

The first week of December I miscarried that baby. I was in utter shock. I’d already had my miscarriage. This wasn’t suppose to happen again. It was Christmas. We were getting ready to visit family on both coasts for 6 weeks. We were going to Disneyland. Losing another baby wasn’t part of the plan.

I slowly realized I had made a one sided deal with God. I had my pocket testimony, my experience to be able to comfort others. I wouldn’t have worded it then, but I thought I had “learned my lesson” and God was done dealing out pain.

I didn’t know what to do, so I shoved it all down and tried to be happy. It was this day at the beach (pictured) nearly 8 weeks later that I felt anything. The water was awakeningly frigid, my boys were experiencing their first touch of the Pacific. It was a spark of hope, the first light of joy. I wasn’t so naive anymore to think that pain and suffering was a one time deal. I began to pour myself into the God who would heal all things, wipe every tear, render every wrong right, and be hailed as “Worthy!” Life wasn’t so much happy-go-lucky anymore as it was deep mysteries to be pondered.

A few years later, mom of a 5, 3, and 1-year-old, I found out I was pregnant again. The same day as a dear friend. We instantly began to imagine growing babies together. A week later I lost mine. This was the hardest yet, not just because I watched my friend’s pregnancy, but it was the first time I really began to ask the question, “Why?”

Why me, God? Why again? How many more times? What other pain do you have for me? Why do You heal some and not others? Why do You have the power to heal—with just a word You could do it, why do you choose not to?

It felt like everywhere I looked in my real-life community and online there was story after story of God healing and answering prayers. Why didn’t he do that for me?

All I could cling to was Peter’s words, “Where shall we go? You alone have the words of life.” I poured myself into the words of the old dead guys, stories of depression and despair where God still loved and led his people. I listened to songs of brokenness and trust, hopelessness and faintest light. I needed to know even this was broken I wasn’t alone.

They call a baby born after a loss a rainbow baby. I’ve got a full rainbow. It’s a hard one to swallow. It’s a mix of grief and blessings knowing if the babies I lost had lived I wouldn’t have two (almost three!) of my children. I’ve struggled with immense guilt of loving the ones I’ve lost, wishing to meet them and loving the ones here.

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But a rainbow…is a sign of God’s covenant to keep His promises. And sometimes those promises are hard. Sometimes those promises mean heartache and struggle, but—He is still who He says he is.

I’ve been reading Jeremiah this week and over and over God tells his displaced people, “I will restore your fortunes” (Jer. 27-31). “I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow” (Jeremiah 31:13).

It’s bittersweet. The pain and the joy co-mingled. Part of me doesn’t want to accept good from the hand that allows pain. But, I always go back to this…”I don’t know what you’re doing, but I know who You are—You have a father’s heart and a love that’s wild, and you know what it’s like to lose a child” (JJ Heller, “Who You Are”).

There will be a day we’ll stand in the Kingdom of Light and all will be made new, all will be redeemed. No more death or mourning or tears. Fortunes will be restored.

Addison Justice. Joseph Allen. Otto Augustus.

Jordan Ebenezer. Olivia Jane. Riley Glory. Victoria Irene.

Why talk about infant loss and grieving?

We need to know we’re not alone. We feel alone so often. We need a culture that’s willing to talk about grief and enter into pain. We often don’t know how to help ourselves. Our grief is often tempered against a time limit—aren’t you over this yet? is the message we get. No, we’re not over losing our children. I doubt we’ll ever be.

But…we want to know how to live in this new normal. How to experience joy and pain without denying one over the other. We long for fullness of life, but are often sucker punched with grief out of nowhere. We need a community and culture that’s willing to acknowledge this dichotomy. That will talk about it.

And if we don’t? We’ll continue leaving generations of women to keep their loss quiet, to fend for themselves in pain, to struggle to find their way out of the darkness on their own. We’ll continue to leave mothers bearing the scars of loving the lost and the living and the guilt that’s so warped between the two. We’ll leave children missing chunks of their childhood, whole pieces of their mothers from the pain and struggle of daily functioning after loss, simply because it’s easier to not talk about it.

There is no one size fits all action plan and I don’t know what it’d even look like, but we do have a voice. And as painful as it is to share the loss of our children, the grief we bear, and the mistakes we’ve made floundering in this unknown territory, we need to talk about it. Infant loss won’t be eradicated, but we still want to live. We want to be happy without denying what we’ve lost.

The darkness cannot be made light unless someone is first willing to light the candle. And there’s a throng of us holding out our candles.

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Miscarriage: What to Say?

Lingering Grief of the Named Unspoken

Coming Up for Air: Facing the Deadness Because He Lives

The Journey of Miscarriage: Traveling from Risk to Grief to Bitterness to Good

Songs for the Brokenhearted

The Willingness of Motherhood

Motherhood is a Risk

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Miscarriage: What to Say?

In our miscarriage story, I shared how I felt lonely and that few people spoke with me about it. It was painful. At times it made me feel that my family and friends didn’t care. As I began to let go of my bitterness, I stopped holding these people to a standard of giving me comfort. I forgave.

But I also realized something. About a month after the woman stopped me in the hall at church, my sister-in-law spoke to me after a church function with another women by her side (this woman had 5 miscarriages before having her first child). She apologized for not saying anything or asking me how I was dealing with the miscarriage. She couldn’t imagine what I was going through or what it was like to lose a child….she didn’t know what to say.

For some reason compassion swelled in my heart. I was blessed and freed by her apology. But it also opened up my eyes to the other side of a miscarriage. Many people keep quiet simply because they don’t know what to say. To be honest, I know I would have been in the same boat prior to losing Addison.

This is one of the reasons why I am open to sharing about my experience with losing a baby. After we had our miscarriage it seemed women came out of the woodwork saying they’d had a miscarriage too. Some statistics say that 1 in 4 pregnancies end in a miscarriage. Still so many women say nothing of their experiences because grief hurts. Love is risky.

The problem with this is women grieving a miscarriage feel they’re alone. They need to be heard. They need to hear the experiences of other women. Now, when I meet a woman who’s had a miscarriage and I share I have too, there’s an instant bond. I don’t have to tell her what I experienced or how I felt. She’s been there too. She understands.

But where does that leave those who haven’t lost? I believe, they still have a role to play.

What do you say when a family loses a baby?

  1. The most important thing is to say something. That family, the woman especially, needs to know you’re there and willing to hear. So many people often avoid those experiencing loss, because it’s uncomfortable and they feel ill-equipped to help if they haven’t experienced the same thing.
  2. Be wise in your words. While most of the time saying something is better than saying nothing, be careful what you say. Comments about “Maybe next time will be better” or “I guess this wasn’t God’s timing” do little to help and can cause the couple more pain. Those statements feel insensitive and seem to diminish the pain of the family.
  3. Help them. Offer to cook dinner. If they have already collected baby items, gently ask them what their plans are for them, if they need help going through them, or offer to store the items for them. If they have older children, offer to babysit so that the parents can take time to talk and process their grief together.
  4. Grieve alongside them. If the family choose to name the baby call the child by its name. If there’s a funeral or memorial service–big or small–join in. This lets the family know you see their pain, you support them, and confirms in their hearts and minds that this baby was real.
  5. Understand that a new baby doesn’t replace the one they’ve lost. For us, Joey is a huge and precious blessing that we cherish all the more because we lost Addison. But in no way, shape, or form does Joey replace Addison. We still miss that child. We still grieve for that baby. Addison was a person as much as Joey is and neither can be replaced by another.
  6. Pray for them. Pray that God would heal their hearts and that they would see His character and perspective. Be gentle and patient here. Grieving is a process that ebbs and flows, sometimes it moves forward and then falls back. Don’t expect everything to be “back to normal” in a few weeks or month. Healing takes time.

I am so grateful for the outpouring of support I have received in sharing our miscarriage story. So many women have shared their experiences and how God has healed them.

I know there are so many ways to help and support those healing from a miscarriage. Let’s stop grieving from being an isolated experience. Help me help others know how to respond to a miscarriage or other loss, so…

If you have experienced a loss what is the best thing someone did or said as you grieved and healed?

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