The Unspoken Hurt of Miscarriage
A few months ago I got a phone call from a dear friend. I knew that she and her husband were excited about starting a family, and she was praying God would grant her the request. It had been a couple of months since we had last spoken, and I was anxious and excited to answer her call. I just “knew” she had some great news to share! After a few minutes of small talk, she finally said: “Well, I have some news for you.” (At this point, I am just screaming inside with anticipation!) “My husband and I found out about six weeks ago that we were pregnant, but we lost the baby a couple of days later.” My excitement over this long awaited news quickly shifted to comfort and compassion.
If you have been in women’s ministry long, then you have probably encountered this difficult and painful conversation. Earlier this month, a lady wrote to Biblical Woman’s “Dear Dottie” and shared the painful journey of going through a miscarriage. Mrs. Patterson shared from her own experience and counseled this woman and others on how to begin finding healing and restoration after losing a child. If you are reading this article and you have gone through this painful experience, I want to encourage you to read Mrs. Patterson’s response from one who has walked this journey. For those of you who have not walked in these women’s shoes, I would like to give some practical, yet biblical, guidance on how to minister to a sister, friend, co-worker, or stranger who entrusts this often unspoken hurt to you.
1. Acknowledge that a miscarriage is actually losing a child. In Psalm 139:13, David says, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb…” The moment a woman finds out she is pregnant, a flood of emotions overtake her, among them intense joy and anticipation. It does not take long for an expectant mother to begin imagining her life with this precious child, and all other plans come to a screeching halt. Instead, plans for a nursery, a name for the child, and realizing the child is already a blessing begins to consume every thought. So imagine the painful reality when she discovers that she is in the middle of a miscarriage (which is my friend’s story), or she and her husband go to the first anticipated pre-natal visit only to find there is no heartbeat (sadly, another friend’s story). The feelings of intense loss begin to flood the heart and mind of this once joyful woman. Her world has just come crashing down around her. That nursery she had been planning will have to wait. Those names she had been saving will be put on hold. In a moment, life – for her and her husband – stops. It is at this point that she needs someone to listen to her, hold her, and cry with her.
Several of my friends who have lost a child through a miscarriage have told me painful statements that people have made in trying to help. The statements that cut the deepest are the ones that deny the importance of that child. For example, my friend I told you about knew about the new life inside of her for only two days before her miscarriage began. Yet, she had already begun forming dreams and plans for her precious child. As you counsel a precious woman after the pain of a miscarriage, please acknowledge that the life she carried was indeed a baby – her baby. She needs time and support to help begin the healing process.
2. Acknowledge her grief, and actively listen as she grieves. In preparation for this article, I was honored and humbled as a friend of mine allowed me to ask her what were the most painful things unintentionally said or done to her in the days following her miscarriage. She shared two answers, both of them centering on her grieving process. The first statement was: “Just be thankful that you lost the baby early…” Many “counselors” use this statement when they want to convince the woman that she needs to move forward. But, for the expectant woman, this is her child. It does not matter at what point of development she lost her child. Losing a child is devastating. Please do not trivialize a woman’s pain by this statement.
The second statement was: “Just try again. You and your husband can/will have other children.” Though this statement may be true, it, again, trivializes the woman’s grief and pain over this child. It does not matter if God blesses her with six other children, she will always remember and look back to remember this child. She will always remember that she actually has seven children, not six. This child is and will always be her child. Therefore, listen to her, and grieve with her. In moments like these, Paul has given us some wise counsel: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” (Rom 12:14)
3. Acknowledge the need to memorialize the child. Most women who experience an early miscarriage do not have a physical place to go to, like a cemetery, to remember their child. Two of the only things these women have are the pending due date and the painful memory of the day they lost their child. Neither of these dates are happy occasions.
Joshua 4 recounts the story of the Israelites crossing over the Jordan River into the Promised Land. God commanded them to put up twelve stones as a memorial of that difficult journey. Some women have a desire and a need to erect “stones” as memorials of their unborn child. And we, as friends and counselors, need to help them determine what that looks like for them. It could be a phone call on their due date that lets them know you haven’t forgotten. If a woman has lost her first child through a miscarriage, acknowledge them as a mother on Mother’s Day by giving them a card or a phone call. Whatever and however God would use you to minister to this dear woman, be open and willing to be an instrument that He can use to help begin her healing process.
4. Acknowledge that you do not have the answers. If you have never been through this painful journey, you will never fully understand the depth of pain and loss an expectant woman feels when she realizes she has lost her child. I have discovered that, many times, she does not want answers to the questions that swirl around in her head. (Like, “What could/should I have done differently?”) She just wants you to listen to her, cry with her, and help her begin to pick up the pieces. Instead of trying to be the “hero,” gently point her towards the One who can give true and lasting comfort. There are plenty of Proverbs that remind us that sometimes the wisest thing to do is to keep quiet and just listen. (Proverbs 12:18; 18:21; 21:23; 31:26) When it is time to speak, listen to the Spirit, the Great Counselor’s voice, and speak only that which you hear Him saying. You may not have the answers, but He can and will help know how to show and give comfort.
If you have the great joy of serving, counseling, or influencing women, then you will undoubtedly face the heartbreaking conversation like the one I had with my friend. I also know that I am only scratching the surface on this sensitive issue; therefore, I encourage you to seek out Scripture for guidance in how to counsel a friend who has experienced the devastating loss a miscarriage brings. My prayer is that you will allow God to use you to bring words of healing and comfort and not words that add despair or grief to one whose heart is already breaking. We serve a God who is the “Wonderful Counselor,” and we need to allow Him to be that for women walking through this unspoken hurt. (Isa. 9:6)
Amanda Walker is in the Doctorate of Educational Ministries program at Southwestern. Her greatest joy is serving alongside her husband who is the University Minister at Cook Baptist Church in Ruston, Louisiana, and being the mother of two beautiful daughters. In her “free” time she enjoys a good chat over a cup of coffee. Connect with Amanda on Facebook!