Hi friends! Welcome to the second post in my new series, Brave Women Share Stories (BWSS). Today I am welcoming Sara to share her story of multiple miscarriages. I met Sara and her family several years ago when I lived and worked in Austin (her husband was my boss). She was one of the first women who came to mind when I began brainstorming BWSS because I have long admired the brave way she’s shared and grieved this difficult part of her family’s story–and in turn has helped other women and families walking through miscarriage. If you’re not in a good place to read about miscarriage, consider revisiting this post another time.
These are the names of the seven children I’ve carried but have not held. These are the months of their passing.
- Peter – October 2005
- Bella – April 2006
- Trey – July 2006
- Quinn – February 2009
- Noah – April 2010
- Wren – November 2010
- Vesper – January 2011
My years of miscarriage are punctuated with two very emotionally and physically hard pregnancies followed by the births of two of my beautiful children:
- Titus Whitfield – June 11, 2007
- Genevieve Pearl – November 20, 2011
In the earliest years of miscarriage, of course I was grieving the loss of my children, and hoping and wondering if I could have more.
However, I was also navigating deep grief and personal shame. I felt my body failed me. My womb, a place designed to nurture life, had been a tomb, shrouding the death of my children. I had not walked a valley of the shadow of death; I was the valley. I had carried death within me.
The birth of my feisty daughter Genevieve was particularly traumatic. After a first trimester of ups and downs under the watchful care of our specialist, we “graduated” and were returned to my OBGYN. Weeks later I spent a day in the emergency room for second trimester complications. Late in the pregnancy she remained breech, and I had a version procedure to naturally turn her. Then, days before her due date, she stopped moving. We spent an entire morning in the hospital for tests of her viability and oxygen levels while she remained silent and motionless in my womb.
Our doctor, treading gently, since he knew I’d had the version procedure days earlier to avoid a c-section, laid out our options.
“I have miscarried so many times. I cannot have a stillborn child. What is the least risk to her?” I asked.
“A c-section,” was the doctor’s reply.
The first eighteen months of Genevieve’s life are largely covered with a black haze, completely missing from my memories. I’ve read that many mothers who have traumatic childbirths experience a form of post traumatic stress. At the time, I did not even know to recognize the signs to ask for help.
When I began to “wake up” from the haze, I realized I was mad. Furious. I was no longer grieving miscarriages, or living in the day-to-day of holding onto and desperately hoping for survival in my pregnancies.
I had two living healthy children, but I was angry at the years of my life that I felt death robbed from me – the ways I had put my career on hold to take care of my own health, the moments of my children’s lives that I spent grieving their siblings, and the years of intimacy with my husband lost to what felt like a science fair project in human reproductivity.
AND I felt guilty that every moment of our happily-ever-after didn’t seem deeply meaningful. It was full of many, many moments that were wildy mundane – diaper blowouts, toddler temper tantrums, and mountains upon mountains of laundry.
Thankfully my husband began to see that I was drowning, and we spent a year with a fantastic counselor and another six months with a career coach.
In that time I began a journey of making peace with my life.
I began and am still forgiving my body for the ways I felt it has betrayed me – for the chronic endometriosis it carries and the children I’ve lost. There are days when I look in the mirror, and I still want to speak to myself with belittling words and emotions, habits of self abuse that were birthed within me with the loss of each of my children.
However, now when I am tempted to speak unkindly to myself in the mirror, I say, “Thank you. Thank you five senses for letting me experience the incredible beauty all around me. Thank you legs for walking me to the top of mountains across our world. Thank you womb for carrying all of my children. Thank you arms for letting me hold some of them. You may grow older and wear out, but I will treat you gently and with kindness.”
I began to dredge up dreams and career hopes and aspirations that I laid aside during the years of miscarriages and survival. I began to ask how they fit with my hopes for my family. Some no longer fit, and we have parted ways. Others have come to life in ways I could never have imagined.
I began to tell our story of miscarriage. Women began to come to me and share that they too are limping with the overwhelming burden of grief and sadness that follows miscarriage. Families and friends began to message me to ask how they could support their daughters, sisters, and friends who are grieving infant loss. Men began to ask my husband how they could better support their wives.
I listened to imaginations deep in my heart of memorial services for other families quietly grieving miscarriages, and was lucky enough to find a couple of women’s ministry leaders at our church who were willing to take a chance on my idea. Since then I have personally helped host multiple public memorial services for families grieving miscarriage and infant loss.
Last year I helped write a curriculum event guide for churches across the country to host similar services for the families in their communities to have a safe space to grieve this quiet sadness that is more common than we might imagine.
And most importantly, in our year of counseling, I began to find my courage. My fears and logic told me that I had two beautiful children; that should be enough. However, my heart told me that people are beautifully full of the breath of God’s life. In the words of the poet Khalil Gibran, our “work is love made visible” – to raise a child is to be given the opportunity to hold and shape eternity.
That Easter, on the anniversary of one of my earlier miscarriages, I learned I was pregnant again. Eleven days before Christmas, hours before my scheduled c-section, my water broke and I had the precious opportunity to experience labor one last time.
December 14th, 2015 my youngest daughter was born. We named her Helen Abigail because she truly is a bright light in our lives and we know she is her heavenly father’s delight.
If you, too, are grieving miscarriage, I am so sorry.
You are not alone. According to americanpregnancy.org 10-25% of clinically recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage.
In my own experience, and in talking with other women who’ve experienced miscarriage, grief is a very personal journey that looks very different for each woman. However, these have been some common themes I personally have experienced and have heard from other women.
Even though you did not meet your baby, it is ABSOLUTELY appropriate and okay to grieve the loss of this little one. The loss is real, and it is likely you will feel it in some way. Make space for these feelings, whatever they might be – numbness, sadness, anxiety, anger.
Grief takes time and has many layers. According to Psychology Today, we do not alway use clear descriptive language to talk about grief. We think of it in event-like terms, as something with a concrete healing pathway and defined closure. The reality is, when we lose someone we love, they are missing from our lives for the rest of our lives, and throughout our lives we may continue to have triggering experiences that remind us that we miss them.
If you’re going through this…
Grief is an emotion that is designed to help us remember, rather than forget, who we have lost. Here are some examples of things I’ve personally done or other women I’ve talked to have done to create special healing opportunities to remember our little ones:
- Name the baby. Even though we only knew the gender of one of the babies we lost, my husband and I picked names that had meanings we felt would encourage us or help us grow in faith and compassion in our grief.
- Look for ways to use your own pain to encourage others. We all love the Cinderella story arc, because we love the idea of bad situations being redeemed with a good ending. Create this for your grief. Look for ways to use the loss you’ve experienced to create good in this world. This may be as simple as taking a meal to other friends after miscarriages, or as big as working with your local faith community to host a community miscarriage service. After experiencing miscarriage, one of my neighbors created a program at our local hospital to give memorial bears to patients experiencing miscarriage.
- Set a time or place to remember your child. October 15th is National Miscarriage and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. At sundown in each time zone, women around the world light candles to remember the babies they have lost. I know several women who’ve purchased special pieces of jewelry to remember their little ones. After our first two miscarriages, my husband and I sponsored auditorium chairs in a lecture hall our local children’s hospital was building. I liked knowing that our babies were memorialized on the plaques on their chairs in a place where doctors would be continuing their education to improve their medical practices.
Lastly, I would encourage you, it is okay to ask for help. Do not be afraid to ask friends to watch your other kids so that you and your partner can go out for a quiet coffee to grieve together. Hire a housekeeper for a while so that you can spend that time doing activities that give you joy. Take some time off work if you can. Ask your pastor or your doctor for a referral to a professional grief counselor if needed.
If you know someone going through this…
Those of you who have loved ones – wives, daughters, sisters, friends – grieving this loss, here are some ways you can help in the healing journey.
Your words are powerful. Simple words such as, “I am so sorry. I hurt with you. You are not alone. I will walk this with you,” can be incredibly supportive.
Especially for the mother who miscarried in her first pregnancy, these simple words can offer incredible strength: “I am so sad that we will not get to meet and hold this precious baby, but I am so proud of you for being a mother to this unborn child. I. Am. So. Proud. Of. You. For. Being. A. Mother.”
Sometimes, the grieving mother in your life may not need your words. She may just need you to listen.
Sit with her. Rent her favorite movie. Make her favorite food. Brew her favorite tea. Buy her comfortable pj pants or cozy socks or blankets for the immediate recovery because it can be physically painful. Send flowers. Drop and run with her favorite ice cream. Send her a card on Mothers Day. Send her a card on the anniversary of the miscarriage. If she names the baby and shares the name, call the baby by name. If she cries in seemingly unexpected (and sometimes public!) places, just hold her hand or give her a hug.
As you are grieving with her, you may be tempted to try to make sense of the senseless. Please, unless you are her healthcare provider, avoid the temptation to ask any questions about her prenatal health habits or offer advice for future pregnancies. You do not need to reprimand her when she tells you she feels ashamed or feels like she failed as a mother. Please, please, please, please do not tell her that she can have another baby. This may not be true and THAT baby will not be THIS baby.
If you are a church leader, DO consider hosting a memorial event for those in your community grieving infant loss and miscarriage. Mother’s Day weekend is a great time to do it; so is October 15th, National Miscarriage and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.
If you are grieving miscarriage or walking with somebody who is, here are some resources I or women I trust found helpful in our grief journeys:
- Hannah’s Hope: Seeking God’s Heart in the Midst of Infertility, Miscarriage, and Adoption Loss – a spiritual guide to encourage women walking through infant loss
- October15th.com – the official website for National Miscarriage and Infant Loss Remembrance Day
- Made Known – An event guide for churches looking to host community infant loss memorial services.
About the author: Sara Conley lives with her husband and three children in Gilbert, the sweetest little Americana suburb town outside Phoenix, Arizona. Her favorite daily rituals include brewing homemade iced coffee early each morning, listening to university lectures on iTunes U on long walks with her toddler after dropping the big kids at school, and gathering her family for dinner each night around the kitchen table she saved for a year to buy her first year out of college.
Connect with Sara: If you are grieving a miscarriage and need a friend to talk to, feel free to email Sara at firstname.lastname@example.org.