Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Remembering My Lost Babies

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Month and I'm thinking about the babies Atticus and I lost through miscarriage.

Five losses, and each one shook my foundation ... it never got easier. Miscarriage isn't something one improves on with practice. I was devastated every time, crumpled every time, had to pull myself up and be pulled up every time. Who and what pulled me up? Grace, of course, yes. Prayer. A God who would let me scream at Him, then collapse in His arms, weeping, asking for comfort and for the grace to start over, to try again. My husband, of course, yes. He was devastated, too, but he was also somehow my rock.

And so many good friends. Friends who pulled me up, sustained me, helped me heal. Loving, supportive women, bearers of light and love.

The memories of things that weren't helpful are dimmer, thankfully. Everyone means well, and I always knew that, but we all hear our share of the unhelpful stuff, too, don't we? Words that hurt or seem to blame or that lack all understanding. Part of an imperfect world. I have said my share of stupid and insensitive things over the years, and I can only hope that those on the receiving end of my mistakes forgive me.

If I could offer just a few words about the main things that really helped me heal, and the things that really didn't, I'd say this:

What didn't help: 

1. "It was God's will."

Of course it was, in its way. Everything that happens is either because of God's active will (He made it happen) or His passive will (He allowed it to happen, allowed the problems of a fallen world to unfold.) But in the immediate aftermath of the death of my child, I didn't want to hear that God had chosen this for me. Maybe He did, maybe He didn't -- but I was in a state of shock and grief; I needed to absorb the pain before I could do anything else. Over time, I would slowly come to accept the ways in which God can work all things for my good, but in the first moments, the first hours, the first days, it was too hard. I just needed to cry.

2. "You'll have another baby."

That may or may not have been true. It felt presumptuous to me when people said that. No one really knew, after any of my five losses, whether I'd be able to have another baby in the future. And -- this is the most important part -- even if one could see perfectly into the future and tell me with complete certainty that there was another baby a year, or two, or five years down the road, what mattered most in the moments following my loss was this: no other baby is this baby.

No other baby is this baby. If Atticus died, no one would say, "You'll find another husband." Lost babies are not forgotten objects, easily replaced. Yes, I knew that if I had another baby down the road, I would love it, cherish it. But right now? I wanted this baby, this unique human being, at this moment in history. No other baby would ever be that baby.

3. "At least it happened early, before you really got attached."

I loved my babies fiercely from the moment I knew I was carrying them. Even before that moment, really. I loved the idea of them, the hope for them, the beauty of them, the knowledge that they were the embodiment of the love Atticus and I have for each other. Whether a miscarriage happens on the day of the pregnancy test, or at nine weeks, or at three months, or later, it's hard. Heartbreaking. Awful and confusing.

I was no less attached to my babies when I'd carried them two days than when I'd carried them for nine months. We can't quantify the level of grief a mother should feel based on how old her child was. (As pro-life people, we don't want to go down that road, right? Human beings are not worthwhile by degrees -- human beings are worthwhile, period.) My baby was a baby. I was attached.

On the flip side of the difficult things people said were the things that helped tremendously:

1. "I'm so sorry. I'm praying for you. I love you."

Simple, perfect words. Thank you for saying them. Hugs were welcome, too, as was understanding when I started crying unexpectedly or in public.

2. Listening

Friends who simply let me talk (endlessly, sometimes) about my babies were a treasured gift. Listening to my stories as I sifted through my grief, handing me another Kleenex, asking about my babies' names, listening to my fears and my future plans (or lack of them).... This kind of acknowledgement -- that I had experienced a loss worth grieving -- was so healing. It helped me feel sane and whole again.

3. A Concrete Gesture

Just a card or a note meant so much, even an email (I printed out and saved many of those.) There are so few physical keepsakes of a baby after a miscarriage -- a loving message becomes one of them. I treasured every one I received. My sister gave me a potted mum, something beautiful and alive and growing, an ongoing remembrance. Other friends nurtured my soul through the body: One friend brought an enormous meal, complete with chocolate cake. Another friend brought a bottle of wine. A new friend (someone I hadn't planned to tell, but I spilled after tearing up as we chatted about something else) dropped off a basket of teas and cookies. I didn't expect any of these things, but every one of them touched me deeply.


I remember my babies every day, especially when I ask them to pray for me. Anyone who's ever lost a child knows that we don't need a month officially set aside to remember our children, but the fact that there is one is a beautiful thing. Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Month says, "This was real. This was terrible. I'm so sorry." It says, "You're not alone." 

And as terrible as every loss was, I can honestly say now that I'm grateful for everything I've been through. The children I lost were -- just as my husband and my friends were -- bearers of light and love to me. My babies taught me, and continue to teach me, about surrender, sacrifice, and hope. Each of them taught me a different lesson. They have changed me forever. 

And my lost children, who are not lost to the Lord, are every bit as much a part of our family as Anne-with-an-e, Betsy, and Ramona are. I have a whole family in heaven that I -- God willing -- will see one day. I know they're praying for me. I feel it. They want me to keep slogging through, with the goal of meeting them face to face. And on that day, when I meet God and my children, I will know in fullness and for eternity the thing I cling to in this life, the thing that makes everything else make sense: He is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, and He will wipe away every tear. 


(Photo courtesy of


ellie said...

Internet {{hugs}} for you Karen. And love, and prayers. My youngest is 13 and it still hurts, all those other babies, the ones who didn't stay. I have three living children, but there were thirteen conceived ... Just today Calli (16) and I were talking about her twin, who died halfway through the preganncy and who I then carried to term alongside her. .... I still see the empty spots, you know? At the table, in the house ... Jesus is here with us, yes of course ... But, acknowledging the pain is so important too. I'm glad you wrote this. Thank you.


Karen Edmisten said...

Thank you, ellie, and {{hugs}} back to you. :)
And, oh, ellie, thirteen.... More prayers and hugs to you, dear one.

Anonymous said...

Karen, I understand much of what you write. A friend gave me your book after my second loss. One thing I've really come to realise through the pain of miscarriages is my agreement with your point number one- how unhelpful it is to hear, that this was God's will, as in active will. Even if good-hearted people try to soften that sound-bite by theorizing the babies must have been sick or unable to live, it did not comfort me. Why would God choose that pain for me? Your comparison of active versus passive will above has helped give some more language to articulate what I feel now. When so much of what we have which is good in this world is called a blessing from Him, do we also call something as painful as miscarriage or stillbirth or infant death a burden from God, chosen by Him for us? Through my miscarriages I've come to think, no. They are the result of a fallen world. But I can cope with them much better trusting in the perfection of heaven, and His ability to offer me spiritual comfort beyond what I would have been able to muster alone.
My miscarriages have been part of an ongoing solidification of how I view God and how I talk to others in their loss. Joining them in their grief, I have been given far more empathy for situations even graver than mine because of the grief which I still suffer over babies I never met.
Thank you, Karen, for writing!

Karen Edmisten said...

Thank you for this beautiful comment, and for taking the time to make it.

You said, "But I can cope with them much better trusting in the perfection of heaven, and His ability to offer me spiritual comfort beyond what I would have been able to muster alone."

Yes. That's it, exactly.

Blessings to you, and hugs, and thank you for your kind words!