Miscarriages / Stillbirths
I’m a funeral director. Have been for the past 10 years. And during those ten years, I’ve helped numerous families memorialize miscarriages and still born babies.
As a male who often finds himself in that “insensitive” category, I used to secretly wonder why there’s a desire to memorialize those not yet born.
After all, what’s to memorialize?
When I first became a funeral director, I struggled to understand how I could write an obituary for one who has no biography. After a year or so, I developed this three sentence template:
_____________ the stillborn son/daughter of ___________ and ____________ passed away on ____________________ at “so and so” hospital. Left to grieve this loss is the maternal and paternal grandparents, as well as the uncles and aunts. A memorial service will be held on ____________ at the __________ Funeral Home.
That’s it. No job occupations to write. No hobbies, memberships or significant others to be included in the obituary. In place of the age, the obituary will suffice to say, “infant”, or “stillborn”.
Being both insensitive and hardheaded, it took a pretty intense situation for me to see and feel the “what” and the “why” of memorializing those who weren’t afforded a chance to live.
I used to think that one of the most in house controversial topics for Christians related to the “eternal security” and/or “perseverance of the saints” discussions. I’ve seen artery popping, fist clenching, impassioned arguments over whether or not you can walk away from God and lose your entrance ticket for passage through the Pearly Gates.
I was wrong. There’s another topic that’s even more sacred.
I learned my lesson in a Degree Completion Class at Lancaster Bible College. There was a large cross-section of students in that class, with ages ranging from 25 to 62 and an even broader array of experience.
The professor breached a topic that he wished he hadn’t when he said, “There’s no absolute biblical evidence that fetuses and infants go to heaven.”
That was it. He had touched some major buttons that I don’t think he even realized existed.
Without even raising their hands, two outspoken women in the class – who, as we were soon to learn, had lost children – burst in with utter defiance. “How dare you speak to something so sensitive when you’ve never lost a child!” one said. Another burst into tears, asserting how God had spoken to her, reassuring her that her lost children were indeed with Him.
I’ve felt tension in classrooms, funerals and churches, but this was a tension that was raised to a level I didn’t know existed. Without knowing it, that Prof. had tread on one of the most sacred realms of Christian doctrine … the belief that ALL lives are loved and known by our Maker … that ALL are children of God.
Mother’s day is today.
This is the time of year that many mothers carry a silent grief. This is the time of the year when mothers remember, when they memorialize lost lives that the rest of us (their friends and family … especially us men) have unintentionally forgotten. And, specifically, it’s a time when men can be exceptionally insensitive to the grief that can reemerge during this holiday.
And there’s some women who will not only carry their silent grief this mother’s day, but who also NEVER had the chance to memorialize lives that God knows … because I know that for every one woman who has memorialized the death of the unborn or still born, there are many others who have not.
Today, God remembers you and your losses. There’s a scripture that says God bottles our tears, a word picture that says, “your tears are too precious to fall to the ground” … that when a person cries, it’s such a valuable experience to God that he stops what he’s doing, bends over and carefully watches every tear flowing down our broken faces. It’s as though he keeps those tears so he can remember what you have gone through … the same way we save items of sentimental value so those things can help us remember important experiences.
I invite you to remember that God not only remembers, but he also grieves with you.
From the Slovak website, with the help of Google Translator:
On October 28, 2011 at 16:00 o’clock in Ves memorial, a dedication ceremony for unborn children was held. The centerpiece of the dedication included the work (pictured above) of young sculptor Martin Hudáčeka of Banska Bystrica. This ceremony was attended by the Minister of Health, Ivan Uhliarik MD.
The idea to build a memorial to unborn children came from within a community of young women and mothers who are deeply aware of the value of every human life and the damage that is inflicted not only from the loss of potential unborn children, but also from the permanent intellectual impairment (sometimes physical) of every woman who chooses to conceive their unborn child.
This memorial not only expresses the sadness and regret of the mothers but also forgiveness and love from the unborn child to the mother.
Miscarriage is a silent grief. We don’t understand why it happens. We don’t know how to talk about it when it does. Through my experience of three miscarriages and three healthy births, I am slowly learning to speak. Here is part of my story of learning to redemptively own my grief, and, in doing so, to try and offer comfort when others grieve silently.
Healing through words
Writing in my journal shaped my encounter with the miscarriages. I initially viewed our first miscarriage in 2004 as my wife Kristine’s loss, because she endured the physical trauma. Journaling about the miscarriage helped me acknowledge the hopes and fears of parenthood that I had held for our child. As I continued writing, I claimed each miscarriage as my own loss. I also claimed my identity as a grieving father, and Kristine’s identity as the mother of my children.
Writing about my confusion and grief enabled me to mourn the awfulness of your death. Not as an angry shout at the futility of life in a world that burned me one too many times. Nor as blind acceptance of actions from a distant God whom I’ve no right to question. But to acknowledge the loss of a life I was growing to love, the end of a journey that hardly had a chance to begin, the absence of a relationship I was looking forward to entering.
That lament created space for me to honor the value you brought to my life, verbalize the pain of your loss, and express the confusion of trying to come to terms with a side of life I didn’t expect to encounter. Talking about how I cried for you, for what you would bring to my life, was infinitely more valuable than finding a cure for the pain of your death.
I think I felt like I had paid my dues with the first miscarriage. Our second miscarriage forced me to face the possibility of never having children. During that time, I grappled with the symbol of the open hand, which had been foundational in my relationship with Kristine. I knew I must love her unconditionally, even though that would let her hurt me. I knew conceptually about loving my living children with the same open hand. I had never considered extending that open hand to a child still in the womb.
I had to decide whether to protect myself from being hurt by another miscarriage, or to voice my love for a child I might never meet. I also had to decide if I would extend an open hand to Kristine, who I resented for responding to the miscarriage differently than I was. Journaling helped me acknowledge the hope for my child’s life that was hidden deep beneath my cynicism about the miscarriage. I modified Albert Brumley’s hymn If We Never Meet Again as part of a liturgical farewell to my child.
Now you’ve come to the end of life’s journey. It turns out we’ll never meet any more, ‘till we gather in heaven’s bright city, far away on that beautiful shore. … Since we’ll never get to meet this side of heaven, I will meet you on that beautiful shore.
Farewell, Child, until we meet face-to-face for the first time. Go with my love. Dad
Healing through songs
The first miscarriage shocked me. The second miscarriage shattered my worldview. The third miscarriage brought me to despair. When we decided to try and get pregnant a fifth time, I let myself hope for new life in ways that I hadn’t when our daughters, Elise and Charis were born. I felt like that hope was thrown back in my face when we miscarried a third time. I wanted to give up completely on my hope for new life, and on the work Kristine and I had done to grieve together instead of alone. It hurt too much. I wanted the dreams to die.
I rarely write music but occasionally I have responded to turmoil in my life through music. The third miscarriage was one of those times. I arranged three texts from Celtic Daily Prayer into a song called The Caim Prayer. The song has two themes: The first is the cry that God would “lift me out of the valley of despair” that I entered when our child died. The second is asking for God’s leading “along a path I had never seen before” so that our dreams would not die.
Kristine and I also compiled about thirty songs – some individual favorites, and others that we listened to together. Expressing our pain, despair, and confusion to each other through these songs helped us to grieve both alone and together.
Healing through images
The crocuses in our yard comforted Kristine after our first miscarriage. Like our unborn children, they are precious, beautiful, and alive for only a brief time. When we commissioned Indianapolis artist Kyle Ragsdale to paint our family for our 10th wedding anniversary, Kristine asked him to include a crocus for each unborn child. In many ways, that painting represents our hope for the miscarriages to be part of our lives … not as a dark blot in the center, but nevertheless woven into their creative fabric. Much of that hope is articulated in a letter that I wrote to all my children.
All six of you walked an uncertain road with me as you have borne my burdens through the words of these letters. You will walk that road with me into the future. My unborn children, each of your presence in our lives continues to shape how your mom and I engage our world. You have challenged us to grant you dignity, and encouraged us to not let your deaths be the last word. Elise, Charis, and Clare, you are calling us into the joy of making new life grow. You will learn with us what it means to remember your three siblings, to live with open hands, and to see and speak peace into humanity’s wounds. So we will walk together, until the day when we all meet for the first time.
About the author: Dr. Shawn Collins grew up in Kenya as a missionary kid. This cultural diversity built a foundation that influenced his faith and vocation. His work in the aerospace and energy industries integrates graduate degrees in mechanical engineering and anthropology. He regularly writes and presents on a variety of systems engineering, organizational behavior, and theology topics. Shawn lives in Indianapolis with his wife and three living children.
More information about Shawn’s book Letters to My Unborn Children is available online at www.letterstomyunbornchildren.com. It can purchased there, from Kirkhouse Publishers, or from Amazon. The ebook can be purchased from MemorEmedia.
We don’t have a set ritual for mourning the loss of the miscarriages and stillbirths. It’s a burden often carried solely by the mother, who is left to grieve a being with no major social connections except to her. She carried it in it’s life, death and is left to carry the grief.
There needs to be communal ritual attached to miscarriages, stillbirths and even abortions (the topic of communal ritual and abortions is something I’ll address in a later post). But, in the West, there isn’t ritual.
There’s been attempts. Some cemeteries have an “Angels” section. But this memorialization is the exception and not the rule.
It’s time to change that. I’ll repeat myself (and I’ll even use the annoying and incredibly loud cap locks): THERE NEEDS TO BE COMMUNAL RITUAL FOR MISCARRIAGES, STILLBIRTHS AND EVEN ABORTIONS.
After that brief cap locks, soapbox rant, we now return to our regularly schedule blog post.
On the island of Sulawesi, in Indonesia, newborn infants who die are buried in the trunks of giant trees. The belief is that the child’s soul will rise up into the heavens through the tree.
This process is communal, as there’s a designated remembrance spot for the community. It involves ritual that benefits those most affected by the miscarriage/stillbirth/infant death: the mother. And, it sanctifies a space for grieving the loss of the least in society.
Here’s some pictures:
|Photo Credit: PhillipeTarbouriech|
|Photo credit: Mark Broens|
|Photo Credit: Derek Brown|
There’s a reason why so many choose to symbolize loss with a tattoo. When it comes to death, many of us try to forget, so that we can forget the pain … only to remember years later, that what we fought so hard to move past and “forget” is something we should really remember.
It’s an innate desire for humanity to remember what we can forget with symbols. It’s an innate desire for us to remind others with symbols.
In Judaism, observant Jews wear a phylactery around their heads and their wrists. It’s both for themselves and for others … in order that they (we) might remember.
Religion has always used symbols. And these symbols are often deemed as “holy” because of what they represent and what they remind us of.
Like religious symbols, there’s a sense that when tattoos are used to remember the dead, those tattoos are holy … maybe even just as holy as religious symbols. Memorial tattoos symbolize our heritage, our love, our loss in a way that we and others must remember what we too easily forget.
Here’s some examples of holy tattoos: