In my last post I mentioned what a shame it is that so little is said in our society regarding miscarriage. It tends to be a taboo subject experienced by so many, but publicly addressed by so few. Why should countless couples cry in silence, not knowing and being strengthened by the many similar stories of their family and friends? In my opinion we need to begin talking with others about these experiences. This silence ought to be broken.
Now, let me be clear. In the first weeks and months following a miscarriage, it makes sense that this grief should be kept relatively private. As my wife and I walked through our three miscarriages, the last thing we wanted was to be conversing with everyone we knew about this challenge we were facing. I’m sure this would have been emotionally exhausting. You simply don’t want to have to relate on such a deep of a level with anyone other than your closest family and friends. However, I also don’t think it should be kept too private. You do need those few people who will cry and pray with you and extend support in other meaningful ways. Keep it private, but not too private.
However, often as couples progress through the grief with the months turning into years, this topic continues to remain unbreached. Of course every couple has their reasons, but in general I think this is unfortunate. It leads to families being unprepared, blindsided by the trauma, and not recognizing how common miscarriages really are. It also leads to folks having to figure things out for themselves rather than receiving the wisdom of those who have gone before them on this road.
In light of this, I’d like to offer a few of my own thoughts on this issue. By no means am I an expert in this field. I merely speak from our own personal experience of having never met three of our precious babies and journeying through the grief together with my wife.
The following are my thoughts on how to care for and respect couples who are enduring the pain of struggles to bear children.
While it may very well be done in a teasing, lighthearted manner with the intent of camaraderie, this is not helpful. You may have no idea regarding the world of emotion and pain you may be stirring up with a seemingly simple question. I can think of two examples I have experienced.
I remember a friend of mine razzing me about this at a party a couple of years back. While everyone gushed over the new infant another couple was showing off, he turned to me and said, “So Jantzi, when are you guys going to pop one out? It’s about time you get going with the kids!” It just so happened that we had lost our second baby only 4 days prior. He had no idea, and I know he meant well. But, it led to a very awkward situation where I attempted to shrug it off, saying as little as possible as I struggled to keep the tears at bay. Others present who were aware of my situation gracefully redirected the conversation. My friend meant well, but his careless comment only exacerbated the emotions I was already wrestling with. It was a very painful moment.
The second instance was at another get together of friends. A friend of mine was the recipient of a chorus of teasing, centered around the question of when he might begin his own family. “So, how soon are you getting get at ‘er?” someone cried out. Another joked, “Don’t worry, one of these days you’ll figure out how it all works.” A third chimed in, “Just remember, practice makes perfect. You just gotta keep practicing.” I have no idea what this fellow’s situation is, except that he’s now been married for several years. That’s the thing; no one else there knew his situation either. For all they know, this poor guy could have held his sobbing wife in his arms that morning as yet another monthly cycle had come and gone. This quite possibly isn’t the case, but if it were, he had just been on the brunt end of some very cruel and hurtful comments.
In my mind, this is a rule set in stone. Don’t ever, ever give a couple a hard time about when they are going to have kids. Don’t even ask about it. If a couple would like to discuss this, they will initiate the conversation.
Don’t offer cliches or pat answers offering false hope.
I recall shortly after our first miscarriage spending time in prayer with some fine friends. During this time one in particular individual (again, meaning well) declared, “It’ll be okay, I just know that you’re going to get pregnant again real soon.” This comment was really not helpful. What did it actually mean? How did she know? Why would she say this if she really didn’t know it to be certain? Who’s to say we wouldn’t be joining the long list of those who never would be able to have children. This well-meaning lady simply didn’t know, but felt the need to offer false, baseless encouragement. This was not beneficial, and actually quite discouraging for me in that moment.
Cliches or pat theological responses often minimize the pain of those dealing with a miscarriage or questions about fertility. In an attempt to provide hope, or good advice they tend not to acknowledge the painful struggle that the couple is enduring and the very real feelings of hopelessness that may be being experienced. This tends to compound the sorrow, rather than alleviate it.
Refrain from living out every moment of your pregnancy on Facebook.
While you certainly don’t intend harm and are simply celebrating the joy of the little one growing inside of you, you may have no idea the pain you are regularly inflicting on dear friends of yours. This is not to say that you shouldn’t announce and celebrate your pregnancy online. Simply do it in moderation and with consideration of all who may be reading. Overly frequent updates of how far along you are, each time your baby kicks, or how terrible the morning sickness is probably aren’t necessary. While it is unavoidable that those who have had miscarriages/infertility will experience hurt when observing the joy of others’ pregnancies, it is not fair that they should have to endure this each time they log on to Facebook. Keep this in mind and be considerate.
So what was helpful to us as we walked the road of miscarriages? Here are a few suggestions based on our own experience.
Be a careful, listening and praying presence.
I will always remember and be so thankful for those who accompanied us through these times with compassion. I remember the friend who sat silently with me as I cried while I drove him to school. He just listened and prayed for me. When we arrived he encouraged me to take all the time I needed alone, before coming in to join everyone in class. It was very apparent that he was grieving alongside me. This meant the world.
It was the pastor who took time to listen carefully and opened up about his own similar experiences and counselled me in how to care for my wife well. It was the professor who took time amid his busy schedule to take me aside, genuinely ask how we were holding up and then pray over me. It was the family members who listened to us cry on the phone as they were also shedding tears on the other end of the line. It was the friends who told us that their small groups, consisting of people we’d never met, were praying for us that God would bless us with the gift of a child. These folks were true blessings from Father God who strengthened and encouraged us through their loving presence.
My sister was visiting us in BC at the time of our first miscarriage. She had to take a taxi to catch her flight home because we were at the hospital taking care of matters on that dreadful day. I will always remember the delightful pot of potato soup she had prepared from scratch and left in the refrigerator for us before she left. This simple, kind gesture radiated love when we really needed it.
Another example was the bouquet of flowers sent to our home the following day by the Office of the Provost at my school, Trinity Western University. I had a meeting scheduled with a member of the university administration on the day of our first miscarriage. Needless to say, I was not able to attend that meeting and had called to cancel. In response, the kind gesture of the bouquet was delivered to our home the next day. This spoke volumes. It was little things like this that carried us through. So, if you’re aware of someone walking through miscarriage or infertility, take the time to show love in a gentle and practical way.
Give them space to grieve.
I already mentioned the buddy who was patient as I cried while we drove to school. I did not feel embarrassed crying in his gracious presence. After our first miscarriage my brother and sister-in-law took us out for dinner. As I got all awkward about being emotional while we talked, they simply encouraged me that it was quite okay to cry. I was reminded by them that crying is an essential part of grieving. This was a freeing reminder. As I mentioned before, we had family members who shed tears with us while we talked on the phone. I also had a professor graciously encourage me to ignore some assignment due dates in the days following our second miscarriage. He encouraged me to take a couple days away from the academic grind. Rather than rush us to get back on our feet again, moving on with life, it was the people who quietly made room for us to grieve that helped us immensely.
So, what do you think? Do you agree with my thoughts? Disagree? Please let us know by posting a comment or two. What have your experiences been? What insight do you have to offer? Leave your comments and join me in doing a little bit to break the silence that surrounds this important issue that affects almost all of us whether directly or indirectly.