My friend writes to me and tells me that someone she loves is miscarrying right now. As she writes to ask me to pray she tells me that the mother is twelve weeks along with her first pregnancy. I have never met this new mother who will not hold her baby, but I send her Sindy’s card “Healing Companion.” What do we say or do when someone miscarries? Our American culture tells us to do nothing. Say nothing. We do not send sympathy cards. We do not bring soup. We tell the woman who is bleeding You can have another or You already have one child or It’s for the best.
What I want this new grieving mother to know is that it is okay to cry. It is okay to stay in bed and weep and bleed and know that your child’s physical form is gone with every cell of your body. It aches. It changes everything. Please know that your baby has a soul that is perfect and intact regardless of the miscarriage. You are your child’s mother still. And when you are ready to get out of bed and look at the sky again, and think about another pregnancy or wait, that will be okay too. You will not betray your miscarried baby by moving forward with your life.
I want to encourage each reader to open her heart to the bereaved mothers and families dealing with miscarriage and infant loss. No one stays in the initial intensity of grief forever, but while the loss is fresh I hope that we can offer support and bear some of the grief together. Elizabeth McCracken reminds us grief lasts longer than most expressions of sympathy. As the bereaved family gets to milestones and anniversaries, it is so helpful if someone remembers. There is the baby’s due date, the six-month milestone, the one-year milestone. I am thinking particularly of our parishes where there seem to be so many pregnant women and newborn babies. Is there a space to hold the sad mother whose arms are empty? Can we embrace both the pregnant families and those who bear much loss? I hope that there is room to show compassion and love to both. No one has to say anything profound. Following are a few suggestions:
1. I don’t know what to say but I am here for you.
2. Can I stop by and bring some supper?
3. May I share a cup of tea with you?
4. I’m emailing a poem that got me through a tough time.
5. Just checking in. I’m thinking about you.
When a woman miscarries she finds out that there is a vast sisterhood of others who have had a pregnancy loss or whose sister or mother or friend also miscarried. These babies are gone at five weeks, as my two were, or at eight weeks, 12 weeks, 16 weeks. Once a woman reaches the 20th week of pregnancy instead of miscarriage, we use the word stilbirth. Language doesn’t change the reality that we were pregnant and then we weren’t without the baby we had longed and hoped for. The sad thing about the sisterhood is that it is mostly silent. We don’t have a network of support readily available to us. Women don’t usually talk about their miscarriages. We hide them and cry silently and privately. Please create a space where we can be whole and acknowledge our birth stories and pregnancies and children regardless of the outcomes together. No woman needs to be alone as she faces her grief after a miscarriage or infant death.
I recently met with the poet Nicholas Samaras and he reminded me of his poem to his miscarried babies. These words comfort me so I send them out to you, Dear Reader. May the memory of our miscarried babies and our babies gone too soon be eternal!
I Think of My Children in Heaven (49th Psalm)
by Nicholas Samaras
Gone before we had a chance to give them names.
Gone before we could glimpse the grace of their faces—
like smoke and the lingering fragrance of smoke.
I sit in spring light and think of my children in Heaven.
How is it possible to give color to this absence?
How I pray for their lives, miscarried and missed.
My only comfort is faith their souls are full in conception.
How I feel their fledgling presence for the rest of my life.
Father of souls, I swallow hard to commemorate
each still day that is not a birthday.
Through each hour, I am a father who raises
my remaining children in this life we have left.
Nightly, the meager stars grow scant and fragile.
The stars still tremble in their glimmering light.
I hold my son’s hand that is so slender and trusting.
Tucking his tiny body into gentle sleep,
I check on his breathing throughout the dim hours.
Each breath in is my relief. Each breath out is my hope.
I imagine my children’s brothers and sisters equally
growing in Heaven, and pray they watch over us.
Gone and remaining, I hold their nameless names
deep within the hole in my heart.
A song for the reunion of our pulses in rhythm.
A psalm for our lives touches and lives imparted.
Photo from Dr. Jessica Zucker’s store at drjessicazucker.com. Dr. Zucker created a line of cards specific to miscarriage and infant loss.
Samaras, Nicholas. American Psalm, World Psalm. Ashland, OH: The Ashland Poetry Press, 2014. Print.