Though many years have passed, my husband and I can still recall the events that led up to both of our miscarriages. The first one happened on a Sunday. We were traveling home from a friend’s house where we had spent the weekend. I had been dealing with sharp pains all week. About halfway home I knew something was very wrong. We drove straight to the nearest hospital.
It was an overwhelming time. Everything was happening at once, with no time to really comprehend it. It wasn’t until days afterward that the reality of losing the baby fully hit.
All too common
Miscarriages occur more frequently than most realize: some sources say around 15 percent (others claim as high as 25 percent) of pregnancies are lost due to a miscarriage. With unreported miscarriages factored in, the number could be even higher.
According to Jane Forester, a family physician in Illinois, the most common reason is “a significant genetic abnormality of the fetus. In miscarriages in the first trimester, approximately two thirds have significant chromosomal anomalies” (pregnancyandbaby.com).
Miscarriage, though commonplace, is a very lonely, isolating experience because it’s rarely discussed. It can be devastating to both the mother and the father. Studies show that a father’s sadness and grief is often largely dismissed by others and that men may mask their grief as anger.
How can we comfort those who’ve been disappointed by a lost pregnancy or devastated by multiple miscarriages and facing infertility?
Every person’s experience is unique
Steve and Allison* became pregnant right away. They were surprised and thrilled at how easy it had been. At 12 weeks, Allison went in for a routine checkup. Everything had been progressing smoothly, so when the doctor told her there was no heartbeat—she was shocked. An ultrasound revealed the bad news: There was only an empty sac.
Steve recalls the excruciating pain his wife experienced later that night. His main concern at the time was for her. “I hadn’t really had time to get used to the idea of having a child,” he shared, but his wife’s agonizing grief was very real.
Steve and Allison dealt with their loss by simply waiting the designated three months, then trying again. Much to their relief, she got pregnant right away, and now, almost 13 years later, their family is complete with two healthy children.
Jake and Lisa* were a young couple, married just a few years, when they learned that they were expecting. It was a whirlwind of emotions for both of them, as hers would be a high-risk pregnancy.
Now, with life about to change dramatically, they had to face head-on the reality of this pregnancy. What would Lisa face in terms of health? Jake wondered if they were financially ready for a baby. “I couldn’t see or realize the baby in the same way that Lisa could,” Jake acknowledged, “so I thought about the pregnancy from a logical standpoint.”
The miscarriage happened early in the pregnancy for Lisa and Jake. Lisa, who had resolved to leave things in God’s hands and had actually prayed that God take charge of the outcome since she was facing some serious challenges, felt a sense of calm mixed with sorrow. She had her prayer answered, though not in the way she’d anticipated.
Their decision to not prevent another pregnancy was an act of faith on their part that God was big enough to handle any complications that might arise. They took steps to make sure Lisa was in the healthiest place she could be, and got the thumbs-up from her doctor that if they were going to try again, now was the optimal time. They were blessed with a beautiful daughter.
Helping without hurting
Going through a miscarriage is a devastating experience for any couple, and it can be a challenge for others to know what to say, especially when they don’t have personal experience with this kind of loss. Here are some dos and don’ts to consider:
What to say:
“I’m so sorry.” Acknowledge the loss, without trying to interpret or explain it. Couples who have gone through the loss of a pregnancy don’t need advice, just understanding.
What to do:
Let the grieving couple know you care and are available to talk. Ask them what they want or need from you right now, and then honor that. A note or card that expresses sorrow can be a very meaningful gesture. If you’ve gone through a similar experience, acknowledge that and offer to share your story if and when it’s wanted.
What not to say:
“This doesn’t mean you won’t have children someday.” Be careful about saying things that you don’t actually know to be true.
“You can always try again.” One baby doesn’t replace another. Grieving takes time; each couple decides if and when they are ready to try again for a child.
“At least you have other children.” Again, one baby doesn’t replace another. A miscarriage is no less difficult for women who already have children.
“It’s really a blessing in disguise.” Women who are high-risk and choose to try for a child anyway will often encounter mixed emotions from family and friends who are concerned for their health. Some may be supportive, others fearful. We must be respectful of a couple’s right to pursue pregnancy, even in the face of significant health risks.
It took two years for me to get pregnant again. This time we made it to the 11th week before I lost the pregnancy.
I had already had a sonogram to make sure everything was okay, but I began to worry anyway. My morning sickness had abruptly stopped a few days earlier. I remember confiding in a friend at work that I was afraid this might mean something was wrong. She assured me that things were probably fine.
That pregnancy was 13 years ago; it was to be our last. We never expected to be one of those couples who would never have children. Over the years we talked many times about wanting to have kids, but it wasn’t until we saw a fertility specialist that we realized our chances were lower than most couples. At that point we began discussing the possibility of adoption. We went back and forth, but it was several years before we were ready. Unfortunately, even after investing several thousand dollars, we were never selected by a birth mother.
The realization that we would not have children together was not something that hit us all at once; it was a process that happened over many years. What helped us through this, first and foremost, was our desire to accept whatever God allowed for us. We hold fast to the Romans 8:28 promise: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”
So we cultivated close relationships with nieces and nephews and our friends’ children. We gravitated toward careers that would allow us to make a difference in children’s lives, if not as parents, then as educators. It hasn’t been the same as having our own, but it’s been enough.