Tag Archives: miscarriage

Litany of loss

I’ve heard of a few friends recently experiencing loss. Two weeks ago I led a workshop on miscarriage/pregnancy loss at the All You Need is Love Women’s Theology Conference. Here is the service I designed for the second half of our time together:

Gathering/Welcome
photo (5)We gather here this afternoon to name the pain and grief of pregnancy loss and infertility and to honor the children who are missing from our family photos.  This sort of loss is not often talked about on Sunday mornings. Very few churches and denominations have created liturgies to mark this sort of loss. Instead our pain is often relegated to the silence. It can be hard to know where to find God in the hurt. So today we gather, acknowledging that the Sacred is not separate from our experiences, not removed from our loss, but that God meets us even here. Will you join me in the call to worship?

Call to Worship
One: A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.
All: God, like Rachel we ache for our missing children. Condolences feel empty in the enormity of our loss.
One: Hannah was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord, and wept bitterly.
All: God, you heard the cries of Hannah as she grieved her infertility. Remember us, too, as we long for the children we have hoped for and imagined.
One: For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
All: God, you lovingly created us. And while we were dreaming of our babies, you were dreaming with us as your love formed them. Hold us as we grieve. 

Song: Healer of Our Every Ill (Marty Haugen)

Scripture: Lamentations 3:12-24

Reflection
I have never been a person in exile. I’ve never had to flee my homeland or be subject to foreign occupation. But I do know what it is to lament. I know what it is to both literally and emotionally have death inside me. I know what it feels like to have the weight of the world strike me like an arrow. And I know many of you know those feelings, too. We have shared stories this morning—shared places of heartache and moments of hope.

The most persistent thing I felt after my miscarriages was broken. In pregnancy I had started to look at my body differently—it was amazing. This body was shifting and moving and reconfiguring to grow a person. While I hated the nausea, the reality of the amazing things my body was doing was incredible. And then I went to my midwife for my second prenatal appointment, where she offered me an ultrasound and I learned that the incredible workings of my body were not enough. My daughter had no heartbeat. I felt like I had failed in one of the key areas of motherhood—I failed to keep my daughter alive. In a very real way, my own body had been working against my desires. How does one person even begin to process that sort of loss? The only word I could hold and wrap myself around was “broken.”

And that is exactly where I think our lamenter is. When you know you are the people of God and tell stories about how God set you free and led you to the promised land, what does it mean when others run you out of that land? Everything they had trusted failed. Throughout the Hebrew Bible, we see a people trying to scratch out their identities. Who are we now that this has happened? Who are we if God has turned God’s back? Who are we in occupation? Who are we now that everything is broken?

The lamenter clearly blames God. He suggests this is all the result of God’s wrath. And yet, his own words contradict this notion. “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” In the midst of complete despair, it is the steadfast love of God that gives hope.

And this phrase “steadfast love” is significant. It is our closest English rendition of the Hebrew word “hesed.” But our translation almost makes it sound too passive. You can love someone steadfastly from afar. Hesed, on the other hand is active. One definition states “hesed is the consistent, ever-faithful, relentless, constantly-pursuing, lavish, extravagant, unrestrained, furious love” of God. It is a love that chases us when we are most unworthy. It is the reason that the Psalmist writes of not being able to flee from God in Psalm 139—because this love always pursues us, always anticipates us . . . it goes with us even to the pit.

In her theological reflections on miscarriage, Serene Jones suggests that when Jesus was killed, his death was taken into the Trinity in the same way a miscarrying woman carries death inside her. I love this image. The idea that even when no one else knows our pain, God has been there. God, the Creator and Giver of life, has felt death within God’s womb. God’s love goes to the pit with us.

God knows what it is to be broken. In our communion liturgy we speak the words—“This is Christ’s body, broken for you.” God understands the groaning. And when you have felt the groan come out of the depths of yourself, you can’t bear the thought that anyone else must experience it. A God who has groaned is a God who will stop at nothing to restore the world, to fix the brokenness. I believe that is the message of the Scriptures.

Those words also give us the freedom to grieve now—to groan and ache and cry. After all, if we are to join God in the plan to restore the world, we must recognize the brokenness. We must feel the pain. We must join in the groans of a world that is not just, that has enormous suffering. And let’s be honest, the loss of a child is enormous.

We may be broken. But God is lovingly redeeming us, AND is lovingly redeeming our missing children. We are broken now, but we can have hope that one day we will be made whole.

We will be sharing communion today as a sacrament. As Mennonites we often shy away from talking about sacraments. Instead we talk of ordinances. But there are times when I think we need tangible reminders of the way that God is with us—and today I hope this celebration of Table is one of them. (Words of Instruction/Institution)

Communion

Song: O Love That Will Not Let Me Go (George Matheson/Albert Peace)

Prayer station
Throughout Scripture, people mark encounters with God by building altars. As a tangible reminder that God is surrounding us and our children, I invite you to write each of your children’s names on two stones. Place one in the vase to build our altar together. Take the other with you.

Song/Benediction: My Shepherd Will Supply My Need (Isaac Watts)

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Benjamin Charles

I’ve been meaning to write for days, but I just haven’t had the words. What do you say after the loss of your second pregnancy? I’m now the seasoned grieving mother, the old pro at navigating this space between death and loss. I’m the pariah that might be contagious, the reminder that well wishes do not make everything okay.

And yet for me, Benjamin’s death is something entirely new, a pain that is quiet, but heavy in it’s silence. I knew early. A week and a half ago I cried on the way to the doctor’s office. There were no particular signs of loss—no heavy cramping of bleeding. The pregnancy just felt too quiet.

It was my first actual appointment, although I’d already been through three rounds of blood work and had a meeting with the nurse to train my husband to give me progesterone shots. This first appointment included an ultrasound. Although Allyn and I planned to use our midwife for my prenatal care, I couldn’t resist having one appointment with the doctor to be able to see what was going on.

On the road to the medical center, there are two awful anti-abortion signs. One that reads “Pregnant? You have the choice to choose life” (or something along those lines). The other claims the heart starts beating at 18 days. Neither are signs you want to see when you are terrified of what your ultrasound will show. I argued with the billboards, bitter that anyone would think about placing such signs on a St. Louis interstate. I was pregnant, but I couldn’t choose anything. I certainly couldn’t make my babies live. And heartbeats? 18 days after what?

My ultrasound offered little relief. Benjamin was measuring a week behind with a pulse of around 110. The doc declared himself “cautiously optimistic,” thinking that perhaps the dates were wrong and the heart was just beginning to beat, explaining why it was so slow. The doctor added that it was also possible that development had stopped and we were witnessing the slowing of the heart that would mark death. “But, I’m cautiously optimistic,” he said. I read his face. It looked concerned. I was glad to see a heartbeat, but continued feeling what I had for the two days before—that something just wasn’t right.

The next week was hell. What do you do when it is unclear whether you are holding life or death? How do you act when your body wants to grieve, but your heart needs to hope? I wondered if this was what it felt like to have a loved one on a missing persons list—the answer out there, somewhere . . . but not yours to have.

After waiting a week, I called and begged the office to change my appointment (still a week away because the scheduler could not find an opening). They worked me in. This time it was Allyn yelling at the billboards. At the doctor’s office, I was called back almost immediately—directly to the ultrasound room. Doc asked if it would be okay to do another ultrasound. I responded that it would not be okay if we didn’t. Benjamin had not changed size. Allyn reports that according to the screen, he was actually a day smaller. There was no blinking indication of a heartbeat.

I’d anticipated crying at whatever news we were offered. Instead I stared, nodding at the words. I felt the relief of knowledge at the end of an eternity of waiting.

At this point there are no explanations, no reasons. My perfect pill taking could not save us from the death of a second child. And starting a pregnancy fully aware of what it feels like to lose a child did not protect me from the pain now.

The world is heavy. And now, I’m back to waiting for miscarriage.

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Avelyn Grace Memorial

My Dad created this video to honor his granddaughter, Avelyn. It uses footage and text from the memorial and communion service we held on Monday, July 1.

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Jesus loves you, this I know

Jesus loves me, this I know . . .

I’ve been planning a memorial service—searching through the piles of material that minister friends have sent to find something that feels authentic, sorting through Scripture for that which reaches beyond the numbness.

The minister in me wants to write something new, but I’ve promised Allyn I will not do that now. And I know that it is more than a promise to one who loves me–I physically cannot (which, of course, Allyn knows). How do you find the words that you need? The words that you need to hear someone else speak to you? Who am I to try to comfort myself, even if it is comfort from my faith? I cannot.

I can think through things to personalize the space—the remaining portion of Avelyn’s blanket, the stuffed lamb music box that my grandparents bought for her after the pregnancy was announced, perhaps some pale pink flowers. As I was placing the blanket under the lamb so that I would know where both were, the lamb’s music box began playing the tune to “Jesus Loves Me.”

Jesus loves me, this I know . . .* Little ones to him belong. They are weak but he is strong.

I thought of these words again today as I again found myself laboring. Turns out Tuesday evening was only the beginning. This time I passed tissue, pink with lines of bright red blood. Internet research seems to indicate that this was the placenta. Before I completed the research, I just held on, wondering if this might be the gestational sac that was holding Avelyn. I held and I wept and I rocked and I thought those lines with a slight twist: Jesus loves you, this I know . . .

And I must admit that if I end up seeing a gestational sac, I may never let go.

Author’s note: This is the twenty-first post in a series on pregnancy loss/miscarriage. Read the first post, “First ultrasound,” here.

*I omitted the line for the Bible tells me so here. The Bible certainly does spell out the love of the Triune God—and I certainly believe what it says. But right now I don’t think I believe Jesus’ love because the Bible tells me, but because I feel it. God’s love is coming through caring friends, through the prayers being lifted up on our behalf, through the feeling of being held in the arms of the Creator. At this point, the Bible is merely confirmation of what I know to be true on a much deeper level.

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My deadline-driven daughter

Warning: This post may be graphic. 

On Monday I called the doctor’s office and made an appointment for a D&C. You read the aftereffects here. I jotted the details down on a notepad underneath the notes I had made about my MTHFR mutation. Friday 5:30 a.m. Surgery at 7. Don’t eat or drink after 10:30 p.m. Next to that is a name and number for a person who coordinates efforts between the hospital and funeral homes. I wrote it down knowing there was no way we were going to call a funeral home, but needing some option other than walking away without my baby.

Yesterday evening I started cramping and joked on facebook that Avelyn might take after me, working toward a deadline. I wondered at various times if a woman could feel when her cervix was dilating, because I was experiencing something that felt like opening. But since I have felt various strange and painful things over the last month that didn’t seem to lead anywhere, I decided not to investigate. My pain level was fairly low—certainly nothing like the Gobblins of a week and a half ago.

So I returned to bed, cuddled with a heating pad, and went to sleep.

I don’t recall now at what point I woke up—before or because of—but my water broke. I got out of bed, grabbed my cell phone and began looking at the bed, trying to see if what I was feeling matched reality. I soon realized that trying to maneuver blankets and sheets was ridiculous and ran to the bathroom. My underwear were soaked in pink, as was the overnight-strength pad that had been dry only an hour (and I’m assuming only a minute) before.

This was it. I’ve kept a colander on the bathroom counter for the last month, prepared for this moment—wondering if I would know when to use it. As it turns out, this was fairly obvious. Within seconds a large mass was resting in the bottom, heavy drops of bright red blood now dripping into the toilet. I picked it up, examined it, and placed it in the bucket alongside the dried pieces of what I have assumed to be placenta, which have accumulated over the last month. Could this be Avelyn? It seemed too large. How big is the placenta at 9-11 weeks? Would it have continued growing after her heart stopped? After all, my body has still felt pregnant.

Since nothing else seemed to be coming, I climbed into the bathtub to clean away some of the blood, wandered into the bedroom to find new underwear (with a new pad) and walked into the living room to think and grab my computer. Did I just miscarry? Shouldn’t I have been in more pain? Is this it?

A few minutes later, I realized this was not it and went back into the bathroom. After about 15 minutes with the steady passing of tissue, and pain increasing, I realized I did not want to be alone and began trying to wake Allyn up—all without leaving the bathroom.

My husband is a fairly heavy sleeper. I’d been wandering around the apartment. The door from the bedroom closet into the bathroom was open with the light on, but he had not stirred, even with the sounds of running water. I called his name. And now, I seemed to be tied to the toilet by the bonds of blood. Allyn? Allyn, are you awake? Allyn . . .  Nothing. I tried banging on the bathtub. A slight stir. Allyn? Not enough. I looked around me. I had the towel from my short bath. I threw it at the door to try to open it wider. Why did I turn the fan on before bed? (Um, because heating pads are quite warm and the parts of me that are not uterus did not want to be particularly warm!) I had my cell phone . . . I tried playing the tone that Allyn uses for his alarm. It seemed loud in the bathroom, but there seemed to be no movement. I glanced into the colander and toilet—there was no way I could leave the bathroom. Allyn? ALLYN? Finally, a stir. Are you up? Allyn? And luckily, finally, he heard me and came groggily into the bathroom.

For another 30 minutes, I sat. I turned to Allyn, “Next time I go into labor, I’d prefer a method that does not involve sitting on a toilet for an hour.” Seriously, I don’t recommend it. I considered squatting or kneeling, but sitting was the easiest way to hold the colander.

My midwife wanted me to collect the tissue. Since she referred me to a doctor, I’m not sure that I will need to show anyone said tissue—but I wanted it. I wanted these pieces of the life that was inside me, these signs that my daughter was real.

I passed two more large pieces. It seems wrong to call them clots—they were far larger than “clots,” although the last piece exited my body s-l-o-w-l-y in a thick stream.

Once that stream seemed to have ended, I ran more bath water—just enough to clear the gathered blood. Many of the stories I read or heard from others seemed to indicate that pain vanished when they were done with the birth process. My pain was not gone, but I no longer felt the need to push, so I decided to go back to bed, trusting that I would know when I needed to do more.

Since Allyn needed to be at work at 4:30, he needed whatever sleep he could get. And since I didn’t know what else was in store for me, I knew I needed whatever sleep I could get, too. Pain came in waves. I said to Allyn, “it seems that I have contractions now.” I laughed at how the signs of birth seemed to come after the large part of the work of birthing. Figures my body would work that way. I recognized—and said out loud—that it was possible I’d been experiencing them in some fashion earlier, that there were periods of more intense pain, but the difference had not seemed as pronounced. I was now alternating between feeling fairly normal with only light cramping to wondering if I needed to get up again because surely I was about to start another round of pushing.

I remained in bed (although I don’t believe I slept) until Allyn’s alarm went off. I checked the progress—lighter bleeding, more of a normal period flow. Nothing more significant. Overall pain seemed—and still seems—to be lower.

I grabbed the blanket piece that has been on my nightstand and found a small box. I gently wrapped all of the solid pieces into Avelyn’s blanket, kissed it, and returned to bed.

At this point, 30 minutes after Allyn has left for work, I’m not sure whether my miscarriage is complete or not. I have a sense that if it isn’t, it is close. Allyn asked a litany of questions before he left, making sure that I believe myself truly okay and not at risk for bleeding too much, etc. He also handed me my phone and made me name someone who lives close by that I would call if anything happened—and I promised to call 911 before talking to that individual. I have not felt and dizziness or light-headedness, so I think I’m free and clear of dangerous blood loss.

All to say, it seems Avelyn was, in fact, waiting for a deadline. I suppose my 5:30 a.m. Friday appointment is no longer needed. It would appear that I am no longer pregnant.

Author’s note: This is the twentieth post in a series on pregnancy loss/miscarriage. Read the first post, “First ultrasound,” here.

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The art of building walls

It wells up inside me, this scream yearning to escape. I close my eyes and picture remote places where it could be released—cliffs next to the roaring ocean, the sprawling desert, the roof of a skyscraper. In my lack of access to any of those locations, I find the tension seeping out in unhealthy ways: I weep in the bathtub. I yell at my husband. I throw a pillow across the room and imagine ripping down walls with a sledgehammer. Maybe I should rejoice that I did not actually tear down walls.

But what is the point of tearing down walls when you can build them between you and the people you need the most instead?

I’m in the process of scheduling a surgery I don’t want. In the midst of that process, I learned that I misunderstood a few weeks ago — I will not be able to take Avelyn home with me. Either the hospital will bury her without me or we can have her remains delivered to the funeral home of my choice. A funeral home. For a baby the size of a grape. And I can’t for the life of me figure out what we would do once her body is at a funeral home.

I had imagined wrapping her body in a portion of blanket. Of praying over her. Of digging a hole and giving her body a home in a beloved place.

But it seems my body is robbing me even of my preferred goodbye. While I still have the option of waiting, I have felt the calming of my uterus and noticed the slowing of the spotting blood. It seems my body believes it is done, while Avelyn still rests peacefully inside.

I’m not sure if it is the prospect of the D&C (and no, a date is not yet finalized), the finality it will bring, or the stress of speaking so scientifically about an event that is anything but clinical, but I snapped.

Honestly, it has been building for days — anger at a medical community that offers complicated testing procedures for healthy children in the womb, but does not offer women the ability to test for one of the leading causes of miscarriage before getting pregnant. I am considered “lucky” because I was allowed a blood test after only one miscarriage. A blood test. One vial of blood. And many doctors dismiss women who want answers. I heard today from a woman who was told, “You’ve only had two miscarriages. That’s nothing.”

I’m angry. I’m angry at a system that dismisses the hurts of women and men whose hearts expand to hold children that will never come home with them. I’m angry at what feels like twisted priorities in the medical world. I’m angry that the ability to have an inexpensive blood test makes me lucky.

I’m angry that my body isn’t working. I’m angry at laws that will force me to sign over my child to a hospital.

I’m angry at myself for exploding at those I love. I’m angry at my inability to act even in my own best interest, much less the interests of others.

And I’m even angry that I’m not as angry as I sometimes should be.

I’m currently listening to Waterdeep’s “Since I Am So Sick” on repeat*. The first three lines are mine: “Since I am so sick / Since I am in need / Since I have no healing within me . . .”

Allyn said to me this afternoon that he is doing the best he can. I responded that I know—and that I am, too.

I see my sickness. And I long for healing to come.

Author’s note: This is the nineteenth post in a series on pregnancy loss/miscarriage. Read the first post, “First ultrasound,” here.

*I looked for a video of the song, but could not find one. You can download it on amazon here.

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Stacking stones in a broken world

When my beloved friend Barbara died this past year, her husband and daughter gave me some of Barbara’s clothing and purses. I carry one of those purses (it has alternated which) whenever I leave the neighborhood. I don’t always think about the bag being hers until I reach into certain pockets where I find a cough drop or lens cleaner. In those moments I stop and reflect, missing Barbara and being thankful for the tangible reminders of her. Several weeks after Barbara’s death, Allyn and I were talking about those forms of comfort as sacramental.

littlebirdI have always been a sacramental person, desiring ways to make tangible that which exists beyond the senses. I have written in this blog about my love for baptism and communion. My natural response to nearly anything that happens in my life is for some sort of litany and liturgy to mark it. Like those who carried the faith so long ago, I wish to set up stone markers to see and feel important events.

It is my inclination now as I grieve Avelyn. I write because the written word is something I can see. The tapping of the keys is something I feel. The piece of Avelyn’s blanket that still waits to wrap her tiny body rests on my bedside table. The Willow Tree figurine is on a shelf beside a small nest with two birds and the ultrasound pictures from my appointment just over a week ago. I need things to see, touch, taste, hear, and smell. I am still anticipating a service for Avelyn, to build that stone monument in words, song, and remembrance.

Recently, Rachel Held Evans posted a blog of the “11 Things I Wish More Pastors Would Say.” Friends linked to it, but I didn’t actually read it until Thursday after receiving the call from the nurse. I was sorting through posts on The Old Reader and finally read her words. Number 9 struck me as particularly meaningful, “This is Christ’s body, broken for you. This is Christ’s blood, shed for you.” I have spoken those words—or similar ones—on many occasions as I’ve served the bread and cup. I have had them spoken over me as I share in the Feast. At times I’ve struggled with what words to say, as I know various traditions disagree as to whether it is proper to suggest that Christ’s body was broken.

On Thursday—and still today—I need that word. Whether or not Jesus was broken in a literal sense, I believe he felt it. He felt the betrayal. He felt the loss of relationship. His words on the cross indicate he even felt abandoned by God. He felt broken—perhaps in body as well as spirit and mind. And If Jesus was broken, then he can relate to those of us who feel and are broken in this currently broken world.

My friend Robert sent me an email this week. When he heard about the results of my blood test and my pain at the news, he was reading Phillip Yancey’s Where is God When it Hurts?, specifically the chapter on the “Groaning Planet.” Robert said to me, “. . . and all I can say is that, in your situation, I hear the planet groaning loudly, that this is not the way life should be, that suffering like this should NOT be the case, that a couple of amino-acids wrong in a DNA chain should NOT be enough to kill a baby in utero . . . this is not the way God intended things, at all . . . it is a groaning planet, a broken world, and we hunger and yearn for it to be fixed.”

I believe that God can better understand the groaning, because as Jesus was broken, God was groaning, too. And when you have felt the groan come out of the depths of yourself, you can’t bear the thought that anyone else must experience it. A God who has groaned is a God who will stop at nothing to restore the world, to fix the brokenness. I believe that is the message of the Scriptures.

Those words also give us the freedom to grieve now—to groan and ache and cry. After all, if we are to join God in the plan to restore the world, we much recognize the brokenness. We must feel the pain. We must join in the groans of a world that is not just, that has enormous suffering.

Rachel is right—pastors need to say those words. We all need to hear them—and perhaps we all need to say them. In our celebration of communion is the reminder that our God knows what it is to be broken and is at work restoring all things. In that ritual is the hope that God is fixing the broken things. In that sacrament is the promise that Avelyn and Barbara are being restored, that I am being restored, that all of this horrendous groaning is being heard and will one day end.

This is Christ’s body, broken for you.

Author’s note: This is the eighteenth post in a series on pregnancy loss/miscarriage. Read the first post, “First ultrasound,” here.

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