It was October 9, 2002 and I was 23 weeks pregnant with our 3rd child. Our daughter, Bethany, was 4½, and our son, Noah, just turned 3. During a routine check-up with my obstetrician, my husband and I discovered the unimaginable—our baby’s heart wasn’t beating. We were heartbroken. That evening, I was admitted to the hospital so that labor could be induced. By the next morning, I delivered our still-born baby girl—Hannah. She was tiny, but fully-formed. There were no obvious problems—nothing to explain what went wrong. God had numbered her days—23 weeks in utero. Robert and I held her and said “good-bye.” She was loved and we were filled with anguish that we wouldn’t get to know her.
The following summer we learned that I was pregnant again. It was amazing to be pregnant for the fourth time. Before we had Bethany, we struggled with infertility for four years. Being pregnant always felt like a miracle. We were deeply grateful for another child, but there was trepidation.
At 26 weeks pregnant, I felt a little anxious. I didn’t think the baby was moving. Surely, I was being paranoid because of our last pregnancy. But I decided to go to the doctor, just to reassure myself that everything was alright. It wasn’t. On November 14, 2003, once again, we went to the hospital and I delivered a still-born baby girl. We named her Charity. Like Hannah, she was tiny, but fully-formed. We held her and said “good-bye.” We couldn’t believe this was happening again.
A Lingering Grief
Mourning these losses was brutally hard. It was hard for my husband, Robert, and me to talk about our grief with each other. When either of us was feeling heavy-hearted, we would avoid sharing our sorrow with the other for fear of dredging up pain. Our children were young and it was hard to know how to talk to them. They experienced loss too, and we did a poor job helping them to grieve.
We didn’t begin to understand our failure to help our children and its consequences until about two and a half years ago, when our daughter, then 18 years old, came to my husband and me and told us that for several years, she has quietly, but profoundly, struggled with grief, anger, and sadness related to the loss of our babies. To say that this disclosure surprised and saddened us, is an understatement.
After each loss, we tried to explain to our children what happened in age appropriate ways. We wanted to include them in our grief, but we also wanted to protect them from the anguish we were experiencing. We’re now learning that we failed. We didn’t tell them enough. We left them confused. We didn’t help them grieve well. We thought that as they got older, they’d have questions and we’d answer those questions. But they didn’t ask questions because we didn’t invite questions.
We didn’t talk about Hannah and Charity very much. When I thought about them I was sad, and I didn’t want to be sad. People are often very uncomfortable when you talk about such loss. They don’t know what to say. It’s understandable. I didn’t want to feel the pain and I didn’t want to deal with the discomfort of others. It was easier to try to forget.
My faithless, sinful, self-protective strategies did harm to my children, and to my relationships with them. I didn’t trust God with my grief, or my children’s grief. Instead of believing that God could handle my pain and care for me through it, I arrogantly “managed” my grief on my own. Sixteen years later, I find that I’m grieving like never before.
Grief and Parenting
I’ve learned a few things about grief and parenting, in the past 2 years and expect to learn more.
1. Just because children don’t ask questions doesn’t mean they don’t have questions. Throughout their childhood, we should have made opportunities to tell our children about the sisters they never got to know. We should have honestly shared our sadness with them and encouraged them, on multiple occasions to ask us questions.
2. Because we believe that God knit Hannah and Charity together in my womb, that they were made in God’s image from conception, and that they will live forever, we need to recall and remember the value and importance of their lives. I loved these babies while they were in my womb. I felt them move. I prayed for them. I dreamed about their future. They were real. Instead of trying to forget, we need to honor their memory.
3. Both of our babies were cremated and we scattered their ashes. I don’t regret that, but I do regret that we didn’t create some type of physical marker to memorialize them. We intend to correct that soon. We need to place to go that reminds us that they lived and died and live again.
I only recently learned that October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. It seems like I should have known that before now. Such obliviousness is a symptom of my trying to forget. I want that to change. I want to honor and remember our babies. I never got to know Hannah and Charity, but I miss them. I wonder what they would be like if they had lived. They are part of me and part of the story of our family. They were a gift from our loving God, who promises to be close to the brokenhearted (Ps. 34:18), and to comfort those who mourn (Matt. 5:4).
Pregnancy loss is painful. The grief of such loss extends beyond the parents. If you have experienced such a loss, or if you do in the future, remember your other children. Just as the ache of loss hurts your own heart, it hurts their heart as well.
Photo by Janko Ferlič on Unsplash
About the Author:
A Florida native, Kim has been married to Robert for over 28 years. Together they have a 20 year old daughter and a 19 year old son. One of her favorite things to do is to lead the women’s Bible study at Dayspring PCA in Spring Hill, Fla., where her husband is the pastor. Kim would love to tell you about the joys of homeschooling, convince you that Florida is a great place to live in spite of the lack of four seasons, and offer you tips for feeding a crowd.