“How many children do you have?” The question cuts like a knife as I quickly calculate whether to expose the stranger who asked the innocent question to the sorrow I carry, or spare them the emotional grenade of the real answer by leaving out my children who aren’t here to be counted. The truth creates an awkwardness, but the omission feels like a betrayal. For me, either answer is filled with pain.
I have children in heaven. Statistically speaking, a lot of us do. 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage. Other children are born too prematurely and live for minutes, hours or days. Some children are stillborn, and others die unexpectedly from serious medical conditions in their first months of life. For some, the cause of death is never determined.
The shortness of these children’s lives does not diminish the love we have for them or the grief we carry in their absence. However, we may still feel uncomfortable talking about them openly.
October 15th is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day. We hope that by sharing our stories of miscarriage and child loss that we can break down some of the taboo that surrounds the idea of talking about the children we will always love and will never stop missing.
I have lost three children. I lost two babies early in pregnancy from miscarriages. I lost a son at the age of five from a brain tumor. Every loss hurts. Every child has changed me, even the ones I was never able to hold. Most days, I feel comfortable talking about my son Joel, who lived for five precious years. However, I rarely mention my children, Selah or Doxa; two special babies I miscarried just weeks into my pregnancies.
I think of them together a lot, my three children in heaven, growing up separate from my four children here. They matter to me, and as I grieve, I find myself writing their names out on pieces of paper just so I can see them, all of my children, together even if it’s only on paper.
Caleb, Isaac, Selah, Joel, Doxa, Elijah, Zoe. My seven children all in one place on paper while I only have the honor of raising four of them. Oh, how I wish I was brave enough to answer that dreaded question, “How many children do you have?” by saying “Seven, I have seven amazing children…and three of them are in heaven.”
Perhaps, if those of us who have experienced miscarriages or suffered the loss of a child shared our experiences more openly with each other, we could help free our society from the burden of grieving in silence. It is a heavy burden. I think we avoid broaching the subject because we’re afraid of bringing people down; however, our willingness to speak may give other people permission to share their grief.
For this story, four brave moms have agreed to share how their miscarriage or child loss has changed them.
It is my honor to help share their very personal stories:
“I had heard of plenty of women miscarrying before, but I never thought it would happen to me. I had already had a successful ultrasound where I saw & heard my baby’s heartbeat. So, I was shocked when I returned and the doctor told me there was nothing. I think one of the worst feelings for me was the guilt afterward; wondering if I had caused the miscarriage somehow through my diet, or activities like horseback riding. Eventually, the guilt gave way to jealousy in the months that followed. I felt like everywhere I went I saw pregnant women or newborns…and I was jealous. It could have, should have, been me were thoughts I struggled with for a long time. “ – Lindsey Rutherford New Albany, Indiana
“Today (October 13, 2015) is the day my 6th baby was due to be born. I always feel an emptiness on the due dates of my babies I never meet. I wonder who they would be and what life would be like if they had been born. And I praise God that they are in heaven instead of a world that can be dark and cold and ugly. I miss them. Loss has helped me better appreciate my children, see the preciousness of life and more easily mourn with my friends who struggle to become parents or who never see that dream realized. It has taught me empathy and love that I wouldn’t otherwise have. It has also been empty and isolating and overwhelming. Today I’m thankful I get to be a mama to so many (7!) precious babies and thankful for what each of them continue to teach me, even on the sad days.” – Emilie McFarlane Seattle, WA
“Just because I am pushing myself forward and still making my dreams come true doesn’t mean that my grief is over. There is no getting over the baby that you held in your arms, but whom you didn’t get to take home. You learn to live with the loss. That grief will always be a piece of you, and you learn to live with it; you even learn to love that little precious memory that changed you forever.” – Kristen Riehl Loveland, CO
“Miscarriage is missing out on a future that you hoped and prayed for, but was never really yours to have. It’s constantly thinking “our baby would be so many months old now.” It’s crying at random times because someone announced a pregnancy, or you meet a baby born the same month your baby was due. It’s a silent, lonely mourning, and being expected to move on like it never happened simply isn’t possible. It’s remembering that God is still God, and He is always good!” – Tessy Alexander Whiteman AFB, MO
How can you help?
Give a parent permission to talk about their miscarriage or child loss by asking if they have ever lost a child during or after pregnancy. Permission is an unexpected and beautiful gift that costs you nothing. Initiate the conversation by letting them know that you’re willing to listen. (You can use days like October 15th to break the silence by saying, “I read that today is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day.) Anniversaries of birthdates or due dates will always be important to grieving parents also. If you ask about those dates and remember their family with a card or conversation on those dates each year, it will show your love and compassion.
They may cry, try not to let it make you uncomfortable. Remember that your conversation didn’t create the sadness, it just gave them an outlet to express feelings they normally hold inside. Their sorrow and tears will be mixed with profound gratitude for the opportunity to speak their child’s name out loud, and remember their child with a friend, instead of bearing their sorrow in silence, alone.
October 14, 2015 at 12:39 pm
Wordsworth said it, nearly two centuries ago:
We Are Seven
BY WILLIAM WORDSWORTH
———A simple Child,
That lightly draws its breath,
And feels its life in every limb,
What should it know of death?
I met a little cottage Girl:
She was eight years old, she said;
Her hair was thick with many a curl
That clustered round her head.
She had a rustic, woodland air,
And she was wildly clad:
Her eyes were fair, and very fair;
—Her beauty made me glad.
“Sisters and brothers, little Maid,
How many may you be?”
“How many? Seven in all,” she said,
And wondering looked at me.
“And where are they? I pray you tell.”
She answered, “Seven are we;
And two of us at Conway dwell,
And two are gone to sea.
“Two of us in the church-yard lie,
My sister and my brother;
And, in the church-yard cottage, I
Dwell near them with my mother.”
“You say that two at Conway dwell,
And two are gone to sea,
Yet ye are seven! I pray you tell,
Sweet Maid, how this may be.”
Then did the little Maid reply,
“Seven boys and girls are we;
Two of us in the church-yard lie,
Beneath the church-yard tree.”
“You run about, my little Maid,
Your limbs they are alive;
If two are in the church-yard laid,
Then ye are only five.”
“Their graves are green, they may be seen,”
The little Maid replied,
“Twelve steps or more from my mother’s door,
And they are side by side.
“My stockings there I often knit,
My kerchief there I hem;
And there upon the ground I sit,
And sing a song to them.
“And often after sun-set, Sir,
When it is light and fair,
I take my little porringer,
And eat my supper there.
“The first that dies was sister Jane;
In bed she moaning lay,
Till God released her of her pain;
And then she went away.
“So in the church-yard she was laid;
And, when the grass was dry,
Together round her grave we played,
My brother John and I.
“And when the ground was white with snow,
And I could run and slide,
My brother John was forced to go,
And he lies by her side.”
“How many are you, then,” said I,
“If they two are in heaven?”
Quick was the little Maid’s reply,
“O Master! we are seven.”
“But they are dead; those two are dead!
Their spirits are in heaven!”
’Twas throwing words away; for still
The little Maid would have her will,
And said, “Nay, we are seven!”
October 15, 2015 at 4:47 pm
Thank you so much for sharing this poem. As I read it, I remembered reading and analyzing it in college, at the time it didn’t mean much to me. Now, it is powerful. I read it to my husband and he loved it too! Thanks, I will always cherish our “Seven.”