Thursday, September 21, 2006

One Thing Missing

There was one "issue" conspicuously missing at the Image of God Conference. In the presence of so many discussions and presentations about how part of being in the image of God is to beget; with all the talk of contraception, abortion, divorce, illegitimacy, cohabitation, etc. the issue of how to provide pastoral care to those dealing with the issue of miscarriage and stillbirth was noticably absent to me.

Our theology readily confesses that life begins at conception, but in pastoral care, the very reality that God blessed a couple with a child and that child died before the parents could even look upon its face is often not treated as the tragedy that it is. Instead of the grace of God, the couple is often presented with trite phrases:

  • "don't worry, you can always have another one."
  • "at least you already had two kids."
  • "It was God's will."

Or statistics like:

  • "25% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage, so its bound to happen."
  • "they say that first trimester miscarriages happen because the baby was genetically deformed. It's actually merciful."

To hear this from co-workers and neighbors is hard enough, but from those who are in the Body of Christ, and most notably from one's pastor, is something that should not happen. It does not matter that the parents never knew what color their baby's eyes were, what his laugh sounded like, whether he liked cats or ponies, or if he had 10 toes or 12. They lost their child. The beautiful blessing that God provided to them died, and everything in our sinful being screams out that it should NOT happen.

Often, the father's grief goes completely unacknowledged. Neither one of them know what to do with their pain. Sometimes, even they feel bad because they feel more than they think they ought, and definitely they feel more than the world seems to validate should be there, even months or years later.

They need to be met with the acknowledgement that their child died. They truly lost a child just as much as any other couple whose child died at any age. There is no denying that...though mourning may be decidedly different. Help them give a name to their child. Tell them "I'm sorry you lost your baby." Listen, pray with them, just as if the child had been older or if another family member had died....don't give glib statements like what has just been lost is merely the idea of a child. Suggest a memorial service. Confirm the baby's reality. Give them the comfort of the cross...the comfort that God is merciful and that they will see their child in Heaven.

Along with that, our Church seriously needs to address the pain of infertility. Sarah, Rachel and Hannah in the Old Testament; Zachariah and Elizabeth in the New -- their shame and anguish was clear. In his presentation "The Spitting Image of Love" Dr. Jastrum said that marriage is a reflection of the very Trinitarian nature of not be able to beget is a deep and crushing agony for so many, and it often is not minimized even if the couple already has a child. They know the joy that a child brings, and hunger for more -- it is God-pleasing to do so. Adopting is a good thing, but I have never known a couple where it completely erased that pain. It exists on its own despite the love they have for their other children.

The answers that the world offers to infertility are often evil and dehumanizing, yet the anguished souls run to them without direction because they are not encouraged to seek comfort in God's peace.

We talked about the damage created when we deny the first blessing that God gave Adam and Eve as they were united in marriage "Be fruitful and multiply." What about the pain of those who have their desire and drive to fulfill this blessing thwarted? Both of these issues are part of what it means to be under the weight of sin. And those who are suffering from these anguishes, as well as every other tragedy that we confronted this week, need God's comfort.

Technorati tags:


Kletos Sumboulos said...

I have a sister, Emily, who was stillborn. It was one of the defining events of my childhood. Thank you for this post drawing attention to this important issue.

Sonicfiesta said...

I have been pregnant nine times; we have had three living children, one full term stillbirth and five miscarriages. It is true that people so often say hurtful, insensitive things to moms and dads who have experienced this kind of pain. I wish I could say that I have learned more discretion as a result of being on the receiving end, but James is so right in his assessment of the power of our tongues! I try to remember that it is better to be silent than to rush in with words not carefully and prayerfully chosen, but I struggle still. The best comforts anyone ever offered me were prayer, help with meals, etc. and treating our little ones who went home to be with the Lord as real people. To have a child passed over as not having existed is very painful and does not acknowledge the life they lived, albeit so briefly. I thank my dear friends and family who said and did many things to heal our hearts during those trying times.

Pastor H.R. Curtis said...

Thanks for bringing this up - you're quite right. In my short tenure in the ministry I have already dealt with this tragedy several times. And I've also found that just speaking about it in a Bible class - I use Luther's Comfort to a Woman Who Has Suffered Miscarriage as a starting point - will bring a lot of thanks from older women who haven't heard this discussed in Church before.


Favorite Apron said...

A good point. A pastor used the "well, at least you have x number of other children" on me and while true, it wasn't what I needed to hear.
No one ever acknowledged my three events in any way. I was very alone.

Charity said...

I greatly enjoyed you post.

Des_Moines_Girl said...

Very good points. My mother-in-law had 3 miscarriages after she had her son (my husband). She told me once how she looks forward to meeting her other children in heaven some day.

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I received a note from an acquaintance congratulating me on my "fetus." I thought that say the least.

Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...

I always hated every time I was pregnant, being asked by the doctor if this pregnancy was wanted. With Maggie, I had a doctor who was a "daily mass" Catholic. I called him to let him know while he was away at a conference, and his first reaction was to laugh with joy and wish me congratulations. When the amniotic sack measured too small, and Maggie couldn't even be measured, rather than simply accept that the pregnancy was not viable, as had happened with two previous pregnancies, he immediately increased my salt intake and put me on HCG shots (the salt seemed to be what was important, as the pharmacist screwed up the HCG dosage to the point where I was getting 1/100th of what I was supposed to get). I firmly believe he saved Maggie's life. Since we moved, I think I haven't even searched for an OB/GYN because I have low hopes of finding one like him, and other experiences were too traumatic.

Orycteropus Afer said...

I remember talking about this with folks after Mrs. Vark miscarried and many times since then. It's a regular reminder: I don't know how you're feeling but I do feel for you.

Susan said...

It may not have been discussed at the conference last week, but take a look at the LSB Agenda when your husband gets it. I can't remember if there's a rite in there or not; I'm inclined to think that there is. But I know for sure that there's guidance in there for pastors who are ministering to families grieving over miscarriage. (Oh, wait. Now that I say this in public, watch it turn out that that was something that got axed at the last minute. I don't think it did, though.)

Pastor David Hansen said...

It is one of the great tragedies of the church that we have not learned to deal with the very real grief and loss of miscarriages and stillborns.

As a Pastor, it is often hard because (1) the nature of the thing makes many women (and men) want to keep the gried and loss private, (2) as a man, an event such as that is experienced very different by me than by the mother, and so sympathy can seem trite, and (3) our theology often falls apart and fails at this sort of tragedy.

Elizabeth said...

Like the other commenters, I'm glad you are drawing attention to this issue! Having had two miscarriages myself, I know exactly what you are talking about. I have had people say goofy things to me about my own miscarriages. I've also heard people say even goofier things when other women have miscarried. One remark that a woman made in all sincerity to me when a mutual friend of ours miscarried made me cringe inside.

On the flip side, I think we have to extend some grace to the people who make thoughtless comments. After all, they are usually sincerely trying to help. It's one thing to intellectually know that a child is a person in the image of God from conception. It's another to understand all of the emotional ramifications of an actual miscarriage and to know exactly how to comfort a couple who are grieving the loss of their child. Miscarriage is not the only situation in which people put their feet in their mouth when trying to comfort someone. I'm sure that I've bungled the process of encouraging someone else, myself.

I think once we are past the most emotional stages of grief and have come to peace, we have to gently and lovingly educate people how to support couples who have experienced miscarriage.

One of our local hospitals has a program in which volunteers make pretty handkerchiefs and tie them with a lovely cord and decoration. The hospital personnel give them to women who have had miscarriages or still births. I don't know if something like that would have comforted me or not. But, I am happy to see that the hospital is providing these mothers with acknowledgements of the children's lives.

Before I had my miscarriages, I already had two beautiful children as the result of two healthy pregnancies. My husband and I are deeply grateful for these wonderful children who have become healthy, strong, Christian adults.


Sandy said...

I have tried three times to write something on this post and it brings back memories for me.

I to am a pastor's wife, a mother of a 3 year old little boy, a mother to 3 little boys who were called home early, & I am a friend to numerous families who have lost their little ones ineutro at various stages.

My husband, Jay and I found out we were expecting our first child very early in our marriage, we were married two months and I was about a month along. We were scared but excited! From Dec. 1994 - April 1998 we experienced heartache after heartache. Darren was stillborn in Dec. '94 at 6-1/2mo. gestation, Zachary was miscarried Feb. '96 at 4-1/2mo gest., & Andrew was stillborn at 6-1/2mo. gest.

I have heard them, seen them or have had the privilege of friends sharing the comments they have received. They range from the ridiculous to what were you thinking. He was your already your child but not yet my grandchild, if you had been doing the will of God this wouldn't have happened, You can have more, You shouldn't have gotten pregnant so early, If you would lose some weight maybe you would have less problems! NOW, I have my feelings hurt because you think I'm fat and everyone of them is my fault. I'm not blaming anyone else but sometimes it is just not anyone's fault.

I have just this morning in writing to your post came up with a word for this ministry, "reactive ministry". We won't pay any attention to that issue, it has been kept private for all of these years so if they don't talk about it we won't say anything, it was a pregnancy it is not like they lost their child.

I held every one of my sons in my arms and cried and prayed over them. They could not have been more my child! I was very blessed to have the opportunity for closure with my babies. To see them face to face and hold them in my arms but many Mommy's and Daddy's do not have that chance. For them it leaves a multitude of questions. They wanted to know something about them.

I obviously am very passionate about this topic and feel that we as Christian are very unprepared and why should we be reactive when we can be proactive in learning how to minister to these families. The dreams crushed, the fears of not having a family, the pain of losing their child no matter what number they may have been, the questions. We have to keep them from turning from God thinking He has abandoned them.

Yell this all over the world - your words have definately reached a minister's wife's heart in Kevil, Kentucky.

PS - I wanted to share a book that I was given during my 10 year stronghold to to stop coping & find the cure for your struggles Heart of the Problem by Henry Brandt & Kerry L. Skinner.

Marjorie Hall said...

I'm so glad you brought this up. I think part of the problem with the miscarraige grieving process is so many people don't tell of the pregnancy until the 1st trimester has ended. What does this say about how we value the life before that? A deep secret not to be shared just in case the unimaginable happens. Well, the unimaginable does happen as 25% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage. So then who is there to share that grief if no one was there to share the initial joy?

And along the thought of Pastors as counselors through such a loss, some are excellent at comforting and fulfilling that role. However, so many do not know what can be done BEYOND words and cards. Most people do not know that funeral homes will do a service, even in first trimester miscarriages (they will bury the fetus, just as they would a small child). While this is a potentially expensive proposition, it is my understanding that many funeral homes try to do it at a reasonable rate to help families. Hospitals and emergency rooms and most OB/GYNs don't even suggest or offer this, but it is done all the time. In fact, I know several hospitals who would not let mothers keep their fetuses after "passing", even though the request was made. Having your Pastor serve as a liason in this area would provide much assistance. He can coordinate with the funeral home and stand up for your rights to the hospital administration. If you are pregnant or plan on becoming pregnant, I urge you to discuss this with your Pastor immediately, sharing your wishes for his involvement. Again, if we treat this like any other death (which it is), our brains can begin to ignore society's ideas of how it should be handled and embrace a more loving approach to such loss.

Susan said...

Here I am, two months down the road, making a comment. I had questions for Pastor today about the Agenda and the Altar Book and the Pastoral Care Companion. He showed me the differences between the books; we talked about which ones were needed for what things (I've got Christmas shopping to do for my husband). He showed me some of the things he was still working on for the Pastoral Care Companion.

THAT's the one that has all the helps for pastors to minister to families. There's a big long "childbirth" section in the Pastoral Care Companion for LSB. It covers the time before birth, after birth, the churching of a mother, miscarriage, stillbirth, infertility, abortion, and all sorts of other situations related to mommyness.

Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...

You brought up a good point, Marjorie. A very good point.

After Noah was born, we contacted the funeral home, and they came and got his body, cremated it, and put it in an urn that we had ordered from a website that had resources for miscarriages. The majority of the ashes were probably the hospital blanket. But we still have them in the urn. My husband had a special relationship with them, but they did this for free, and while I don't know that they would pick up for the most part without a fee, they still would probably agree to cremating when they already have the oven started up. I remember Couple to Couple League saying that funeral homes will often cooperate with burying a miscarried or stillborn child on a plot with someone else they are burying, free of charge, if burial is important to you. But there will be no headstone.

A memorial service is very important, and while funeral homes might charge a fee to do it, a pastor often will do it for free.

DarkMyRoad said...

I actually spoke to the planners about this topic, and while they were quite sympathetic, were not able to put something together at the last minute. It was an honest oversight on their part.

~Karen said...

Well said - as someone who not only has long term experience with infertility (PCOS) and is a pastor's wife, your remarks were right on. Before dh was a pastor, I used to dread going to church on mothers day, for baby showers, etc. People can be so insensitive.

God has allowed our struggle with infertlity to grow us and show us how to minister to others who experience it. We have many ladies in our church that are either primary or secondary infertile.

while I've never experienced m/c or stillbirth, seems the pain of it goes hand in hand with infertility. There is defitely empathy there for those ladies as well.

Rebecca said...

Wow. I'm late on the uptake with this, since I haven't peeked in for awhile, but the title caught my eye, since we just suffered a miscarriage this week. My blog post about it is here:

Just reading over these comments, it strikes me yet again how very nearly a universal experience this is for couples.

One other thing I would add: mothers receive far more support than fathers after a miscarriage.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your site and comments. One of our sisters in the congregation just had a miscarriage. she had 2 before she renewed her faith. Now, she lost the third one. we prayed and prayed, she still miscarried. She does not want to see us, we text each other, but she wants to be alone. I told her it's ok to be sad and angry, I don't have an explanation for what happened. But serve God anyway. I'm grieving,I don't know what else to do. thank you for all your comments.Blessings