This post is written in observance of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month (October) and World Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day (October 15).
Almost one in four pregnancies result in loss.
Cami Dager is the multi-media news and information editor for Mennonite Church USA. She and her husband, George, have a blended family, with four adult children and two grandchildren. Their son Stanley died at birth on December 9, 1993.
When people ask me how many children I have, I usually hide behind humor as I smile and say, “It depends on how you count them.” Do they mean how many biological children I have? Do they mean how many children in our blended family? Do I dare tell them about our baby boy in heaven? Somehow, that question never gets easier.
As a newly married couple, George and I desperately wanted to have a child together. After several painful years of infertility, we finally got the good news that we were expecting!
I launched into “nesting” mode. I read books on pregnancy, embraced maternity clothing, decorated the nursery and babbled to anyone who would listen about my hopes, dreams and plans for this little life inside of me. And, our precious gift was due in December. Could anything be more perfect? We couldn’t wait.
It was an uneventful pregnancy. But, about two weeks before my due date, my doctor noticed something was wrong. That evening, December 9, 1993, our son was born and died due to a cord complication. We named him Stanley, after my husband’s late grandfather. He had blonde hair, blue eyes and crooked pinky fingers like his dad.
Our family was devastated. The next day was my baby shower. After spending a tear-filled night at the hospital, my mother had the awful task of calling everyone to tell them her grandson had died.
My recovery was emotionally difficult. It was Christmas, usually my favorite time of year. Surrounded by bucolic images of a young mother, Mary, cradling her newborn son, I was bitter that I didn’t have a baby to hold.
People’s reactions to our loss varied. Many were compassionate and thoughtful. One out-of-state friend arranged for our local supermarket to deliver prepared meals. My cousin offered to redecorate our Noah’s ark-themed nursery. A co-worker proactively told my work associates and even the owner of the local sandwich shop about our loss, so I would be spared the dreaded question, “What did you have?”
Unfortunately, some friends shied away from us or broke ties, because they didn’t know how to respond. In truth, we didn’t either.
During those first few months, my emotions ping-ponged from sadness to overwhelming grief to outright, screaming-in-the-car anger at God. How could God do this to us?! To our baby?! I was ashamed that I had these thoughts. I felt so alone. I felt that even God had abandoned me.
I journaled. George and I attended a pregnancy loss support group. I tried to exercise and eat right to shed the weight that reminded me of all I had lost.
Several months later while I was still raging at God, a song came on the radio that reminded me that death was not part of God’s plan – and that God knew exactly how I felt. God understood what it was like to watch his son die. And because of that painful sacrifice, I could hold onto the promise of someday cradling my precious boy again. It was a profound “God moment” amid my grief.
I realized that God hadn’t abandoned me. But I had railed against him. Could there be a pathway back?
A faith-based book on pregnancy loss helped me put my fear in perspective. The book used the analogy of a toddler who, in anger, pounds their fists against their parent’s legs and says, “I hate you!” The parent understands that the child is hurting and loves them despite their emotional outburst. This has been a good lesson for me.
God understands. God is there. I rested then, as now, in the scriptures that tell us that nothing can separate us from God’s love (Romans 8:38-39).
As we observe Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, I encourage you to step beyond discomfort to reach out to those who have lost a child or grandchild – whether an early miscarriage, an infant or a child lost through abortion. Walk with them in the moment. If the loss was a while ago, let them know you remember and care. Give them space to talk about their precious child. Remind them of God’s love. Love them.
And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow — not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. -Romans 8:38-39
Resources on infant loss:
Empty Arms: Coping With Miscarriage, Stillbirth and Infant Death By Sherokee Ilse – A book for newly bereaved parents
March of Dimes – Resources for infant and pregnancy loss
Helping parents whose baby has died – An online guide by March of Dimes
The Compassionate Friends – Bereavement loss support for parents with resources for employers, friends and co-workers