“Coping with the Heartache of Miscarriage,” Ensign, July 1989, 57–58
The contractions began late one night in July. Ross, my husband, carried me quickly to the car, and then we sped to the hospital.
It was too early for labor pains. Our Christmas baby wasn’t due to be born for another five months.
Ross stopped the car at the emergency room entrance. Racing around to my door, he quickly took me in his arms and hurried inside where a nurse directed him to a small, sterile room.
With previous births, Ross had been at my side, encouraging me through the difficult stages of labor. But this time he was a silent observer in the corner of the room as the doctor and nurse took over.
Several minutes later, as the doctor slipped off his sterile gloves, he told me to view my miscarriage philosophically. But I was confused.
“Where’s my baby?” I asked. “I want to see my baby.”
“You wouldn’t want to see this,” the doctor said as he handed the nurse a covered stainless steel tray.
The realization that our baby was dead came slowly. I didn’t want to believe it. Just twelve hours before, I had been working on a baby quilt. I was numb.
Later that night, I left the hospital with empty arms. I felt as though I had been robbed.
Once I was back home, well-meaning friends and family told me to be glad the baby hadn’t lived because it probably would have been deformed. Others said, “Don’t feel bad; you can always have another one.” I felt they thought my husband and I could get over this experience quickly and be happy again. But rather than being comforted, I was overcome with an intense feeling of loss. For months I felt anger, guilt, and depression, yet everyone seemed to tell me I had no reason to grieve.
Society seems to allow parents whose newborn infants die after a month or two to mourn. Parents of stillborns (a child sufficiently developed to survive outside the uterus but for some reason has died before birth) are allowed even less. Those who have miscarriages (a spontaneous termination of a pregnancy before the fetus is sufficiently developed) are often dismissed as not needing to mourn at all.
My arms ached to hold my baby. I often thought I heard an infant crying in the distance. I felt vulnerable and afraid that I might lose another child. During my four-month pregnancy, I had planned our baby’s future. When the baby died, that future died.
Many parents are surprised by the emotions they feel after a miscarriage. They often feel shock and disbelief. Life seems unreal for a time. They express depression, anger (directed at themselves, their mates, a doctor, God, or even life in general), guilt, irritability, lack of interest in normal activities, sadness. Many experience irregularities in sleeping or eating. Some feel anger or sadness in the presence of babies or pregnant women.
“Many people avoid you or say things that make you feel worse,” Janet, a young woman struggling to begin her family, said. “They try to be helpful and tell you how long to wait before you try again. All I wanted was someone to hug me and sympathize. I just wanted someone to be there and care.”
Brenda, the mother of two preschoolers, lost two babies. “After each miscarriage,” she recalls, “I was in the hospital for several hours. They put me in a room right across the hall from the nursery. Watching the nurses bring the healthy, beautiful babies to their mothers was torture. I wanted to die.”
“I had six miscarriages in a row,” Janet said. “To me it was still a baby, even if it was only an inch long. It hurts to lose a baby. Every time this happened, my doctor acted like it was nothing terribly important and simply said to get pregnant again. He told me that he had a patient who had lost thirteen babies. I guess that was supposed to make me feel better, but it didn’t.”
“There is really no answer to the question why,” says Dr. Steven G. Nance, a Payson, Utah, obstetrician. “There are certain specific medical problems we know of that cause miscarriages and stillbirths. In many cases, especially in the first few months, we attribute the fault to some kind of chromosomal abnormality in the fetus. Those that occur later in the pregnancy when the baby appears normal are often attributed to some maternal factor, such as uterine abnormalities. But in the vast majority of cases, there is no obvious reason.”
Whatever the cause, the end result is the same. Many children who were eagerly expected never survive.
“It isn’t the woman’s fault,” Dr. Nance states. “She shouldn’t blame herself. She did not cause it to happen. In the majority of cases, the problem won’t reoccur. But for those who have multiple miscarriages, it can be particularly discouraging.”
Mothers and fathers may bond differently with their baby before birth and feel the loss differently. Men often feel they must be strong. But the more a couple can discuss their feelings, the less painful their grieving will be.
“After my wife had a miscarriage, I felt empty inside,” says Bob, a young husband. “Later, my concerns were for my wife and her pain. She was constantly tired and emotionally drained. I didn’t know how to help her. In addition, I found that friends and family didn’t expect me to grieve. I guess they figured it was my wife who had carried the baby and gone through the miscarriage. I felt like I was on the outside. But I felt the loss deeply, too. I kept wondering why it had happened. It was a tremendous letdown.”
“I think many men seem to figure that a miscarriage is not a big issue with them,” states Mark, another father, after a miscarriage. “After all, it was their wife who went through it, not them. But it would have helped me so much if someone had acknowledged that it was hard for me, too.”
Many parents wonder if a stillborn or miscarried child should be entered on the family group record. Val D. Greenwood, manager of special services in the Church Temple Department, states, “If a stillbirth takes place after the parents are sealed in the temple, those children can be identified on the record as being born in the covenant. Miscarriages, however, are usually not recorded on family group records.”
Knowing that many parents will face a miscarriage or a stillbirth sometime during their childbearing years doesn’t make it any easier to experience. Generally, the grieving process moves slowly from shock and numbness, through searching and yearning, to disorientation and depression, and finally to acceptance and an ability to enjoy life without feeling guilty.
While I was grieving, I found great assurances in the words of the Savior. On one of my loneliest, blackest days, I read in the New Testament: “I will not leave you comfortless. … Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:18, 27.)
“I have never forgotten any of my five stillborn children,” Mary, a librarian near retirement, said. “I will always wonder what they would have been like. I can never get over the losses; but with the passing of time, I have learned to live with what happened.”
“After my miscarriages, I went into a real depression,” recalls Brenda. “But after it lifted, I felt like I could go through almost anything. God didn’t cause it to happen, and neither did I. But I know I have grown because of the experience.”
After six miscarriages, Janet had a successful pregnancy and delivery. “I decided it was all worth it when we finally got our little boy,” she says. “We named him Matthew because that name means ‘gift from God.’”
It has been ten years since that dark July night when we lost our baby. Since that time, we have lost yet another child and now have seven living children. But my heart still aches as I remember our two babies. It’s hard to say good-bye when you never had the chance to say hello. I may never be able to hold them in my arms, but I will always hold them in my heart. They are part of me. Because of them, I walk softer. Life is more fragile, more precious.
The other night my four-year-old son cried out to me from his room. I quickly crawled out of my bed and went to his side.
“What’s the matter, Joseph?” I asked as I entered his dark room.
“I’m so scared,” he replied.
I held him in my arms to reassure him, and we talked. Soon he settled back in his bed with his arms around his teddy bear.
“If you need me again, just call me and I’ll come,” I said as I kissed him on the cheek and stroked his shoulder.
He was content.
I, too, have cried out in my dark nights, and He has been there. I don’t have all the answers, but I have peace, the peace that someday I will know and understand, the peace that only the Savior can give. And so I am content.