When grief is a community affair...
I wasn’t expecting our last days in the US and our return to Peru to be so dramatic. We had a wonderful albeit super-busy time in the UK and US spending time with so many friends and family and making new friends. We were looking forward to coming back to Peru and beginning to process our trip!
However, the last few days of our time in the US, I ended up in the Emergency Room in Lexington, Kentucky, with horrendous abdominal pains. There I was eventually given some morphine and found out that I was pregnant and so they investigated first for an ectopic pregnancy and then appendicitis but found evidence for neither. (Our whole family was suffering from stomach related stuff so it seems I had a worse case of it.) Between day 1 and day 2 of the ER, the levels of the pregnancy hormones had gone down and I was sent home with an expected impending miscarriage, and told to have the levels rechecked when we arrived back in Peru.
During that time I was totally at peace - I had total confidence and hope in God - I had no idea whether the pregnancy would end in miscarriage or not, but I felt totally upheld in the prayers of our community back home and those other few people who knew.
Returning to Peru I got the pregnancy hormone levels tested again and they had gone up suggesting a viable pregnancy, but because of other signs of miscarriage I was told to be on total bed rest. Six days after returning from our trip, after nearly a week on bed rest, still surrounded by unpacked bags, I miscarried the baby on Sunday afternoon.
Initially I felt tearful, but peaceful, but as I sat 24 hours later on my own I could feel the familiar feeling of grief coming upon me. There is something about grief - when it hits you, you can’t escape the wave of emotions that come.
And that is what I have realized is so difficult about the grieving process - to engage with it is a humbling process. To find yourself unable to stop the tears; or to find yourself strong and emotionless when others expect the tears. To not know how to respond to the hugs - to melt in and sob uncontrollably or to half-heartedly refuse to fully except the love so well-meant and so create a moment so awkwardly expressed. To feel the need to reassure others you are alright. To feel the need to show others you are not alright.
And personally the grief brought back a flood of feelings from when we lost our son Solomon at 17 weeks pregnant 4 years ago: the deep inner desire to be comforted like a child, the foggy-numbness that surrounds my thoughts. All of a sudden those feelings which were from an era past came running full speed back into the present with the impact of a car speeding full-speed into a brick wall. And this time I found myself holding back - I felt like I had lived a grief, and been there and done that and overcome, and I didn’t want to humble myself back into the process once again - but yet knowing that pushing all the feelings away would only push them deep. What came so easily last time - leaning into Him has come so difficult this time.
One of the things about grief and especially miscarriage is that in general people don’t know how to respond. And the not knowing how to respond often either leads to people staying away (or staying away after an initial ‘I’m sorry’,) or it can lead to lots of awkward interactions. And to be honest, I felt selfish to desire to express the grief in our community. It feels selfish to ask for prayers for us again. Once again, engaging with grief has been humbling: a laying ourselves raw before our family here and asking once again for them to lift us up and carry us through in prayer.
Normally we would not have shared so quickly about the pregnancy with all of our community, but because of the unknown stomach pains the whole of the community became aware within hours of us finding out. They all prayed for the life of the baby, they were all concerned for me and had hope with us as it looked like a viable pregnancy. Because the community was so involved, when I miscarried, there was no choice but to also announce the news.
I may be wrong, but I think that one of the hardest things about a miscarriage is that it is a death of a person who has not yet been welcomed or recognized within a community. Apart from for the mother, there is nothing tangible to build relationship with. As a result, a miscarriage is something that is often felt deeply by the mother but little recognized by wider society, and because it is little recognized by society, I think women often feel silly grieving for something so unseen.
This week I was aware that how we were grieving and responding to this loss was setting a precedent for others in the community about the value of grief after miscarriage. At times this week from the outside I probably seemed totally fine, and on the inside I felt totally fine too. At other times my reactions probably seemed strange and foreign and others had no idea whether to leave me alone or draw close.
We are leading leaders and future leaders and as well as teaching them how to celebrate, it felt like God was also asking us to lead them in responding to miscarriage and grief.
We were also aware that even though the loss was from my body, the loss was a loss for the community and I wanted recognize that: the children of fellow pregnant mothers will not have this baby as a playmate. The christmas table will not have one more chair squeezed around it. Come June next year, a baby will not be handed from arm to arm and cooed over by the ladies on a Sunday morning. A toddler will not be walked around by older brothers and sisters and by any young girl who can win them over with smiles and kindness.
Therefore, we decided to hold a short thanksgiving service today. We invited everyone in our community and asked them to bring a real or paper flower with them to lay under our peach tree. Shaun led the time, and talked about how symbolic the fruit tree is - that there will be fruit that comes as a result of this loss - such is our Father that redemption will be had. One by one, flowers were placed under the tree and some people brought Bible passages, words of encouragement and prayers. Jose comically introduced the baby to different members of the community and talked about how much we are looking forward to meeting him or her and share eternity together. We ended the time together singing ‘One Thing Remains’ which in our Spanish translation is called ‘He continues being Him’ and then shared chocolate together we had brought from our trip in the US!
And as I looked at the flowers under the tree, I gave thanks today because a small redemption has happened since the last time we lost a child four years ago. Whereas last time it was a grief in many ways so private and many times lonely, this time the grief is one shared in community and recognised in community and surrounded by so many.
I have shared this with you all today to highlight the power of the recognition of a miscarried child. I have a hope that maybe a mother who has miscarried, or a friend of a bereaved family might find a way for their community to recognise a miscarried child. But, however you decide to grieve, fellow mother, I want you to know that your child is not forgotten, no matter how early miscarried, and is worthy to be recognised. And your child is not forgotten either by our Father, but fully recognized and welcomed into their heavenly home.
And I am thankful for the life that was given us, albeit for such a short time. And now I know that another child awaits me in eternity, and that fills me with joy and peace.