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Surprised by Miscarriage: The Helplessness, Hurt, and Healing

The loss of our first baby taught my husband and me some powerful spiritual lessons.


by Kay Mathwig

The doctor's clinical tone failed to relieve my fear. My voice trembled as I replaced the phone.

"They can't do anything. If it's happening, they can't stop it. They'll check for the baby's heartbeat Monday morning."

I lay on the couch and propped up my feet. It was going to be a long weekend. My husband's strained expression matched mine.

"Has the bleeding stopped?"

"I think so. But I'm afraid to stand."

Jake sighed and bowed his head. Then he looked at me. "The team needs the van fixed for their game tomorrow. But I hate to leave you…"

"Will you be near the phone?"

"Absolutely. And I'll hurry back if you need anything."

When he left, my buzzing thoughts invaded the silence:

This can't be happening again. Why, God? Is it because I lost my temper earlier today? If You'll let me have this baby, I won't argue with Jake anymore. I'll clean the house better. I'll be a terrific wife and mother.

Great expectations

The first time Jake and I discovered we were expecting, miscarriage never crossed our minds. We were young and healthy, with wholesome lifestyles. It seemed most of the other married couples at the Bible college we attended had perfect pregnancies and deliveries.

As Jake and I drove to my brother's house in Florida during Christmas break, we discussed baby names and ate at restaurants that satisfied my food cravings. My brother's wife, Paula, was also pregnant. We had a fun time with them and planned to leave just after my birthday.

Jake granted my birthday request: a visit to the salon. As the beautician gave me a permanent, she said, "You're twenty-one today? Where will you go drinking tonight?"

"Nowhere. I'm pregnant. Besides, drinking is…"

"Congratulations!"

For the next three hours we chatted about labor and newborns. As I left, she hollered, "Take good care of that baby!"

Minutes later, at my brother's house, I started spotting.

"It might mean nothing," Paula said, "but I'll call my obstetrician."

She booked an appointment for the next day.

This can't be real

The birthday dinner and cherry cake Jake had bought stuck in my throat, but I tried to mask my inner uneasiness and smile for the pictures. As I vomited an hour later, I hoped the nausea was just "morning sickness"—proof that everything was fine.

Throughout the night I listened to hymns and talked to God and the baby. I thought deeply about unborn children who die before they see daylight.

Paula's doctor pointed to the ultrasound screen. "There's the embryo and placenta."

"Yes, I see! But…what's that big, black blob over there?" His facial lines deepened. "That's the bleeding."

I gasped. He continued, "There's no heartbeat. There should be one by now…"

The rest of the day was a blur of tears, denial, and decisions to be made. The doctor recommended a D and C, (dilation and curettage), a procedure that would clean out my womb so I could begin healing. Otherwise, the miscarriage might continue on our trip home, and infection might invade if my body didn't expel everything.

Confronted with evidence that the baby was no longer alive, we scheduled the D and C. As I stroked the silky leaves of the plant from my brother and Paula, I remembered that she had once miscarried, too.

I asked her, "What if someone thinks I caused this by getting my hair permed, or by traveling?"

She replied, "Then they're ignorant and don't know what they're talking about. You did nothing to cause this."

The outpatient surgery went quickly. Afterward, the doctor told me that the baby had stopped developing several weeks earlier.

Jake and I were in a state of suspended reality. The blow had struck quickly, and our bruises were still forming. For a time, we struggled out from under the sorrow. We laughed about the ridiculous hospital gown. We went shopping. Jake bought me new clothes, carefully avoiding the maternity section.

The next day, we began our trek home. Relentless cramping and bleeding began, forcing everything from my mind but the pain.

We stayed with another relative who was so helpful and well meaning that I ignored her quiet speculation: "Maybe it was all the traveling."

Finally, we were back to our apartment. The familiar surroundings drove home the point that we were now different.

Salt in the wound

We attended a basketball game on campus—our first public appearance since "it" happened. Tentatively, we entered the festive, noisy gymnasium. I couldn't get excited about the game, so I wandered toward the concession stand and into a group of women trading small talk. Suddenly one of them looked at me.

"You're pregnant, right?"

My face paled. I looked down. "Not anymore."

Awkward silence.

The small talk resumed.

I stumbled back to the bleachers. An acquaintance from church asked how I was. I told her about the miscarriage.

She said, "That's nothing. Jenny was five months along and had to be hospitalized three days before giving birth to her stillborn baby boy." Her voice sounded righteously indignant. "That was way worse."

My tears brimmed, but I suppressed the sobs until I was alone. Jake persuaded me to call Lisa, a kind woman from church who'd arranged meals for us. She helped unravel my tangled frustrations.

"You feel badly for Jenny, but her tragedy doesn't lessen your pain."

"Right," I said. "Otherwise it's like a grief competition, and only the biggest winner—or maybe I should say, loser—is allowed to cry."

Speaking with Lisa helped strengthen me for more comments from fellow students and church members:

"Did you lift something?"

"The baby probably had defects. A miscarriage is God's way of taking care of the problem."

"Miscarriages are so common, they're no big deal—every fifth pregnancy."

"At least now you know you can get pregnant."

The final straw was a neighbor who invited me over for tea: "Maybe you won't ever be able to have children … but some pregnant women are just careless: they go bowling, ride roller coasters, travel…"

I cut in, calmly: "My sister-in-law said that anyone who thinks I caused it is ignorant and doesn't know what they're talking about."

Her eyes widened. "Oh."

Words well spoken

Tired and listless, I became a junk-food hermit. Jake kept taking pictures of me lying on the couch, surrounded by candy bar wrappers and soda cans. He's giving me the attention he would've given our baby, I thought. It was sweet of him, but I wanted to get better. I didn't want to grow into my maternity clothes without being pregnant. I didn't want to dread the world outside my front door.

Help me make sense of this, God. Help me get over it.

Then the phone began ringing—four calls from different women, each with basically the same message: "I heard about your miscarriage. I'm sorry. I had one, too. Let me know if you want to talk about it."

Jenny was one of them. She never hinted that her pain was worse than mine. She was gracious and gentle. God used these women as a catalyst for my healing. Suddenly, I felt understood and supported.

A professor told me that the faculty had prayed for me in a meeting. The thought of those distinguished men and women doing that warmed me, and gave credence to the fact that my baby—however small—was important. I knew God had already begun to answer their prayer.

Prayer—no bargaining zone

My thoughts snapped back to the present as I lay on the couch, possibly facing the same set of circumstances.

I had to admit that Jake and I had grown because of the first miscarriage. Suffering had pushed us into greater intimacy with God and each other. We were more sensitive to the needs of others: we listened more than advised, and checked our urges to toss out quick judgments or formulas to those we rubbed shoulders with, including a post-abortive woman, an infertile couple, and a young man with mental problems.

Lord, You were with us last time, and You're with us now. I'm sorry for bargaining. We both know I'll never be perfect. Anyway, my performance has nothing to do with Your grace. Please let this baby be all right. Hold me together if it's not."

On Monday, Jake held my hand as I lay on the examining table. Speechless and breathless, we waited. The doctor placed the Doppler on my abdomen. Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh…

The sound of our baby's heartbeat transformed our tension into smiles.

© 2010 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

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