To our great joy, Erin and I were expecting. We told Erin’s parents and grandparents, then my father, step-mother, sister, and grandmother. We called our brothers, and then drove to my mother’s to await her return from work.
While we waited, we lost our first child. After hours of tears at the hospital, we went home thinking everything had ended, but discovered it had only begun.
The support we received in the following days was amazingly absent.
We had a few phone calls and fewer cards. We knew we were loved, but those first few days our hearts ached from loneliness. We told loved ones we expected more; flowers and cards were sent and calls became more regular, but quickly it seemed everyone forgot.
It was and is and always will be hard to understand why no one else seemed to mourn. But we spent a month with our child; the most fortunate of our family knew for two days, and our church family knew not at all. Our child left no empty space at the table, no marker in a cemetery, only a hole in our hearts. But he was not our miscarriage; he was our child. As Christians we believe that God told us “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart” (Jer. 1:5). However, we quickly overlook those God knew only in the womb.
I am only able to air my frustrations because God has shown me the error of my ways. I used to think of miscarriage as a disappointment, not a death. I thought those referring to their unborn and lost child by name strange. I remembered the aborted but forgot the lost. I was neither compassionate nor understanding.
I now see compassion isn’t telling a mourning parent that “At least you know you can have kids” or it was “God’s will” and “you’ll get over it.” Compassion involves acknowledging the right of a griever to grieve. It requires looking in on mourning parents, months or even years later. Compassion involves relaying your disappointment and sadness about the child and acknowledging how hard the loss must be for the parents.
Understanding is recognizing a life as a life and a death as a death. It means acknowledging the death of an unborn child may be as difficult as the death of an aged grandparent. Understanding means seeing grief in a person, not depression and laziness. It means recognizing that parents whose children are no longer with them are parents nonetheless.
I ask not for mountains to move but for small things. Next time you dote on your child, gush over an addition to the nursery, or vote pro-life, think of parents who cannot dote and children who will never enliven the nursery. Remember that life on earth begins at conception and ends with death, but love begins long before and is without end.
Wm. Nathan Sneller and his wife, Erin, are members of Mayfair CRC in Grand Rapids, Mich. They are remembering their first child, Chatham, and expecting their second, God willing, in February.