in honor of the babies we never got to hold

“Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month was first declared by President Ronald Reagan on October 25, 1988. On that day he said:
‘When a child loses his parent, they are called an orphan. When a spouse loses her or his partner, they are called a widow or widower. When parents lose their child, there isn’t a word to describe them.  This month recognizes the loss so many parents experience across the United States and around the world.  It is also meant to inform and provide resources for parents who have lost children due to miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, molar pregnancy, stillbirths, birth defects, SIDS, and other causes. Now, Therefore, I, Ronald Reagan, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim the month of October as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. I call upon the people of the United States to observe this month with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities.’”

Four and a half years ago, I joined the 25% of women who have experienced a miscarriage. “Experienced” is the word they use when you read statistics, but it sounds like such a cold, medical term for losing a person, a life that began and ended within your very own body.

My miscarriage occurred along with another medical complication that led from one emergency to another for several months. No one seemed to be sure what to do with me because of my HCG hormone level—the one that should have dropped when the pregnancy ended—and its stubborn refusal to fall to zero. For months, I had to have my blood drawn weekly to track the HCG level. I remember checking in at the hospital for this simple blood test. The woman who checked me in asked what I was there for. When I tried to explain without going into all of the confusing details that had been my life for the past weeks and months, she looked at me, pen poised in the air, unsure of what to write down. 

“So are you pregnant?”

I didn’t even know how to respond, trapped in the hell of being pregnant-but-not-pregnant. My grief had been shoved aside by my mounting anxiety after an emergency surgery, problems with anesthesia, injections of a chemo drug that made me sick and drastically slowed my recovery from surgery, blood test after blood test, and my doctor’s frustrating lack of confidence coupled with the concern that was written all over her face every time she spoke to me.

When my physical problems resolved at last and my body slowly began to normalize, the grief finally hit with the subtlety of a semi-truck. I hated the bitterness I felt when I saw other friends’ bellies swelling with the growth of healthy babies due to be born close to when mine should have been. I could hardly stand to be in the company of women who complained about the typical discomforts of a healthy pregnancy. I was ashamed of my bitterness and anger, but I couldn’t find a place to put them. I had become extremely anxious after the medical scares that had caused me to be overly in tune with and concerned about my body. I sought counseling but was annoyed with the way the therapists spoke to me and overwhelmed by the thought of trying to find a new one. I began to have frequent, unexplained crying spells and was shocked and ashamed when I was diagnosed with depression, along with the anxiety I had known was present.

Eventually, I found a therapist who was helpful. After much time had passed and my desire for another child eclipsed my fear, the Lord was gracious to bless us with a baby girl. She came to us just shy of a year after her brother should have been born. A small part of me felt guilty for my happiness as we rejoiced in this baby’s new life. 

“Am I so easily forgotten?” I imagined my son whispering.

Last spring, four years after my miscarriage, a friend gave me last-minute information about a women’s retreat called “The Power of Story.” I was just finishing up the first draft of my first book, so it seemed providential. We were instructed to bring an item with us that would help us tell about something significant to our personal life story.

From the moment I read the instructions, I knew what I was supposed to bring. I had just been writing about the story of my miscarriage, so it was fresh on my mind. The only tangible item I had from the baby I had lost was a onesie that I had made when I found out I was pregnant. I had intended to use it as a pregnancy announcement. It was a red onesie with the Dr. Seuss character “Thing 2” on it to match the “Thing 1” shirt I had made for my firstborn. After the miscarriage, I didn’t want to see it and be reminded of my loss, but I also couldn’t seem to part with it. I didn’t know what to do with it, so I had shoved it away in a dark corner of my closet. 

It seemed like such a dark and heavy thing to bring with me to talk to a room full of strangers at a women’s retreat, but I could think of nothing else. I kept putting it off, hoping I would come up with another idea. 

Minutes before I needed to leave for the retreat, I gave in, mostly because I had no other ideas. I got the onesie out of my closet, when suddenly, it hit me. This onesie was not complete on its own. It didn’t belong by itself, and loss wasn’t the defining characteristic  of my motherhood. Though I had lost the baby, I was still his mother.

I’m the mother of THREE babies! I thought, I suppose for the first time ever. 

I ran around the house and through the garage like a wild woman, frantically pulling out old bins of baby clothes until I found two more onesies: one that had been my firstborn’s when she was a baby, and one that had been my second daughter’s. 

I took all three outfits together to that room full of strangers and told them about how God had transformed me through each of my three children. For the first time, I understood where my son’s onesie belonged. His memory, his onesie, belonged right between his siblings. The grief that I had shoved aside, mentally and even physically into a dark corner of my closet, seemed to come out for some fresh air. My sadness and bitterness had felt shameful before and I had sent them into hiding. Now, it felt like fragmented pieces of myself were integrating as I allowed myself to place his life into our family. Everything felt whole and right.

This month is complicated for me, as it is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month and also the month my second daughter was born. Isn’t that the way it usually goes, though? Joy and grief, pain and comfort, integration arising out of the fragmented pieces of brokenness, beauty for ashes. I’m still sad when I think of him… sad and grateful. He changed me and made me more whole, but I wish it had not been at the expense of his life. 

My feelings about it are still complex and jumbled at times, but I believe that God, the Creator of life, creates every life on purpose and is glorified in the creating. Today, I honor the son I never got to see but who affected me and shaped me profoundly as a mother. I honor his life and each life that was over after it had just begun. To you who are grieving, whether it is the loss of a pregnancy or a different loss, every one of your tears is precious to Jesus. May He bind up your broken heart, comfort you as you mourn, provide for you as you grieve, bestow on you a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy in stead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of despair. We, beloved, are oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of God’s splendor.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
    and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.

—Isaiah 61:3

6 responses to “in honor of the babies we never got to hold”

  1. Thank you for sharing your beautiful story. That takes bravery and a tender heart!


  2. Thanks so much for reading and for the encouragement, my friend!


  3. This is a beautiful post. I also lost a baby to miscarriage—my first—but too early to tell if it was a boy or girl. I remember the pain well, although it’s not sharp anymore. I can’t wait to meet him or her in Heaven!


  4. Thanks so much for reading and for sharing!❤️


  5. So beautifully expressed, Linds. So beautiful. I love you.


  6. Thanks Mama. I love you so.


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