Why the Church Needs to Talk about Miscarriage

by Ciera Horton McElroy | May 05, 2021

On March 25—with 65,000 new cases of coronavirus in the United States—my husband and I ventured from our apartment. He took his fishing gear in a backpack. I leashed the dog. We emerged into the cool evening as the sun rosied the sky. 

That day, we’d begun the arduous process of calling family. To me, this felt right. I needed people to know. I could handle the sadness, but I couldn’t handle the secret. When friends texted to see how quarantine was going, I ached to tell them: I am not fine. I am not fine at all. But not because of this. 

Across the green, a small child practiced tee-ball. Two girls played badminton without a net. My dog strained to chase them as my husband cast his line. 

This was my first pregnancy, lost one week into quarantine. I was 24 years old, healthy, trying to conceive. 

I made the decision to post openly about the loss, mostly for selfish reasons. I wanted to know I wasn’t alone. I yearned to hear stories from other women who’d made it through and survived. 

Stories came. So did the strangeness of making the private public.  

Many Christian friends meant well. They sent messages asking, “How can I pray for you?” when all I wanted was the reassurance that someone was praying for me. People asked, “How are you?” instead of simply saying, “I’m here if you need me.” Some told me my miscarriage made them afraid they would miscarry. Someone else suggested I look into hormone therapy for the next pregnancy. (Implying, to me, that this could have been prevented.) The worst were those who tried to reassure me that my child was in heaven, that I’d hold my baby one day. That brought the hot tears back every time—because I wanted to hold my baby here. I wanted my baby in the womb, still, gaining mass and muscle inside me.  

For a demographic that cares so much about ending abortion, where is the outcry and empathy for women like me? Women whose much-wanted babies die inside them for no apparent reason. 

What did not help, in my circumstance, is that miscarriage was a long-dormant fear. My mother miscarried her fourth child when she was five months along. I was nine, old enough to understand that I was a bystander to the deepest, most private grief. I witnessed the tears and watched as she stored the baby things. But I did not understand how a baby could be there one minute and then gone. Still, I do not.  

I know from watching my mother—and now from other women—that many, if not most, endure this loss in silence. Their only companion is a significant other.  

Perhaps stemming from a deep-seeded sense of modesty and patriarchy, Christians are often averse to conversations about women’s bodies and experiences. This includes not only sexual intimacy and pleasure but infertility, pregnancy, menstruation, trauma and abuse, miscarriage, postpartum recovery, and more.  

Growing up I heard many a sermon about the dangers of sex or the importance of not giving away my “gift.” I cannot recall even one about pregnancy loss, despite the fact that nearly one fifth of known pregnancies end in unexplained termination.  

Yet how many grieving mothers does Scripture name? Every Sunday, there are millions of women in our pews who have either buried a child, endured a D&C, or watched tissue leave their body in terrible bloody pieces. The ache for a dead child is something our God understands. 

Church, we need to do better.  

What if we stopped hiding women’s bodies and cared more about compassion? What if sermons told stories of lived physical experiences, of the way intimate loss can wreck and then transform your faith? What if the church was, again, a sanctuary in that true form of the word: a place to take refuge as you are, embodied and broken? 

Will you cry with us, Church? 

First, we need to remove the taboo. And second, we need to change what we say when we talk about miscarriage.  

Mourning mothers don’t need to hear Christian truisms about heaven or lines from a Hallmark card. We need to know that our suffering is seen. That it is valid. That it’s not too disturbing or offensive or indelicate to talk about. Therefore, the best Christian response to miscarriage, I believe, is one grounded in the scriptural tradition of lament. 

The poetry of the Word is rife with lament, and by this I mean true songs of sorrow, those moments when we witness David scream in agony or see Solomon bemoan the weight of the world.  

Consider Psalm 13: 

 "Long enough, God— 
      you’ve ignored me long enough. 
I’ve looked at the back of your head 
     long enough. Long enough 
I’ve carried this ton of trouble,
     lived with a stomach full of pain."

The laments of Scripture are anything but family friendly. The poets do not hold back. They name their pain. They show anger at God—fear, resentment, anxiety, and a deep, hollow sadness. The beauty of these passages is their very realness. Christians don’t know how to talk about miscarriage, too, because we’ve forgotten how to really talk about grief. There is no clean church answer.  

Telling a grieving mother that her baby is in a better place does nothing to ease the agony of pregnancy loss. What women do need—or at least, what I needed—was a place to speak my suffering. This kind of loss is grotesque and messy. It’s uncomfortable to talk about. It’s embarrassing, even, to admit that you’re trying to conceive. But what’s worse is feeling that you must grieve in silence, alone. 

N.T. Wright wrote for TIME magazine last year, “The point of lament, woven thus into the fabric of the biblical tradition, is not just that it’s an outlet for our frustration, sorrow, loneliness and sheer inability to understand what is happening or why. The mystery of the biblical story is that God also laments.” 

Ours is a God who mourns with us: like a friend who visits and listens, who is content to simply bring coffee and be still. 

Miscarriage is a uniquely intimate and raw pain. At the same time, it is distinctly not unique. Millions of women have experienced this loss before me, and millions will follow. I wish this on no woman. But I have learned that this ache for a child is truly an ancient longing. And I’ve learned through my own pain that God meets us in the darkness: our Lord hears the cries of an anguished and bleeding mother. 

God heard Hannah (1 Samuel 1:11):  

Oh, God-of-the-Angel-Armies,
If you’ll take a good, hard look at my pain, 
If you’ll quit neglecting me and go into action for me 
By giving me a son, 
I’ll give him completely, unreservedly to you
.” 

God heard Isaac and Rebekah (Genesis 25:21) and granted them twin boys. 

And, in one of my favorite verses, “God remembered Rachel.” (Genesis 30:22) 

I believe God remembered me. Even when I didn’t feel it. Even when the agony of miscarrying in my one-bedroom apartment during a pandemic seemed too much to bear. Even as I became pregnant again shortly thereafter, left to fear now for this baby, too. God remembered me.  

And I believe our calling as the church is to remember the women who grieve, too. Part of affirming a vision for biblical equality is creating space for the invisible mother. One in five women will endure a miscarriage; one in eight will encounter more permanent struggles with infertility.  

The odds are high that someone you know has miscarried or will. So how will you meet them in their suffering? Will you simply witness their grief or will you lament, too? 

Here are some ways you can support women who’ve miscarried: 

Bring her a meal.  

Just pray for her. 

Buy a copy of Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist. 

Send a letter or text, telling them that they are loved and not forgotten. 

Set up a GoFundMe (with their permission) to help with medical expenses. 

Reach out to grieving mothers on difficult days like Mother’s Day. 

Offer to listen if she needs it. Remind her that you’re there. 

 

Photo by Jonathan Cooper on Unsplash.


 

Related Reading

My Body Kept Score: What Purity Culture Didn’t Know about Trauma
Imitating the God Who Carries Us
The Mother of God and the Female Body