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When I worked as a hospital chaplain, I was called into a variety of rooms and circumstances. Some of the most heartbreaking were the phone calls that I received from the labor and delivery ward in the event of pregnancy loss. I saw the broken heart and dreams in the parent’s eyes. Sometimes I saw the baby lying motionless, and I wept tears I believe Jesus would weep in those bitter moments.
I still remember one afternoon when I got a call from the labor and delivery nursing staff. They requested a chaplain because a mother was clutching her stillborn child and refusing to let it go. It had been some time, and the staff was getting concerned. I walked into the room to find the mother nestling her child in a swaddling blanket. The father was bent over the bed.
As I approached the bed, the infant under the blanket came into view. It was neither fully grown nor fully formed. There were hollowed sockets where eyes should have been. While the child did not have skin or a defined skeleton, the mother clung to its weight. She pulsed with an unconditional, fierce, yet tender love for her child. It was a moment of insurmountable love and utter brokenness.
While God is a god of life and wholeness, our world knows death and brokenness too. We have a call as people of faith to come alongside those who are hurting, to be the hands and feet of Jesus, and to plant seeds of hope and light in the blackness of night. When the pain is all too real, there’s a salve that’s all too needed. Brokenness can be mended by intentional community, and a community done in Jesus’ name is that much stronger.
I rested my hand on the blanket and said a prayer for the child. I proclaimed God’s love for the child and listened to the parents share and weep. After a time, we performed a bedside liturgy in which the three of us prayed. Following the liturgy the parents did say goodbye, although I’m sure their child and their grief lives on in their hearts.
While the situation I encountered in the hospital was not typical, pregnancy loss is sadly not uncommon. While stillbirths occur about one in every 160 pregnancies in the United States, the rate of miscarriage is roughly one in every four known pregnancies. That means miscarriage will statistically touch our lives either personally or through someone we know.
Its prevalence demands that we know how to sensitively and effectively handle it. Yet what tends to happen is that it is not mentioned or addressed at all. People who are grieving are wary to share in their vulnerable state. Others are uncomfortable dealing with loss in general.
What’s needed are some simple guidelines for creating a safe place to share and usher in healing. For those of you who are looking to be that safe place, here are six ways that you can support a friend who is grieving pregnancy loss:
- Say, “I want to listen,” and mean it. People who are grieving often want to share but struggle finding someone who will really listen. Allowing someone the space to share without any agenda of your own can be healing. Grief needs expression.
- Keep your comments simple. Don’t attempt to lift the person up by searching for a life lesson or the silver lining. Instead, offer comments such as, “I’m sorry for your loss” or “I can only imagine your grief.” Comments such as these are often better received.
- Demonstrate your care through continued action. Send a card, make a phone call, or offer a prayer. Remember that grief is a process, not a single event. Follow up.
- If you pray, ask for prayer requests. Instead of praying what you think would be helpful, allow the person who is hurting to voice her needs instead. Doing so not only alerts you to clues in phrasing your prayer with sensitivity, but it also opens the door for further support. Grief is complex; it entails journeying through many emotions and can influence a web of relationships. Allow your friend to express her needs before lifting concerns to God. In doing so, you help serve as a bridge between her pain and the Healer.
- Gently suggest naming the child. In my chaplaincy training, we were told to encourage mothers who had a pregnancy loss to name that child. Naming actually aids the grieving process as loved ones are now able to grieve someone. It also symbolizes the full dignity of the life, and on that note, can be healing indeed.
- If appropriate, read comforting scriptures. Consider sharing this liturgy. It’s one that I have performed before, such as in the hospital situation above, and it has been well-received. It is composed of pertinent scripture and prayer, like Matthew 18:10–14, where Jesus said, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven. What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.”
With these six ways to support a friend in mind, you can be a helpful presence for those who are grieving pregnancy loss. Don’t be afraid to reach out and try—what matters most is showing you truly care.
This article first ran on iBelieve.com on July 20, 2015
Question: What has brought you comfort in times of grief or difficulty?
Challenge: Review this list and think of how you can use its principles to address difficult situations your friends or family members are going through with more sensitivity and love. Make a goal to apply one of these suggestions to the situation to offer comfort and peace to your friend.
Edited by Becky Fawcett and Amanda Lewis.
Image from Shutterstock; graphics by Julie Finlayson.