When You've Lost a Child or Know Someone Who Has

October is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. It is estimated that one in four women/couples suffer miscarriage, stillbirth or loss of an infant. Although many are affected, few are talking about it.  With this in mind, I am re-posting an article from last year that struck a chord with many, as we’ve all either lost a child or know someone who has.  I hope and pray my own personal words will give you a bit of insight and encouragement.

October 2016

This week didn’t turn out like I thought it would…at all.  We’ve all experienced it… you enter the week with a plan, particular duties, issues to be addressed and pleasures to be experienced. Your “to-do” list may include everything from the mundane to the spectacular.  That’s how I thought my week would be.  However, my family was thrown a bit of a bombshell that none of us expected, knocking the wind out of us, causing us to call out to God in a way that we hadn’t planned.

In the early morning hours of this past Monday, our oldest son called.  Of course, when someone calls you in the middle of the night, it’s usually not good news. I awoke to my husband tenderly praying into his cellphone, asking God for peace, comfort, and healing.  I looked over at my own cell phone…3 missed calls.  Why hadn’t I remembered to turn my ringer back on after church?! My heart sank to my stomach.   Stan rolled over and said, “Rachael lost the baby.” 

An avalanche of feelings washed over me – my mind, heart and stomach all feeling the shock. This precious grandbaby, whom I had decided was a girl, and prayed for her, using the name "Finley," had lost her little life.  Sadness overwhelmed me, bringing back feelings of my own personal loss years ago.  Immediately, my mind went to what both Rachael and Adam would have to endure over these next days, weeks, months, and even years.  Honestly, I would do absolutely anything to spare them, but knew I couldn’t.  This was their loss and their journey.

My own journey began in April of 1985, when as a newlywed, just 13 months into marriage, I was told my baby had no life.  I was 6 ½ months pregnant and pretty large.  I had no idea what was ahead - lots of tears, anger, frustration, fights with my husband, self-blame, and introspection, trying to figure out how the heck this happened. 

I was forced to endure a 26 hour labor, resulting in a beautiful, lifeless, crystal blue-eyed little boy named Charles.  We numbly walked through planning a funeral, secretly wondering if others would understand why we were choosing this type of closure.

Then, as if that was not enough, “Mother Nature” dealt me the cruelest of blows, as my body responded as if I had given birth to a healthy, living child.  My milk came in.  It was beyond devastating. I did everything I could to make it stop. There was no baby to feed. In a distorted way, I felt like a fraud.

When I returned to work at the bank, customers greeted me with smiles and “You had the baby!” How did I even begin to explain? Each encounter usually ended up with my running to the bathroom in tears.  I felt no one understood, as no one in my family had ever endured such a thing.  Quite honestly, losing a child had never even been on my radar either.

What had I done wrong?  Did I eat or drink something I shouldn’t have? Had I failed to pray or believe enough?  Was I so weak, that I became fodder for the enemy? And finally…was this punishment for all of the terrible things I had done as a teenager?  Every sin I ever committed tormented me.  I would have given anything to do things over.

Then one day, as I was crying (yet again), my sweet dad spoke these words….“Cammie, God didn’t take your baby to punish you.  The enemy didn’t take your baby because you’re weak.  You lost your baby because we live in a sinful, imperfect world, and our bodies fail at times.  It just happened, Cammie.  It. Just. Happened.”  I remember breaking down, feeling like a thousand pounds had been lifted from my shoulders.  Of all people, he got it. 

God met me that day. He loved me, sent others to encourage me, and gave me hope as only He could.  He healed me physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally.  He birthed a sensitivity in me towards others who have been forced to walk this same path.  He didn’t waste my pain. 

To be honest, even after 33 years, I think of my sweet boy every single day.  In fact, tears come as I type these words.  I know that I will always love him, miss him and grieve the loss of him.  I’ll forever be part of a group of women who know this exact pain…a group, quite honestly, I never wanted to be a part of.

In 1988, President Ronald Reagan declared October as National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month saying, "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." Thank you for validating us, President Reagan.  I’ve always loved you.

With this in mind, I want to say to those who have suffered in this way…your loss is very real, as your baby was a very real, precious child.  Even if you never had another living child, you are a mom or dad.  God loves you and He loves that little one.  Your hurt and pain is real…and it’s okay to feel them. In fact, you need to feel and process through them.

The day after we received the news of Adam and Rachael’s loss, when speaking to Rachael, one of the first things I said was, “Be aware.  A lot of good-meaning people are going to say a lot of really stupid things.  Give them and yourself grace.”

With this in mind, I would say this… 

BE SENSITIVE AND TENDER WITH YOUR WORDS AND ACTIONS. In all that we do, we must validate the loss of this precious life and the fact that what this mom and dad are going through is very real. It doesn’t matter if the pregnancy was in its 3rd or 40th week.  Pain is pain, loss is loss, and we all hurt as much as we humanly can. Never discount another person's feelings.

DON’T TRY TO FIX IT/THINK BEFORE YOU SPEAK.  Release yourself from saying or doing the “right thing” in an effort to make everyone feel better.  A good rule is: the simpler, the better.  “I’m so sorry for this horrible loss.  I’m praying for you,” is perfect.  Such platitudes as “At least you have one child already,” “You’re young.  You can have another,” "This is God's way of taking care of things," or “God just needed another angel in heaven,” are insulting, hurtful, and non-validating. 

MEALS, CARDS, FLOWERS AND ASSISTANCE, in most cases, are an incredible blessing.  Not only do these things practically help, but they are validating – lovingly making the statement that this was a real child and this was a real loss.

PRAYER IS THE GREATEST GIFT.  No one can heal a broken heart but God, and trust me, when this happens, your heart is completely broken - both the mom and dad.  When we go to Him on behalf of someone experiencing this loss, we are giving them the greatest, most valuable, and precious gift possible.  Pray it up!  Speak blessing, healing, health, wholeness, strength and HOPE.  This is where we can be most effective and express our love and sympathy the best.

As I see the word count on my computer escalate, I realize that this post is a great deal longer than normal. With this in mind, once again, I want to thank you for taking the time to read.  I know this is a very tender, emotional, real, and painful issue for many of us.  If that is the case for you, I pray you received validation and a bit of healing.  If you have been blessed to not have to walk this path, I pray you are encouraged to love those who have well.

Regardless, I pray you are blessed. Blessed by the fact that God loves us. He sees our pain.  He knows.  He will walk with us down any and all paths, and that there is hope…hope beyond our current challenges, pain and circumstances.

Much love,