The topic of miscarriage is one that is still largely taboo in our culture. It has only been in recent months that women and men have come out of the woodwork to publicly share their grief and anguish at the loss of an unborn child. Their bravery is often met with scorn, derision, or apathy.
I know, because I am one of these women. I have had four miscarriages. The most recent occurred just a month ago.
The sad reality is that many people are either afraid or unprepared to deal with the grief of miscarriage publicly. In a culture that lauds abortion on demand and dehumanizes the unborn child, this is understandable. Why talk about it? Until our society acknowledges the humanity of the unborn child, the pain of parents who lose their children before birth will continue to be ignored.
My Battle with Recurrent Miscarriage
My husband and I have one living daughter, and we have lost four unborn children in the first trimester. Each time, we have shared our pregnancies with family and friends immediately upon receiving positive pregnancy tests. It seemed completely natural to share the joy of our pregnancies, since a new life was created each time. A unique person of great dignity and worthy of celebration was coming into the world. Yet our openness meant that we shared the heartbreaking news of losing a child on four different occasions.
I cannot say that I knew the risks of miscarriage with my first pregnancy. It did not become a reality until we lost our daughter’s twin, and then we began down the path of recurrent miscarriage. Most doctors do not begin testing until two or three miscarriages occur. This makes it difficult for families to get answers early on in order to prevent recurrent miscarriage. After my third miscarriage, I went through a myriad of tests with a Catholic physician trained in Natural Procreative Technology (NaPro) and discovered that I have estrogen and progesterone deficiencies, which are usually treatable. For me, however, the treatment has not yet made a difference. I lost my most recent child while on natural progesterone and HCG injections.
Even after our first loss, we continued to believe we should celebrate each child, no matter how brief his or her life may be. Our grief at the loss of each child has been profound, but it has also served as a reminder that each human being is a gift from the moment of conception until natural death. Sharing our joy and sorrow helps bring a culture of life to a world dwelling in death. We rejoice and defend all human life, and we suffer with those who are grieving. The Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith described the dignity of the unborn this way in Donum Vitae:
Thus the fruit of human generation, from the first moment of its existence, that is to say from the moment the zygote has formed, demands the unconditional respect that is morally due to the human being in his bodily and spiritual totality. The human being is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception; and therefore from that same moment his rights as a person must be recognized, among which in the first place is the inviolable right of every innocent human being to life.
In recognizing the profound suffering of miscarriage, we respect the unique “embodied spirit” (to quote Saint Thomas Aquinas) who is formed at the moment of conception. We demonstrate the dignity and joy of each new life and acknowledge that the loss of a human person occurs in miscarriage.
Miscarriage Implicates Abortion
There is little doubt that the biggest obstacle to helping families celebrate and grieve their lost unborn children is abortion. I began writing on this topic during my most recent miscarriage. I saw the need to harness my own grief and pain in the service of others. The response I received reveals what I suspected: far too many people do not feel they can share their grief because their early loss will not be recognized by family and friends as the loss of a child.
Planned Parenthood wants it both ways. If their rhetoric is to be believed, what is lost in a miscarriage is a baby—that is, if he or she is “wanted.” But if a woman chooses an abortion, then the child is somehow not really a baby.
Transvaginal ultrasound has revealed how false this claim is. I have seen my children’s beating hearts on the screen at six weeks. There is no doubt that a human baby—a person—was in my womb. Even Planned Parenthood’s own website acknowledges the pain of miscarriage:
Miscarriage is a common event in many women’s lives. Those of us who have had miscarriages know how difficult the experience can be. Miscarriage can leave us with many emotions to sort out. Learning more about miscarriage may be helpful, whether you have had one, are concerned about having one, or know someone who has miscarried.
I applaud Planned Parenthood for highlighting how common miscarriage is. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), “anywhere from 10-25% of all clinically recognized pregnancies will end in miscarriage.” These percentages go up precipitously for people such as myself who have experienced recurrent miscarriages.
Yet Planned Parenthood’s miscarriage outreach is undermined by its aggressive pro-abortion message. There is an inevitable tension here: either abortion is the deliberately killing of a child by his or her mother, or women who are struggling with “many emotions” after a miscarriage have no real basis for grief because there was no human person there to lose. They cannot have it both ways. Reality does not change based on a mother’s will. Yet even among those who acknowledge the humanity of the unborn child whether or not she is wanted, far too many are perfectly at ease with the notion of a mother’s right to kill her unborn child. It is a matter of her “freedom” to do so, even though nowhere else in public life is it morally permissible to deliberately kill another person.
Miscarriage reveals what every mother knows in the depths of her being: that a unique, incommunicable, dignified, and amazing human person is in her womb. That her child is in her womb. This is why miscarriage produces so many “emotions.” Quite frankly, describing miscarriage as leaving “many emotions to sort out” does not do justice to the real experience. Agony, sorrow, grief, suffering, pain, ache, hurt: these are all words that descri
be the loss of a child to miscarriage. These are experiences largely kept behind closed doors because the true impact of miscarriage reveals abortion for what it is: the murder of an unborn child, a human person. Only those under the sway of a Nietzschean will to power over the weak can stand by and push for murder openly.
How Do We Help Families Grieving a Miscarried Child?
What can we do for parents who have lost an unborn child? First, we need to bring miscarriage out in the open. We need to engage in discussions about the reality of miscarriage and the pain it causes families. This is a part of building a culture of life. We pray at abortion clinics and try to educate the populace on the horrors of abortion, but we also need to be ministering to and supporting families who have lost unborn children. The more we talk about it, the more families will come out from behind closed doors to share their stories and begin to grieve openly.
Second, playing off of the first suggestion, we need men and women to have the courage to write more about the topic of miscarriage and to begin programs, ministries, and groups within their communities. I know it is not easy. While I have been publicly attacked for sharing the truth about miscarriage and abortion, I have received even more emails and comments from families suffering silently. This is a topic that must be discussed. People need forums, both in social media and in person, to discuss their experiences freely. Conversations with one’s priest, pastor, rabbi, imam, local crisis pregnancy center, friends, and family can help one come to terms with the grief and remembrance of those lost children.
Third, we need to abandon our own erroneous narratives that dehumanize the unborn. There are far too many well-meaning pro-life people who make statements such as the following:
– “You can always have another child.” False. We ultimately do not have control over our fertility.
– “There was something clearly wrong with the child.” While this may be a biological reality, it does not demonstrate a compassionate understanding that a unique and loved person died. Do we say this to someone at a funeral?
– “They are in a better place.” This is fine and good in response to the spiritual aspects of grief, but it does not take away the material reality of loss, as C.S. Lewis points out in A Grief Observed. It does not respond to the very real loss of motherhood and fatherhood that must be endured here and now.
Pro-lifers can unintentionally fall into the trap of dehumanizing miscarried children, which greatly harms those who are grieving and creates inconsistency in our own message.
Miscarriage and the Culture of Life
When most women get pregnant, their joy is not over “products of conception” or the potentiality of a child. A mother and a father’s joy is about a tangible and unique person. The desire of every mother and father is to meet their child outside of the womb, but the parents already know their child. Who that child is does not change based on the mother’s will, gestational age, or the laws of the land. When the child is lost in miscarriage, a specific person is mourned. Mothers are united to their children body and soul from conception. Saint John Paul II wrote in his encyclical to women, Mulieris Dignitatem:
Motherhood involves a special communion with the mystery of life, as it develops in the woman’s womb. The mother is filled with wonder at this mystery of life, and “understands” with unique intuition what is happening inside her. In the light of the “beginning,” the mother accepts and loves as a person the child she is carrying in her womb. This unique contact with the new human being developing within her gives rise to an attitude towards human beings – not only towards her own child, but every human being – which profoundly marks the woman’s personality. It is commonly thought that women are more capable than men of paying attention to another person, and that motherhood develops this predisposition even more. The man – even with all his sharing in parenthood – always remains “outside” the process of pregnancy and the baby’s birth; in many ways he has to learn his own “fatherhood” from the mother.
Planned Parenthood understands this reality just as much as John Paul II and I do. By acknowledging the tragic reality of miscarriage and supporting those who grieve, we can build a culture of life and encourage our society to recognize the humanity of the unborn child.