Friday, September 13, 2013

when you lose a child

I have lost many things in life: friends, family, pets, and other things that are very near and dear to my heart. But never a child.

This blog posts has been on my heart for many months. Right before Mother's Day this year, I read this blog post titled, "An Open Letter to Pastors {A Non-Mom Speaks About Mother’s Day}." She talked about how for many women, celebrating Mother's Day (in this case, at church), can be "like salt in mostly healed wounds." 

Then quite recently, my friend Shannon and her husband lost their precious daughter Josephine "Peanut" Anderson. You can read the entire version of Josephine's Story here. Shannon says, "This story is about my baby that died, its painful and personal and awful....[however] I want people to acknowledge my 4th daughter. She was here. Briefly. But she was here....I have to tell my story so that I will heal. Sometimes I don’t know how to tell it so I just let it spill out. I have four daughters, three with me and one in heaven.

After reading her heart-wrenching story, I knew I had to do this blog post. Because she's not the only one. I started thinking about so many close friends of mine who have experienced the loss of a child through stillbirth, miscarriage, abortion, or illness--just in the past few years.

My friend Karmyn and her husband lost their first child almost three years ago. She shared her story here a while back. Karmyn writes: "I went back and forth on whether or not to even share this part of my journey, but in the end realized that part of my healing has come from hearing from others, and if I can in any way be that for someone else, well then, it’s worth being a bit vulnerable...We had no less than 11 couples announce pregnancies after we lost ours, and I learned that it is possibly to be equally sad for yourself and genuinely happy for others at the same time. Each time, I wanted to say 'we were supposed to have one too….can we acknowledge that?'"

Another friend of mine recently shared her story with me as well. Here is an excerpt (*names have been changed to protect privacy): 

"...One morning, when [our daughter] Hannah* was 18 months, [my husband] Tony* woke up and couldn't move his legs. And, so our year from hell began.

With a toddler in tow (and of course, no family around to help, and no “real” friends we could count on), we began to see specialists and made numerous visits to Kingston. Then, I got pregnant. We were thrilled! It was something positive at a very crazy time. But, things went wrong. In the second trimester, a routine scan showed a baby that was smaller than expected with a heartbeat that was only 105. It was bad news. For two weeks, we watched on the ultrasounds, hoping and praying that she would fight. Things looked better a week later, but two weeks later, they could no longer detect a heartbeat. I had to be induced to deliver a baby that would never cry. It was the worst day of my life.

I understand now that people do not know what to say when they hear of a miscarriage (or most losses in general). But, at the time, I was devastated. We heard the stupidest of platitudes...or worse yet, no acknowledgement of the baby we loved and lost. We were grieving and no one seemed to think that it was appropriate or that we had the right? If we had aborted that baby my family would have been up in arms--and yet, when you lose a baby [though miscarriage]...well, it's not like they were a real baby. The irony and hypocrisy was not lost on me...

So, on the third day after our loss I was staring at the wall and unable to get out of bed... Tony called a grief counsellor. I agreed to go ~ and I'm glad because it was such a life changing event for me. The minister was from the United Church... I initially thought this was going to be such a waste of time ~ an older gentleman, a miscarriage ~ ugggh... but it turned out that his daughter had been pregnant and discovered that the child she was carrying had such a severe case of spina bifida that he was already paralysed, and there was no chance he would survive to term. She lost him in the 7th month. The family buried him and named him. He understood our pain. He helped us deal with our loss. A few weeks later, Tony was diagnosed with spina bifida ~ [and we realized] we were delivered to a man who had lived a similar experience and knew of Tony's condition..."

My friend Juliet, describes her experience this way in one of her blog posts:

"I was an eighteen year old girl, far from home, alone in more ways than one, homeless in the worst, most intimate sense of the word and far from feeling like I was of any worth to anyone. Inside of me, a life grew that, in my estimation, was doomed. All I knew of life at that point was the bitter taste of betrayal, the devastating loss of abuse and the sorrow of realizing that girls-like-me were a waste.

I was used up. I was unwanted. I was desperate and lost and left behind.

To the core of the center of my soul, I believed that God had walked away from me. That I was of so little worth to him that he had left me for dead, for a life of damage and destruction and an ache so deep it drowned me daily. I believed that I was cursed and that the God you claim to be acting for had such hatred of me that he was not only done with me, but that he was actively out to destroy me.

And inside of me, despite all that, a small group of cells were alive.
Hope, you see, could grow, even in the most darkest of nights.

But it was not to be. I was told, 'Silly girl, don’t you know, men don’t have babies with whores'. I was frowned upon by Christians. “Good Christians” like you’re trying to be. I was betrayed by my friends. I had no ties with family. And those bigger than me… well, men have ways of ensuring that little girls in adult bodies do what they want them to.

On a grey September day, with shaking knees and a trampled heart, I walked through a crowd of people...on my way into the Scott Clinic in Toronto. I crossed the street to the clinic (they were not allowed on the same side). Weeks earlier, they’d bombed the Morgentaler clinic across town. Outside, they shouted. They pledged that God loved me and my baby, and then, when I met their eyes with hope, they turned away.

God loved me and my baby. I believe that’s true. But the people standing there on the sidewalk couldn’t even look me in the eye when they said it, so I couldn’t believe it then.

It was years before I could look myself in the eye again.

I believed that I was out of choices. I believed that life was only going to be worse. The bruises on my skin, the wounds not yet healed, the history of despair left me with a certainty—my life was forfiet.

Sure, we can both agree now, I had choices. But when you’re an 18-year-old girl with nothing but scars and a heart bleeding out, you don’t know that you can say “no”. You don’t know that you can find a way for hope to live. You don’t know that you’ve got the strength inside you to live. You don’t know that God gives second, third, fourth, hundredth, thousandth chances.

And the people who could have told me that stood with signs and shouts reminding me that God was angry, that I was dirty and that life on their side of the sidewalk was blessed and clean.

The most haunting thing about that day, even now, almost exactly 20 years to the date, is that during the course of my entire life, no man had been as tender and considerate, both with my body and of how I was feeling, asking me if I were sure (I wasn’t) asking me if I’d be safe afterward (I wasn’t) asking if I felt comfortable (I didn’t) asking if I wanted some time (there is never enough time when every passing day reminds you that you are alone and unwanted) as Henry Morgentaler was. That an abortionist cared more for my life than those who were outside screaming about its sanctity was a shocking realization.

Strangers had control of my body. Pain and sorrow, my world collapsing inside itself and me, barely on the cusp of adulthood, knowing that I was, in a very new way, all alone.

The procedure, from beginning to end, according to my medical records, was done in less than twelve minutes. The effects of that day were so deep, so long-lasting that twenty years later, I’m sitting in my office alone and in tears, because strangers decided that they know best how to convey the horror that, perhaps unbeknownst to them, has far more to do with the sorrow of an entire life than the loss of another.

As we left the clinic, one of the good Christians on the other side of the street reminded my then-partner and me, 'You’ll pay in hell for this'. With the last bit of energy I had, I responded, 'I already am'."

The loss of a child. No matter how it happens, it's incredibly painful. And it happens WAY more than we realize. In the past several years, I personally know of at least seven women who have lost a child. Or two. Or three. I pray to God I will never have to experience the pain that these women felt. And still feel...months, or even years later. 

I wrote this to one friend, after she shared the news of her loss with me: 

"...I want you to know that I am so sorry for your loss. I wish there was something I could say to take away your pain. And I wish we could have talked more today. But I'll be thinking of you and remembering you in prayer. And I will give you the link to my friend's blog post...Sometimes it helps knowing that you are not all alone in this.  Thank you for your friendship.... Even though we don't talk very often, I want you to know that you are important to me! I love you and I hope we can get together again soon."

When another close friend shared her news, I simply broke down and cried with her. Words can be so insufficient when the loss is so big.

So, if you're reading this and have never experienced the loss of a child, please know this: 
For every miscarriage that you do hear about, there are probably dozens that you don't know about. Be considerate. Be there for your friends when they do share the news with you. Their grief is real. Their pain is overwhelming.

If you're reading this, and you have experienced the loss of a child, please know this: 
You are not alone! While I have not experienced firsthand the kind of pain and loss that you have experienced, there are dozens of women who do know and who have experienced it. I do know what it is like to lose someone I love. I do know about pain. But I will never ever try to pretend that I know exactly how you are feeling; however, I acknowledge your loss as something real and terrible, and I am sorry that it happened. 

I love you. I am here for you if you need me. And when you are ready to, please share your story with me.

If you are walking with someone right now who is grieving for the loss of a child, I have previously written a blog post here titled "The Grieving Heart" that may be helpful. 


  1. This is so powerful Donna - and important. I lost a child between Renate and Arianna. It was too early to know the gender of the baby - but as I grieved and prayed I felt that it was my daughter and we named her Anna Rose. I had prepared a litany of lament for those who had lost a child through miscarriage - and in those years I had the painful privilege of ministering with several other couples who had similarly lost children. Helping others acknowledge and grieve helped my grief. We know have a piece of art that remembers Anna Rose - it is a little cherub. My daughter is dancing with all the other children who will one day meet their families - and this is an image that gives hope.

  2. The tenderness of your heart shines through here so strongly, Donna—you carry such love in your heart for the grief of others.
    Your understanding that in losing a child, in grief, there is no judgment, just sorrow is a powerful thing and an agent of healing.

  3. I have received such positive feedback on this post-both in the comments here, as well as those who have sent me private messages. Thank you all! It is my hope and prayer that all who have been affected by loss can find safe places to grieve and find healing and hope. Thank you Wendy and Juliet (and all the others I quoted in this post) for opening yourself up and sharing your hearts. May you be blessed.