the spiritual side of pregnancy after loss
Pregnancy after the loss of a baby – following miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant death – is a daunting prospect.
From a distance I used to think “trying again” or “having another baby” must be a happy, hopeful, healing part of parenthood.
(File this away under “Things I Didn’t Really Understand Until They Happened to Me.”)
The truth is that pregnancy after loss is a whiplash of emotions. Every day, every week can feel like an uphill climb. The blissful innocence of preparing to welcome a baby has disappeared.
Instead, you cautiously guard your heart – maybe – and you worry about all the frightening realities in the back of the pregnancy books (the chapters you never bothered to read before).
You know that anything can happen.
I wrote about this truth in our pregnancy after miscarriage. Now that I’m pregnant again after the deaths of our twins, everything feels more intense.
Along the way I have found a few good resources, a handful of places for help on the journey:
- Pregnancy After Loss Support (their online Facebook groups are wonderful, too)
- Still Standing Magazine (a great resource for parents dealing with infertility, miscarriage, neonatal loss, multiple losses, stillbirth, and SIDS)
But the spiritual side of pregnancy after loss? No one says a word about this.
I want this to change.
Pregnancy after loss is a physical, emotional, AND spiritual experience. It’s intense and isolating and overwhelming. It raises all the hard questions about life and death and God.
So here are 5 parts of the spiritual side of pregnancy after loss. Whether you’re a parent on this journey – or a friend or relative trying to understand why your loved one doesn’t seem as happy as you expected in their new pregnancy – I hope this helps you.
1. Pregnancy after loss means there are no guarantees.
You know now that babies can die. This is a terrible truth to learn. You no longer assume anything about how your life or your child’s life will turn out.
Spiritually? The challenge is to trust.
You may be angry at God. You might feel like God has betrayed you. You may not be sure what you believe any more.
It is hard to trust that this journey will end well. But trust is not a one-time decision to be made. You’re learning to believe in your body, your life, and your God in new ways. It’s never easy, but you are not alone.
“It is the Lord who goes before you.
He will be with you; he will not fail you or forsake you.
Do not fear or be dismayed.”
For me, the companionship of God is the only thing I can trust right now. I don’t know what will happen next. I only know that God has been with me in the past, God is here in the present, and God will be with me in the future.
For now, that is enough.
2. Pregnancy after loss brings a daily temptation to despair.
When you know the worst that can happen, it’s hard to stop thinking it could happen again. You’re always holding your breath, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Despair thrives under perfect conditions like these.
Spiritually? The challenge is to hope.
You may hate well-meaning comments that “everything will turn out right this time.” You might hold off preparing for baby because you don’t want to take apart another nursery. You may delay sharing the news that you’re expecting, because you hate the prospect of turning around to share sad news again.
“For in hope we were saved.
Now hope that is seen is not hope.
For who hopes for what is seen?
But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”
I cannot see what lies ahead, whether our baby will be born safely and come home to live with us. I have to hope in what cannot yet be seen.
But I believe that hope is a gift given to each of us by God, in our own way and time. I know that hope is like a muscle and it strengthens with practice. So I try to stretch and hold it whenever I can.
For now, that is enough.
3. Pregnancy after loss raises conflicts of anger and jealousy.
One strange part of expecting after loss is that you can still envy other pregnant women. Their easy joy, innocent bliss, and assumptions that their baby will simply be born – healthy and alive.
You never get that innocence back, and it’s tempting to stew in anger and jealousy. Why did this have to happen to me?
Spiritually? The challenge is to seek peace.
You may find prayer nearly impossible. You might feel flooded with negativity and worry how your emotions are affecting your baby. You may keep asking why God let this suffering happen.
“Do not worry about anything,
but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving
let your requests be made known to God.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
In the stage of life when many friends are having babies, I often find myself in the middle of conversations about pregnancy and newborns. So I have to learn how to handle the emotional triggers.
Sometimes I pray for God’s help to listen with compassion. Sometimes I remind myself that it’s okay to feel however I’m feeling. Sometimes I simply find a way to step away.
I don’t want to project my story on anyone else’s, but I’m not the same person I used to be. So I try to befriend myself and practice mercy on my own heart in the ways I imagine God does, too.
For now, that is enough.
4. Pregnancy after loss knows you cannot control.
You could not save your last baby. You could not do what you wanted desperately to do: protect the child you loved. You can feel helpless in the face of all you cannot control – which is nearly everything in pregnancy.
Anxiety breeds here.
Spiritually? The challenge is to practice humility.
Today’s parenting culture can lead you to believe everything is up to you: if you make all the best decisions, your child will “turn out right.” But you know the opposite is true.
While this feels frightening, it’s also the beginning of humility. Because we cannot control so much about our lives, we can only serve each other with love.
Remembering how you and your child are held within a wider embrace of God’s love can start to free you from anxiety and the desire to control.
“And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?
. . . But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness,
and all these things will be given to you as well.”
(Matthew 6: 27, 33)
Whenever I start to worry about what-ifs, I remind myself that I have the choice of where to dwell in my thoughts. Do I want to live in a dark future that has not yet happened? Or do I want to live in the possibility of goodness?
Humility reminds me that my life and my baby’s life are held in the hands of God. I do not need to do everything; I only need to take the small steps I can do to care for both of us.
For now, that is enough.
5. Pregnancy after loss understands the reality of fear.
You’ve dealt with the worst. You can’t shove it away like it never happened. You’re terrified of what might happen next.
Fear can define pregnancy after loss.
Spiritually? The challenge is to choose love.
You may feel chased by fear, running through a thousand scenarios in your head of how everything could go wrong. You might lie awake in the dark crippled by anxiety. You may not believe, deep down, that you will be able to love your baby.
But the nurse who leads our support group for pregnancy after loss says that the decision to try again does not come after “getting over” your grief, but comes from believing you are ready to love again and to love someone new.
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”
(1 John 4:18)
This Scripture verse used to irk me. Humans can’t be perfect; what’s the point of trying?
Then I came to understand that perfect love cannot be of our own doing. Instead, this is an invitation to let God’s love enter our hearts, to help us do what we fear we cannot do.
Whenever I fear that I cannot carry – or birth, or bring home – this baby, I try to remember that all I have to do is take one step beyond fear. Not ten or twenty. Just one.
Once I get to that place, I can start to love this child with new love.
For now, that is enough.
. . .
What would you add to this list? If you’ve experienced pregnancy after loss, what were your struggles of faith – and how did you cope?
What if your religion says they aren’t sure if your child is in heaven? How do you do any of this?
Dear Lisa – I emailed you a reply directly, but in case you didn’t receive it, I wanted to respond here.
Your question hit me right in the heart. My husband and I are finishing a book on miscarriage for couples, and this question of what happens to our babies after they die is such a huge one for so many of the couples we have worked with. We are Catholic, so our book speaks to how the Catholic Church has responded to this question. So if you are Catholic, I can absolutely share more about the Church’s position on this, the beautiful prayers & documents that have spoken right to grieving parents about this question. I have personally found the Church’s teachings to be full of hope for our baby who was born before being baptized, that this child is in heaven with God because God’s mercy is SO much bigger than we can even imagine. If you are not Catholic, I would encourage you to talk to a pastor or someone at your church about this question. You would definitely not be the first (or the last) person who has had this question weigh heavy on their heart. I know it is so, so hard. But you are not alone. I am carrying you in my prayers today.
I just suffered a loss of my son who was born at almost 23 weeks and lived for 12 days. The pain at times is unbearable and this was my husband and I first child together. This article touched on so much that I am feeling right now and the thought of trying again brings forth so many emotions.
Charity, I am so heart-broken to hear of the loss of your sweet son. I know it is so overwhelming and unbearable sometimes. I will be keeping you in my prayers, for peace for your grieving mama’s heart. Thank you for sharing your story here.
Wow Charity. I know this was nearly a year ago but I have a very similar story. Our son Carter went to heaven (2/15/16) at 22 weeks shortly after birth. The pain is too much sometimes but know you’re not alone!!
SO beautifully written and exactly what I needed during this season- thank you! I am pregnant again after a loss and struggling to find the same joy I found during my first (healthy) pregnancy. My biggest struggle after loss was more a struggle of my humanity…my lack of control. I felt so angry that I could not be in control of something that I never imagined I would need control over (how many children I would have). I was angry that my plan did not match God’s plan. Since then, and now during my current pregnancy I’ve found comfort in trusting God’s plan, even though I don’t know what it is. This verse has helped a lot: “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. Plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:11-13
I might add three more, though they could be subsections of the five above.
6. honesty/openness- how much does one share with others and even earthly children about total child count, fears, excitement, and all the pregnancy experiences that could be normal or something more?
7. service/ministry- how does one commit physically, emotionally, spiritually to serving or helping others when dealing with any combination of: still hurting, craving help/feeling needy, fearing inability to help, fearing increased risk by helping others, feeling like one has nothing to give, fearing breaking instead of helping? Granted in our weakness He is strong.
8. unity – In my experience, even partners grieve and dream differently and on different timelines with different perspectives, triggers, and lesser hopes/fears. Marriage is supposed to be an image of the Trinity and the relationship between Christ and His Church. While grief needs space, there is a temptation to extensively withdraw from both the broader community and even one’s spouse.
Wow, these are such great additions, Samantha – thank you so much. I am going to have to sit with each of these. Yes to all.
Thank you so much for this affirming and hopeful post, Laura. It is exactly what I needed to hear and will turn to time and time again for the scripture and also the knowledge that our family is not alone in this. Prayers for you as your near the end of your pregnancy.
I am so thankful for the conversation you’ve started. We lost our third baby to miscarriage 3 weeks ago (we also have 3 beautiful children on Earth). The inconvenient thing about NFP is that we can’t just a take a year off fertility. The conversation and discernment had to start as soon as I stopped bleeding, and that has been grace-filled, but painful. It is hard to keep the abject terror of another loss at bay and trust in God’s goodness while I’m angry at Him.
One thing I learned a few years back which has been a consolation is that the Church distinguishes between “human” virtues and theological virtues. Developing human virtues is like pumping iron at the gym. If you want bigger muscles, you lift more weight. If you want to be more patient, you practice patience (with God’s help). The theological virtues — faith, hope, and love — are infused into the soul by God. I don’t have to feel hopeful, or faithful, or even loving. I just have to be receptive, to be open, to stand in prayer with this gaping wound and wait for God to fill it up.
Thank you for sharing! Just what I needed to read. Everything is in God’s hand.
Thank you for sharing your wisdom on walking through pregnancy after loss. I know I will be reading and re-reading this often. I had my first miscarriage in November and baby’s due date is looming large at the end of June. Just this week I heard good news from others close to me who are expecting and due this fall. Suddenly I’ve tumbled down into an emotional rabbit hole of grief all over again. I am sad that my baby won’t be alive and growing up alongside these other babies. Thank you for your guidance to seek out and embrace Trust, Hope, Peace, Humility and God’s perfect Love.
I lost my very first child to miscarriage, and pregnancy has never been the same since. I have had two healthy babies after my loss, but my pregnancy with my rainbow baby was crippled with anxiety and fear, especially in the beginning. Now I am 29 weeks with twins, and this pregnancy has been also filled with a lot of fear. I am still struggling to trust God and still wondering why He allowed me to lose my first baby. There are times when I am able to hand my fears over to God, but it is still a struggle. I still have a hard time having hope. I feel like what you wrote is helpful. You basically just have to take it one day, one step at a time.
This was excellent and spot on. I related to each point and was inspired (and challenged!) by each of the spiritual alternatives. Thank you.
Also, my biggest struggle in my pregnancy after loss was learning what it looked like to trust God and be hopeful when I couldn’t guarantee the outcome I desired…how to rejoice and ‘look forward’ when I wasn’t sure I would get to enjoy the things I was looking forward to (holding the baby, using the nursery and outfits and toys, watching her grow and change, etc.)