Miscarrying When Far From Home
Last month, Steve and I went to a local private clinic here in Nampula for an ultrasound. We were so excited to be expecting our 3rd child early next year! We needed to check on the baby’s dating, because my 6 week ultrasound showed a beating heart but the baby measured quite behind. My midwife in the States encouraged me to get another one. I was supposed to be 12 weeks that day. The doctor put the scope on my abdomen. We could all see the baby. But there was no movement or heartbeat. I suggested to him in Portuguese to try another view (trying not to be pushy, and holding off my identity as someone in the healthcare field). 2nd view, 3rd view, 4th view. Nothing. He measured baby: 8 weeks. The baby had passed a month prior.
Devastated. Heartbroken. Surprised. The conversation immediately went to “Have you had any bleeding? Have you had a miscarriage before? Here are your options…” Whoa, whoa, whoa. Slow down, buddy! I was trying to hold it together and realize what just happened. Shock makes your brain numb. All of a sudden, the Spanish accent of our Cuban doctor was thicker than before and I needed a play by play of each sentence. I so wish I had misunderstood him before when I was on the table and that this was all wrong and that there actually was a heartbeat. Steve had to translate everything after that point, because I just wanted to make sure I really understood everything correctly. Unfortunately, I did and nothing could change what had to happen next. We found ourselves waiting to pick up pills at the pharmacy and waited again after that to pay for the visit. Those 30-minute felt like an eternity. I just wanted to run away. What was supposed to be a joyful appointment turned into a gut-wrenching experience. We left the office with an ultrasound photo of our dead baby and pills to pass him/her at home. It was horrible.
As soon as I got home, I called my midwife back in the States. It was so nice to have someone I knew and trusted to guide me, even if she was so far away. But that day, I really wished she wasn’t so far away. I even phoned an OBGYN missionary friend of ours to discuss what the doctor said and confirm the next plan of care. It felt so freeing to ask her questions too. But, again, she was countries away, as well. What I went through those next 72 hours was scary. I didn’t know what to expect. And, honestly, I felt bad for not knowing nor understanding. I’m a midwife… why didn’t I know this better? But, it’s because I wasn’t usually on this end of managing care. But, now? Now, I know. What I wanted right then was a midwife to midwife me through this miscarriage. It felt like an unassisted homebirth of death. Steve was right there with me, but he didn’t know what to expect either. As the days went on, I had some needs arise that I was able to go back to the local clinic to take care of. But, being able to talk candidly in my native language wasn’t an option, which felt incredibly isolating. So, in the upcoming weeks, I just didn’t go back. And the way things are done here without follow-up nursing care made me feel like I was kind of on my own for further issues, explanations, and plans of care. I hated feeling like I was my own provider. Despite popular belief, a midwife cannot midwife herself!
Journaling was so helpful and healing the next few weeks. Getting words out on my computer screen aloud me to articulate the pain that was in my heart. Sharing my writings with close family and friends provided a bit of relief from my heavy burden. Genuine tears and hugs could be felt through each FaceTime call, despite the 2, 6, and 9-hour time zone differences. One of our family members even offered to fly in from the northern part of the continent to be with us. Ironically, Africa is so large that she is equidistant from us as she is to our family in south Florida. So, basically it would still cost a fortune! We were already scheduled for furlough in 2 months. Home was just around the corner. We even had a situation come up where we considered going to South Africa for medical attention, but after wise counsel and the Holy Spirit’s peace, we stayed. We just wanted to escape Mozambique! We were at the end of our term, and we were already facing some burn out and discouragement. This just added insult to injury. But God wasn’t letting us leave just yet. He provided a beautiful community of friends around us to bring us meals, cry with us, watch our girls, and be supportive listening ears as we walked this path of loss and grief.
Reading the book of Job in the Bible has also been a great source of encouragement. Job was a godly man who was wealthy in every form of the word (large family, successful business, grand house, good reputation, health). Satan attributed Job’s faithfulness to God only because of how externally blessed he was. God gave Satan permission to take those things from him, first everything except his health, but then that too. All of his family died except his wife who told Job to curse God and die. But Job didn’t. He stayed faithful to God. He did, however, grow incredibly discouraged and cursed the day he was born. His closest friends insisted he did something wrong. He defended his righteousness to God and had many questions for Him. And then God spoke. He never answered Job’s questions, but He did ask Job about creation and what it was like running it. He asked Job how it was controlling the largest creatures of earth, forming their young in utero, and making the earth supply its food.
Job’s WHY’s turned into WOW’s. “I am unworthy– how can I reply to You? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer– twice, but I will say no more.” (Job 40: 4-5 NIV) Sometimes our horrible experiences can make us forget Who God is: sovereign, mighty, holy. He sees the WHOLE picture and controls it all. Thankfully, He is also a loving God Who is not far from us. In fact, not only is He always near, He is well-acquainted with grief. Jesus came to this earth and lived a human life that included loss, shock, betrayal, and trauma. God knows innocent suffering. And because of it, there is grace. Thankfully one day, He’s going to heal this earth of its pain. This hope means more to me now after this experience, as well as after having lived in one of the poorest countries in the world for the last 2 years. But, right now, starvation, corruption, and injustice still happen. But all of these travesties still have to go through Him to happen. And He IS working it into His greater plan for His Kingdom. I don’t want to know WHY my baby died. There’s not a good enough reason I can think of right now. But I know my God. He is Creator of all and He “fits [everything] into a pattern for good, to those who love [God] and are called according to [His] design and purpose.” (Romans 8:28 AMP) He can redeem anything and He does.
From this experience, I’ve also learned a great deal of how to best support women going through a miscarriage, close by and from far away.
1.) Ask how they are doing TODAY. If you’re around others or it’s not a good time of day, maybe ask in private or ask if they’d like to carve out a better time for them to talk about it. You don’t have to have gone through the experience to be supportive. Maybe even say that. “I’ve never gone through this, but I care about you and am here for you to listen about your experience.” Leave room for pause. Presence is powerful. Read their journals. Share their burden with your time and attention. It might mean all the difference to them, especially if they are feeling far from God and His love. You can be His love to them that day.
2.) Ask how can you can help them, BUT BE SPECIFIC. “Let me know if there’s anything I can do for you” is a wonderful sentiment, but someone going through trauma and loss needs to be given choices like a toddler. Their brain is fried. Remember how I said “shock makes your brain go numb”? “Which night can I bring you dinner: Wednesday or Thursday?” “I would love to have your girls over. Does right now work from 12-4 or tomorrow morning from 8-12?” (Also, handing them a frozen meal as they come to pick up their kids is a good way to kill 2 birds with one stone! A frozen meal overseas is the equivalence of a restaurant gift card: use it whenever it’s convenient.) “When you are back in the States, our family wants to provide a special get away for you and your family to look forward to. May we do that for you? If so, does the 3rd week of the January work for you?” The griever doesn’t want to put anyone out. And the giver need not extend beyond what they are able to do. Come up with a plan and offer it to her. It’s a win/win.
3.) Check in REGULARLY. Texts or calls don’t have to be made everyday. Initially, everyday texts may be important. But even if the griever doesn’t get back to you, she sees your call or email and is reminded that she’s not alone. She sees that she’s not forgotten. She sees that her baby is not forgotten. Let her lead. If she’s fine, great, be fine together! Laugh, eat ice cream, do something enjoyable. But if she’s not doing well that day, let her not be ok. Let her be messy and wrong and raw. But, do remind her of truth afterwards: the truth of God’s love, the truth of your faithful friendship, the truth that she’s doing the best she can and that she’s not alone. Some people just need to verbally process and figure out how they feel as they talk. Mourn with those who mourn. And, remember, you’re not supposed to cry more than her! But if you do, she’ll love you for your tears for her. This is a journey that doesn’t just take place when she passes the baby or the bleeding stops. Grief will creep up around the corner when she least expects it. Even if she told you last week that she is doing better, ask her next week and next month again. Surprise triggers may be her 3-year-old randomly asking “Mommy, why did the baby die?” She may start unexpectedly bleeding again within those first 6 weeks and it will bring back the trauma and grief of the miscarriage that happened “a while ago” and tears come up when she thought she was “done.” She’ll see a friend or an announcement on social media that will remind her that she isn’t making that same announcement as she had anticipated. She may open her calendar for one reason, but then be choked up with grief when she sees that this was the week she would have gone for the ultrasound that would have revealed boy or girl.
I know that I don’t speak for all women. In fact, you may have gone through a miscarriage and disagree with some of these points. It’s common to not want to talk about it. For some, it’s a very private matter and sharing about it will bring up the trauma all over again. You may not want to be bombarded with the condolences and/or open yourself up to people who may not take care of your raw feelings very well. In this culture already, I’ve been told “Oh, you’ll be ok. You’ll have 10 more babies!” My heart shut down right there. It’s a sweet sentiment, but that doesn’t acknowledge my current loss nor does the thought of 10 more babies comfort my recent pain! People don’t share because of dismissive comments like that. Not saying anything isn’t the best either. So, learn from this and be sensitive. Listen. For me, I needed to talk things out and be heard and cared for well. So, I share my experience with you, because I want to help women going through this kind of loss and also help their loved ones know how to best support them.
You see, losing an unborn baby feels like an invisible loss. Most people didn’t even know he or she existed since they were never born (or let’s face it: announced on Facebook!). But the mom and family know. The mom made plans in her mind and already envisioned a nursery. The dad pictured being tummeled by 3 girls in fairy dresses or throwing ball with his first son. They miss what they had (growing pregnant tummy) and what they could of had (a baby in their arms and a new sibling for their children). The best piece of comforting advice I’ve received so far is this: “You’ll NEVER stop missing your baby. You’ll NEVER stop wanting to meet him or her.” Sometimes you will feel the deep longing greatly and other times it will be small. But you’ll never stop. That felt so reassuring. Because there are days that I’m happy. And then I feel a little guilty that I forgot about my sadness. I don’t ever want to forget his or her memory. That’s my baby. Forever. And it feels good to know that I won’t ever forget him or her. And one day, I’ll meet this precious life. And when I do, all of my sadness will be wiped away. All of my why’s will ultimately turned into wow’s as I once and for all meet my Creator. Questioning His plan will be the farthest thing from me. But, for now, I’m reminded of His love and sovereignty through His creation, my loving family and friends, and the hope that He is producing in me through my suffering.
“We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our heart through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5 NIV)
“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-17 NIV)
Originally written and published by Nikki Simpson.