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Some Mothers Have Empty Arms

After three healthy pregnancies and births, I entered a season of deep sorrow with the miscarriages of my next three babies. These brought not only physical difficulties but also emotional and spiritual wrestling with grief and guilt. Then the Lord provided me with one final pregnancy that turned into an emotional rollercoaster.

While serving as cross-cultural workers in Asia, we were stateside for a family emergency. During that unexpected visit, I ended up in the doctor’s office due to difficulties with the pregnancy. I could see by the ultrasound technician’s face that something was wrong before she uttered a word.

As the doctor explained, the ultrasound showed a hematoma—the same problem that led to the tragic end of my sixth pregnancy. Our baby had a 50 percent chance of survival, and the doctor sent us home to wait and pray. While my experiences are personal, they aren’t unique.

Jackie Gibson’s book You Are Still a Mother: Hope for Women Grieving a Stillbirth or Miscarriage is the book I needed in those hard times. Her theological reflections offer real comfort because they come from someone who knows what it feels like to lose a child. The stillbirth of her daughter, Leila, put her in this “club no one wants to be in” (xi). She shows how the gospel can shine through even in heartbreaking loss.

Suffering Alone

The local church loves to celebrate newborns. And they generally mourn the loss of babies when a miscarriage occurs after the pregnancy has already been announced. However, many mothers suffer a lost pregnancy in private because no one knows.

The March of Dimes estimates that between 10 and 20 percent of women who know they’re pregnant experience a miscarriage—the loss of a pregnancy before 20 weeks. Because of this high loss rate, our culture encourages women not to share early news of their pregnancy with others. Thus many women who initially rejoiced in private are left to grieve the loss without much support.

Many women who initially rejoiced in private are left to grieve the loss without much support.

Whether public or not, a stillbirth or miscarriage often leads to a deep sense of loneliness because a mother’s body conditions itself during pregnancy to care for that little one. Gibson recalls walking away with empty arms after placing Leila in the arms of a nurse whose name she doesn’t remember (6). She observes, “One of the hardest things about the death of a baby is that you have nothing to show for your motherhood” (42). A grieving mother has to pack up the newborn clothing and give away unused diapers and wipes.

Grief can turn into despair and doubt in the goodness of God. Why would God, who is infinitely good, allow such loss? Even those who know the theological truths of God’s goodness can struggle. Gibson writes,

It is still very hard to accept God’s goodness as you stare at an empty crib and give away the newborn diapers you bought; as you ache to hold your baby just one more time (or for the first time). Our finite minds cannot comprehend how a good God can ordain suffering, especially when our arms are empty. God is good, yes, but sometimes mysteriously so. (28–29)

Suffering Together

Gibson wrote You Are Still a Mother for women who’ve lost a child. It brought to my mind ways the local church can help, even months after the initial loss. The pain certainly changes over time, but it never goes away. 

A church’s support for a grieving mother may take the form of dropping off a meal at the door or sending a bouquet of flowers. Simply listening and mourning together is another way to minister.

Other women who share similar scars can stop by and share their confidence that Jesus cares. They can remind the grieving mother that Jesus entered our suffering and sympathizes with us in our weakness (Heb. 4:15). Jesus wept with Martha and Mary at the tomb of their brother, despite knowing he’d raise Lazarus from the dead (John 11). Jesus bore our griefs and carried our sorrows all the way to his own tomb (Isa. 53).

Amid their suffering, mothers need to be gently reminded this loss isn’t their fault. Guilt has a way of poisoning our thoughts: If only I hadn’t picked up that box. I should have rested more. Mothers need others to help them wade through these emotions. As Gibson writes, “Our babies were only ever going to live for the days that God apportioned to them” (23). This challenging truth can bring comfort in a time of self-doubt.

Loving friends and neighbors need to encourage mothers that the Lord values and cares for children, even children in the womb. Gibson observes, “It doesn’t matter at what point during the pregnancy your baby dies, how developed they were, or whether or not they had medical complications. They were still image-bearing, soul-possessing human beings whom the God of the universe intimately wove together, and therefore they are precious in his sight” (36). The loss is real and the grief is warranted.

Sometimes the heartbreaks we suffer aren’t the end of the story. My seventh pregnancy resulted in a healthy baby. Two weeks after that worrying ultrasound appointment, I again lay on the table, praying silently for tangible signs of progress. Each moment seemed like an eternity as we studied the face of the technician who was puzzled by what she didn’t see. After curious questions and consultation with the radiologist, we received the news of God’s grace. To the shock of the medical professionals, the hematoma was gone.

Cling to Hope

My experiences left me with the conviction that we, the church, can be more effective at ministering to parents who endure the loss of a baby. It’s much easier to rejoice with those who rejoice than it is to weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15). The latter may be more important.

It’s much easier to rejoice with those who rejoice than it is to weep with those who weep. The latter may be more important.

As Gibson notes, “Grief is still a part of me, a quiet companion who accompanies me wherever I go. That’s because the final morning hasn’t come yet, the morning when Jesus will return and make all things new; the morning when our wounds will be fully healed” (58).

You Are Still a Mother is a resource that will benefit grieving mothers and church leaders ministering to them. Churches should have this resource on their shelves to give to women who need it.


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