The Loss of a Child: When Simple Questions Have Complex Answers

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A common question: “Do you have any children?” I have asked this question of people SO many times myself. It’s a way to start a conversation, a way to get to know more about someone, a regular social question. I always thought it was a simple question, one that is easy for anyone to answer; yet now, I have come to realize that for many people suffering the loss of a child, this is anything but a simple question.

My husband and I discovered in December 2013 that I was with child! We saw the heartbeat on the ultrasound and there was no doubt in our hearts that a real life was created within me! About two months later, in February 2014, we learned that our child had passed away and our hearts broke. I remember going to the hospital for a routine follow-up appointment, excited to hear our child’s heartbeat again. The nurse was unable to find the heartbeat via a small external machine, but said “No worries, sometimes these don’t pick up the heartbeat; so we will just try an ultrasound.” The ultrasound technician spent several minutes taking measurements, then she put her instruments down and shared that our baby no longer had a heartbeat. Instantly I was in deep sorrow. I had no thoughts, just the awareness that I was sobbing hard, and that my Jon was now at my side sobbing as well. Tears remained in our eyes all the way home until once again we held each other on our couch, weeping. There wasn’t much that could be said; it was a loss that was hard to fully understand, yet so real to us. It became important to us to name our child. We didn’t know if our child was a boy or girl, so we picked names that were meaningful yet had a variation to account for both genders. We chose the name Theodore Ephraim/Theodora Afraima meaning “Gift of God” and “Fertile” because we wanted to remember this child as a gift from God, and that through our child, we learned that we were fertile, as we had previously believed that we were unable to conceive due to infertility problems.

As some time has passed, we have learned that grief can be a tricky yet beautiful part of life. Sometimes we find ourselves in situations in which the sting of this loss hurts once again. People often ask if we have children. Sometimes we say yes, sometimes we say no. It is hard to understand what is being asked. Are they asking if we have ever had a child? Or, are they asking if we presently have a child under our care? Those are different questions. People may share about their current pregnancy. Then, we struggle to balance our thoughts of genuine joy for them with our thoughts of apprehension and prayer for the health of their baby, as well as our thoughts of recognizing the fact that we were expecting to be in the same position at this time, yet we are not. The balance of feeling excited, worried and sad at the same time can be difficult and confusing. And then sometimes, it seems like the sorrow of grief comes at random times without warning.

Although I long for the day when I do not have moments of sorrow that capture my attention, grieving is actually a beautiful process. I believe that grief and love are entwined. We don’t grieve unless we have loved. Although Jon and I were only aware of our little one for a short time, we were filled with joy and love for this child, and we truly suffered the loss of a life. I have taken great comfort in knowing that our little one is in heaven and that we will see our child again some day. Jon and I laugh that, although we didn’t get to see our child’s face, we know our child probably has a big nose, since we both have big noses!

One of the hardest aspects about having experienced a miscarriage is not knowing how to interact with the rest of my world. The question “Do you have children?” can no longer be asked of me without my remembering my little one. I tend to do some sort of equation in my head based on how well I know the person asking, then I either say, “No, I don’t have any children,” or “Yes, but my little one has already gone to heaven.” With friends, I sometimes fear telling them that I have had a miscarriage for fear they will feel awkward about talking about their own children or current pregnancies with me. I don’t want to be isolated from my many friends who have children. I believe that when life is created, it is something to celebrate so I do not want to miss out in rejoicing with others in God’s creation of life!

As my Jon and I continue to navigate these new waters, we have both discovered that, although miscarriages happen often (apparently 1 out of 5 pregnancies), there doesn’t seem to be much sharing about miscarriage. On the one hand, I believe this lack of sharing to be a shame, while on the other hand, I recognize that it has taken me months to be brave enough to share publicly about my own miscarriage. I have found this subject to be difficult to talk about, partly because, in our culture, there is no consensus about when life begins, and thus, when the relationship and love between parents and child begins. Although I am firm in my belief – now more than ever – that life begins at conception, I do not wish to offend others. I am also aware that our culture seems to shy away from talking about grief or death. We want to stay positive, encouraging, and uplifting. As a result, I believe we can miss the opportunity to see how grief, tears, pain, sorrow and lament can be a beautiful part of life. For instance, I have found the spiritual practice of lament to be especially helpful and it has truly brought me to a deeper understanding of God’s presence in my life.

My hope is that perhaps our culture can become more sensitive in how we talk about life and relationships. When a spouse passes away, one may be called a widow or widower. This title answers the question of whether one is currently married or not, yet also communicates a recognition that there was a significant relationship. I wish a universally accepted word existed for a parent to use when their child has passed away…a term that signifies that one does not currently have a living child, but also reflects that a child did exist and that there was a significant relationship with that child. For those of us who have lost children, this would be most helpful. I wonder if other parents feel the same who have lost a child at any age. Is there a way we can use language to honor children who have passed, as well as the relationships parents have with those children?

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Jon & Sharon (Sharonna) Bryant have been married for seven years and have one child gone to heaven. They are graduates of both Asbury University and Asbury Theological Seminary and currently live in the Chicago, IL area. Jon is working on his PH.D in New Testament and Early Christianity, and Sharon is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. They are continuing to learn how to live within the beauty and mystery of God. They hope that their musings can provide help to others experiencing grief and loss.

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