***This post references miscarriage and early infant loss. It is my hope to bring about conversations that will enable healing and empowerment for women throughout their experiences, but if these topics are particularly painful for you, this post may be difficult. Love and light to you.
I’ve spent the morning in my quiet time praying and meditating over this lovely article that appeared in my newsfeed: article.
This article, written by Anne Zimudio, should give us all pause for thought, but I especially would like for our pastors, chaplains, and lay leaders to ponder these writings in the context of pastoral care and within our theological settings.
I have long been burdened by the lack of recognition within sacred spaces of miscarriages and early infant loss. The Church, which claims to love babies and claims to love life, embraces live births. Babies are celebrated through baptism and first communion; mothers are celebrated via Mother’s Day. But in my forty-one years of life, I can perhaps count on one hand how many times a miscarriage has been openly acknowledged or prayed over within our sacred spaces.
And even more disturbing is the reality that in the seminary space, miscarriage and early infant loss were never mentioned in our pastoral care classes. The physical and emotional needs that mothers face in these life circumstances often go unnoticed by pastors, chaplains, and lay leaders, and in our sessions on grief and loss the topic was entirely forgotten.
I know at least in part why this is the reality. The Scriptural reality is that Biblical texts are not kind to women who do not bring babies into the world. A deeply androcentric text, written in large part by men and motivated by a desire to prove a divine genealogy, women in the Bible must go through extraordinary, miraculous lengths to birth babies. Sarah, who was infertile until her old age, required intervention by the Holy Spirit in order to birth a child. Rachel and Leah are pitted against each other, because one is able to have children, and the other is not. Scriptures are not kind to women who cannot bear children, particularly male children who will be heirs.
In the process of becoming a mother to my own biological children, I experienced three years of infertility. My husband, along with his first wife, also suffered many years of infertility while waiting and trying for their two children, which are now our shared children. We both, as part of earlier marriages, went through the tears and fears and the procedures and the monthly reminders of how our bodies had failed us. Those experiences never leave us, and as Zimudio so poignantly reminds us, they affect us for our entire lives.
During my process of infertility, I became part of quite a few online communities of women who were in similar places as me. I met many women who were trying to conceive, who experienced miscarriages, who went on to have healthy babies, and many who are still waiting on their miracle baby. These women were pillars of strength and love and support, and still mean the world to me as we bonded over those experiences. Where the sacred communities had failed us, and often the medical communities had failed us, we joined together to love on each other and to hold each other. Communion looked an awful lot like comparing charts and obsessing over basal body temperatures, and witnessing looked an awful lot like “here’s what to expect when you go in for this procedure.”
Together we formed the communities of the Holy Spirit, intervening for one another to help create life. We created lives together. We ministered to each other in love and compassion through the joyous big fat positives, and mourned and wept with each other through the magnanimous losses.
But the Church refused to acknowledge those losses. Many of these women were devoted Christians, who truly believed it was their God-given ability to give birth and to raise children who would also be devoted Christians. They wrestled with the endless Mother’s Days, where their pain would be silenced. We learned from each other to never deny another’s happiness and joy, but we also learned the pain of being silenced in our sacred spaces.
So to you, dear pastor, I implore your presence on this matter. The Church can be an incredible place of healing and grace, but it can only do so when it is willing to acknowledge that pain. Right now there is no sacred service to honor miscarriages. Right now early infant loss and miscarriage and infertility are not words often heard from the pulpit on Sunday morning, and for many it feels as if God is silent on these matters. You yourself may not even be aware of the sheer numbers of women you preach to and worship with every Sunday, who have experienced miscarriage or infertility. And you may have no idea how those experiences still affect that person’s life.
These conversations need to happen. They need to happen now, and often. The sacraments only validate live births through baptism and full term death through funerals. What sacrament can we create to affirm mothers who are mothers in their heart? This is a call to action within the sacred space: how can we bring the presence of God to women who are experiencing infertility and to women who have experienced early infant loss?
I am grateful to all the amazing mothers (in arms and in heart) who supported me, and who allowed me to support them during our journeys. You showed me the Spirit, and I pray the Spirit will be shown to you as well. And I move that our sacred spaces begin to find ways to show the Spirit to us as well.