One element of the wonder, miracle, and mystery of Christmas lies in its tragedy. Advent ends every year with churches’ Christmas Eve services, often by singing “Silent Night” by candlelight. Christmas Day, obviously, marks the birth of Christ in a manger; December 26th is traditionally the feast of the martyr, St. Stephen; December 27th is the feast of St. John the Evangelist, an important day for Freemasons like myself and is the commemoration of the martyrdom believed to be described in Acts 12. December 27th is also my spouse and my wedding anniversary.
December 28th is the feast of the Holy Innocents in most Western Christian traditions. The day holds special meaning for me because of the two miscarriages we experienced in between the birth of our two children.
The first one caught us by surprise, primarily because we had absolutely no complications with our first pregnancy, in fact, our son, Christian was born just a few hours before the predicted date of his birth. The second pregnancy terminated very early. We were, of course, devastated, but the reality of it hit us when the local hospital asked us what funeral arrangements we would like to have for “the products of conception.”
I remembered that, several years ago, the local hospitals committed themselves to requiring this paperwork to be filed to try to convince women not to go through an abortion at the last moment before going into the surgical room. I was angry and completely at a loss for words sitting in the surgical preparation area. We were explained that there was some mass burial for all miscarried children—which we attended later, and helped, for which we are grateful—but it didn’t matter. I wanted to tear down the hospital and I was enraged. The nurse offered to call the chaplain or my pastor, to which my wife said, “He is the pastor.” The young nurse asked: “There’s only one pastor at your church? You’re really the only one?”
For the second miscarriage, we had brought our son to the OB-GYN office to see an ultrasound of the baby, and we had intentionally waited to tell him about the pregnancy until he could see the baby. We had already seen the heartbeat, and were confident that things were going well, and we were excited for Christian to see his baby sibling for the first time. While we waited outside the room to see the ultrasound, the nurse called another nurse, separated us, and told us that the baby had died, and that we needed to call someone to get him because they didn’t want him to go into the examination room.
It did not help that this occurred during the last week of classes at the college, and I knew I had to preach on a miraculous birth story in the coming weeks. We came home from the hospital, did not say much to each other, and I listened to the Biebl “Ave Maria” about fifty times. I had to surround myself with the most beautiful thing I knew. I felt this need to be close to the Mother during Advent.
My congregation was wonderful through both of these experiences. I have never felt so much part of a small community than during these two times in our lives. I cannot imagine how others go through miscarriage without a church surrounding them.
I was pretty numb about the whole experience, and didn’t process it for several months. In fact, it wasn’t until I got out some old CDs for a road trip by myself, among them Gary Numan’s Pure, which, I had forgotten, is a cycle of songs primarily inspired by his wife’s miscarriages. His songs, especially “Little InVitro” and “A Prayer for the Unborn” are still too gratingly painful for me to really listen to the whole way through, probably because of the misotheistic anger which inhabits just below the surface of honest discourse on miscarriage.
When I wrote my wedding liturgy, I was beginning to make sense of the sacramental theological commitments I had made through my affiliation with the Order of Saint Luke, and it was important to us that our wedding ceremony was an explicit extension of our baptism. Baptism is the most important liturgical element in my theological worldview. (In my book, The Synaptic Gospel, I recount how in my current church the children of the church begin the worship service every week by enacting a baptismal rededication.)
My mother told me that my first steps as a baby were on Christmas Day; the first day that, as an infant, I could walk away from my mother. On the 27th, we celebrate our wedding anniversary. But on the 28th, I remember our two children who I never got to know, and died before they could know the ‘thrownness’ of the world. I can only make sense, and find comfort in the whole ordeal, knowing that I am held in the womb-waters of the church.
One out of every four pregnancies ends in miscarriage, and it is still not an acceptable issue to discuss in public, especially for men. The more I have learned to find words—and I am still reaching for them—to express myself the more stories have been cracked open by others around me, especially by older women, who are looking for relief by exposing these fissures of their Christian experience.
A year and two weeks after the second loss, Annaliese was born, on Dec. 31, during the liturgical season of Christmas. She was baptized by the same community as was my son, the same church whose folks dropped off food, sent cards, prayed, and called during our tough times. I was so focused on the pregnancy last year that I blocked out all thoughts of the two lost children. But this Christmas I am again drawn to the entanglement of miracles, wonderment, and tragedy of the season.
If you have followed my writing here on the blog, or have read my work elsewhere, or have heard me speak or preach, you know that my theological leanings have convinced me of the enfleshed immanence of the divine. The Christmas season reminds me of the weakness, and the fragility, and the brokenness, and the potential tragedy, and the potential beauty of the enfleshed divinity that erupts around us, beside us, and especially inside of us, even newly inside of us—even if we never physically behold it with our own eyes.
Update: Annaliese, below, took her first unassisted baby steps away from her mother just hours after posting this, on this Feast of Holy Innocents, 2011.
5 thoughts on “Miscarriage: a Christian interpretation (Feast of Holy Innocents, 2011)”
My mother often spoke of her miscarriages while I was growing up. It is clear that the pain of my parents’ loss has been compounded by the silence surrounding, or worse, the terrible responses they recieved to the miscarriage.
My wife is 18 weeks pregnant right now. Because of my parents’ experience, I have not been niave to the potential for miscarriage. It has tinged my Advent with fear. “Prepare him room” is a task fraught with nervous engery and vulnerability. It is hard to find a space that respects those emotions. The only resonance I have found is in the writings on this blog, especially this post. Thank you.
And I think the juxtaposition of the christmas narrative and your miscarriage narrative is stunning (if that is the right word). I hope you will continue to reflect on the theological implications of miscarriage and keep us informed of your thoughts.
Thank you, Ben. I don’t mean to sound pretentious, but I want to develop these thoughts some more but it is difficult to sort through them in any coherent way. I’m not aware of anything else written on this subject from a male perspective.
As the father of 2 adopted boys, I never had the direct experience of pregnancy or prenatal loss, but did have to deal with it several times in CPE and later as a chaplain associate at Lancaster General. Those times, without a doubt, were the most difficult times of my entire ministerial experience. Your pain and struggle highlights a major gap in the ministry of the church and an area where playing ostrich appears to be the desired path. I encourage you to continue to pick at this scab in hope it drains the legitimate festering of your soul, but also in hope it produces something that will be a tool to assist others to deal with the unanswerable questions of prenatal loss.
I came to your blog from the OSL cyberchapter and I want to thank you for sharing your story so powerfully and profoundly. My husband and I have three beautiful girls, ages 13, 10 and 7. And before they were born, we had two beautiful boys, Michael and Gabriel, born too soon, and three additional losses whose gender we will never know. I have written about the issue of miscarriage and infant loss in papers for seminary, and I have preached about our loss, especially on December 20, when in each church I have served I have brought a Longest Night service specifically designed to assist those for whom loss colors the artificial joy of the “Christmas season”. For me, this service was a lifeline during a barren year after Michael was born still, when I had expected a “baby’s first Christmas” and instead had a joyless time of grief.
Every time I preach about Michael and Gabriel, folks come up to me and share their own experiences of miscarriage and infant loss. And I realize that we need a safe space to share.
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