It's time to curl up with your laptop, a cup of tea, and a box of tissues because here is the first installment of my Q & A with Pastor Elise Erikson Barrett, author of the fabulous book What Was Lost: A Christian Journey Through Miscarriage.
Ed: First of all, thank you for writing such a real and sensitive book. What compelled you to write it?
Pastor Elise: I experienced my first miscarriage in 2004 and was blown away both by how devastating the loss was and by how few resources were available, particularly resources written from a faith perspective. After I began serving a church, I realized that there were lots of women looking for the same kinds of support I had longed for. I wanted a complete resource to hand to a church member -- something that would answer the physical/psychological questions most people ask, but would also deal with questions like, "Where was God?" "Did that little life matter to anyone but me?" "How do I pray when I'm so deeply angry?" I also wanted to share stories from others who had experienced miscarriages -- stories that would be true and raw enough to convey the pain of pregnancy loss -- so that if nothing else, the reader might find in the book validation of her own story.
You write about your miscarriage as a young student in seminary and the devastating grief that followed. What was the best thing someone said to you in the days or weeks following?
The things that were comforting in a general sort of way were the sincere, "I'm so sorry" kinds of comments. I remember one particular instance, though. I was telling a friend the short version of what had happened right before a class, and I remember being horribly embarrassed that I said something about how wild with grief I was that this little body of the child I'd loved was in a sewer system somewhere.
She just looked at me, and her eyes suddenly filled with tears, and she just whispered, "Oh, God." And it was a prayer and lament all at once, and I remember feeling suddenly sure that God was walking with us on that path, even though my feelings and emotions were too bruised to "feel" or "sense" God in those days. I would bet that she has no idea what that meant to me -- possibly even no recollection of that event -- but it was her willingness to go to that place of raw, bitter pain with me and lament alongside me that was so profoundly healing, that created a moment that was transparent to God's suffering love and grace.
You write about telling people, “I was only 7 weeks along,” and how that word “only” set up the other person up to say something like, “Oh, well that’s good you weren’t farther along.” This was revolutionary for me. I’ve spent much time being shocked and appalled at people’s comments, but I never thought that I could have some measure of control over the situation. Are there other things we can do to help dissuade negative comments?
Unfortunately for everyone, there's no 100% preventative to keep people from saying hurtful or insensitive or downright appalling things. People are just idiots sometimes -- all of us are to one extent or another. That said, it is possible sometimes to set up your conversation partner for a better or worse response -- especially with those people who truly are well-meaning and just don't know exactly what to say, or who are ignorant about the real pain and grief caused by miscarriage. Be clear with yourself ahead of time about what you want from the person you're telling. Do you want them to talk to you? To listen? To do something concrete like take you out for coffee? Do you want them to get the info and leave you alone? Do you want them to check in with you, or do you hope they never mention it again? When you know what would be healing or feel loving and supportive for you, lead in with that. So, an example might look like this:
NOT SO GOOD:
You: I wanted to let you know that we had a miscarriage. I...
Them: Oh, well, I guess it's good that you're young. Were you guys even trying to get pregnant?
You: Hey, I have something I wanted to let you know about... before I start, I just wanted to say that it's pretty hard for me to talk about this, because it hit me hard, and if you can just listen and not offer any advice or anything, I would be so grateful. You know we were pregnant; well, we lost the baby this week. It's so much harder than I thought it would be, and the things people are saying are making it even harder. I just want people to tell me they're sorry and to let me be sad instead of trying to fix it.
Them: (hopefully thinking, I'd better not try to fix it.) I'm so sorry.