By PPL Board Member, Martha Leatherman, MD
Do you know someone who has been affected by early pregnancy loss or miscarriage? Do you know someone who has had a miscarriage? If you say that you haven’t, you might be surprised. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, miscarriage is defined as pregnancy loss less than 20 weeks gestation (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK532992/). It is much more common than most people realize. In fact, 26% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage, but many experts believe that this number underestimates the actual number of miscarriages because of underreporting. Whatever the number, the impact on parents who have experienced miscarriage can be emotionally devastating. Many don’t realize that there are also ongoing physical problems and medical interventions that women must go through after a miscarriage.
As most women who have experienced miscarriage will affirm, the experience is most often lonely. In fact, even in today’s interconnected world, many women have no idea that others have experienced miscarriage, and they have never been offered comfort, counseling, or support (https://www.thelancet.com/series/miscarriage). I recently heard an anecdote about a pastor who, while counseling a church member who had recently suffered a miscarriage, was shocked to realize that the grieving mother had no idea that others in the congregation had experienced this loss. The anecdote is sad, but I’m not surprised. Because I’ve been very up front about my pregnancy loss, a number of mothers in my own congregation have approached me for advice and comfort—yet they have never told the pastor or even their Bible Study or prayer partners. They suffer alone and in silence.
Why is this? It appears that, in some way, the loneliness of miscarriage is caused by the fact that most miscarriages happen before friends and family know about the pregnancy. There is an almost unspoken “rule” not to announce a pregnancy until they couple is “sure.” A pregnancy loss before that time is almost subconsciously expected, and so it is not shared. Another reason is that the unfortunate medical term for miscarriage is “spontaneous abortion.” Even those who realize that spontaneous abortion is not at all related to the deliberate act of ending a pregnancy, termed “elective abortion,” the very word “abortion” carries a negative connotation and, for some, a certain weight of guilt. The sad propaganda put forth by the abortion industry that the baby is “just a clump of cells,” also contributes to the silence surrounding miscarriage. After all—who would mourn a clump of cells? Mothers and fathers (brothers, sisters, grandparents)—that’s who.
No matter the reason for the silence surrounding miscarriage the fact that churches do not actively and intentionally reach into these places of pain to offer support, comfort, and the promise of God’s love and provision is something that must be changed.
I am 60 years old, and I have seen food trains, baby showers, adoption parties, foster parent support, funeral assistance, and support during illness in every church that I have attended, yet I have never seen a church outreach for a family dealing with miscarriage.
Presbyterians Protecting Life has resources for these grieving mothers and their families. We have sample memorial services and pastoral guidance, but these resources are useless until churches realize that the women in their midst need support. What better source of comfort and healing than the church? The church must be the body of Christ, Who knows our shame, despair, and grief. Christ not only knows our suffering, but He goes into those places with us. The church must be the visible evidence of God’s love in this broken world and help the grief-stricken to find solace, meaning, understanding, and renewed dependence on His sovereign providence in the midst of this world of brokenness and sin. We should be different than the world, but we have not been different in this sphere.
Knowing that it is incumbent upon the church to care for these families, what are some specific ways that you can help?
1. Publicly recognize pregnancy loss in your congregation. This can be through formal or informal means. Some congregations have offered a memorial service for families who have lost children. PPL has resources to help with that: https://www.ppl.org/memorial-service-sample
2. Educate the congregation on the reality of pregnancy loss. Workshops, speakers, directed Bible study and sermons are all ways that churches can raise awareness.
3. Set up a ministry team that can offer material assistance to families who have suffered pregnancy loss, including meals, childcare, and support for medical appointments. PPL has resources that can help equip such a ministry team (https://www.ppl.org/talking-about-miscarriage)
4. Remember that there are many women who experience a miscarriage years ago when the subject was truly taboo. These women were often never allowed to express their grief. Provide a place for them.
5. Don’t forget the fathers. Fathers often do not realize the extent of grief experienced by a woman who has lost her child. In addition, the father is expected to be strong and supportive of the woman, yet he is experiencing his own grief.
The Church is uniquely poised to help these families. Prayerfully consider how you can be involved, and remember that PPL has resources to help you.