Redeeming Lost Pregnancies
“I can’t find a heartbeat. I’m sorry.”
Celeste Austin listened to her doctor’s devastating words. At the age of 29, she and Wade, her husband of three years, had been thrilled about the couple’s first pregnancy. It should have been a normal checkup. Now the horrifying truth sank in. No warnings, no symptoms, no more baby.
Austin had always assumed she would be a mom, so she tried again to bring a baby to full term. Yet three more miscarriages followed, and the pain of lost dreams, emotional anguish, and receding community support left her reeling.
Melonie Ford had two healthy boys, Caleb and Devon, and at 29, was pregnant with her third child, a longed-for girl. She and her husband, Tory, worked preparing a nursery, filling the room with pink and frilly adornments. When her time came to deliver, on Independence Day in 2009, Ford gave birth to a beautiful child the couple named Sydney Kathleen. Only Sydney had no heartbeat. She was stillborn. On a day when the country celebrated its freedom, Ford had nothing to rejoice over. With empty arms, she got into a vehicle that carried an empty car seat, and returned home to a hauntingly silent nursery.
For both women, as with the 15 to 20 percent of others who mother children only in their wombs, the loss was compounded by deep sadness, shame, and guilt.
“I wondered if I’d done something to cause this to happen,” Ford confesses, still choked up.
Austin felt that she hadn’t successfully “arrived” at womanhood. Many times the church culture, even inadvertently, seems to define womanhood as motherhood.
“You know that it’s a lie from the enemy that you’re not a whole woman unless you’re a mother, but you still believe it,” Austin says.
In addition, as the women tried to come to grips with what had happened, they endured cheery, well-meaning comments that did nothing to bring comfort: You’re young, you’ll have more kids. At least you have those two boys. God has a plan.
While both Austin and Ford did find consolation at their church, Northland Christian Assembly in Flagstaff, Arizona, Austin was particularly surprised by the lack of understanding from some people she encountered.
“As Christians we fight for the prolife cause, believing that life begins at conception and that every life is sacred,” Austin says. “But when somebody has a miscarriage, it seems like a lot of the response is, You’ll be fine. You’ll have another one. They didn’t treat it like a death. It was a death. I went through all the stages of grief.”
Kay Burnett, Austin’s and Ford’s former pastor at Northland, and now director of Assemblies of God National Women’s Ministries, is sensitive to these needs and sees unprecedented numbers of women struggling through this kind of loss. Burnett concedes that for the most part women are left on their own to find help to process their grief and to heal from their experiences.
“I don’t think the Church is sufficiently ministering in this area, and I feel a deep responsibility to change that,” Burnett says. “Especially when you lose multiples, you need to hear encouraging stories that bring hope and healing. We must begin that conversation and provide those resources.”
Burnett would love to resource local churches, so that as women go through the aftermath of a miscarriage, they can have reliable and biblical support.
“They would still rely on the Healer of all, and yet receive direction for what to do when they are going through these emotions and different stages,” Burnett says.
That means offering compassion long after a loss. According to a British Journal of Psychiatry study, almost 15 percent of women who suffered a miscarriage experienced depression or anxiety, which, for some, lasted years. Burnett acknowledges that for such women the grief never ends and they simply learn to keep going.
Ford attests to that truth. After her first loss, she carried a second girl, Madelyn, almost full-term and lost her as well. For both of her daughters, every year on their birthdays, especially, she remembers and mourns. And she appreciates those who remember and mourn with her.
“I have friends who, every July 4 and March 18, text to tell me they’re thinking of me,” Ford says. “That’s so important because I don’t have much to symbolize my children’s lives, but they’re always in my thoughts, so it feels good when people remember them.”
For Austin and Ford, their stories, though pierced with pain, have brought reasons to rejoice. Two years ago Austin, now 39 and a worship leader at Florence First Assembly of God in Arizona, gave birth to a healthy girl, Elianna (“The Lord has responded”), and after another miscarriage, gave birth to Wade Malachi, who is now 5 months old. Ford, now 36 and a stay-at-home mom, also gave birth to a healthy girl, Isabelle, who is now 3.
Both women admit that although the pain of a child’s death never goes away, they have found meaning in sharing about their situations. Both Austin and Ford make themselves available for those who suffer in silence in order to bring the hope and healing that they have experienced through Christ.
“It’s redemptive,” Austin says. “I can help other women not feel alone.”
In addition, Ford’s husband, Tory, now ministers to other men who are in similar situations with their wives.
IMAGE - Father Tory, mother Melonie, son Caleb (13), son Devon (11), and daughter Isabelle (3).