This is the first chapter of Little One Lost: Living with Early Infant Loss, an upcoming book written by Glenda Mathes and published by Reformed Fellowship, Inc.
It is scheduled for release this spring.
An elderly woman tirelessly knits another tiny afghan. A middle-aged woman carefully arranges pictures and ribbons in a beautiful scrapbook. A young woman tenderly pats soil around a young tree being planted in her yard. What do these different women and their various activities have in common?
The knitting, pasting, and planting are ways these three women cope with the loss of a pre-term infant who never felt soft yarn, never wore satin ribbons, and never saw green leaves glow translucently in the sun. The unfulfilled anticipation of new life lost before birth—like a tender bud pinched by an early frost—is what makes the loss of a pre-term infant so piercing. Yet society often minimizes such loss. We live in an abortion-accepting society that has hardened its collective heart to the loss of prenatal life. Why mourn the loss of a “fetus”? Medical professionals in the recent past took away the baby without allowing the mother to see it. Even Christians sometimes minimize infant loss. Insensitive comforters say, “At least you can have other children.” Mothers are expected to “get over it.” Fathers are frequently ignored, hovering on the fringe while friends focus on the grieving mother.
For those who believe that life begins at conception, a loss at any point in the pregnancy is significant. Even the loss of the littlest one is the loss of a real person. Each child is unique, created in God’s image. Such a loss rips a hole in the parent’s heart and leaves an aching void. No other child can completely fill the jagged hole or smooth its scarred edges. The parent’s heart will always ache for the lost child.
There’s a hole in my heart.
My husband and I have four wonderful adult children; I am thankful every day that they all love the Lord and walk in His ways. But we also have a tiny child in heaven. Before our marriage, we discussed having children. At the time, we talked about the possibility of two children by natural birth and—if we wanted more—two by adoption. As we progressed in our marital journey and matured in our spiritual walk, we learned more about submitting our wills to the Lord. We left the number of our children and the method for bringing them into our family more and more in the Lord’s hands.
God blessed us with two little boys about two-and-a-half years apart. We thought God’s provision was perfect and were content with two sons. But as our sons grew, we found ourselves longing for another child. We longed longer. Eventually, we learned we were expecting our third child.
Unanticipated problems arose during that pregnancy. My doctor could no longer hear the baby’s heartbeat. He told me to go home and wait. We waited. We became resigned to what we believed was the inevitable loss of our child.
But something unexpected happened. We didn’t lose the baby. A visit to the doctor indicated that the baby seemed to be growing, and eventually the doctor once more heard the baby’s heartbeat. We were thrilled with the hope of a full term baby, but we also were prepared for the possibility of welcoming into our home a child who was handicapped.
When a healthy daughter was born, we could hardly believe God’s goodness! Not only were we blessed with a healthy baby, but also—after two boys—our baby was a little girl! As I dressed her in a tiny pink dress and bonnet before leaving for church on her first Easter Sunday, my heart overflowed with thankfulness.
My full heart made me begin to believe that my quiver was full, too. My husband began to feel the same way. We were surprised to discover a year later that we were expecting another child. I confess that I had difficulty adjusting to the idea. My spirit was far from submissive. With three young children, I felt I was busy enough. I didn’t rail or complain to God, but I wasn’t rejoicing or thanking Him either.
Eventually I came to the point of grudging acceptance. I was able to smile as I told family members about our anticipated child.
Then suddenly I was no longer pregnant. There were no warning signs to prepare me. There was no waiting and coming to terms. Just when I had finally accepted my pregnancy, it disappeared. It was very early in the pregnancy, and I began to question if I had actually been pregnant. Perhaps it was just an extremely late cycle.
It is only now, over twenty years later, that I realize to what extent I used denial to deal with my grief and guilt. Notice how I described my loss? “I was no longer pregnant” and “my pregnancy disappeared.” My descriptors are indicators of my perception.
I didn’t think of it as a baby. I didn’t even think of it as a miscarriage. I told myself that I probably hadn’t been pregnant. Denying the pregnancy’s existence helped me deal with the guilt I felt over my initial reluctance in accepting it. Denial was my crutch.
But my perspective about our family had changed. I no longer felt that our quiver was full; I longed for another child. My husband was also eager for another child.
When we discovered a year later that I was again pregnant, my response was genuinely joyful and thankful. A second healthy daughter was born full term. Whenever the nurses brought her to my husband and me, we took off the hospital’s pink stocking cap to marvel at her fuzzy, pale hair. After she came home with us, I loved brushing her hair into its natural waves. Now, in addition to two handsome sons, we had two beautiful daughters: one with brown eyes and dark curls and the other with blue eyes and blonde waves.
People told us we had a “million-dollar” family. We’d never before heard the phrase—used to refer to a family with two boys and two girls—but heard it often when our children were little. We believed it originated in the idea that a pair of sons and a pair of daughters were worth a million dollars. After we began paying tuition for all four of our children to be enrolled in private Christian schools, however, we joked about our new understanding of the phrase!
During all those busy years, with their joyful blessings and their heart-rending struggles, I suppressed the truth about my loss. I was pregnant. I lost a baby.
There is a hole in my heart.
Mrs. Glenda Mathes is an author and editor who lives with her husband near Pella, IA, where they are members of Covenant Reformed Church (URCNA). They have four adult children, two of whom are married, and four grandsons.