What four miscarriages taught me about grief and faith
Hope after pregnancy and infant loss
“Miscarriage feels like having part of your heart missing,” writes Adriel Booker, author of the book Grace Like Scarlett – Grieving With Hope After Miscarriage and Loss.
Adriel – along with her husband Ryan – has been through the grief of miscarriage four times. In between celebrating the safe arrival of their three boys – now aged ten, nine and four – the couple had to say goodbye to four dearly loved babies: Scarlett, Oliver, Ruby and Eden.
In her book, Adriel describes the “most painful and isolating experiences of her life”. These include hearing someone else’s newborn crying as she sat in a hospital hallway waiting to have a D&C (the surgical removal of her baby who had died in utero); being unable to enjoy subsequent pregnancies because of the crushing weight of fear and physical pain; and the ache in her soul every Mother’s Day.
“I never want to commodify my pain or anyone else’s,” Adriel explains to Eternity, “but if we can share it in a way that helps other people give language to their grief and find hope in the midst of it, then that’s what I want to do.”
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Alongside descriptions of her personal experiences, the book offers practical suggestions such as journalling, ideas on helping husbands and children to grieve, tips on helping friends after miscarriage, and memorial ideas to remember lost babies.
As a Christian and leader of YWAM (Youth With A Mission) Sydney Newtown – along with Ryan – Adriel’s book is also designed to help those wrestling with their Christian faith after miscarriage and other pregnancy loss.
Beyond the book, Adriel’s ministry has branched into an online pregnancy loss community called Our Scarlett Stories. Starting in May, it now has “a couple of hundred” members. She has also begun running eight-week online Deep Dive grief support groups for those who have experienced pregnancy loss.
In discussing this form of grief with Eternity ahead of International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day on October 15, Adriel shares some of the lessons she learned through her own losses.
Break the taboo
Miscarriage has been – and is often still – considered a taboo subject.
“One of the reasons why miscarriage and fertility issues in general are taboo or still have stigma around them is because anything related to fertility just feels very intimate and deeply personal,” Adriel explains.
“It’s involving the body, our hearts, our dreams. It’s involving our minds, our preconceived ideas of the role of women and men and family, and how we imagine our lives.
“I think as well that pregnancy loss for so long has, and still is, really considered to be a women’s issue. I don’t think [miscarriage is] a women’s issue. I think it’s a human issue.”
” … [fathers] don’t know how to put language around their grief because it has been so taboo.” – Adriel Booker
She adds: “I remember one woman sharing a story with me about calling her church and wanting to talk to her pastor after a [pregnancy] loss. Her pastor came on the phone and she started telling him what had happened to her and her husband.
“And he said, ‘Oh, hang on, I’m just going to go get the women’s ministry leader.’ And she thought, ‘No, I want to talk to my pastor. To me, this is pastoral and it’s theological.’ Not that there’s anything wrong with speaking to the women’s minister, but I think that just shows how we really relate to these issues as ‘women’s issues’.
“This does women a disservice and it does men a huge disservice, because then when they’re the father involved, they don’t know how to put language around their grief because it has been so taboo.”
Adriel’s husband Ryan’s advice to other grieving dads is also included in the book. Ryan admitted to Adriel that at age 39, when they experienced their first miscarriage, he had never had a conversation with another man about fertility, pregnancy or miscarriage.
“He said to me, ‘I just don’t even know how to talk about it because it’s so foreign to me,'” says Adriel.
She adds that after one of their miscarriages, “I remember him being very hurt once and saying, ‘I love seeing you be cared for, and I love seeing your phone keep buzzing with messages and support, but mine’s not buzzing. And my messages are all ‘how’s Adriel doing?’, not ‘how are you doing?'”
“I remember thinking, ‘Oh, the injustice around this. I don’t want those messages to stop, but I want him to have them too.”
Discover a theology of suffering
“We realised we didn’t really have a theology of suffering,” Adriel admits about their pre-miscarriage faith.
“When my husband and I first were introduced to grief, we realised we had skipped over a lot of the places in Scripture where there are stories of deep, deep suffering – because we’d really focused on the outcomes and the redemption and the resurrection inside the stories.
“I think as humans that’s part of being hopeful … so I don’t want to be dismissive of that. But it meant that we didn’t know how to live with the suffering. We didn’t know how to invite Jesus into that space.”
Adriel likens this to a parent-child relationship, saying, “if my kids were only ever coming to me when they were thankful or when they wanted to tell me that I was a great mum, that might be nice for a little while but, eventually, I would think ‘are you putting on a show? What about the rest of you? I want to know what you’re concerned about. I want to know what’s making you angry. I want to know what’s hurting you.'”
“Lament is so important – naming what’s wrong in the world, but also naming the one who can and will make it right.” – Adriel Booker
In order to allow Jesus into their grief, Adriel says she rediscovered the biblical idea of lament – upon which a large part of the Book of Psalms is based.
“When you look at the Jesus story, there are moments of great agony and great anguish, abandonment, betrayal, rejection, great pain. And then there’s also times of real celebration with his friends. If we are just only focused on the celebration, that resurrected life, we can miss some of the depth of joy when we understand how much we need it and how much we need him,” she says.
“Lament is not just sort of complaining or naming what’s wrong. It’s coupling that with the hope that God makes things right and with the hope of deliverance. And that’s why I think lament is so important – naming what’s wrong in the world, but also naming the one who can and will make it right.”
Mark the loss
“Miscarriage is a very ambiguous kind of grief. Psychologists call it a ‘disenfranchised grief’,” says Adriel.
“I think part of the reason for this ambiguity is because science is always changing where we see life beginning. And then there’s the religious and ethical side of things where there’s no consensus about where life begins. So you ask one person who says it’s at conception and another person will say it’s at implantation. Another will say that it’s at first breath …
“That that makes rituals [when grieving a miscarriage] even harder, because of the ambiguity around what it is we’ve lost or what it is we’re grieving for.”
Still, for Adriel’s family – and many others – particular rituals were helpful to mark their loss and make it more tangible.
“With all of our miscarriages, I’ve written letters to sort of direct my thoughts and my intentions toward those little ones. I don’t do anything with them, they’re just sitting on a hard drive somewhere. But that’s been helpful for me.”
Their family also released balloons after each miscarriage, on which they wrote messages to their unborn babies.
“That was such a tangible way to have something physical to hold onto and let go of,” says Adriel. “That’s been special for all of us, but particularly for my husband, because for the mother, the loss is a physical process. We feel different, our hormones change and we’ve got physical changes, so it’s already so much more tangible. But for men, it can be so abstract, so [Ryan] needed something a little bit more concrete.
“We also felt like that gave a good memory for our children, knowing that we had done something to say goodbye.”
She adds: “So that’s been really important to us as a family, but people do all sorts of things. They plant trees or release butterflies or start charities – all sorts of things.”
Adriel’s advice to other Christians and churches on how best to support families who have experienced miscarriage or other pregnancy loss is this: “To understand a family going through pregnancy loss, it’s like they have just given birth and they’ve just had the death of a loved one all at once.”
“We do things to really tangibly support new parents. We show up with a casserole or with flowers, or we might send the mum some tea and a nice bottle of lotion to look after herself.
“We also do things to really tangibly support the bereaved. We show up with flowers, we make a phone call.”
“Anything you can do to validate that [baby’s] life as a real life – those small things actually go a really long way to help people feel seen in their grief and validated.” – Adriel Booker
Adriel hopes others would do similar things for those who have suffered a miscarriage or other pregnancy loss. She also adds more ideas: “I remember someone telling me the story of their particular church, which would once a year do a liturgy for those who had passed away. They mentioned the baby by name when they were mentioning all of the other people in the church that had passed away that year.”
“On Mother’s Day and on Father’s Day, it may mean acknowledging that some people have lost babies; or a pastor can make a phone call in a timely manner after something like that happens.
“It’s anything you can do to validate that [baby’s] life as a real life. Those small things actually go a really long way to help people feel seen in their grief and validated.”
Using social media wisely is another piece of advice Adriel gives. For friends of those who have experienced a pregnancy loss, this means being sensitive and considered when posting.
“Just because your friend or somebody you love has miscarried doesn’t mean you shouldn’t announce your pregnancy and all your joy,” Adriel shares as an example. “But what it might mean is you first make a phone call to your friend to say ‘I am about to share about my pregnancy, but I know that you’ve lost your baby. And I just want to say that I see you and I’m so sorry.’
“Those kinds of small things can go so far in giving grace to that person who’s bereaved.”
Adriel also gives some social media advice to those who have experienced miscarriage and pregnancy loss: “There’s times when it’s just kind to yourself to power down. And it’s kind to yourself, potentially, to unfollow that friend for a while who has a due date at the same time as you because it’s just painful every time they come through your feed.”
Adriel is hosting a faith-based remembrance service –”Gone Too Soon” – on International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day (October 15). The free event will be livestreamed on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, and is for anyone who has experienced miscarriage, stillbirth or other forms of pregnancy and infant loss. For more information or to register visit babylossremembrance.com.
Adriel also is hosting a free five-day online grief summit called ‘Tethered to Hope’ from October 21-25, 2020, comprised of on-demand video sessions. For more information visit tetheredtohope.com.