John Bradshaw - Innocents Lost
This is It Is Written. I'm John Bradshaw. Thanks for joining me. There's nothing like the joy of pregnancy, the thrill of expecting, the excitement of preparing, the unique challenges and adjustments that come with it, sometimes the struggles that have been experienced just to get to this place. There's nothing like it, and then the big day, and a life enters the world with all of the hope and expectation that that involves. Childbirth is a miracle. It's a miracle every last one of us have been the beneficiary of. That process, from conception to birth, it's an incredible succession of intricate, delicate, extremely precise developments. Except...it doesn't always work out. And when it doesn't, it can be crushing, devastating. When it doesn't work out, processing that, learning to live with that, working through that... can be extremely difficult.
Miscarriage is more common than most people would ever realize. The Mayo Clinic says that up to 20 percent of all known pregnancies end in a miscarriage. Other authorities say up to 25 percent. That's 1 in 4, or 1 in 5, and that's known pregnancies. Many miscarriages happen so early in the pregnancy that the mother never realized she was pregnant. Some experts say that up to three-quarters of all pregnancies result in miscarriage. Which means there is an awful lot of women who have experienced a miscarriage. Miscarriage is the spontaneous loss of a pregnancy before the 20th week.
Most miscarriages, in fact, the vast majority, occur within the first 12 weeks of a pregnancy. And unlike almost anything else, miscarriage raises questions that are very difficult to answer, questions like, "Why me"? "What did I do wrong"? and "Why did God let this happen"? And then there's the question that for many people is the biggest one of all: "Will my baby be in heaven"? We're going to do our best to answer those questions in the next few minutes, and we'll meet a woman who's had a lot of experience with this, and talk with a physician who's had an awful lot of experience dealing with the issues surrounding what truly is a tragedy of immense proportions.
So does God care when a miscarriage occurs? Of course He does. Isaiah 44, verse 2: "Thus says the Lord who made you and formed you from the womb..." Isaiah 44, same chapter, verse 24: "Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, and He who formed you from the womb..." Isaiah 49:1, "Listen, O coastlands, to me, and take heed, you peoples from afar! The Lord has called me from the womb; from the matrix of my mother He has made mention of my name". You get the idea here. In fact, it becomes very clear that God is very much aware of what takes place inside the womb. The Bible does not say that a person is formed at childbirth, but within the womb, inside the mother. That's a baby. That's a person. That's a human being; at least, that's the way God sees it.
And God had this to say to Jeremiah, in Jeremiah 1 in verse 5: "Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you; before you were born I sanctified you". So if God knew Jeremiah in the womb, if God knew Isaiah in the womb, then God knows what's going on within every pregnant woman. So, yes, God cares, and He cares deeply. God feels the pain of every grieving mother, which is important to know, because women who miscarry frequently find that those around them don't always empathize or sympathize or, or show concern or support like they... like they really should. Now, we know how to react basically when someone's grandma dies. We show concern. It's sad. There's grieving that needs to take place. When someone loses a parent or a sibling or a spouse, we get that. Not that everyone is especially helpful or always says the right thing, but we understand the dynamic of a person dying.
We understand the loss of someone who no longer sits across the dining room table, someone who isn't there in church anymore, or isn't there when you go home to visit. That's a loss. We kind of get that. That person is no longer there. But the loss of someone you've never seen, someone you've never met, someone without a name, how do you truly appreciate a loss like that? For a lot of people, even for a lot of husbands whose wives miscarry, it's not easy. Which is why people will say things like, "Well, at least it happened early," or, or "Don't feel bad". Don't feel bad? That's exactly how an expectant mother is going to feel when she loses her child. Loss is difficult for humans to bear. God didn't create us to experience loss, to grieve.
Death came into the world as the result of sin. And 6,000 years later, it still doesn't sit well with us. And in this case, the death of dreams, the death of potential, the death of joy, the death of a future, that's its own kind of difficult. Imagine being the woman who for so long has been trying to get pregnant, and now people are congratulating you. It's fun. You're starting to shop for strollers and decorate a room, and you start to think about picking a name. Maybe friends have started giving you gifts. You've started to dream about what the future holds: Will she play the piano? Will she become a teacher or a doctor or an engineer? Will he be a carpenter or a physical therapist or an accountant?
One day you'll go to games. You'll play basketball together at the local court. You'll ice skate. You'll eat ice cream. You'll be there for that first lost tooth, take them to school on that first day at school. There'll be pets and grazed knees and learning to ride a bike, and then high school, and one day, boyfriends or girlfriends, and one day, a wedding. But miscarriage ends that, right when you're daring to dream, when your future is offering you so much. It's all...gone. So how do you get through this in a healthy way, your marriage still strong, your faith in God intact? And will you ever get to meet that baby? I'll be right back.
Thanks for joining me on It Is Written. Some of the great stories of the Bible center around pregnancy and childbirth. The greatest story of the Bible could well be that of an angel visiting a young, unmarried woman and telling her she's going to have a baby. Mary then visits her pregnant cousin, Elizabeth, who's going to be the mother of John the Baptist. There's the story of Hannah, the wife of Elkanah, weeping before the Lord because she couldn't conceive. And then the miracle child Samuel was born. There's that great Old Testament story of Abraham and Sarah, who in their old age became the parents of Isaac. Genesis 25:21 says, "Now Isaac pleaded with the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his plea, and Rebekah his wife conceived".
Another birth that came as a result of God's direct intervention: Isaac's son Jacob married Rachel, and Genesis 30, verse 1 says, "Now when Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister, and said to Jacob, 'Give me children, or else I die!'" And she conceived. Both Moses and Hosea wrote that Jacob took hold of his brother "by the heel in the womb". Pregnancy is a huge deal in the Bible. The gift of life is precious. And that's understood by expecting parents, especially expecting mothers. But when all that disappears so unexpectedly, when something as inexplicable as miscarriage strikes from out of nowhere, it can be devastating. Almost 20 years ago my wife miscarried what would have been our second child, somewhere around eight to 10 weeks. It was devastating for her. Sad for me, devastating for her. And almost two decades later, the pain is just about this far beneath the surface when the subject comes up. Becky Nordquist knows something of the pain of miscarriage and loss. I spoke to her about her experience.
Becky Nordquist: We experienced five pregnancy losses and one stillbirth, after hoping to have a family of our own.
John Bradshaw: A question many people, uh, are wanting an answer to is, how do you endure that? Just how do you get through that much loss?
Becky Nordquist: Well, there was a lot of wrestling, a lot of questioning God. I really was wrestling with my faith, and so was my husband. We, we wrestled together. We ended up one morning laying in bed, saying, "God, are You mad at us? Did You leave us"? You know, "Have we left, you know, have we walked out from underneath Your hand of blessing? What's going on"? Because there was just loss after loss. And so you find yourself in those really dark places. You find yourself asking questions that you feel almost ashamed that you're asking, as a believer, but they're crucial to ask. They're, they're so important to growing our faith deeper. And so, clinging to the truth of God's Word, even when your heart doesn't feel it, was absolutely the most important thing we could have found.
John Bradshaw: And you waited, and then you might have had to wait again. And now you look back over multiple pregnancy losses, and during that time, two beautiful, healthy babies were born. You look back over that period... how, how do you, how do you view it?
Becky Nordquist: A very bittersweet journey. Uh, bitter when I think of things in the terms of the tears wept and the empty arms that I experienced, the difficult things that people would say, that were well-intentioned, but very poorly-worded. Um, but sweet, because who God has become for me: the God of Becky. Not just the God of Moses or the God of David or the God of Abraham. He became the God of Becky in that dark period, and who He is to me today, I wouldn't trade that for anything. It is a treasure that nothing else in this earth could compare to that.
John Bradshaw: Two questions: How do women typically deal with this? How would you suggest a woman, a family, let's not forget husbands are impacted here as well, how would you suggest families deal with this in a healthy way? Firstly, what's typical? Second, what's healthy?
Becky Nordquist: Hmm. I'm not sure I can speak to what's typical, because it is such an individual journey. Um, many, many try to go it alone, though. There's a lot of people that just don't want to talk about it for multiple reasons. Everyone has a different reason. Sometimes it's just, you know, a little embarrassment. We told everyone we're pregnant; now suddenly we're not. What do we say now? And then it's awkward because people don't know how to respond. Uh, but I think the most important thing is that you do at least find one person to talk with and process through it with. And certainly, you know, honest struggling with the Lord is important.
John Bradshaw: There are some pretty normal responses to miscarriage that aren't especially helpful. A woman is going to be tempted to blame herself: "Maybe I shouldn't have eaten that fast food". "Maybe it was the mountain biking". "If I'd exercised more..." "If I'd drunk more water..." No. Except for very rare exceptions, it's not the things that you do that ever cause the miscarriage. And when something goes wrong, we want to find someone to blame. "It was my fault". No, it wasn't. "I failed". Oh, no, you didn't fail. Pregnancy is a high-risk proposition. Consider how many pregnancies end in miscarriage, both known and unknown miscarriage, and considering all of the things that have to go right in order for a child to be born, pregnancy as a whole is a high-risk thing.
Dr. Donald Taylor: Genetically, when a baby is formed, there's so much information that's being passed from sperm to egg. Everything that's developing initially has to be just right, because it's such a critical foundation for the development of that baby, that if it doesn't, the baby's not going to survive, it's not going to do well, and then a miscarriage occurs.
John Bradshaw: Post-miscarriage, what's important, what's healthy for that woman to be able to move forward?
Dr. Donald Taylor: First of all, I think being able to talk about it openly, to share her feelings. Because every pregnancy carries much more emotions than most people realize, even early pregnancies. It's easy to conceive a fetal death further along into pregnancy and how much grief that would bring, but you'd be surprised how much grief the early part of it is.
John Bradshaw: So what advice do you have for husbands?
Dr. Donald Taylor: For Dad, the main thing that I encourage them to do is to listen. Be close to them. Don't draw away from them, because it's easy to do that, or try to take over in the sense of, "Okay, this is how we're going to fix", because that's what guys like to do; they like to fix things. And that's not what she needs. She needs that listening ear and that gentle touch from Dad.
John Bradshaw: What do you think are one or two things that most people, even most moms, don't understand about miscarriage?
Dr. Donald Taylor: The frequency, as to how common it is, in our local community, in our society. And then secondly, how they can take care of themselves with exercise, with diet, and rest. Most don't realize how important that is. And those are probably the major factors, uh, that we go over with them.
John Bradshaw: So how do you support a woman who has had a miscarriage? Of course, not everybody processes a loss like this in exactly the same way. But generally speaking, being as a grieving process is going on, you do what you do to help someone who is grieving: You don't try to fix it. It can't be fixed. A loss is a loss, and it cannot be undone. You don't try to ignore it. It's real. What people need is an ear. We've looked at the subject of grief before on It Is Written. Grief is difficult. People process grief in different ways, but pretending that what has happened hasn't happened or failing to acknowledge a crushing loss as just what it is, that's just not helpful. Yes, life will get back to normal, as it were, eventually, just like it did after your dad died. But it takes time, and the sense of loss is always there.
Look at the grief David expressed for his son Absalom. Oh, very different circumstances, but David's grief was enormous. "Then the king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept. And as he went, he said thus: 'O my son, my son Absalom, if only I had died in your place! O Absalom my son, my son!'" That's 2 Samuel 18:33. David lost a child. You could say that a lost pregnancy is in some ways more cruel because it's the death of hope, the death of dreams. The unborn are the innocent, and the loss of the innocent is tough. So, do we see those unborn babies in eternity? I'll be back in just a moment.
As many as a quarter of all known pregnancies end in miscarriage. The Cambridge Dictionary defines miscarriage as "an early, unintentional end to a pregnancy when the baby is born too early and dies because it has not developed enough". So where is God when all of this takes place? Well, that's a good question. I'm glad that there's a good answer. Whether it's miscarriage or infant death or the death of a grandparent, God is present when we grieve. The presence of bad things doesn't mean that God was absent. Awful things happen, and they happen as a result of sin in the world. We were created to live forever. There was no sin in the beginning, but with the advent of sin there came the advent of death and illness and crime and hate. Imagine the earth before sin. God said that it was good; He then said, "very good". But after sin, things began to change. Imagine Adam and Eve seeing a leaf die for the first time, then an animal die, and then seeing a person die.
This wasn't what God was thinking of when He created the world. It wasn't what He wished for. Our own choices of human beings have brought about the decay, the degeneration of the world, so that now things happen that we have no control over, like cancer, very often, accidents. You can be the victim of a crime through absolutely no fault of your own. And tragedies like miscarriage or stillbirth, painful things that are beyond your control, it's the price we pay for living in a sinful world. Tragically, things happen. And miscarriage brings with it all kinds of challenges that people outside of that world don't always consider. What's it like going home from the doctor's office when she's told you the news that you didn't want to hear, and going back to that, that room you've prepared? Having to tell the nice lady at the store that, "Actually, I'm not pregnant now, so..."?
Everywhere you turn there are young mothers pushing strollers, pregnant women evidently very excited about their rather obvious future. And then there's the fear that accompanies your next pregnancy, when all you can do is worry that it's going to happen again. Now, there are things a person can do, though. Read. Read about the subject. Get involved in a support group. Find friends who will actually be supportive. Listen to a good podcast on the subject. And trust in God. Difficult experiences don't have to mean the end of your faith in God. God isn't a villain. God didn't do this to anyone. This is simply life in a world that for thousands of years has been wrestling with sin and its effects. God is there for you in any crisis, in any trying time.
Remember those promises in the Bible? They'll help you to move forward. Now, you don't have to move on, but you do want to be able to move forward. Matthew 11:28, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest". Isaiah 26:3, "You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You". "Trust in the Lord with all your heart". That's Proverbs 3:5. "I am with you always, even to the end of the age". Matthew 28:20. "Be still, and know that I am God". Psalm 46:10. And Matthew 5, verse 4: "Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted". The question many people wrestle with is, "Will I see my baby again"?
Now, that's an important question. When an adult dies or a child dies, we're given very real promises in the Bible about what we have to look forward to. 1 Thessalonians chapter 4, 16 and 17 says: "For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord".
Now, what's that? That's the resurrection: "The dead in Christ shall rise". That's clear. Jesus said much the same in John chapter 5, verses 28 and 29: "Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation". Paul wrote to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians chapter 15: "Behold, I shew you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed". The dead shall be raised. Did Paul or Jesus distinguish between the dead who died in the womb and the dead who died after having been born? No. No, they did not.
So who will be saved? Well, those sinners who repented of their sins and accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. But those in the womb have not sinned. There's nothing for them to repent of. Now, now, careful, does that mean that every unborn child has a free pass to everlasting life? I don't think it would be wise or even necessary to say that. The Bible isn't entirely clear about this, which means we should tread carefully and with respect. But if you're wondering about the eternal destiny of your unborn child, you have every reason to be hopeful, every reason to look forward to meeting your baby and to raising your child in heaven. We've got a lot to look forward to when we get to heaven, and meeting those little ones we never knew, the innocents that were lost to us, that's going to be one of the most special blessings God has for us.