Miscarriage, Stillbirth, and Hope

Life in my mid-60s requires caution that wasn’t necessary in my youth. Considering the alternative, though, being alive is pretty good: even in moments of loss.

Miscarriage: Joy

(From Ikar.us, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(Kleinstkindergrab, babies’ graves in the Karlsruhe main cemetery, Baden-Württemberg, Germany.)

We lost one child, quite a few years ago, early in the pregnancy. Our best guess is that something went wrong with some basic function in Joy’s body.

The human body is a wonderfully complex thing: Which means a great many things can go wrong. This isn’t a perfect world.

My wife and I sealed what was left of Joy and the placenta, for testing: but saw to it that she was buried, informally and briefly, in hallowed ground.

I’m still not sure if that was what I should have done, but figured that ‘it’s easier to get forgiveness, than permission.’

Testing showed no problems, aside from the miscarriage. Years passed, and two more children joined the two we’d been blessed with before Joy.

Stillbirth: Elizabeth

We thought our sixth pregnancy would end in a normal delivery. This baby was doing fine. We, and our four surviving children, were looking forward to seeing the newest member of the family.

When the contractions started, they were off the 50th percentile, but as I recall they were inside the ‘normal’ range. When it was “time,” my wife and I headed for the hospital.

Elizabeth died, most likely, as we were approaching the Interstate exit nearest the hospital. My wife told me that our baby thrashed around: then stopped moving.

At the hospital, they detected no heartbeat. Whatever was going wrong was more than a rural hospital could handle.

Later that night I followed the ambulance carrying my wife to another hospital, an hour down the Interstate — and was with her when Elizabeth was delivered, beautifully formed; and quite dead.

My wife and I took turns holding Elizabeth as warmth left her body. Later, I learned that the center of the placenta had given way. The medical folks say if the failure had happened near the edge, my wife would have bled to death.

We have photos of Elizabeth, and of an ultrasound: but I haven’t looked at those for quite a long time.

There’s no need.

I remember what she looked like, the weight of her body in my arms: and I’m not likely to forget. Besides: God willing, I’ll meet her, and Joy, in no more than a few decades.

‘Why be miserable?’

(Our Lady of Angels’ Marian Garden, July 2013: a good place to sit and think.)

Talking over Elizabeth’s death with my wife, and how we feel about it, she summed up the situation with something like ‘why be miserable?’

She’s a very practical woman. And she’s right.

If I seem ‘upbeat’ about losing a third of our children: It helps that Elizabeth died 10 years ago. I’ve gone through the ‘stages of grief,’ more or less.

It’s not an easy process. Knowing what was behind a nervous tic and auditory hallucinations helped me get through those years: but I’d rather not repeat the experience.

There will always be an ‘Elizabeth size’ hole in my heart — and one for Joy.

But I’ve gotten used to the situation: just as people get used to their children living thousands of miles away.

‘It’s not fair.’ So?

(From William Blake, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(William Blake’s illustration of Job being ‘helped’ by his friends.)

Being born with deformed hips1 gave me opportunities to think about, and meditate on, whether or not expecting life to be “fair” by American standards is reasonable.

I’m convinced that God is just, and that He is merciful.2 I’m also certain that I wouldn’t understand why things happen, even if the Almighty explained His Will to me, so I’m not going to demand an explanation. I’ve read the book of Job.

1 I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be hindered.”
(Job 42:2)

“Your reign is a reign for all ages, your dominion for all generations. The LORD is trustworthy in every word, and faithful in every work.”
(Psalms 145:13)

“For he is a God of justice, who knows no favorites.”
(Sirach 35:12)

Death is Certain, Life is Eternal

Sooner or later, I’ll die. I’m not looking forward to my final performance review, but it’s unavoidable.3

“Life is eternal; and love is immortal; and death is only a horizon; and a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight.”4

Then I live forever: in Heaven, or Hell, depending on my decisions.

It’s my choice: God does not drag anyone, kicking and screaming, into Heaven or Hell. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 10211037)

My hope and goal is to be where death, mourning, and pain, no longer exist: and that’s another topic. (Revelation 21:4)


“Who will condemn? It is Christ (Jesus) who died, rather, was raised, who also is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.
“What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?…
“…For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers,
“nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
(Romans 8:3435, 3839)

Valuing life and health, within reason:

The still-life with a skull at the top of this post is by Philippe de Champaigne/Tessé Museum, made around 1671. Image from the Musée de Tessé, Le Mans, France; via Wikimedia Commons; used w/o permission.

1 I talked about that Friday: Reminiscence of a Lab Rat (October 7, 2016)

2 A bit about God:

“God’s almighty power is in no way arbitrary: ‘In God, power, essence, will, intellect, wisdom, and justice are all identical. Nothing therefore can be in God’s power which could not be in his just will or his wise intellect.’110
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 271)

Thomas Aquinas discusses commutative justice and distributive justice, moral virtues, good as perceived by intellect, relationships and debt, and God, in Summa Theologica, First Part, Question: 24 (Benziger Bros. edition, 1947))

3 We call the face-to-face interview with our Lord our particular judgment. (Catechism, 10211022)

4 Depending on your frame of reference: those are lyrics from the fourth track on Carly Simon’s Have You Seen Me Lately album; part of a prayer by Fr. Bede Jarrett, who had said he was repeating something William Penn wrote; or from Rossiter W. Raymond’s “Death is Only an Horizon” poem.

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About Brian H. Gill

I was born in 1951. I'm a husband, father and grandfather. One of the kids graduated from college in December, 2008, and is helping her husband run businesses and raise my granddaughter; another is a cartoonist and artist; #3 daughter is a writer; my son is developing a digital game with #3 and #1 daughters. I'm also a writer and artist.
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6 Responses to Miscarriage, Stillbirth, and Hope

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  4. This is hear-breaking experience!

    I can’t really relate on this, which was so tragic, especially to a Mom who endured the difficulty on nursing the baby for nine months and to a Dad who’s excited to see what he had been longing for. Nonetheless, this encounter can be significant enough as a strength of those who are are experiencing the same but cannot move on brought by so much grief. As your wife mentioned, “why be miserable” is an expression of strength and acceptance, which other couples could healthily relate with. It’s easier said than done especially to couples who have low tolerance of pain caused by the lost of loved ones, but there is only one way to get out from this unhappiness – to find another source of joy despite the loss.

    • As you said – ‘easier said than done.’ 🙂

      Neither my wife, or myself, will ever be ‘over’ these losses – – – not in the sense of being exactly as we were before. I think you have a point – that finding, or accepting, other reasons to celebrate life is a good idea.

      Happily, we have four surviving children who have now grown to adulthood. And recently a grandchild has joined the family. We have been greatly blessed – and someday I may understand better how the apparently-sad circumstances were also blessings.

Thanks for taking time to comment!