Turkey, Tree Trimmings, and Triggers: Navigating the Holiday Season while Grieving Miscarriage
“Give thanks to the Lord for He is Good!”
Window Clings, doormats, and Hobby Lobby aisles bombard us with those invitations as November graces us with her presence. And no sooner do the dried corn and craft turkeys appear before the stockings, bells, wreaths, and garland take their places on shelves to remind us that Christmastime is here. This transition has always seemed sort of magical to me, rolling out a red carpet to usher in a time of year when we gather with family to rejoice over how we have been so #blessed and eat all the things and decorate and drape ourselves in festivities and traditions like a warm blanket as the cold comes upon us.
But my experience of this shelf-stocking in the fall of 2017 wasn’t the familiar feeling I’d always known. I found myself tempted by sadness and cynicism as the weather changed and the days felt shorter and darker than in years past. The holiday spark couldn’t quite catch in the wet wood of my grieving and question-ridden soul.
November 21st. That’s the due date they gave us when they measured our second child at our “confirmation of pregnancy” ultrasound. This child was a bit of a surprise, and we walked into that appointment a tad overwhelmed and in a bit of a fog, but man, oh man, was that baby wanted. Tears of joy and wonder streamed down my face as the tech played the beautiful hoofbeat-like sound of that little heart inside my womb. We didn’t know when we had conceived, but according to their measurements, our “unexpected blessing” would arrive smack dab in the middle of Thanksgiving. “Well, we’ll have plenty to be thankful for but I doubt we’ll be traveling!” I joked with my husband.
But we’d be more than free to travel that year. That little heart didn’t beat long enough to be born. The body of that much loved baby left mine exactly one month from the day we first saw our second child on that ultrasound screen.
Thanksgiving came and there was no baby in my arms.
We sent out our Christmas card photo as a family of three again instead of as the birth announcement for our fourth member.
We had only three stockings on our mantle.
And instead of a “Baby’s First Christmas” ornament we hung one in remembrance of the tiny child we would never know earthside.
There’s no chance of a holiday due date or miscarriage marker sneaking by. The festivities and traditions create opportunity after opportunity to be reminded of who is missing, what plans have not come to pass, and the way that things might have looked different if your baby’s life had continued. Perhaps this year you’re not able to make the Christmas pregnancy announcement you’d planned, or you’ll be gathering with your extended family to see babies who would have been close cousins with the little one you lost, or perhaps once again you’ll be going around the table to hear everyone say how thankful they are for their health and their family and you just long for the healing of your body and for your own family to grow.
Those of us who have lost little ones in the womb face great temptation to focus on our lack as we are told to “give thanks” or to wallow in sadness as we are commanded to “rejoice.” Those bossy holiday phrases cause us to feel (and make the brief lives of our babies seem) unknown, overlooked, forgotten, and insignificant. It may feel as if the stinging imperatives to give thanks and rejoice are intended for everyone except for you, and that may be true of the way that store shelves market them, but it is not true of their presentation in the Word of God. This season as you grieve, rather than allowing them to exacerbate your pain, I encourage you to let the shouts of the season remind you of the more beautiful invitations extended to the grieving and heavy laden soul in the Bible. Gratitude and grief are not at odds with each other. Sorrow and rejoicing are not enemies.
Psalm 107 and Psalm 136 sing out “Give thanks to the Lord!” Although both psalms present gifts God has given and works he has done as reason, the initial command is immediately followed in both instances by the phrase “For he is Good. His love endures forever.” We give thanks to him because of who he is! In Psalm 42, the psalmist instructs his soul to put hope in God and give him thanks and praise even as he is downcast and doubting. In Philippians we find the apostle Paul rejoicing in chains. Thankfulness is not a posture reserved only for seasons of abundance. The call to remember who God is and what he has done is a comfort in a season that finds us wondering if he has withheld his best from us.
When our empty hands leave us feeling as if we have no cause for thanking him, we can find cause enough in the knowledge of his goodness. When we cannot think of gifts to thank him for as we grieve that which we do not have, we can remember the chief gift of life he has offered through the death of his own Son, which is the greatest gift he could ever give. Even if the cry of our soul is “How long, oh Lord?” as we plead for deliverance from our current difficulty, we can remember that he has delivered us ultimately from darkness. He has made provision for us through his Son Jesus Christ and that is a bountiful gift indeed.
And though the cultural festivities surrounding the season may bring pain, the meaning of Christmas should actually bring you comfort. Consider the words of “Joy to the World:”
“No more let sin and sorrow grow, nor thorns infest the ground. He comes to make his blessings known, far as the curse is found.”
Though we have not received our longed for babies, God has not withheld from us his own Son, who gave his life and was raised in power to establish a new heaven and a new earth in which there will be no more pain, suffering, or sorrow and no more babies who die to young. These are tidings of comfort and joy for the longing soul weighed down in sadness. No, dear sister, things are most certainly not as things should be, but because of the finished work of Jesus, they are also not as they will stay. The woman who miscarries knows the curse in an intensely personal way as death has occured within her, not just around her. But that devastating experience puts her in a position to behold the miracle of the resurrection and the promise of the new creation with a deeper sense of gratitude and expectation than many may be capable of. His plan of redemption cannot be miscarried, and so you can give thanks and rejoice along with the weary world for “yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”
Oh, my dear bereaved sister, don’t miss the comfort offered in the invitation to remember what God has done for you because of the temptation to focus instead on what he has not. There is a place for your lamentation, and you are in agreement with God in your outrage and sorrow over sin and death. But we cannot end there. We must, as the psalmist in Psalm 42, wrestle by the power of the Spirit to remember all the cause for rejoicing we have even amid all the sorrow we feel.
God’s mercy is everlasting and his love endures forever. He has made known to us salvation through his Son, and the life of his own baby, who he sent to die in our place, ensures the redemption of the death of your own.
May you know and feel his love offered to you in that cosmic gesture this season. May you experience his redeeming power, not just in spite of your sorrow this season, but all the more because of it. And may you be moved to thanksgiving as you consider the work of Christ. Where can we better perceive the good news of the gospel than in the place we are thoroughly convinced of the great need for the redemption of our souls, our experience, and our world? Give thanks and praise to his holy name, for his presence with you, his help, his love, and his mercy endure forever. Sing to your soul:
“Put your hope in God
I will yet give thanks to him”