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Joy in the Sorrow of Miscarriage and Childlessness

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Everyone knows suffering is part of life, but no one warns you that sometimes it comes in spades. When we’re still reeling from the effects of the first blow, we can’t see the next one clearly, and that compounds things. Two months after my husband and I moved to Colorado, I came home from work bearing sad news: the church where I was on staff was about to go through a reckoning process.

Nate also had some news. He sat across from me, in the farmhouse his paycheck paid for, and said, “They’re doing cutbacks and, because I’m remote, I’m the first to go.”

Two days later, I began to bleed, profusely and painfully. There was a strange optimism in me, though. I was 34, this was my first pregnancy, and we were stressed, so the risks were higher. These were the things I told myself, adding each of them together until they equaled miscarriage. One in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage. I knew the statistics, and I was just one of them. A fluke. I didn’t weep at all. I felt beaten, but also resilient. Things were going to be okay.

Walking Tomb

The thing about God’s goodness—the thing we’ve spent our whole marriage learning—is that it doesn’t cease even when, all around us, goodness feels lost. God’s goodness isn’t a gift he doles out. His goodness is his character. It’s who he is. And because it’s who he is, it’s all he does. Everything he does is good because he is good.

Fast forward. We were expecting a baby again, and beginning to dream of names and baby toes and fingers. I spent the week with the rest of our church staff in critical meetings with leaders, members, deacons, and more. The last day of the week, the whole membership gathered in the sanctuary to hear where the chaos of the last few months had led. I was exhausted. We all were. It seemed as though we’d been in nonstop meetings for weeks. As I stood at the back of the sanctuary, listening as painful news was delivered to the congregation, I felt a sharp and shooting pain nearly buckling my knees. Another rush of blood.

God’s goodness isn’t a gift he doles out. His goodness is his character. It’s who he is. And because it’s who he is, it’s all he does.

Only this one was faster, furious, and painful. I leaned against the wall of the bathroom stall downstairs, telling myself to relax, breathe, just breathe. When I could stand again, I left.

I sobbed for hours in Nate’s arms at home.

I felt like a walking tomb, my only purpose to house death. My body felt like a betrayal of everything I felt sure of. I saw a doctor, and she ran some blood tests and said the miscarriages were probably due to stress, and I should get counseling. But I felt swallowed in grief. I sleepwalked through the year in many ways, bearing the miscarriages as they came again and again, unsure of how to de-stress myself enough to the point where my body could carry a baby to term, or even past the first month. I ached with the brokenness we were experiencing in a world—in a body—not yet whole. I cried with Paul, “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:24).

Gift in the Lack

It’s an unpopular sentiment, even in the church. We rightly call children blessings because God calls them blessings, but could the absence of them also perhaps be a blessing? Could God still be good and do good by withholding one blessing (children) and in its place giving another one, stranger and unsought (childlessness)?

Could God be enough for me, for us, for our marriage, for our home, for my body, if we never saw what was never promised to us in his Word?

This subtle shift in my soul began to change everything. The nearness of children was not my good. The nearness of God was my only good, and however his nearness came—in silence, in greatness, in provision, in lack, in fullness, or in meagerness—it would be enough.

So we settled into a life of childlessness. We moved cross-country again, back to Texas, where we’d first met in the church foyer at The Village Church.

Out of Place

One mid-June morning I was leaning over our vegetable garden, pulling small weeds. It was our first vegetable garden in Texas, and it needed a kind of tender, loving care that—being from the Northeast originally, where you can throw seeds on a pile of dirt and they’ll grow—I was unaccustomed to. As I leaned over, I felt a twinge in my abdomen unlike any I’d felt before. I didn’t think I was pregnant, but I began spotting and thought, Here we go again.

One evening, two weeks later, as we got ready for bed, I doubled over in pain. It was so intense that I couldn’t breathe. I’m not given to histrionics or exaggeration. I will do anything to avoid going to the doctor or hospital, and my pain tolerance is high. But after a few minutes of me protesting that I was fine, Nate told me we were leaving for the ER. We had no way of knowing it would be almost a week before I could come home.

They put me in a bed, ran an IV, put me on morphine, and drew blood. Somewhere in the fog of it all, the doctor came in and asked if I’d ever miscarried or had pregnancy complications. “Yes,” we said. “Plenty of them.”

“Did you know you are pregnant right now?” he asked.

I’d suspected that, I told him—I’d been spotting for two weeks and thought it might be implantation bleeding.

“It’s worse,” he said. “We can’t be sure until we run more tests, but I suspect your pregnancy is—”

“Ectopic?” I interrupted him.

“Yes,” he said, his eyes flickering down.

An ectopic pregnancy means, literally, an out-of-place pregnancy. For us, the baby appeared to be inside one of my fallopian tubes. It was unviable, and if left alone, the doctor said, my fallopian tube would rupture, and I would almost certainly die.

Is God sufficient in these moments? I felt the enemy laughing at me. Who’s your “only good” now?

“We have to terminate, or you could die,” the doctor said.

That Too Was for My Good

Although other women might legitimately make a different choice, in consultation with my doctor, Nate and I decided not to terminate. I said no to the termination, at least until they were sure the baby was dead or I was actually dying. Currently I was just in severe pain, and I knew the pain itself wouldn’t kill me. I knew they would monitor me, and I knew our community and church would pray for me and this child. We settled into the hospital to wait for my body to miscarry naturally or for the baby to miraculously move.

Infertility—or, in our case, being fertile but unable to carry—doesn’t mean God is withholding his blessing.

We spent the week praying, weeping, believing, and in doubt. Our church family surrounded us with prayer and presence, our elders texted and called us, and our home group cared for all our needs.

A week later, my already-naturally-low blood pressure was dropping, the pain wasn’t abating, and the risk was too high. They surgically removed my ruptured fallopian tube and the dead baby.

Good and Enough

The grief was profound. I mourned hard and long, months longer than for any of our miscarriages. But somewhere in there, like a seed thrown on a pile of dirt, there was a goodness, and a trust in God, and—from our perspective—a willingness to put our desires to rest.

Infertility—or, in our case, being fertile but unable to carry—doesn’t mean God is withholding his blessing. We’re trusting that our inability to have children is his blessing—and therefore, all he does within this space is also his blessing. It’s not emptiness to him. It’s not wasted space or out of place or not enough. He’s working and weaving and speaking his blessing to us amid all the spaces where we feel void.

Sometimes God says to a man and a woman, This is sufficient. The two of you together, because I am near you and Christ has come, is enough. Not second-best, not runner-up, not settled-for, not “We’ll take what we can get.” This is sufficient because God is in it, and he is near, and every promise in his Son is Yes and Amen, good and enough. Good enough.

Editors’ note: 

This is an adapted excerpt from Joy in the Sorrow: How a Thriving Church (and Its Pastor) Learned to Suffer Well. (The Good Book Company, 2019). Joy in the Sorrow is the moving story of Matt Chandler’s battle with a potentially fatal brain tumor, but it’s also the stories of members of The Village Church, whose lives have been marked by suffering of various kinds.

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