In this episode of the TGC Q&A biblical counseling series, Rebekah Hannah answers the question, “How can we care for families who have gone through miscarriage?” She addresses:
- Caring for a friend after a miscarriage (1:10)
- Speaking too quickly (2:05)
- Commiseration vs. hope (2:47)
- Minimizing pain (3:18)
- Promising what God has not (3:55)
- Saying nothing at all (4:40)
- Church support following perinatal loss (5:25)
- Learning from the stories of God’s people (7:13)
- Practical service (8:00)
- Grieving with hope (8:43)
- Truth doesn’t end pain, but gives it value (10:53)
- When you feel hopeless (11:32)
- Sin and suffering as effects of the fall that have been overcome by Christ (12:20)
Find more from TGC on miscarriage and perinatal loss:
- Sharing the Painful Loss of Miscarriage
- The Fruit of Grief in Miscarriage
- Pregnancy After Miscarriage
- 4 Gospel Truths for Miscarriage by Rebekah Hannah (blog post)
- Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering by Tim Keller
- Trusting God by Jerry Bridges
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Rebekah Hannah: Hi, you’re listening to the TGC Q&A, a podcast from The Gospel Coalition, and this is the biblical counseling series, featuring hopeful answers to your questions on navigating fear, anxiety, ministry, and marriage and everything in between. My name is Rebekah Hannah and I am a wife, a mom, and a Biblical counselor. I’ve also experienced my own miscarriages and have counseled many, many women through this same experience. Today I’ll be answering some important questions we received on miscarriage and perinatal loss.
Going into this topic, we really want to acknowledge that this is heavy. There’s a lot of suffering involved and there are many of you who are listing that this can be particularly hard for. And we want to acknowledge that because we are doing this because we love you and Jesus loves you. And we want to be sensitive to the things that you’ve experienced. Not all experiences are going to be the same. And so there are levels of different sufferings that many of you have gone through. And so be cognizant of that as you listen to this podcast.
Out of the questions that we’ve received, there are several that came out and the ones that we’re going to answer today, the first one is, how should I best care for my friend who has recently gone through a miscarriage? The second one is, how can the church support couples who have walked through a perinatal loss? And then the last one is, how do I grieve while not losing my hope in Christ after experiencing a stillbirth of our baby?
So, let’s talk about that first question. How should I best care for my friend who has recently gone through a miscarriage? The best way to care for our friends, no matter what, is to point them to Jesus. I don’t mean that in a shallow way where we throw scripture at people, but I mean that in a way that, like the proverb says, “The tongue of the wise brings healing.” And so there are a couple of things to avoid when you’re trying to care for a friend who has experienced a miscarriage. One of those things is speaking too quickly. Not having hasty words, not thinking that you know exactly what they’ve experienced.
We are unique people made by an incredible God, and so you and I could have similar stories, but we’re very different people. And so, the way that we experience things are different, but there’s one person who knows exactly what we experience, and that’s Jesus. And he’s going to understand what you and I go through more than anybody else, which is why he’s the best person for me to go to, lean to, pray to, and help my friend come before as they’re suffering. So speaking too quickly can be unloving.
Another thing is that commiseration doesn’t bring hope. It doesn’t bring real hope. Paul talks about we receive comfort from any afflictions so that we can give it to other people. But he’s talking about comfort that’s based on who God is, not based on what I’ve experienced in myself. And so while experiencing similar things can maybe help us care for other people, the commiserating there isn’t going to bring hope like God’s character can bring hope.
Another thing that I personally experienced in my miscarriages was that people wanted to minimize my pain in order to make me feel better. And the death of a baby in utero is heartbreaking. There’s no way around that. And so in an attempt to protect from the depths of the pain that it brings, those who seek to bring comfort can inadvertently, not even on purpose, they can mean well, but still minimize the loss. And so a lot of the “at least” statements can fit into this category. And that’s a dangerous place for one who’s trying to give comfort just to be.
Another thing to think about is that we’re not God. That might sound simple, but we can’t promise each other what God has not promised us. And so it’s an unhelpful and quick response to assure those who are mourning that they’re going to get exactly what they want. Many of you maybe have gone through miscarriages and then given birth to healthy babies, and that is a beautiful thing that should cause us to worship. But that’s not going to be everyone’s story. So we can’t comfort others, again, with the same experience that we’ve had ourselves. So we don’t promise other people what God hasn’t promised us. We promise other people what God has promised them because he is trustworthy and we can rely on what he has promised us.
Now on the other side of that is saying nothing at all. And so we can speak too quickly and say too much, and then on the other side, saying nothing at all is also a problem. And so I would encourage you to pray and to be open with those around you who are suffering, asking them how you can best serve them. Is it better for me to pray with you? Is it better for me to bring food? Is it better for me to say nothing? What’s the best way that I can love you. And don’t be afraid to really ask your suffering friends that particular question. What’s the best way I can love you? And then be willing to bring them before Jesus, whether it’s privately or whatever it might look like. And then listen to the ways that they believe you can serve them best.
The next question is how can the church support couples who have walked through perinatal loss? This is a really hard question. I get this question a lot. But the reason it’s hard is simply because we are all very, very different people. We experience things differently and there is a spectrum from which miscarriage is a death of a baby, and then you have perinatal loss, which is also a death of the baby. And so while we grieve both of those deaths, the experience and the trauma of those two things can be vastly different.
And so as you’re seeking to care for someone who has gone through any amount of experiencing on that spectrum, whether it’s a wider version of the trauma, even though there’s a grief of the death of the baby or a traumatic, extreme, traumatic death. The main question that we need to ask is who are we seeking to comfort and what is the best way for this particular family, for this particular couple, for us to come alongside of them?
The answer isn’t going to be ABC. It’s going to be we have to first listen and learn about their particular suffering. What is their particular story? So what is the most painful part of this tragedy to you? So I can hear someone’s story and something very particular can stick out to me and it may not be particularly what’s hard for them. And so I’ve got to, as a friend, come alongside them to learn about how they’re suffering and how they’re processing what’s happened? And what thoughts do they have the most and what time of the day is most difficult? For some women that’s going to be when they go to bed at night. And for some it’s when they…
For some women that’s going to be when they go to bed at night. And for some it’s when they open their eyes and they think, “Oh my goodness, is this going to be my life from this point forward?”
And so you’ve got to figure out who the person is that you’re seeking to comfort. As a church, learning from the people in God’s word, the stories of God’s people, is a great place to point. So understanding the story of Sarah and Abraham, understanding the story of Ruth, understanding any number of stories that you can point to Jesus as he’s in the Garden of Gethsemane, and he wants a different story, but he pleads with God to give him that story. God gave him the story that we all are so thankful he has now. And so watching the stories of grief throughout the Bible is going to be helpful no matter who they are, but understanding their particular suffering is going to help you know where particularly to go.
On the practical side, of course, bringing food, helping babysit, not forgetting six weeks later or six months later. When I had my second miscarriage, a year later, or it was on the due date of my second miscarriage, I had flowers at my doorstep. My friends remembered. I was even living in a different place by then, and they sent me flowers on the due date of that baby, which was incredibly thoughtful. Some people won’t appreciate that and some people will. And so you really need to understand the people that you’re seeking to comfort. And that is the most important thing as a church body we can do. Don’t expect that everyone is going to want the same exact things.
The third question is how do I grieve while not losing my hope in Christ after experiencing stillbirth of our baby? This is a tough question. It’s a heavy question because of the unique experience of losing a child. I think of God in the Old Testament, when he wanted to guarantee a promise, and the way that he guaranteed a promise was he made an oath and he gave his own word based on his own character because it’s the most unbreakable and changeable thing that there is.
So there’s nothing more sure than God himself. So when we’re seeking to not lose hope in Christ amongst any kind of suffering, we want to run to look and meditate and remember and dwell on the character of God. Sometimes this can be confusing because the character of God is in dissonance with the experience that we’re having. But when I experience this tragic suffering and then I spend time thinking about God’s character, what I end up having is a great comfort in the midst of that experience. God’s character doesn’t take away the tragedy, but it gives me something to run to. It gives me something to cling to, and he guarantees things that are unchangeable, even in the midst of the sin and the suffering in the world that is always changing.
Particularly when you’ve experienced a miscarriage or a stillbirth or some kind of traumatic birthing experience that you and your husband have gone through together, one important thing to note is that both of you are going to experience these things entirely different from each other. That’s actually why the unchangeability of God’s character is great for both of you to come to together. A husband is going to grieve, and he’s going to have to figure out how to comfort his suffering wife. And a wife is going to grieve, and she’s going to need to learn how to comfort her suffering husband, even in the midst of their own grief. Running to the character of God, the unwavering, unchanging character of God, won’t take the heartache away, but it’ll give you a place for both the grieving husband and the grieving wife to go to together.
Even when we fiercely believe in his perfect character and faithfulness and love, those truths are not going to make all the pain and suffering go away, but they do make this heartache worth something, in the sense that it will change you, it will grow you, it will break you. But God’s character is unchanging.
So as you grieve, not losing hope isn’t so much about lessening the pain or getting through the pain, as much as it’s looking to the one who is hope himself. So getting to know more about Jesus, understanding the perfect character of God that never changes, now that is the best way to not lose hope.
Then there are times where you will feel hopeless. It’s important to recognize that our feelings are not going to always coincide with what’s true. Because I’m a fallible human being, I need to reach for something that is perfectly consistent, perfect in nature, never changing, perfectly never changing. So that when my feelings do feel hopeless, I can still look to the one that is hope himself.
In the marriage, being able to connect and recognize when your spouse is feeling hopeless. It’s okay to feel hopeless; but in the midst of that hopelessness, remembering even if I feel hopeless, there is still one who is full of hope himself. He is hope himself. He promises to overcome death once and for all, and this we can know without a shadow of a doubt, because we can rely on his character no matter what.
Another important thing to recognize could possibly be that sin and suffering is an effect of the fall. So when we experience miscarriage and death, it should cause us to hate sin all the more. One way to think about our feelings as we’re processing miscarriage and death is to celebrate life because all of life is a miracle, that God sustaining life is an incredible miracle.
If you have gone through any kind of infertility treatment, you know that the options and the way your body works and the biology there is beautiful and incredible. So miscarriage and death, even though we want to weep over what’s worth weeping over, and it all is, we also want to rejoice over the life that we do see.