Though one in four pregnancies ends in loss, miscarriage is shrouded in such secrecy and stigma that the woman who experiences it often feels deeply isolated, unsure how to process her grief. Her body seems to have betrayed her. Her confidence in the goodness of God is rattled. Her loved ones don’t know what to say. Her heart is broken. She may feel guilty, ashamed, angry, depressed, confused or alone. In her book Grace Like Scarlett: Grieving With Hope After Miscarriage and Loss, Adriel Booker shares intimate stories about her experiences with miscarriage to help you navigate your own grief and to know that you aren’t alone.
When a friend of mine experienced stillbirth a few months after my first miscarriage, it forced me to look into the eyes of my own jealousy.
Yes, I just said that.
I was devastated to hear her news. It triggered my own deep feelings of loss while also sending my empathy into overdrive. I did my best to support her (long distance) through emails and responding to her and her family members who immediately turned to me for suggestions for grief support. But then I watched (via social media) her post professional photos taken with their baby, hold a memorial service at their church and write of her freezer filled with enough meals to last them weeks. It was beautiful to see how her people rallied, but it also magnified my own lack and amplified all the things I imagined would have helped me grieve my own loss.
We didn’t have any photos.
We didn’t have a grave to visit.
We didn’t have a fridge full of food or a mailbox full of cards.
Seeing all that she had in her grief exposed how I felt about what I didn’t have. In short, I was jealous.
I wouldn’t have wished my pain on my friend in a thousand years, and I’m so glad she was cared for the way she was. My jealousy had very little to do with her; it had everything to do with my own broken heart.
My jealousy was the fruit of something deeper. It revealed my desire to find comfort in people rather than God. It exposed my sense of entitlement – to be treated the way I thought I would treat others had the tables been turned. It revealed that even though I knew what was best for my heart, I didn’t always live it.
While I worked through the issues in my own heart, I had to take some tangible steps to make it easier for me: I hid her photos from my Facebook newsfeed, and whenever I began to find myself comparing my pain to her pain or my community’s response to her community’s response, I began to confess my jealousy to the Lord and use it as a reminder to pray for her heart. I don’t want to sound trite here, like you can “fix” your heart with a few simple steps. This process wasn’t easy for me, but it was life-giving. By allowing that specific trigger to become a reminder to lift my gaze to Jesus, I was able to not only support my friend in prayer but make room for God to heal my own heart.
The Brutal Truth
Grief exposes everything. It exposes our insecurities, our bias, our misdirected beliefs, our weaknesses, our sense of entitlement, our assumptions, our jealousy, our pride. Don’t berate yourself for the ugly stuff it uncovers. The human heart is complex. You can’t heal yourself by applying a spiritual antidote or by white-knuckling your way out of the pain by the power of your will. This is the stuff of spiritual transformation, a partnership between the human and the divine. When these things are exposed in our lives, it presents us with an opportunity: Will we allow our weakness, sin and beliefs to define our lives, our faith and our relationships? Or will we recognize the chance to go deep and deal with the root of what’s been exposed?
Some of you are still spinning from the blow of your miscarriage, and right now you simply need permission to make room for the sadness. Don’t minimize or try to “overcome” your grief.
But others will know exactly what I’m talking about – you are ready for the soul work. There comes a time when the dust settles and we’re faced with what grief has exposed in our hearts.
Whose Grief Is Worse, Anyway?
Theodore Roosevelt famously said that comparison is the thief of joy. In my experience, comparison is also a sneaky thief of peace. Do you hear my story – three miscarriages – and think I have more reason to grieve than you? I remember reading after my first miscarriage about a woman who had experienced five. I could never handle that, I thought to myself.
Subconscious as it was, I believed her grief to be in a different realm than mine. I thought of it like a math equation: She had five times the amount of grief as me. I pitied her and felt foolish for feeling like my world was falling apart even though I had only experienced “one fifth” of what she had. Surely her pain was much worse than mine. And not just worse but five times worse.
Or perhaps you hear my story and think I have less reason to grieve than you because I easily got pregnant or because I already had living children. Maybe your pregnancy loss came after years of needles and tests and marks on the calendar.
We could play out a dozen scenarios, and they would all land in the same place: Comparison doesn’t satisfy. It causes our hearts to be anxious as we question our “right” to feel the way we do. It invites jealousy, resentment, shame, entitlement and self-pity. It steals peace and circumvents joy.
“It’s like we’re searching for a win,” my friend said as we discussed the ills of comparison.
When you feel so awful, it’s easy to flail around looking for something to make you feel better. My loss is more worthy of grief. Win. My loss isn’t as bad as hers. Win. My loss is more tangible, therefore my grief makes more sense. Win. My loss is less tangible, therefore my grief hurts more. Win.
A Temporary Boost
Maybe a “win” like this will leave us temporarily feeling a boost, but ultimately it does nothing to address our hearts.
There will always be someone you think deserves to grieve more than you do. There will always be someone you think deserves to grieve less. But one grief cannot be measured against another. Either you will feel justified in your grief and exasperated that others don’t see it like you do, or you will berate yourself because your grief feels foolish. Both of these responses are utterly unproductive.
We must have the courage to feel our pain without exploiting someone else’s to make us feel better.
You might be comparing your loss to someone else’s. If only I had miscarried earlier, it would hurt less. If only I had been further along and had a chance to hold my baby, I would feel more justified in my pain. If only I knew I could carry to full term, I would have more hope. If only it wasn’t so hard for us to get pregnant in the first place, I wouldn’t feel so helpless.
Maybe you’re comparing your grief response to a friend’s. She’s grieving less; she’s probably repressing her grief. She’s grieving more; why don’t I feel more sadness?
Perhaps you’re comparing your grief to your husband’s. If only he would cry, it would make me feel like he cared. He must not care as much as I do.
You might be comparing your faith to someone you follow on social media. If only I had a “strong” faith like hers this would be easier. (When we pause to think this one through, we see how absurd it is. Only God knows what’s going on in the quiet of her heart.)
If only, if only, if only …
These comparisons will leave you empty. My guess is you already know exactly what I’m talking about. If you do, you are normal. But you have the power to change. You can – and must – shift your gaze.
Look Instead to Jesus
I realize how tempting it can be to find your “win” through comparison to someone else’s loss, but as you shift your gaze to Jesus, His kindness will woo you into changing those self-destructive (and relationally destructive) tendencies. The kindness of God is the very best way to turn around a human heart (Romans 2:4). Let your heart be liberated by responding to His goodness.
When you spend your time looking at and comparing to others, it’s impossible to be looking at Jesus. You can’t look two directions at once. And when your eyes are off Jesus, it’s impossible to see His goodness. We find what we look for, so look to Jesus. I promise you will see Him.