Empty Arms

By Gina Hartoog

In hindsight, it was naïve of me to think ‘it won’t happen to me.’ The reality that not all pregnancies end in happy moments and healthy babies was something I learnt the hard way. In the days following my miscarriage at only seven weeks into my pregnancy, I searched for answers to my questions and something to numb my pain. Miscarriage as a subject seemed to be taboo, but for those who face the devastating blow, all too soon it becomes a grim reality.

I had approached my second pregnancy with as much optimism as my first and after just three months of trying I found out I was pregnant. My husband and I were overjoyed and told our two-year-old daughter about her coming sibling. About two weeks later, things just didn’t seem right. I didn’t ‘feel’ pregnant and my gut was telling me that something was wrong. I dismissed the strange feelings as early pregnancy jitters and continued on as normal. A week later, I starting spotting and the doctor told me to rest in bed. On the fourth day of bed rest I lost the baby. I felt an overwhelming sadness and sense of failure that I just can’t put into words.

When we returned from the hospital, after the miscarriage was confirmed, I had to do the most heartbreaking thing I’ve ever done. I had to tell our little girl that the baby had died. I couldn’t hide my grief so I didn’t try. My heart was broken and I wanted her to see that it’s okay to cry when you feel sad. I sat down beside her on the couch and told my little girl that the baby was very sick and went to Jesus. She turned to me and said, “Don’t cry, Mommy. Jesus will give you a new baby…another day.”

I gave her a reassuring hug and marvelled at my child’s faith when my own seemed to have been put through the meat grinder. Even in the face of such an horrendous loss one needs to see the grace He shows us in tough times.

The days that followed were difficult ones for us. My husband couldn’t sleep at night and I seemed to want to sleep too much. We took turns comforting each other and relied on the strength and prayers of our wonderful friends and family. I had to accept that I was in no way responsible for what happened and that losing my baby was God’s way of knowing best. When the miscarriage had threatened I told my husband I wouldn’t cope with the loss but when things were most difficult my faith won through. It was at that time that I silently thanked my parents for raising me to love and appreciate God and that we had done the same for our little girl. Many times through those first few painful weeks my daughter surprised me by what she said. Often, when she prayed before bedtime, she prayed for me and for the baby.

I’ve tried to approach my loss with dignity for my womanhood and respect for myself and our family, but it’s hard to do that when guilt is eating you up inside. Miscarriage is a devastating loss, not only of your dreams and hopes but also of your innocence. To anyone who has ever suffered through the loss of a child, no matter how tiny, I wish you strength and solace and yes, happiness too and I hope these thoughts and feelings can help you find a ray of light:

  • Never feel guilty about crying or feeling depressed. It’s your right – someone very close to you has died. Tears are healing.
  • Remember that men hurt too. While your partner may be putting up a brave face or rushing off to work, he has also suffered a loss and needs time to grieve in his own way. My husband told me, “Seeing someone I love in so much pain is pain itself.”
  • Hang up your guilt and face a new day. Miscarriage is not a punishment. It’s something you had no control over.
  • You’ll probably feel anger too – this is also normal. Channel your anger into appropriate places and avoid lashing out at your partner. It’s not his fault either.
  • Talking about the miscarriage can help in long-term acceptance. If you can’t talk to a family member or friend, join a support group or visit your psychologist. Your church minister may be able to help or know of someone who can.
  • If you have unanswered questions ask your doctor. Your questions may seem unimportant, but getting an answer can help you to feel better.
  • If you don’t feel like talking – keep a journal. Writing your thoughts and fears down can help to clear your mind and aid in healing.
  • When you’re ready to face it, create something to remember your baby by. A small scrapbook, a message in a bottle or a lighted candle are simple ways to remember.
  • Although most of your memories will be sad ones, remember that you probably have happy ones too. How did you feel when you first found out you were pregnant? How did you tell your partner? Cherish these happy times and don’t allow yourself to feel guilty.
  • Never trivialize your loss. It’s never ‘just’ a miscarriage or stillbirth. It’s the death of someone very precious.
  • Look after yourself physically. A balanced diet and gentle exercise can help your self-esteem improve.
  • Give yourself time. Some days may be easier than others, while some may be filled with tears and fears.
  • Don’t feel pressured into having another baby right away. You’ll know when you’re ready to cope with trying again.
  • Seeing pregnant women or babies may upset you. It’s also normal and it will pass.

“…He Himself has said, I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support” Hebrews 13:5 (Amplified).

Gina Hartoog is a freelance writer in Gauteng, and full-time mom to Shona (4) and Chiara (1).