Prayer After A Miscarriage
After a Miscarriage: What Happens and How to Cope
If you were rejoicing over a positive pregnancy test just weeks or months ago, coping with a sudden and unexpected miscarriage can be difficult.
Even though you never saw your baby (except, perhaps, on ultrasound), you knew that he was growing inside you (and you may have even formed a bond).
You may have daydreamed about your baby and imagined yourself as a mother. And then, all the excitement abruptly came to a stop.
Understandably, you may feel a range of emotions: sad and disheartened over the loss, angry and resentful it happened to you, possibly withdrawn from friends and family (especially those who are pregnant or just had babies).
You may have trouble eating and sleeping at first and accepting the finality of it all. You may cry a lot, or you may not cry at all. These are all among the many natural, healthy responses to a pregnancy loss.
Remember: Your reaction is what’s normal for you.
Feeling in the dark about what happened, what to expect and what your next steps should be can make the situation even tougher. But keeping your partner and health care practitioner in the loop about what you're going through physically and emotionally can help you through this time.
What is a miscarriage?
A miscarriage is when an embryo is expelled from the uterus before it can survive outside on its own. Often, the first sign this is happening is heavy bleeding accompanied by abdominal or back pain and cramping.
Depending on how far along your pregnancy was, these symptoms can last for just a few days — a normal period — or up to three or four weeks.
If you experience any of these symptoms, see your doctor so he or she can diagnose the miscarriage and help you with the next steps.
What happens next
By the time you learn that you had a miscarriage or ever see a doctor, the process might be mostly over (the physical part at least) or not even begun. If you suspect a miscarriage, see your practitioner right away.
He or she will confirm the miscarriage using an ultrasound to check if the pregnancy is growing normally or whether there’s a heartbeat, and possibly perform a pelvic exam to see if your cervix is dilated.Your doctor may also draw blood to check your hCG levels, your blood count (to determine how much blood was lost), and your blood type (to check for Rh incompatibility).
If your blood type is Rh negative, you may also receive a shot of Rh immunoglobulin (it’s possible for your blood to come into contact with fetal blood cells during a miscarriage — and this shot can prevent serious problems in later pregnancies).
Emptying the uterus
Once the miscarriage had been diagnosed, your uterus will need to be empty so your normal menstrual cycle can resume and you can try to get pregnant again, if you choose to.
If your first sign of a miscarriage was heavy bleeding — especially if it was just a few weeks into pregnancy — then it’s possible that the miscarriage was “complete,” meaning all the fetal tissue has already been cleared your uterus.
But sometimes — especially the later in the first trimester you are — a miscarriage isn’t complete, and parts of the pregnancy remain in the uterus (known as an incomplete miscarriage) that need to be removed.
There are a number of ways this can be accomplished:
- Expectant management. You may choose to let nature take its course and wait until the pregnancy is naturally expelled. Waiting out a missed or incomplete miscarriage can take anywhere from a few days to, in some cases, three or four weeks before your body takes care of things and you resume normal menstrual cycles.
- Medication. If there’s no sign of your body expelling the embryo on its own, your health care practitioner might instead give you the option to take miscarriage medications — usually mifepristone or misoprostol — to help speed things along. Within a few days of taking a pill or receiving a vaginal suppository, you’ll start to expel fetal tissue and placenta. Just how long this takes varies from woman to woman, but typically it’s only a matter of days at the most before bleeding begins. These medications cause some of the same side effects that you might have experienced when you were just letting nature take its course: cramping, bleeding, nausea and diarrhea.
- Surgery. Another option is to undergo a minor surgery called dilation and curettage (D&C). During this procedure, a doctor will gently scrape the fetus and placenta from your uterus. Bleeding following the procedure usually lasts no more than a week. Though side effects are rare, there is a slight risk of infection following a D&C.
How should you decide which route to take? Some factors you and your practitioner will take into account include:
- How far along the miscarriage is. If bleeding and cramping are already heavy, the miscarriage is probably already well under way. In that case, allowing it to progress naturally may be preferable to a D&C. But if there is no bleeding (as in a missed miscarriage), misoprostol or a D&C might be better alternatives.
- Your emotional and physical state. Waiting for a natural miscarriage to occur after a fetus has died in utero can be psychologically debilitating for a woman and her spouse or partner, if she has one. It’s ly that you won’t be able to begin coming to terms with — and grieving for — your loss while you're still pregnant. Completing the process faster will also allow you to resume your menstrual cycles soon, and when and if the time is right, try to conceive again.
- Risks and benefits. Because a D&C is invasive, it carries a slightly higher (though still very low) risk of infection. The benefit of having a miscarriage complete sooner, however, may greatly outweigh that small risk for most women. With a naturally occurring miscarriage, there is also the risk that it won’t completely empty the uterus, in which case a D&C may be necessary to finish what nature has started.
- Evaluation of the miscarriage. When a D&C is performed, evaluating the cause of miscarriage through an examination of the fetal tissue will be easier.
Resuming normal activities after a miscarriage
Whether or not you had a surgical procedure to treat your miscarriage, your doctor will let you know when it’s okay resume normal activities ( exercise and sex).
While you may be able to get back to your usual routines right away, your practitioner may recommend that you don’t put anything in your vagina (which means abstaining from sex and avoiding using tampons) for two weeks to avoid infection.
Make sure to see your health care provider for a follow-up appointment a few weeks after your miscarriage.
Even if your miscarriage progresses naturally and is relatively pain-free, your health care practitioner will ly want to check in with you for a few weeks or months to make sure you don’t develop any complications (don’t worry, these are all very rare).
If you keep bleeding for more than seven days, this excessive bleeding can be a sign that there’s still placenta in the uterus, or that you’ve developed an infection. Other signs of an infection can include foul-smelling discharge, fevers, chills and abdominal pain.
If your practitioner suspects an infection, he or she will ly treat it with a course of antibiotics.
In extremely rare cases, retained products of conception (the technical term for any embryo or placenta left in your uterus) can start abnormally growing and form a type of tumor called a choriocarcinoma.
After a D&C, you’ll also have a slight risk of complications from the surgery. In around 16 percent of first D&Cs women develop scarring, called Asherman’s Syndrome, inside their uterus or around their cervix. It can take a second surgery to get rid of those scars, but luckily, you’ll recover and be able to get pregnant again.
Your emotions after miscarriage: The stages of grief
Whenever a pregnancy loss happens, you’re ly to experience many feelings and reactions. Though you can’t wish them away, understanding them will eventually help you come to terms with your loss.
Many people who suffer a loss of any type go through a number of steps on their road to emotional healing.
These steps are common, though the order in which the first three occur may vary and so, too, may the feelings you experience.
- Shock and denial. There may be numbness and disbelief, the feeling that “this couldn’t have happened to me.” This is a mental mechanism designed to protect your psyche from the trauma of loss.
- Guilt and anger. Desperate to pin the blame for such a senseless tragedy on something, you may blame it on yourself (“I must have done something wrong to cause the miscarriage” or “If I’d been happier about the pregnancy, the baby would still be alive.”). Or you may blame others — God, for letting this happen, or your practitioner (eve if there is no reason to). You may feel resentful and envious of those around you who are pregnant or who are parents, and even have fleeting feelings of hatred for them.
- Depression and despair. You may find yourself feeling sad most or all of the time, crying constantly, unable to eat, sleep, be interested in anything or otherwise function. You may also wonder if you’ll never be able to have a healthy baby.
- Acceptance. Finally, you’ll come to terms with the loss. Keep in mind that this doesn’t mean you’ll forget the loss — just that you’ll be able to accept it and get back to the business of life.
Coping with grief after miscarriage
The grief you're feeling is real — and no matter how early in pregnancy you experienced the loss of a baby, you may feel that loss deeply.
Some well-intentioned friends and family may try to minimize the significance of a loss with a “Don’t worry, you can try again,” not realizing that the loss of a baby, no matter when it occurs during a pregnancy, can be devastating.
And the fact that there is no possibility of holding the baby, taking a photo, having a funeral and burial — rituals of grieving that can all help offer some closure for parents of stillborn infants — may complicate the recovery process.Still, if you’ve suffered a miscarriage (or an ectopic or molar pregnancy), it’s important to remember that you have the right to grieve as much — or as little — as you need to. Do this in any way that helps you to heal and eventually move on.
Turn to your partner for support — remember that he or she is mourning the loss of a baby too but may show that grief in a different way. Sharing your feelings openly with each other, rather than trying to protect each other, can help you both heal.
If you're religious, ask your pastor, priest rabbi or spiritual leader for guidance. Perhaps you’ll find closure in a private ceremony with close family members or just you and your partner.
Sharing your feelings — through a support group, with a friend or online — with others who experienced a miscarriage can also be a comfort.
Ask your practitioner to recommend a therapist or bereavement group to help you through this difficult period.
Since so many women suffer a miscarriage at least once during their reproductive years (at least 10 to 20 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage), you may be surprised to find how many others you know have had the same experience as you but never talked about it with you, or maybe never talked about it at all. (If you don’t feel sharing your feelings — or don’t feel you need to — don’t. Do only what’s right for you.)
When will you feel normal again?
No matter what you’re feeling — and given your situation, your feelings may be all over the emotional map — give yourself time. Accept that you may always have a place in your heart for the pregnancy you lost, and you may feel sad or down on the anniversary of the due date of your lost baby or on the anniversary of the miscarriage, even years later.
If you find it helps, plan on doing something special at that time — at least for the first year or so — that will be cheering yet allows you to remember: planting some new flowers or a tree, having a quiet picnic in the park or sharing a commemorative dinner with your partner.While it’s normal to mourn your loss — and important to come to terms with it your way — you should also start to feel gradually better as time passes.
If you don’t, or if you have continued trouble coping with everyday life (you’re not eating or sleeping, you’re not able to focus at work, you’re becoming isolated from family and friends) or if you continue to feel very anxious (anxiety following miscarriage has been shown in studies to be even more common than depression is), professional counseling can help you to recover.
Getting pregnant again after a miscarriage
Health care providers used to recommend waiting a number of months before trying to get pregnant again after a miscarriage. They’ve learned, though, that the uterus is remarkably good at recovering from a miscarriage, and most doctors now say it’s okay to try again as soon as you’ve had one normal menstrual cycle.
But check with your practitioner about your specific situation — if there’s scarring in your uterus or pieces of placenta left behind, he or she might recommend a longer wait.
Even among women who have had four consecutive unexplained pregnancy losses, about 65 percent have a successful next pregnancy that ends in a live birth.
Try to remind yourself that you can — and most ly will — become pregnant again and give birth to a healthy baby. For the vast majority of women, a miscarriage is a one-time event — and actually, an indication of future fertility.
After a miscarriage
After a miscarriage, you may well need time to recover physically as well as emotionally. You may have some questions about what happens to the remains of your baby, or you might be asked to make some difficult decisions.
Physical recovery after a miscarriage
Everyone is different, but many women find that it can take them anything from a few days to a few weeks to recover physically from a miscarriage.
You may find that you are particularly tired or feel generally run down.
Or you may feel better or simply relieved once the process has happened, especially if it took a long time or if there was a long period where it wasn’t clear if you were miscarrying or not.
All sorts of things can have an impact on your recovery, including how much bleeding you have had and how long the process has taken. There are no absolutes, but if you are worried that it is taking you a long time to recover physically, it might be worth talking to your GP.
Take a look at our pages on ectopic pregnancy and molar pregnancy for information on these conditions.
If you need time off work to recover, physically or emotionally, you may find it helpful to read our leaflet Miscarriage and the Workplace. It is written for employers but also has useful information on your rights relating to ‘pregnancy-related illness’.
Periods after miscarriage
Most women will get a period somewhere between four and six weeks after their miscarriage, and it may be heavier and longer than usual. It can take a while for periods to get back to a fairly regular pattern.
After the miscarriage: what happens to your baby
When a baby dies before 24 weeks of pregnancy, there is no legal requirement to have a burial or cremation. Even so, most hospitals have sensitive disposal policies and your baby may be cremated or buried, perhaps along with the remains of other miscarried babies.
Guidance from the Royal College of Nursing advises that hospitals should offer parents the option of arranging individual or shared cremation or burial of pregnancy remains, usually paid for by the Trust; or, if parents prefer, the option of taking the baby’s remains home and making private arrangements. You should be given time to decide – as well as the option not to make a decision at all.
However, actual practice varies a great deal and sadly, some hospitals may still treat the remains of an early loss as clinical waste unless you request otherwise. (This is not illegal in England and Wales, although Scottish government guidance is different.)If you want to find out about the arrangements at your hospital, ask a nurse or midwife on the ward or unit where you were cared for, the hospital chaplain, the PALS (Patient Advice and Liaison) officer, or the hospital bereavement service.
You may want to make your own arrangements for burying or cremating the remains of your baby, whether you use a funeral director or a specialist cremation service or choose to bury the remains at home or somewhere else. You can read more about this on page 14 of this leaflet and below. There are some things to think about and you may want to contact us for further information.
If you miscarry at home
If you miscarry at home or somewhere else that’s not a hospital, you are very ly to pass the remains of your pregnancy into the toilet. (This can happen in hospital too.
) You may look at what has come away and see a pregnancy sac and/or the fetus – or something you think might be the fetus.
You might want to simply flush the toilet – many people do that automatically – or you may want to remove the remains for a closer look. That’s natural too.
You might think about bringing the remains to your GP or hospital, perhaps for them to confirm that you have miscarried or because they may be able to do some tests. Tests on pregnancy remains aren’t usually done unless you are having other investigations, but if they are, you may be asked to keep the remains cold until you can bring them to the hospital.
You might choose to ask the hospital or GP to dispose of the remains of your pregnancy. Or you may decide to bury the remains yourself: at home, in the garden (as Erin did); or in a planter with flowers or a shrub; or perhaps somewhere else, as Jenny did. There are some things to think about and you may want to contact us for further information.
A certificate for your baby
Although there is no legal certificate after a pregnancy loss before 24 weeks, some hospitals provide a certificate for parents to mark what has happened. For many parents, this is an important memento.
If you have not been given a certificate but would to have one, contact a nurse or midwife on the ward or unit where you were cared for, the hospital chaplain, the PALS (Patient Advice and Liaison) officer, or the hospital bereavement service. If they don’t have anything they can offer, you could ask them to use one of the examples shown here.
Mailing preference service
The national Mailing Preference Service allows consumers to register their wish not to receive unsolicited direct mail. They also have a Baby Mailing Preference Service to enable parents who have suffered a miscarriage or bereavement of a baby in the first weeks of life to register their wish not to receive baby related mailings.
Common Prayers – Service after a Miscarriage or Stillbirth
A general Service of Prayer celebrated at the time of loss or thereafter, but especially when the priest is called to attend to a miscarriage or stillbirth.
P: Blessed is our God, always, now and ever and unto ages of ages.
R: Amen. O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, Who art everywhere and fillest all things; Treasury of Blessings and Giver of Life: Come and abide in us and cleanse us from every impurity, and save our souls, O Good One.
Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.
Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
O Most Holy Trinity, have mercy on us. O Lord, cleanse us from our sins. O Master, pardon our transgressions. O Holy One, visit and heal our infirmities, for Thy Name’s sake.
Lord. have mercy. Lord have mercy. Lord have mercy.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
Our Father, Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name; Thy Kingdom come; Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
P: For Thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages.
THE GREAT LITANY
P: In peace let us pray to the Lord.
R: Lord, have mercy.
P: For the servants of God, [NN.], who have suffered the repose of a child during pregnancy, and for their family and friends, that they may be comforted, let us pray to the Lord.
R: Lord, have mercy.
P: That the Lord God, from the goodness of His heart, will have mercy on His servants, and pardon their every sin, granting to them healing and comfort of soul and body, let us pray to the Lord.
R: Lord, have mercy.
P: That the Lord God will not turn away His face from His suffering servants, but will receive the prayers we now offer for them, let us pray to the Lord.
R: Lord, have mercy.
P: That He will heal every illness and grief by the visitation of the Holy Spirit, let us pray to the Lord.
R: Lord, have mercy.
P: That He will quickly deliver the handmaid of God [N.] from every pain and affliction, raising her from weakness and infirmity by the almighty word of God, let us pray to the Lord.
R: Lord, have mercy.
P: That the merciful Lord will hear the cries of His unworthy servants as He heard the cries of the Canaanite woman, and that He will heal and console His suffering servants, let us pray to the Lord.
R: Lord, have mercy.
P: That He will receive the infant [N.], who by His ineffable providence has been taken from his/her mother’s womb and will grant him/her life everlasting, let us pray to the Lord.
R: Lord, have mercy.
P: For our deliverance from all affliction, wrath, danger, and necessity, let us pray to the
R: Lord, have mercy.
P: Help us, save us, have mercy on us, and keep us, O God, by Thy grace.
R: Lord, have mercy.
P: Commemorating our most holy, most pure, most blessed and glorious Lady, the Theotokos and ever-Virgin Mary, with all the Saints, let us commend ourselves and each other, and all our lives unto Christ our God.
R: To Thee, O Lord.
P: O Lord our God! Thy power is incomparable! Thy glory is incomprehensible! Thy mercy is immeasurable! Thy love for mankind is inexpressible! Look down upon us, O Master, and impart the riches of Thy mercy and Thy compassion unto us and unto those who pray with us. For unto Thee are due all glory, honor, and worship: to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages.
PRAYERS OF INTERCESSION
P: Let us pray to the Lord.
R: Lord have mercy.
P: O Master, Lord our God, Who was born of the holy Theotokos and ever-Virgin Mary, and as a child was laid in a manger: In Thy great mercy be merciful to this, Thy handmaid [N.] who has miscarried the child who was conceived in her.
Forgive all her voluntary or involuntary offenses, and protect her from all the machinations of the devil. Heal her suffering, and in Thy love for mankind grant health and strength to her body and soul.
Guard her with a radiant Angel from every assault of the invisible demons and from every illness and malady, and deliver her from all that may afflict her womb. O Thou, Who accepts the innocence of infancy into
Thy Kingdom, comfort the mind of Thy handmaid and bring her peace.
Therefore, with fear we cry and say: Look down from heaven and strengthen Thy handmaid [N.] who has miscarried of the child conceived in her. Have mercy on her and bless her, through the intercession of Thine undefiled Mother and of all Thy Saints.
P: Let us pray to the Lord.
R: Lord have mercy.
P: O Lord, Thou hast spoken through Thy Prophet Isaiah, saying, “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create, for behold, I create in Jerusalem a rejoicing, and in her people joy.I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress. No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days” [Isaiah 65:17-19, 20a].
Do Thou, the same Lord and God, Who on that day will give no cause to mourn the loss of a child, be present with us this day as we gather with sadness to seek Thy comfort and mourn the loss of this child [N.], known to Thy handmaid who carried him/her, to his/her father, who generated him/her, and to us, Thy faithful People.
Thou hast spoken through Thy Prophet Jeremiah, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” [Jeremiah 1:5]. For which cause we bless Thee, O God of compassion, the consolation of the afflicted. Thou knowest the name and age of every person, even from his and her mother’s womb.
Knowing the depths of our hearts, accept our sorrow as we grieve the loss of this child, and comfort us with the promise of the joy of Thy eternal Kingdom.
Help us to grow in confidence in Thy sustaining presence at this moment and in the days to come, through the prayers of Thy most pure Mother, the Theotokos and ever-Virgin Mary, and of all Thy Saints. For Thou art a merciful God, and unto Thee we ascribe glory, to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages.
P: Let us pray to the Lord.
R: Lord, have mercy.
P: O merciful Lord, falling down before Thy great and inscrutable providence, which is both merciful and just: We confess our weakness and infirmity, not knowing what to ask of Thee. For Thou alone knowest our true needs. Thou lovest us more than we ourselves know how to love.
Help us to discern our true needs, which are concealed from us. We dare not ask either a cross or consolation. We can only wait on Thee. Our hearts are open to Thee. Visit us and help us. Cast us down and raise us up. In silence we contemplate Thy holy will and inscrutable ways.
We offer ourselves to Thee in sacrifice, and we place all our trust in Thee. We have no desire but to fulfill Thy holy will. We believe, O Lord; help our unbelief! Let not our faith fail, nor our hope weaken, nor our love grow cold. Wipe away our tears of sorrow, granting us instead tears of joy.
Heal our weakness and infirmity. Forgive our transgressions, voluntary and involuntary. Receive the infant [N.
] into Thy kingdom and have mercy on us, through the mercy and compassion and love for mankind of Thine only-begotten Son, with whom Thou are blessed, together with Thine all-holy, good and life-creating Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages.
R: Father, bless.
P: Christ our true God, the Existing One, is blessed, always, now and ever, and unto ages of ages.
R: Amen. Preserve, O God, the Holy Orthodox Faith and Orthodox Christians, unto ages of ages.
P: Most holy Theotokos, save us.
R: More honorable than the Cherubim, and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim: without defilement you gave birth to God the Word. True Theotokos, we magnify you.
P: Glory to Thee, O Christ, our God and our hope, glory to Thee.
R: Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.
Lord have mercy. Lord have mercy. Lord have mercy.
P: May Christ our true God, through the prayers of His most pure Mother; of the holy, glorious, and all-laudable Apostles; of Saint [N.
, the patron of the unbaptized infant]; of Saint [N.
], whose memory be celebrate on this day; of the holy and righteous ancestors of God, Joachim and Anna; and of all the Saints: have mercy on us and save us, for He is good and lovest mankind.
P: Let us pray to the Lord.
R: Lord, have mercy.
P: O Lord, Who guards Thy children in this life and prepares for those who have departed from us in their innocence a haven in the radiant angelic realm in the heavenly mansions: Do Thou, the same Master, Christ our God, receive in peace the soul of Thy child [N.
], for Thou has said, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the Kingdom of heaven.” For unto Thee is due all glory, honor and worship, together with Thy Father, Who is from everlasting, and Thine all-holy, good and life-creating Spirit, now and ever.
and unto ages of ages.
Memory eternal! Memory eternal! Memory eternal!
His/her soul shall dwell with the blessed!
GLORY TO GOD FOR ALL THINGS!
Approved for use by the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America
Reprinted by permission of the author from Four Centuries of Jewish Women’s Spirituality: A Sourcebook (Beacon Press).
Conceiving a child did not come easily to me. Neither did the words to convey my frustration, despair, and uncertainty to those who might have helped. But stories have been a source of strength and nourishment to me since I was a little girl.
I devoured the books of the Brothers Grimm and Andrew Lang hills of chocolate chip cookies. Myths of the Greek gods and goddesses were more substantial, roasted meat with gravy. In later years, I began to feast on the tales of my biblical ancestors.
When my life has presented a problem or paradox, I have sought a solution in close study of the sacred text.
I learned to do this by studying the midrash, collections of rabbinic interpretations and parables which aim to clarify particular aspects of the Tanakh [Bible]. One of my teachers, Judah Goldin, explained that when the rabbis found something in the text that disturbed them, from a grammatical deviation to a perplexing character flaw, they responded with a midrash.
A Miscarriage Creates a Sense of Imbalance
When I lost my first pregnancy after trying to conceive for a prolonged period of time, my sense of living harmoniously with Nature was sufficiently disturbed to impel me to make a midrash in response. This midrash would be a hybrid creature, part story, part ritual.
Nobody I knew well had ever lost a baby. I had heard horror stories of friends of friends and their pregnancies-turned-nightmares, but these were remote occurrences. When Death came to our household, my husband and I had only each other. Our parents (the grandparents-to-be) seemed puzzled and overwhelmed by this tragic break from the norm.They wanted to help, but how could they give us a live child? While I was in the hospital recovering from the laparotomy that removed the Fallopian tube where the pregnancy had been trapped, phone calls and visitors kept coming.
But when I was finally settled once more at home, I looked at my husband, Steve, and asked: What do we do now? How do we start to live again?
A Miscarriage is a Death
What nobody could tell us was that we had experienced the real death of a potential being.
We were grieving, but we could not put words to it; we could not invite people over to sit shiva [the intense mourning that occurs during the first seven days after the death of a close relative] for our dead baby.
Then I remembered all those disgusting dead-baby jokes I used to hear in fifth grade. Humor fills the vacuum caused by taboo. Talking about and mourning for the death of an abstract being, one that was never held or touched, was taboo in our society and in Judaism.
This was intolerable to me. I had to find a way to mark this death or I would be grieving for the rest of my life. In the works of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross I discovered the notion that one’s own experience with Death is the instructor to follow. I would look into my tradition to find what to do. I remembered the story of Hannah and Peninnah in the First Book of Samuel.
Studying the Story of Hannah
Hannah was the favorite wife of Elkanah, but she was unable to bear him any children. Peninnah, her co-wife, less favored, bore one healthy child after the other. Through much suffering, deliberation, humiliation, and prayer, Hannah was finally blessed with a son whom she named Samuel.
Here was my model. Hannah had lost hope and self-esteem. She even displayed symptoms of severe depression: She stopped eating and wept constantly (I Samuel 1:7-8). This indicated how deeply she was mourning for the child she might never have.
Hannah I was paralyzed-by infertility and by my recent pregnancy loss. The rabbis considered Hannah the paradigm of heartfelt prayer and unceasing faith.Therefore, I would consider her story to be a kind of prayer, an inspiration to survive this overwhelming period of loss and despair that was facing me.
Accordingly, in the year following my pregnancy loss, I sat down daily with the story of Hannah and studied it from every possible angle. Each day I read another verse and pondered it.
Then I read commentaries on the story, mostly in Pesikta Rabbati, to see what the rabbis thought about Hannah and her rival, Peninnah. Finally I wrote a new version of the story, a synthesis of the original text, its commentaries, and my identification with Hannah through the experience of infertility.
The ritual of studying Hannah’s story became a Kaddish [prayer in praise of God recited daily by mourners] that I said each day for my dead child. In this way I was able to live through the loss instead of being consumed by it. Incidentally, my husband’s response was quite different.
Whereas I turned inward to find strength and renewed faith by studying texts, he used activity to overcome the loss and became a Jewish Big Brother. One year after the death, we created a joint ritual. [This ritual is described in Penina V. Adelman, “Playing House: The Birth of a Ritual,” Reconstructionist, January-February 1989.
] Before this could happen, however, we needed to do some individual preparation.
The more I studied, the more convinced I became that there was a ritual hidden there if I could only see it. However, this ritual lived between the lines of Hebrew text. No older wise woman was going to teach the ritual to me. Thus, part of the interpretive process would be uncovering this ritual for infertility.
My need to look into the sacred texts of my tradition in search of solace and hope echoed my desire to look life straight in the eye again after losing my baby and to find meaning in the experience. Magical thinking led me to believe that by studying Hannah intensely I would ingest some of her strength and that this strength was contained in the very letters of her story.
Similar reasoning often lies behind the activity of Torah study.The wachnact, or “night of watching” before a brit milah [circumcision] when there is communal study all night long to protect the newborn from the Angel of Death, is a folk custom that illustrates the notion of study as a form of Jewish worship–just as Torah readings in the synagogue during the week, on the Sabbath and [on] holidays do.
In addition, the tefillin [phylacteries] and mezuzah [parchment scrolls in containers placed on doorposts in a Jewish home], which contain Hebrew prayers, may be seen as types of amulets protecting those who use them. Thus, I believed that the study of Hannah’s story might protect me from further loss and offer some guidance in becoming a mother.
Ritual Grows From Hannah’s Silent Prayer
Hannah’s silent prayer became the basis of the ritual. It represented the silence of all those who had experienced such losses and could find no place within Judaism to mark them.
By studying Hannah and identifying with her, I became another link on a chain of women who had had difficulty in conceiving or had lost children.
This chain included all the matriarchs and extended back as far as Lilith (Adam’s first wife, who was condemned to lose all her babies as they were born because she refused to submit to Adam’s will). In this ritual, giving voice to the silence would be my goal.
I first sang and told the story of Hannah in my Rosh Chodesh [the beginning of a new Jewish month] group composed of women only, a safe forum for the initial public exposure of my experience.
Then on the one-year anniversary of the pregnancy loss, I performed the story as the haftarah [prophetic reading] on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, the time when Hannah’s story is traditionally read.
Presenting my midrash in public before a group of men and women meant the experience was no longer my burden and my husband’s alone. At last, I understood my compulsion to develop a ritual where there had been none.
Ritual places personal experience in the public realm where it may be witnessed, dealt with, and shared.The loss of a child, potential or real, becomes bearable when the person sitting to your right and the person sitting to your left experience it with you and can say, “Finally I understand.”
Pronounced: KAH-dish, Origin: Hebrew, usually referring to the Mourner’s Kaddish, the Jewish prayer recited in memory of the dead.
Pronunced: TORE-uh, Origin: Hebrew, the Five Books of Moses.
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Recruiting a Pregnancy Prayer Support Team
The book of Nehemiah is quite amazing. Nehemiah was a man of God who served as the cupbearer to the Persian King Artaxerxes I. He heard about ruins in Jerusalem and asked the king if he could return there and oversee repairs to the broken down city wall. Jerusalem had been his home at one time and he cared deeply for the people still living there.
The king allowed him to go and gave him everything he needed to complete the work. Nehemiah recruited the people of Jerusalem to help build the wall and assigned everyone a task.
Unfortunately, there were many people in the surrounding cities that didn’t want Nehemiah and the people of Jerusalem to succeed. And back then, being against something a city or group of people were doing meant threat of physical violence.
Nehemiah spent much time in prayer (see Chapter 1 of the book) but also took special precautions to avoid the worse.
What about pregnancy?
This is something we can apply to our pregnancies as well.
While we don’t have physical enemies coming after us with sword and shield, we do have spiritual enemies who come only to steal, kill and destroy.
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rules, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
The enemy wants nothing more to steal our joy, kill our children, and destroy our hope
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
But Jesus came that we may have LIFE. It’s no coincidence that God says “Be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28).
We must be aware of this life and death fight
And this is where we can use Nehemiah to help us. Nehemiah did three very important things:
- He prayed – over and over
- He maximized their safety by telling half the people to work and half the people to stand guard (Nehemiah 4:13-18)
- He made a plan to gather and fight together if and when necessary (Nehemiah 4:19-20)
“The work is extensive and spread out, and we are widely separated from each other along the wall. Whenever you hear the sound of the trumpet, join us there. Our God will fight for us!”
We can do the same in our pregnancy journey. Don’t let the enemy get a foothold. Be prepared with a team of fighters at your side.
- Pray – a TON
- Invite your friends to stand with you in prayer – Don’t wait until something goes wrong. Ask as soon as you consider trying to conceive, tell them when you’re pregnant, and keep them apprised of your pregnancy throughout.
- Make a plan and use it. Sound the trumpet! Call or email your army to fight with you if anything goes wrong, and especially to praise with you when things go right.
Why is this so important?
We must build an army from the beginning because the enemy is there lying to us from the very beginning. When we’re trying to conceive, he’ll plant all types of lies in our heads about the potential outcome of this attempt.
He’ll remind us of our loss at every turn and urge us to reconsider continuing to try. If we don’t conceive month after month, he’ll tell us that something’s wrong with our body and we’ll never get pregnant.
He’s a liar! We need a team to help ward him off with an abundance of prayer.
Then, when conception does happen, there’s that enemy again – telling us what could go wrong, when it might go wrong, and all the ways we could make it go wrong. We’re second-guessing our every meal, activity, and thought. Why would we ever want to go through this without a support team covering us in prayer?
Lastly – IF we do have another miscarriage, wouldn’t we want a team of friends and family right there and ready to support us through another loss? IF I start to bleed early on, I want to say “Please pray for me, I’m bleeding” not “So, I’m pregnant but I’m bleeding, so can you be praying for me?” Why put my friends through the roller-coaster of seeing “I’m pregnant” and then immediately bursting their bubble with the unknown but clear possibility. I don’t know about you, but telling someone I’ve lost the baby is hard enough without adding to it the potential of telling them I was pregnant, but now I’m not. Why not just give them the story while it’s occurring rather than after the fact?
If you don’t have a group of people that can pray with you – let me! Send me a quick note to ask for prayers; I’d love to pray with you through this season.