Editor's note: This article was originally published on Em Erickson's blog, Teach Me to Braid. It has been republished here with permission.
I'm often asked what helped us heal after our miscarriages. Nothing helped a lot but lots of things helped a little. Here's our list of hope givers, memory makers, smile igniters, and hurt healers.
We gave our babies names because they were real people. We named our little boy Ethan Andrew. Here's where I get vulnerable ... Ethan wouldn't have been Ethan if he would have been born alive. We had a different name picked out, a name that Andrew and I have loved for a long time and still love today. Someday we hope Ethan will have a little brother with that name. I sometimes feel guilty about that, like we devalued him somehow by not sticking with the plan. We told ourselves he didn't look like the name we had picked out. Well ... of course he didn't. He didn't look anything like what we had expected because we were awaiting a healthy, full-term baby. He was the size of my hand. His skin hadn't yet taken on that beautiful baby pink. And he wasn't breathing. We didn't stick with the plan because the plan went out the window when they couldn't find his heartbeat.
The even deeper truth is that I had planned on seeing the name we had chosen in the church program on the day our son was dedicated. I had planned to see it written in perfect, first grade teacher printing, laminated and stuck to a 6-year-old-sized desk on his first day of school. I had planned to see it on a hockey roster, in a high school yearbook, on a wedding invitation. I had planned to call that name from our front door to get him to come to dinner. I had planned to say it in a certain mom voice when he was being a little too rowdy. I couldn't stand the thought of not being able to do those things. We needed a new name. I picked it and Andrew liked it and then our baby was Ethan. Andrew hadn't wanted to name any of our children after himself. But everything had changed and I think he liked the idea of sharing something so sweet with his boy. It was, after all, about the only thing they'd get to share on this earth.
We didn't give our second baby a regular name. We refer to him or her as Little One or as our August Baby because he or she was conceived and lost in August. Sometimes I feel guilty about this too. Maybe we should have picked a "better" name. But we didn't and I think that's probably OK. I'm sure God had already given both of our kids new names in Heaven, names I can't wait to hear when I get there.
A dear friend shared this quote from Jenny Schroedel with me after she and her husband lost their child, Gabriel.
"The act of naming the child is a powerful way to bring light to the reality of that child's existence. Naming is a holy thing - it was the first act that God trusted Adam with. I have heard that there is an Eskimo legend that a baby cries because it has not yet been given a name. We all ache to be fully known, to become who we were meant to be, and a name can be our first guidepost along the way. Naming a miscarried baby not only makes the loss more concrete - it also allows the parents to bond with their child, to claim him/her and to prepare for reunion with them - even as they offer their child back to the one who is Life."
Another important step toward healing was our decision to plant a tree in Ethan's memory. We chose a flowering tree whose petals last a very short time. We thought the brevity of the blooms was fitting. Ethan's grandparents and aunts and uncles joined us at Andrew's mom and dad's lake home to plant the tree together. We had a short time of reflection beforehand, reading aloud a few scriptures and quotes about Heaven. We played "Glory Baby" by Watermark while we put the tree in the ground. My mom brought a lovely birdhouse to hang on one of its branches. I love seeing that tree and I make a point to spend some time nearby it whenever we visit the lake.
I wear two necklaces with the babies' names. I don't wear them every day but when I wear them, people sometimes comment or ask questions. I love that. When our daughter was born, our friend took a picture of her holding one of the necklaces in her tiny hand. I treasure that image - our sweet girl honoring her older siblings. We also had Christmas tree ornaments engraved with "Ethan" and "Little One."
I'm a reader, so it was very important for me to read lots of books about miscarriage and infant loss during that season of grief. It helped me feel less alone and isolated. Some of my favorites are:
"Safe in the Arms of God: Truth from Heaven about the Death of a Child" by John MacArthur
"Losing You Too Soon: Finding Hope after Miscarriage or the Loss of a Baby" by Bernadette Keaggy
"I Will Carry You," a beautiful memoir by Angie Smith
"Hearing Jesus Speak Into Your Sorrow" by Nancy Guthrie
Here are some children's books that I like even though I don't believe their claim that babies who die become angels:
"We Were Gonna Have a Baby, But We Had an Angel Instead" by Pat Schwiebert
"Someone Came Before You" by Pat Schwiebert
"My Brother, He's an Angel" by Savannah L. Leyde
Sharing our story
has been hugely helpful in our healing process. Whether through writing or conversation, with family members or complete strangers, every time I recount our journey through infertility and miscarriage, I feel a bit more whole, not so damaged. It's such a great feeling to help someone else, too. Our story takes on a whole new meaning and depth when we share it with someone who's grieving a similar loss. It's such a privilege to be able to walk alongside others in their grief, to be allowed into that vulnerable place.
My brother-in-law, a carpenter, built a beautiful cedar memory box for storing Ethan's stuff. I rarely open it. It just feels really sad but I'm still so glad we have it. The baby blanket and teeny tiny hat we got from the hospital are in that box. His ultrasound pictures are in that box. All of the cards we received from people after his death are in that box. Some onesies and a blanket used to be in that box. We went back and forth about whether or not to use those things when Harriet was born. We thought about leaving them in the box. They were Ethan's after all. But it made me sad to think of those precious little baby clothes sitting in that box forever, never to be worn. So before my daughter was born, we folded them and set them in the dresser in her nursery. I think she'd be proud to know she got to wear her brother's hand-me-downs.
Every year on Ethan's birthday, March 23, we try to do something fun. The first year, we went to the Science Museum. And on his second birthday, we had a delicious lunch at a restaurant we'd been wanting to try. It's still such a sad day but having something to look forward to adds a little sweet to the bitter.
Letting others in
has helped so much ... letting others serve us, visit us, pray with us, grieve with us, ask questions, tell us about the children they have in Heaven. Those little moments, quick conversations and kind gestures have meant the world to us. It isn't fun to be friends with someone who is infertile or with someone who is grieving, but so many have stuck with us through the awkwardness, through the discomfort, through the deep sadness, through the waiting times. It wasn't always easy to let others in but we are so glad we did.
So that's what has helped us, what has healed us. Nothing fixed it. Nothing brought our kids back. But that's the difference between fixing and healing. Our sadness will never go away but I do believe in complete and perfect healing. I believe that God can meet us in our sorrow and with a gracious, loving hand, rescue us from it. So that something that was once so hopeless can become a beacon for others to follow as they walk through their darkest nights. So that something that was once so ugly can become a beautiful picture of God's transforming work in people's lives. So that something that was once so painful can become part of our story ... part of His story.