By Roseline K. Njogu
Nairobi Hospital area. If I found myself in that neighborhood, my heart would pound, my chest would tighten, I’d break into a cold sweat and I was sure I was going to die.
But death and thoughts of death were now constant companions. I thought of my dead baby every waking moment. I thought of, and yearned for, my own death daily. Some days I was sad for Mugash – he had no idea I wanted to die and leave him a very young widower. But I had lost all desire to live. I had lost the energy to live. To breathe.
I stayed in bed for days. I wept and was surprised that my tears seemed to come from an eternal spring. Mugash stayed with me for a while, but the cabin fever runs deep in that man. He needed to work out his grief in the mountains. So we settled for long drives and picnics. He played hymns in the car, drove me around, pushed me on a swing, made me dinner, and took me to bed. The following day he’d try to get me to do it all again.
As my body returned to “normalcy”, I sunk deeper and deeper into madness. I do not use that word lightly. (But mental health is the subject of a whole other set of articles). I love to talk. I love to tell stories but grief had silenced me. Grief had stolen my voice. I had nothing to say. I had many many questions, but I couldn’t even phrase them right. It was as if this loss had altered my very being.
I tried to pray. I opened my mouth and my sorrow fell out in a wail. I wailed. I wept. I cried. I sobbed. Eventually I surrendered with a whimper and slept. Every day and every night. I became convinced that the Lord had hid his face from me. The shadows grew longer. The darkness closed in.
I had so many questions.
I did not care for the medical questions anymore. The hospital and its sterile floors, metal bowls, scalpels and sanitized language had scarred me. All I thought of was the inhumane words medics use to describe the most human of experiences. Spontaneous abortion. Blight. Products of conception. Curettage. Gravida 1 Para 0. Medicine had no answers for what ailed me. Well, not obstetric medicine anyway. I already knew all I wanted to know from stupid sterile medicine.
Blighted ovum. Not likely to recur. Cleared to attempt conception after one month. Granted, the people who had handled me had been very kind and respectful. But the whole medical superstructure was sterile, clinical and traumatizing.
Besides, my questions had to do with much higher sciences. With time, I was able to condense my sorrow into two questions. These two questions represented my attempts at staying in the land of the living. They captured the source of my madness. So I asked friends, theologians, the Internet.
What happens to the souls of babies lost so early in pregnancy?
The question beneath my question was this: Is my baby with the Lord? Many tried to shoo shoo me with “Of course they’re with the Lord,” but I wasn’t buying it. I wanted to see the authorities supporting that claim. I believe that we are saved by grace through faith, according to Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, etc. (See? Authorities!) But this baby lost at 10 weeks in-utero had no faith. How could (s)he believe what she had not heard? Are ears even formed at 10 weeks gestation?
I came across a Catholic doctrine (on the internet, so it might not be accurate) that suggested that if you baptized your miscarried child, then they’d pass on to the Lord. I could find no scripture supporting that, so even in my desperation, my mind wouldn’t accept this. I considered naming the baby something anyway, so we’d stop referring to it as it/he/she/baby. I considered a unisex name like Alex. I wondered if the Lord named my baby or (s)he was in heaven being referred to as nanii. What will I call her when I eventually see her?
Names occupied my thoughts on many nights. But her soul’s whereabouts tormented me. I read about the age of responsibility. A Christian doctrine teaches that children below a certain age will go to heaven if they die, because they really haven’t achieved enough maturity to make a decision to yield to Christ. But scholars can’t agree on what that age is! What of the idea that we are all born sinners?
I held the grace and loving kindness of an amazing God who claims to know me before I am in my mother’s womb, and to knit me together in my inmost being in tension with a sovereign God who answers to no one. I wrestled with the idea (and it seemed I was only truly grappling with these ideas for the first time) that God gave, took away, and answered to no one. How could I love someone and fear them in equal measure?
After weeks of late night research and tears, I decided to trust the Jesus who loved children and invited them to come to Him. Who said that the Kingdom of Heaven belonged to them. I could find authorities for that. After that, I did not cry for her soul. I just wanted to die so I could see her. So my soul could rest from its torment.
Do babies who go to heaven grow up?
This was my second question. Assuming that I was right, and that my baby was in heaven, I wondered if she would grow in heaven. And if she grew, to what age would she grow? When I got to heaven, would she need me? Would she be an infant? Or a teenager? Who was caring for her? Would she know that I loved her? Would she recognize me when I eventually went to be with the Lord? Had she met my Grandma? Did she look like her? I dwelt on this question for a much shorter time.
The third question shook my faith and my sanity. Why me? Why had the Lord allowed me to lose this baby? I read the promise in Deuteronomy that declared “none of you will miscarry or be barren in the land”. So, was I excluded from God’s promises? What other promises had I been holding on to that I was excluded from?
I shuddered at the thought that the Lord could not be trusted. I had lived a fairly “lucky” life. I didn’t have many tragedies to show until this point. I really had believed that I was somewhat shielded from tragedy by some sort of holy force field. Apparently not.
Tragedy now knew my home. My life was up for grabs. The force field had lifted. I was genuinely terrified at this thought. What else should I expect?! Yes, I realize now that I was actually quite the entitled little Christian. Miscarriage had robbed me of that “privilege” and I was having a difficult time dealing with that. I had come to believe that these things didn’t happen to me. But now I was a statistic. I was one of them. And I feared that it was open season. Could it be that the Lord intended to teach me many many lessons through tragedy? When would it all end?
By night I battled these questions, by day I battled the stinging well intentioned words of friends, family and strangers.
When you have a miscarriage, you realize quickly that we are a society ill-equipped to handle those among us who are broken by such darkness. When I spoke about my loss, especially with older women, I got the distinct feeling that while they were kind enough to listen to me, they didn’t think I should “advertise my business”. A miscarriage was a dirty little secret to be kept by a couple and only their closest of confidantes.
You see, we are a covering culture – we hide children born with disabilities, we cover up scars of spousal abuse with make up and platitudes, and so on. We’re a covering culture. The price of that covering is untold pain borne by parents who miscarry, at the hands of well meaning people who have not been trained on what to say or not to say in these situations.
By day, I battled painful words said by loved ones with the best of intentions.
“I’m so sorry Rosa. You will be blessed with another child”.
If you thought that that was a good faith-filled comment, I’m talking to you. It is not okay to say this. If you visit your friend who has lost a teenager, do you tell them, “don’t worry, God will give you another teen?”
Of course not! But people assume that unborn children can be replaced with other unborn children. They are all the same. Unascertained goods. But they are not!
What this person was telling me is that God would just replace the lost baby. But unborn babies are people. Unique. Irreplaceable. They are not fungible. Other children would give you joy, perhaps even help dull the sting of your loss… but what they don’t do is replace dead children.
“I’m so sorry, Rosa. At least it was not a real child. My friend lost a 1 year old…”
Not a real child? I realize that the child doesn’t look real to you, because you never got to see him/her. I hear that. But the baby was real. A very small real person. Not a real child?!
“Maybe God took this baby because he was going to be difficult and a problem to you when he grew up. God just saw that and decided to spare you the pain”.
How does one engage this? Of course questions of God and His sovereignty were beyond my mind that was spiraling out of control, but wasn’t this woman taking great liberties with God’s plans for my life? How could she know? How could anyone explain what God thinks? And why would they feel the need to share their undeveloped theories with me, in my grief?
“I’m sorry Rosa. It is well”.
How do I explain to you that it is not well? Nothing is well. Far from it. I am not sleeping, and when I’m awake, I’m not really there. I think about death all the time. My search history reads “unborn babies souls destiny”.
“You know so-and-so? They had a miscarriage, but look at them now? God has blessed them with two children”.
This one I hear to date. In fact, after Part I and II, many friends reached out and said, “But see how God has blessed you now?” We all love progress narratives. Nobody wants to live in the pain indefinitely. We want to show gratitude. But we must be so careful not to be insensitive to the pain of loss. When someone gets a divorce, we don’t remind them that they have great teeth. We say sorry.
I don’t get too hurt any more by this sentiment. Everyone wants a story of triumph. The problem with that is that it minimizes the pain of the loss. People push you to forget your loss, and move on. What they don’t realize is that you’re clinging to the memory of a baby who you had for such a short time. There are no pictures. No milestones. No mementos.
All I have from that baby is the baby blanket, the ultrasound picture, and the pregnancy test kit with the two lines of promise. That’s it. Stop asking me to forget this baby.
My mind became a war zone. By day I battled the painful words people said, because while they hurt, I didn’t have any responses to them. So I just mulled over them. By night, I grappled with questions of destiny, evil, and sin. My faith hang on by a thread. I continued to believe that God was good, but He had chosen to let me be licked by the flames of hell. I feared Him. I knew my life and my faith had been completely altered by this loss, but I didn’t know what the new life would look like. I still could not pray. So I wailed. I wept. I cried. I sobbed.
As always, I surrendered with a whimper and slept.