Editorial Note: Following is a true record of a woman pouring her heart out in the presence of God as she experienced the death of a child in her womb in March 2017. We publish it here with the hope of bringing comfort and encouragement to others who may find themselves struggling in similar circumstances (2 Corinthians 1:3–4). Shalom means “peace” and, despite the emotional challenges portrayed below, this story ends with the mother of Baby Shalom resting in God’s peace. May it be so also for you, dear reader, no matter what tragedies befall you.
Upon first rising, on my oldest daughter’s eleventh birthday, I took a pregnancy test. It was positive, and I was thrilled! And filled with trepidation. Does anyone ever feel truly prepared for the awesome responsibility of raising (another) precious child of God?
We shared our news with the children while taking their pictures to capture their reaction. (“Smile! We’re having a new baby!”) We let a few close family members and friends know. In the meantime, we’ve been trying to decide between various baby announcement ideas: an Easter basket with six eggs? A Pumpkin Pie that we’re grateful to receive? (We’re due at Thanksgiving.) A family of matryoshka dolls with a tiny one in the Mama? Something with kilts or bagpipes to celebrate our Scottish ancestry?
Things were going well. I didn’t feel sick and had a lot of energy. Maybe too much? The pregnancy was very similar to the pregnancy I experienced in 2011, which ended sooner than expected with our miscarriage of Baby Selah. But … I tried to stay positive and pray for the best.
“Cast all your anxiety on [the Lord] because He cares for you.” 2 Peter 5:7
Now, it’s Friday morning. I’m experiencing excruciating cramps, and bleeding almost imperceptibly. But throughout the day, while the cramping lessens, the bleeding picks up. I remember from Baby Selah’s miscarriage, that if I call a healthcare provider, they will say there is nothing that can be done. But it feels wrong to do nothing. Surely, I should seek medical help if my baby is at risk? I take another pregnancy test. It is still positive. We still have hope.
I call my midwife on the phone, the same office which assisted me at my homebirths for my last two deliveries. The midwife assured me that many women spot during the first trimester everything is fine for both the mother and child. However, even if I would lose the baby, most women go on to have successful pregnancies after miscarriage.
So, what exactly is a “successful” pregnancy? Does it end in the birth of a healthy child? But what about all of the pregnancies that don’t end that way? What about all of the heartbreaks, the babies given back to God? Are they failures? If so, then I have no influence over the outcome of success, because this is all out of my realm and in God’s hands. A truly successful pregnancy is that in which I and my baby faithfully carry out the vocation of mother and child that God has put before us, until He ends that vocation, in whatever way or timing He has planned for His eternal glory.
“He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6
Vocation is defined as the roles in which God serves through people as a channel of His blessings. Surely I can be blessed through my child, and my child through me, even barring a healthy, no-incident nine-month pregnancy. Perhaps I might even be blessed more through suffering a loss? I acknowledge that His definition of success might be different than the world’s.
“We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Romans 5:3–4
I hang with the midwife. Going to the hospital could only confirm that the baby remained alive, but it couldn’t help if the baby had already died. I go bed, not to the hospital, because I do not want to see my dead baby on a screen. I want to have hope. Hope that everything’s okay, and I can wake up in the morning with no ill symptoms.
I wake up in the morning, vaguely aware of cramping. As I wake up more fully, I realize the severity of the cramps. I run to the bathroom, bleeding. I hunt throughout the bathroom, finding only one remaining pad. I didn’t think I was going to need any for about seven and a half more months. Not a one in stock.
I know that I should just send my husband to the store, but our fridge is empty, and we need groceries, too. While I could certainly entrust the responsibility of pad-buying to my husband, I’m not willing to entrust him with the next week’s worth of groceries since I do all of the cooking (from scratch). So, I prepare to go to the store.
As I walk through the store, trying not to keel over from the abdominal pain, I know I’m not here just for the pads or the groceries, but because I desperately feel the need to cling to a facade of normalcy—that everything is fine. But I’m not fine.
So, when the cashier asks, innocently, “How’s your day going?” I do not answer, “I think I may be carrying death in my body. These pads, they aren’t for my period. And I’m glad I’m wearing a long coat because I’m pretty sure that’s blood pouring in gush right now.” I pay nonchalantly enough, holding back tears.
There’s no way I’m going to make it home with the sorry state of my pants. I high-tail it to the grocery store bathroom with my rumbled plastic grocery bag of super-size pads under my arm, looking quite crazed, probably. I try to make myself at home in the tiny restroom stall. I sit, and suddenly feel the urge to bear down, and I do it, without thinking. A large clot falls into the toilet.
A moment later, I wonder. Is my baby in that clot? No. No, no, no! It’s not supposed to happen like this! If I am going to miscarry, I want to see the precious baby’s form, like Selah, and bury it in a tiny box in our backyard. I cannot give birth to my child and flush it down a filthy public toilet!
And, as my heart cries out in protest, I suddenly feel peace. It is no more difficult for God, the Almighty Maker of Heaven and Earth and all living beings, to resurrect a baby from a watery sewer than from a rotting grave in the earth.
“I believe in the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.”
The ultimate confession of this faith was not made at my confirmation, or weekly recitation in worship services, but with a simple, undignified flush of a toilet, commending the contents to the Heavenly Father, who hurts with me, but also reassures me of His love.
“I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.” Jeremiah 31:3
I leave the bathroom, wondering. I’m concerned about the baby, but myself, too. I’m bleeding too much. I decide to go in to Urgent Care. They transfer me to the ER and my husband meets me there. The medical personnel plan to take a complete blood count, including measuring hCG levels for the pregnancy hormone, as well as taking both abdominal and trans-vaginal ultrasounds. My bleeding has significantly lessened by now, but I feel foggy and nauseated.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5–6
I put my feet up high in the stirrups for the ultrasound. This feels so strange, so foreign, after having two homebirths! I think to myself with relief, “I’m so glad I don’t have to give birth like this!” And then I remember, I might actually be giving birth. The ultrasound tech tells us she isn’t allowed to tell us a single thing about the pictures she is taking. She can’t really even show us the pictures. I guess I’m thankful that I won’t have to see my dead baby on the screen, right? But even a picture would be something! I have nothing. I am at my most vulnerable. And there might not even be a baby to hold at the end of this. Last night, and every night, I prayed,
“Into Your hands I commend myself. My body and soul and all things. Let Your holy angel be with me.”
As I wait, I think. To truly love means to be vulnerable to brokenness. To confess with my body my willingness to love another child by being open to conception is to be vulnerable to the pain of loss. This is nothing new. I’m not the first mother to experience loss. I’m not the first parent to experience the loss of a child. How can I expect any less, when my aim as a Christian is to pattern my life after the love of a Father who experienced the loss of His Son. For me. For my child.
“For me to live is Jesus, to die is gain.” Philippians 1:21
And for my baby, too. Even if everything in my flesh shouts and fights for life on earth because it is all I know and understand, my heart and soul know that Heaven is my, and my children’s, home.
The doctor comes into the room to give us the results. The ultrasound tech could not find an image of our baby. This could mean three possible things. 1) The baby has already died and passed out of my body. 2) The baby is fine, but it is either too small to see or is hiding where they couldn’t see it. 3) Or I remain pregnant, but the baby is not growing in my womb, but some other dangerous part of my abdomen.
They cannot know until 48 hours from now, when I will take another blood test and they can compare the hCG levels. If they are higher than now, I remain pregnant and #3 is the most likely possibility. If they are lower than they are now, I have an empty womb and our child is already in Heaven.
Since my bleeding has practically stopped, they prepare to discharge me home from the ER. As I walk out to our car, I think it’s not just that this situation is in God’s hands, the baby is literally in God’s hands. How strange to go home, not knowing the physical location of my child. But I know the baby is not lost. It is either in God’s knitting hands, or in God’s eternal hands.
“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” John 14:27
We go home to tell the children. My oldest child listens carefully. I know this will not be the last time she also will feel vulnerability and brokenness for having loved. She makes the sign of the cross over my belly. My four-year-old says, “I will be sad and miss the baby if it is Heaven. But when my life is done, I can be with the baby in Heaven!” O, for the faith of a child. We do our devotions and sing our evening hymn:
Let my near and dear ones be
Always near and dear to Thee.
Oh bring me and all I love
To Thy happy home above.
Thank you, God, for allowing me to bear another life. You give, you take away, blessed be Your name. You’ve given me the gift of vulnerability and brokenness to become more Christ-like in suffering. You help me appreciate through this experience the very preciousness of life. Help me to find purpose in this suffering. Thank you for taking flesh and knowing my humanity rather than being a God far-off. Thank you for bearing my sins in your own body and giving me life, not just here on earth, but life eternal and the promise of the resurrection. Thank you for enduring the cross, not being afraid of death, but using death to break death. You’ve defeated death forevermore by bursting forth from the grave.
“O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 15:55–57
My baby Shalom, I do not know if this is the beginning of your story, or the end. But it is surely not the end of your eternal story, my love. Goodnight, my baby Shalom. May the peace of the Lord be within your heart, whether or not you are within my womb. Amen.
The Story of Shalom, Part Two
I wake up on Sunday morning. I prepare to handle the many questions that will be asked of me at church, eager to be strengthened by the Lord’s body and blood for the tasks ahead, assured of His eternal, undying love that died for me. But, this is so difficult. I want to hide; I don’t want to answer people’s (well-meaning) questions. I don’t even have any answers. Perhaps, this is my time to be a receiver of comfort, and let others be blessed by blessing me with their prayers and words of empathy.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3–4
What to pray for? On the one hand, I want this nightmare to be over, but the easiest way for the end means wishing for the miscarriage to be complete. I certainly don’t want that. But I also don’t want more unknowns: surgery, sudden death due to a burst fallopian tube, the decision of how to move the baby to where it ought to be in my body. I feel like I’m drowning in the unknowns.
“From sudden and evil death, good Lord, deliver us.”
The Scriptures, the liturgy which I know by heart, the hymns are all balm to my soul this morning. They speak truth, regardless of the lies Satan speaks to my heart, or the well-meaning, but inappropriate and misdirected comments people make. The beginning of my tears coincided with the end of the service, and the words of this hymn:
Grant us Thy peace, Lord, through the coming night;
Turn Thou for us its darkness into light.
From harm and danger keep Thy children free;
For dark and light are both alike to Thee.
Grant us Thy peace throughout our earthly life,
Our Balm in sorrow and our Stay in strife.
Then, when Thy voice shall bid our conflict cease,
Call us, O Lord, to Thine eternal peace. (ELH 597)
All Sunday, we wait. There’s nothing to be done. I have no control over this situation.
“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, And in His word I do hope.” Psalm 130:5
I wake up on Monday morning and prepare for a doctor’s appointment early in the morning. I get my blood drawn again to compare hCG levels. I’m sent to another facility to receive a faster result, but there’s some confusion about the order. Phone calls and faxes are flying between offices. The results are in, but I can’t have them. They can only be shared with my doctor, but we can’t get hold of my doctor.
I call our cost-sharing ministry and open a need regarding the ER visit. The worker prays with me, acknowledging that no one but God can understand my pain, and He can understand it even better than I myself. This is truth.
And now it’s 5 p.m. and offices are closed. And I never received word about whether or not my baby is dead.
I need to leave my phone behind. I walk. Maybe I shouldn’t be walking so vigorously? Maybe I should be on bed-rest? But no doctor ordered such a thing. No doctor ordered anything. Nothing. I know nothing.
I walk. Should I walk to my neighbor’s and cry on her shoulder? A precious Bible-study friend who has years resulting in wonderful Biblical wisdom and gray hair as her crown of glory? Should I walk to church and pray in the pew, pouring my heart out to God? Church is a block closer, and I end up there, hoping that no one will “bump” into me on my way in and just let me be alone with God. I peek into the empty sanctuary. Sanctuary is just what I need. I putz with the lights, hoping to pray at the altar. But there’s a scuffling. And I see a foot peeping out from behind a pillar. I take a step closer. And there is my neighbor, already praying for me. We hug and dissolve in tears. She showed me what she was praying:
“Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.
If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
Lord, who could stand?
But with You there is forgiveness,
so that we can, with reverence, serve you.
I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
and in His word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
yes, more than watchmen wait for the morning.
Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
for with the Lord is unfailing love
and with him is full redemption.
He Himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.”
She left me so I could pray. As I sit in the front pew, I sob without words, letting the Holy Spirit interpret my groaning. I want my baby. I want to be healthy. I want to glorify my Father. I want to be obedient. I want my own way.
What are the plans You have for me, and for Shalom, O Lord? How can You give us a hope and future if You take one or both of us?
And the Lord gives me comfort: There is a whole lot more future than just life here on earth. Though I expected to wait nine months to meet my baby, I may have to wait forty or fifty years, but I will, indeed, meet my baby. Heaven is our home. Our hope and our future, eternal togetherness with our Creator, is ultimately there, and is God’s ultimate plan for our lives.
God is all-powerful. He can save Shalom’s life through doctors and medicine, but He may choose otherwise. But since He is all-powerful, He can do something no doctor or medicine can do: He can redeem us from sin, give His life for ours, raise dead bodies back to life, and gift us an eternal family reunion beyond imagination.
God, You can redeem any person, and You can redeem any situation. There is good in this, though I cannot see it. I give you thanks, O God, for Shalom’s life, for life eternal for all of us—now or later. Give glory to yourself, O God, in this situation. Use Shalom’s life to bring others to faith.
My crying ceases. I feel God’s shalom: peace. My family needs me. I walk home.
“I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.” 2 Timothy 1:12
While I was gone, my clever husband figured out how to set up and log on to the hospital’s patient portal to “hack” into my own lab results. The hCG was significantly lower, indicating miscarriage; Shalom is in Jesus’ arms.
We gather the children around on the couch like every other night, but different. I am reminded that Shalom heard my husband read the Bible every day, heard our hymns and prayers. God’s Word does not return to Him void. I tell the children the good news that Mommy does not need to have surgery, and though we will have to wait to meet baby Shalom, we will still meet him or her someday in Heaven. My son interrupts and reminds me that actually Jesus could return any day, so we might not have to wait long at all! My husband shares the name: Shalom means peace.
The children are confused. They thought it was Hebrew for “Hello” and “Good-bye.” Daddy reassures them that, yes, it is also a Middle Eastern greeting, and the children are thrilled: They can soon say “hello” to Shalom in Heaven, though we have to say “good-bye” for now.
I am touched. That was not the meaning I had intended when I suggested the name to my husband; God has given us a gift and reminder in Shalom’s name itself. The children excitedly babble that the baby is at Heaven’s party with Jesus. My oldest asks if she can give Shalom a middle name: Hope.
“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10:23
“The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” Job 1:21
Lord, have mercy. Christ, come quickly. Amen.
Mrs. Marie K. MacPherson lives in Mankato, Minnesota, with her husband Ryan and their children, whom she homeschools. She is a certified Classical Lutheran Educator (Consortium for Classical Lutheran Educators), author of Meditations on the Vocation of Motherhood (2018), and editor of Mothering Many: Sanity-Saving Strategies from Moms of Four or More (2016).