As someone who has had four miscarriages (and who has been very open about each pregnancy from the beginning), I often get questions from friends and family when someone they know has lost a child through miscarriage. Since October is Miscarriage and Infant Loss Awareness Month, I thought now might be a good time to share a few things I have learned about supporting others after such a loss.
It’s important to acknowledge the enormity of their loss. The simple fact is that losing a child is a very big deal, and this is true whether their child was only a few weeks old and in utero or older, whether they have other children or if this is their only one, and whether the pregnancy was planned or unplanned. I think for the one grieving, minimizing their loss in some way may be a coping mechanism, because I have observed nearly every grieving mother I have talked to doing it. They say, “It could have been worse. At least I lost my child so early on.” Or if they were far along they say, “It could be worse, at least I have other children.” If they don’t have living children then they come up with another reason why “it could be worse.” Maybe it’s a way of looking on the bright side, or maybe it’s a way of avoiding grief. However, even if it is “just” losing a baby very early in pregnancy without any other compounding issues, their child died. That in and of itself is big, and it’s important to acknowledge that because it allows the grief process to begin.
Allow your loved one to grieve. Grief is like childbirth. I have written before that in labor the woman has a choice. She can tense her body and disallow the fullness of the contractions, though doing so will prolong labor. If she can fully allow the contractions and relax into them, labor will progress more quickly. Similarly, grief can be rejected, but it cannot be avoided altogether and doing so may actually prolong the grieving process. When speaking to women and couples grieving the loss of their child, I often see tears as a sign of a “successful” meeting. I don’t want people to cry for crying’s sake, but I know that the only way out is through and the mother and father will be better in the long run if they can grieve. Though not everyone will grieve with tears, and that’s okay, the physical act of crying can be very cathartic and comforting in and of itself. Often, simply saying, “Your child died, and that’s a big thing to deal with,” is all that’s needed for the tears to come. It’s like they were trying to hold in their grief and that permission and acknowledgement of their loss from someone else is all that’s needed to allow this release. Sometimes, friends and family are afraid to mention the baby that died for fear that mentioning him or her will “make” the mother cry. I assure you, mentioning her child will not “make” her cry but it may allow her to cry.
Grief is often different for an early loss, but it is still grief. When an adult or older child dies, the parents and loved ones have to grieve the person who was known and now has been lost. When a child dies in utero or shortly after birth, often the parents will have to grieve all the unknowns, and the earlier the loss the more unknowns they will have to grieve. When an infant dies, loved ones have to grieve what they don’t know and will never know this side of eternity. What would their child’s favorite color have been? What would their personality have been like? For an early miscarriage, they may even have to mourn that they don’t know what their child would have looked like, or even something so basic as not knowing if their child is a boy or a girl. The earlier the loss, the more unknowns they will have to grieve.
When a couple experiences multiple losses, their grief will likely intensify with each loss, so it’s important to keep showing up for them. Each time a person experiences a loss, it will bring up all previous losses, and any unresolved grief will surface. So when a couple experiences their second, third, fourth, or more loss, they will grieve not just for the child they lost at this time, but each additional child that was lost previously. Furthermore, they will likely grieve even any unrelated losses that they haven’t fully dealt with, like lost relationships, previous traumas, or any other events not fully grieved. While it is common for a couple to receive an outpouring of support for their first loss and then the support to decrease with additional losses, it is more important than ever to keep expressing your love and support and offering assistance each and every time.
Remember that not just the mother grieves. While people may remember to express condolences to the mother, it is appropriate to acknowledge the loss that is often felt by others who knew of the pregnancy. The father of the baby, siblings, grandparents, and others may all be grieving the loss as well. In fact, when it comes to grandparents, it has been said that they sometimes grieve the most, since they grieve for the pain that their child is going through and they also grieve for themselves at having lost a grandchild.
It is estimated that 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage. Sometimes when a miscarriage occurs, loved ones can unknowingly leave the parents to grieve alone for fear of saying or doing the wrong thing. I have found, however, that simply acknowledging their loss and making an effort to express a simple, “I’m sorry,” will go a long way in giving the parents or others comfort in the knowledge that you care and can help them begin their healing by giving them permission to grieve.
Let me just start by saying that my family received a miraculous healing from Jesus. That probably makes me sound like a crazy person, but so be it. Jesus healed us, and I believe that to be the truth.
Before I get to the healing though, I have to tell you about my life before the healing, because it’s important to know where we came from. My journey started some time in 2011, after I had experienced my third miscarriage. Finding the medical communities (at the various hospitals in which I had miscarried in) all to be rather indifferent to the whole thing and seemingly unconcerned to do anything to prevent the deaths of my pre-born children, I started searching around for alternatives and found a NaPro clinic within driving distance. It’s not the purpose of this post to go into my whole NaPro journey, but I will just say that I have nothing but praise for NaPro-trained physicians. It was such a relief to have a doctor understand and value my fertility charts. At her first glance she suspected right away that I might have low progesterone, but she wanted to do some more testing. Long story short, through the help of my NaPro physician, I was able to carry to term my daughter Nadia and my son Mateo.
As grateful as I was for their medical expertise to help me carry to term by supplementing me with bioidentical progesterone and giving me HCG shots, I wanted to know why my body wasn’t making the progesterone that it should be. Was there something I could do with diet or lifestyle to support my body in this way? Being the hippy that I am, I sought out the advice of a Naturopath and Chiropractor. He believed that I might have some unknown food sensitivities, that, though they may not be causing big noticeable reactions, could still be causing gut inflammation and impairing my overall functioning. So he ordered a Specific IgE allergy test. Again, it’s not the purpose of this post to write a treatise on IgE vs IgG allergy testing, but just know that the allergy test offered in most clinics is IgG, which in my understanding measures anaphylactic allergies; it does not, however, detect more subtle food sensitivities. So I was tested with a simple blood test and discovered that I was sensitive to beans, wheat, milk, eggs, bananas, chocolate, and a handful of other foods. The test revealed that I didn’t have any IgG allergies, though my IgE sensitivities were numerous. So we became gluten free and overhauled our diet to avoid all those things, and when I avoided those things, I felt great! I stopped being so itchy, and I had energy! Since my ailments had all developed little by little, I didn’t even notice many until they were gone and I suddenly found myself living without them, like my usual itchy arms, feeling generally kind of belchy and tired after meals, and kind of nauseous in the evening. On my new diet I had energy, I rarely burped anymore, and meals were satisfying but without the accompanying lethargy. It was great.
A few years later, when one of my daughters was diagnosed with Autism, my mother-in-law lent me a book called Gut and Psychology Syndrome by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride. Dr. Natasha believes that our standard western diet is wreaking havoc on our digestive systems. When our gut is damaged, we are unable to absorb the nutrients we need and also unable to efficiently remove toxins. This double-whammy of insufficient nutrient absorption and toxic overload causes wide-ranging side-effects that at first glance seems unrelated to the gut and unrelated to one another. In its essence though, if our bodies can’t absorb the nutrients we need, then our bodies can’t function properly. She believes autism, food allergies, many mental illnesses, eczema, many auto-immune issues, and more all begin in the gut. The book was mostly understandable to me, the laywoman, and it clearly showed me the connection between my food sensitivities, my one daughter’s autism, my other daughter’s eczema, and other various issues in my family. The book seemed like a gift, showing me the one solution to really heal every member of my family.
So we began our transition to the GAPS diet, which , let me just say, is intense. Basically, all processed foods are out. We bought just the grass-fed organic meat, just the vegetable, just the fruit, just the nut or seed and processed it ourselves. On GAPS everything should be organic, or organic as possible to avoid further toxins. Nuts contain phytic acid, so after purchasing raw, organic nuts, they were soaked and dehydrated. We began eating large amounts of self-fermented vegetables (after first learning how to do so, of course). Vegetable oil is a big no no, as are grains and potatoes (including sweet potatoes). Traditional fats, grass fed butter, ghee, or cold-pressed extra virgin coconut oil are acceptable for cooking. If the food comes in a box, or is somehow commercially prepared or preserved there’s probably something that makes it unacceptable to the GAPS diet. There’s more to it, but hopefully you get the idea.
I really believe that food is medicine, and on the GAPS diet, we all improved. At this same time, my daughter who has Autism also began getting cognitive behavioral therapy and so were all the strides she made since the beginning a result of dietary changes or therapy? I don’t know, but my hunch is both. Her excellent and committed therapists have helped her gain confidence as she achieved difficult things, and they have given her skills to interact with the world around her successfully. What seems most clearly associated with diet, however, is that her frequent stomach upsets and the fact that she would randomly throw up every few weeks without any flu or other symptoms, just stopped. Physically, she felt healthy.
At some point, after my one child was getting therapy and was experiencing improvement, but my other child’s eczema and frequent and severe sicknesses were not really improving, I decided to get her IgE allergies tested too. No joke, she would spend every other week in bed from a series of long-lasting and severe colds. Her blood test revealed that she was sensitive to about 30 different foods, including wheat, eggs, milk, beans, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, mushrooms, ginger, celery, cashews, peanuts, cherries, sweet potatoes, cabbage, pumpkin, tomatoes, and more. No wonder she was always sick! I thought I was feeding her healthy food, but every single meal her body was taking a hit as she ate things she was sensitive to. Like me, she had no IgG allergies, so if she had been allergy tested in the conventional way, the test would reveal that she had no allergies. Her numerous food sensitivities, however, were clearly having an impact on her health!
So, we cut out the things she was sensitive to. Basically, for six months the only vegetables we could eat were squashes, zucchini, salad greens, bell peppers, and eggplant. For my sanity, I prepared a single meal that every member of the family could eat, rather than try to make different dishes for different members. For my daughter, the results were phenomenal. If we avoided her sensitivities, her eczema cleared up and stayed away, and the dark circles under her eyes disappeared. She got one or two minor colds, but not the major colds that would keep her in bed for a whole week. She could eat without having to lie down on the couch for awhile due to feeling sick and nauseous. She also had chronically inflamed tonsils that may have led to her snoring, but her snoring disappeared too. And I was so grateful to God to have given me the knowledge of how to heal our bodies and improve our health.
Life was good. But it was still really difficult.
Trying to manage the household, food preparation according to the GAPS diet, and homeschooling was a lot. We did hire a housekeeper to clean the main floor every other week, which was such a God-send. After the housekeeper left every other Thursday, I would just wander around my immaculate main floor for a few minutes and feel all my stress leave me. I could breathe; my mind felt uncluttered, and I was peaceful. People are incarnational beings, and I’m certain our physical environment affects us more than we know. Our culture acts like cleaning and cooking are unimportant, and that homemaking is for those who don’t have real aspirations, but feeling so powerfully the health of my family being in my hands, and feeling the emotional effects of the housekeeper’s efforts, convicted me in a new way of the value and importance of these traditional homemaking skills.
The thing is though, I’m not a mother who can stay home all day doing homemaking tasks and be satisfied, and believe me when I say I’m not knocking those who do. Catholic author and speaker Jennifer Fulwiler, says that in addition to having a personality type, like being introverted vs extroverted and so on, each person has a particular pace of life that ideally suites them. Some people are most content sipping tea on a porch while reading a good book after they’ve spent the day baking and sewing their own clothes. Some people are more suited to a faster pace that has them writing, speaking, traveling across the country every other week, while running the non-profit that they’ve founded all in the midst of raising their numerous children. For me, I know that I’m not a happy person when I “just” stay home taking care of my family’s needs. I’m a compulsive volunteer-er and I often somehow find myself involved in or running big projects. So while I definitely need to carefully discern what things God is asking me to do and to balance those things with my family life, I repeatedly discern, and my Spiritual Directors have affirmed, that God isn’t asking me to step away from everything outside the home.
So, technically, I’m a homemaker I guess, since that’s what they call women who don’t earn an income and whose husbands pay the bills, but I always have lots of outside things going which keep me pretty busy, and often away from home. Presently, I’m Vice-President of the Board for Elizabeth Ministry International which always involves me in tons of projects from helping guide the direction of the ministry, to writing, event speaking, gift shop helping, and more. I also founded the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program in my parish and am the highest-trained catechist, which means I am super busy making materials for this Montessori style of catechesis. (If you are involved with CGS, you know the work this entails.) I also do other tasks to try to support the other catechists and other miscellaneous tasks to help CGS get off the ground successfully. I also am a certified Instructor for the Family of the Americas Ovulation Method of Natural Family Planning. So I’m a bad business woman (which is connected to being a bad blogger) who could do tons more to promote my NFP business but I just don’t have time for that. So honestly, I get most of my clients from word-of-mouth referrals. But I’m passionate about all these things and they are so needed in our culture! Also, each of these things gives me energy, which to me is a pretty significant consideration when one is trying to decide which things to spend time on and which things to let go.
Although these things take lots of my time, I feel so blessed that I can spend my time doing work that I am passionate about doing without having to take a job that I am not so passionate about just to pay the bills. As my husband and I lived below the poverty line for the first six years of our marriage, we’ve both had to do that at times, but thankfully we are not in that situation now. My husband’s job pays the bills, and me? I get to do a lot of charity and volunteer work… and once in awhile actually earn a little money from teaching Natural Family Planning.
So, we loved the GAPS diet, because we really felt healthy on it, and surprisingly, learning how to really cook felt empowering to me. It was like breastfeeding in a way. As a new mother I had felt so empowered to see my infant thrive and grow numerous fat rolls from the milk that my body produced. Now, similarly, I felt the full weight of the dignity and importance of this traditionally female task of preparing food for one’s family and I could see we all noticeably improved from the food prepared from my labor.
We never were able to follow the diet 100%, however, because life was busy, and on particularly hectic days we would go out to eat or buy some convenience foods. I also didn’t want to completely isolate ourselves from all human contact, so we accepted invitations to things which meant that we would be eating food that we were sensitive to and also that we might not feel the best afterward, but we made that trade-off sometimes.
I was grateful that our allergies were not anaphylactic ones and so we could cheat on our diet if we chose to. Nevertheless, it was always accompanied by certain feelings of guilt and failure because usually it would be my middle daughter who would first feel the ramifications of bad food with an eczema flare-up or just feel sick and need to lay down for a while, and I would feel like if I just tried harder, if I was more organized, if I had planned better and prepped some food the day before, and if I would just buck up and get rid of my outside commitments for the sake of my family, then I could keep up with our diet.
After six months or so after having been tested the first time, I had my daughter IgE allergy tested again, and some allergens had come off her sensitivity list, so I felt hope that the diet was healing her gut like it was supposed to do, even if we weren’t doing it 100%. A couple of new foods were added, but more things had come off, so there was only about 26 foods she couldn’t eat, instead of the original 30. We had never been so grateful to eat carrots, celery, tomatoes, and pumpkin like we were when we got the latest test results. I truly rejoiced.
And life was still really difficult.
I often felt like I was in a Catch-22. There honestly didn’t seem like any plausible solution to change my family’s circumstances. We could be constantly sick and likely get worse over time by not following our strict diet and lifestyle, or we could follow it the best we could and just accept all the sacrifices that that entailed. I could give up all outside activities and feel miserable, or keep doing them and accept the trade-offs. Was I being selfish? Was there any solution I wasn’t seeing? Was there any possible way we could hire a home cook who only made GAPS foods at an affordable price? So that was my life. On the one hand I felt inspired and convicted to keep doing the ministries that I was involved in, and on the other hand I felt guilt about the limitations on my time this imposed on me. And don’t even get me started on the mommy-guilt of not dedicating as much time to homeschooling as I would like through all of this! But that was my life. Until one day, through no merit or action of my own, things changed.