Monday, May 21, 2012

Ministering to Women Who've Miscarried

At the end of February, I lay on an exam table knowing exactly what I was seeing on the ultrasound screen well before the nurse practitioner said, “Heather, I don’t have good news.” 

Though most of our acquaintances and friends didn’t know we were expecting, we did choose to share the news of our miscarriage with those around us, including church friends, coworkers, and my students. Their condolences were a blessed comfort.  We did, however, receive enough unhelpful comments that I’d like to share a few ways not to minister to a grieving mother.

1.       Don’t tell her “God’s plan is best.” Two of my female students selected a card for me that stated, “I know you trust God, so I won’t preach to you.” How perceptive these fifteen year olds are! Reminders of God's will being perfect, though true, don't ease the pain of loss. Instead, they suggest the would-be-comforter wants to maintain a distance from the actual difficulty of the loss, and they come across as condescending to women who have a mature faith already.

2.       Don’t instruct her about how common miscarriage is. Babies, no matter how early on in their development, should never be reduced to statistics. We wouldn’t tell a woman whose baby has died of SIDS, “You know, SIDS deaths are more common than you might think."
 Though 85% of women who’ve miscarried will eventually give birth to healthy babies, the fear of repeat miscarriage is strong. Don’t strengthen that fear by reminding her she may go through this loss again.
                 3.       Don’t remind her how blessed she is for already having x number of children or that she’s got plenty of time to have another baby. Each baby is an individual, loved and wanted for who he is and will become. Living children or future children can never replace that unique lost life.

                   4.       Don’t assume she has had a D&C or assume that the physical process is complete. Many women choose to go through the process naturally, for a variety of reasons. These women need continued support not assumptions that a miscarriage is akin to a menstrual period.

Of course, some people are acutely aware that they may make a blunder in attempting to comfort a grieving mom and commit probably the worst error: they say nothing. I offer a few suggestions for those who want to do something but aren’t sure what’s appropriate:

                  1.       Do send cards or flowers. Condolences appropriate for the death of a child are appropriate for the loss of a pregnancy. The cards we received from students, coworkers, and family not only strengthened us in the moment, but they also gave us some keepsakes to include in a scrapbook along with our baby’s ultrasound picture. Walking into my classroom and finding cards and bouquets of flowers validated my feelings of loss. Seeing the effort my students went through to comfort me told me they cared about me and my unborn child.

                   2.       Do respect the mother’s choice, whether it be for a D&C or a natural miscarriage. This is a choice made by a woman in conjunction with her husband and doctor. She doesn’t need outside criticism piled atop the tremendous emotional burden she’s already carrying.

                    3.       Do offer to bring her family a meal or to watch her other children. The physical and emotional strain of a miscarriage is exhausting and a D&C is a surgery requiring general anesthesia. Lightening her burden of caring for her family will give her time to rest and care for her own health.

                    4.       Do remember that her pain isn’t gone in a day. I chose not to take time off work after learning I’d miscarried, but walking into work that first day was daunting. Finding a card in my mailbox and a friend saying, “You are a brave girl to be here” went a long way: I knew people were rallying behind me. A week later, nothing meant more than a dear coworker saying, “I want you to know I haven’t forgotten.” 

      Miscarriage is an extremely painful reality for many women. With sensitivity and acknowledgement of the loss, we can help bring comfort and strength to women who so desparately need compassion and understanding.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Relativism in the Nursery

Mother’s Day morning I had a rare opportunity to watch CBS’s Face the Nation. Quite fittingly, the panel assembled for the closing discussion was made up of moms. Inevitabley, Bob Schieffer asked the panel for their opinions on Time magazine’s “Are You Mom Enough?” cover. Republican strategist Bay Buchanan said this:

[W]hat does it suggest? How long should we nurse our babies or should we nurse our babies or-- or what is it [sic] best? This is nonsense. This is for women to decide. We don't need anyone on the outside telling us what's best in our family to do because we all are different and so are our children. So I just think it-- it-- it's an outrage that they even suggest this kind of cover or the-- the headline to it (;contentBody).

I could have thrown an alphabet block at the television.

Quite often, statements to which many who share my core values and beliefs would say a hearty “amen” do not sit well with me. In these instances, I let the offending idea or statement percolate a while until I come to a full understanding of why it bothers me. It didn’t take me long to see what’s wrong with Bay Buchanan’s assertion.

On the surface, Buchanan’s remarks seem agreeable. Mothers are responsible for making choices for their children, and it is to be hoped that those mothers know their children better than anyone else knows them. In a perfect world, mom will always do what’s best for her child. However, I believe Buchanan’s position is based on a significant philosophical error: the belief that all choices are equal (relativism). This thinking is rampant in our society: homosexual marriage is said to be as equally appropriate as heterosexual marriage. No teacher in a public school would dare suggest Islam is a religion of hate and violence because all religions are deemed equally valid. Roe v.Wade gave pregnant women the “right” to choose between two supposedly equal options.

But all choices available to us are not equal. Not in matters of morality or religion, and not in the realm of parenting. Breastfeeding and formula feeding aren’t equal. (Ask the mom who adopted a three month old and cries because she’ll never breastfeed him.) Staying home full time and working full time aren’t equal. (Ask any mom who longs to stay home but can’t afford to. Her heart breaks every day.) Setting a child in front of educational television programs for hours isn’t equal to reading him books and engaging him in conversation. (Ask a first-grade teacher.)

I’m not saying we should go around rebuking mothers for their less-than-best choices. None of us chooses what’s best every time we make a decision. I’m not saying moms who make inferior choices don’t love their children. As a teacher, I’ve seen a few mothers make horrible choices for their children that will handicap them for life, yet I know those moms would die for their children.

Instead, I’m asking moms to be aware of how relativism has unknowingly crept into the nursery and to start evaluating their choices more carefully. Feminists, the media, countless other sources have led us to believe no choice is right for all people. Christian women wouldn’t accept that lie when it comes to issues of morality or religion. How can we accept it when it stands to rob our children of what is truly best?