October 15th—Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day—is an important day for me and my family because of what happened to us on September 9th, 2015. My wife was pregnant with our second child. We had gone to the doctor for a routine prenatal appointment that morning. After asking a few questions about how the pregnancy was going, our nurse proceeded to look at our precious baby through the ultrasound. As we affectionately gazed at our child on the screen, our nurse looked at us with an unsettled concern. Our joy had suddenly been turned to worry and dread. Then, to our horror, she uttered the words every expecting parent fears: “I am so sorry. I cannot detect a heartbeat.” We were rushed into another room where our doctor told us our baby had died. We were devastated and our hearts were crushed.
The days following our child’s premature death were the most difficult of our lives. Our precious baby whose birth was about to change our lives for the better, instead changed our lives for the worse by her unexpected death. To this day, we still do not know why our second child died in pregnancy. But what we do know are the lessons God graciously taught us through that terrible season, lessons which I will hold onto for the rest of my life, and lessons which have shaped my approach to ministering to other families who have lost a child through miscarriage.
5 Lessons to Help Pastors Shepherd Couples Through the Tragedy of Miscarriage
The following are five of those lessons which I hope will help pastors shepherd families in their congregations who experience the tragedy of miscarriage.
1. Remember that your presence with the family Is vitally important. Everyone suffers differently and everyone is consoled differently. Some families will be ready to welcome the rich truths of Scripture amid their pain much earlier than others will. But what nearly every suffering family will be ready for is your presence with them. Perhaps the only thing worse than saying the wrong thing to a suffering saint is to make them feel they have been abandoned in their affliction. Whether it be in person or over the phone, the family will need to know that, like their Chief Shepherd, their pastor loves them, cares for them, is listening to them, and is ready to bear their burdens with them. In time, they will welcome the counsel that comes from the rock–solid promises of Scripture. But often, in the early stages of suffering the loss of a child through miscarriage, what the family needs is to be comforted with the comfort with which we have been comforted from the Father of mercies and God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3–7). Be present with them.
2. Remind the family that they are not alone and there is solidarity in their suffering. When the time comes to give counsel, it is important to acknowledge that the suffering family is not alone. The tragic reality is that one in every four pregnancies ends in miscarriage. As Jessalyn Hutto states, “Although few share such stories beyond a small circle, the truth is that miscarriages are shockingly common.” So pastors may be surprised at how many women in our congregations have experienced the pain of losing a child through miscarriage. But when these women and their families find empathetic support among others who have walked this painful path before them, comfort amid agony and strength in the face of death can be gained.
Death was not God’s original design. After sin entered the world through the serpent’s temptation, death was the consequence (Genesis 2:17; 3:19). We know that the ultimate defeat of the deathly works of the devil has already been dealt at the cross (1 John 3:8), which will be fully actualized in the new heavens and new earth, where “death shall be no more” (Revelation 21:4). Nevertheless, for now, we still experience death, and, although God is sovereign over all things, in a very real sense, the devil is said to have “the power of death” (Hebrews 2:14).
While there are many ways to combat the evil influence of this one who has the power of death (Ephesians 6:10-20), Peter states that one way we can push back against the deathly attacks of our adversary the devil is by simply “knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by [our] brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Peter 5:9). There is much comfort and strength to be found in knowing we are not alone in our suffering. Indeed, there is solidarity within the body of Christ amid the deathly affliction of miscarriage. When the time is right, remind the family of this comforting and strengthening truth.
3. Treat the miscarriage as the loss of a loved one—because that’s what it is. One of the many reasons women remain silent about miscarriage is that they simply do not know how to react to the loss of a baby they never met. They may fear the hurtful comments that my wife and I unfortunately encountered after our miscarriage. “Well, at least they didn’t die after you got to know them. I’m sure that would be much more difficult.”
Not only do these comments inflict even more pain on a family who has just lost their child in pregnancy, but they also tempt us to believe the lie that the child lost in the womb was somehow less significant, even less than human, instead of embracing the truth that this was a human being fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God, regardless of whether we met them outside the womb. God’s Word is clear that life begins at conception (Psalm 139), and whether anyone else understands it, a mother has “gotten to know” this child as they carried him or her in pregnancy. So pastors can honor the life and dignity of the child by treating the miscarriage in the same way they would treat the death of any other loved one.
A few ways my wife and I have treated our miscarriage as the loss of a loved one is that we named our child, we remember September 9th as both her birthday and day of passing, we tell our other children that they have a sister who now lives with Jesus in heaven, and on every National Siblings Day, we let our children release a balloon to heaven where their sister is. Lead the family in practical ways like these to embrace and remember their loss as the loss of a loved one, the loss of a real human being who was created in the image and likeness of God, the loss of life that one day will be resurrected at Christ’s coming.
4. Encourage the family to hold a funeral and burial if possible. Because miscarriage is the loss of a loved one, my family and I held a funeral and burial for the child we lost in pregnancy. Because we truly believe that our child’s tiny body will be gloriously raised at Christ’s coming to be reunited with her spirit that is now in heaven (1 Thessalonians 4:16), we acted on that conviction and took great care of her little body by giving her a funeral and proper burial. Every hospital will have different policies, but our hospital allowed me to sign as the funeral director and released her body to us. I built a small casket in which we placed her body and immediately transported it to my family’s private cemetery where we held a small funeral for our families and laid our child’s body to rest.
Now, when we travel to my hometown throughout the year, we visit our child’s grave where we dream about what her life would have been like and prayerfully anticipate meeting her one day in heaven. I realize this will not be possible for every family, but as a pastor, I would strongly suggest it to the family. The funeral, burial, and gravesite have been powerful reminders to me and my family of God’s promises and especially his goodness to us during that difficult season of life.
5. Guide the family to look for opportunities to testify to the gospel that gives life. In time, the family will be granted unique opportunities to testify to the life-giving gospel simply because they have gone through the pain of miscarriage. There will be other non-Christian families in the future who will experience what they have experienced who will need to know that there is life and salvation beyond the grave. There will be unbelieving friends and family members who will be watching how they process the loss. And believe it or not, we will encounter strangers whom we never imagined being able to impact with the gospel.
When my wife and I named the child we lost through miscarriage, we did so with an evangelistic motive. We wanted to make sure that her brief life in the womb would be used by God for many years to come. So we named her Blessed Hope, after Titus 2:13. Not only have we been able to have gospel conversations with many people since her miscarriage simply because people are curious about her name, but I will never forget being able to share the gospel with the Director of the Women’s Center at our hospital.
When I asked her for the body of our child, she was both shocked and intrigued. She said no one who had experienced a miscarriage had ever made such a request. God then opened a door for me to share with her the hope we have in Christ, how there is eternal life beyond sin and death because of the one who experienced death in our place for our sins. I told her that because Christ died and rose again, we now have a “blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us” (Titus 2:13-14a) and that burying Blessed’s body would be a testimony to our trust in this gospel promise. After that gospel seed was sown, the Director was deeply moved to tears and allowed me to pray for her. From the very day Blessed passed from the womb to heaven, she has been impacting lives for the glory of Christ. Pastors, guide the families in your congregations who have lost children through miscarriage to intentionally look for these unique opportunities to share the gospel.
The gravestone above our child’s resting place reads:
Blessed Hope Willard
Sept. 9, 2015
In Christ, sadness will soon be overcome by glory.
September 9th, 2015 was a day that changed our lives forever. Yet, one family in every four that were expecting also have a date that changed their lives forever. Many of those families are among our congregations. Pastors, let’s shepherd them well by being present, acknowledging the solidarity of the body of Christ, treating their loss with dignity, assisting them with a memorial, and guiding them to testify to the good news that for those who trust in Christ, sadness will indeed soon be overcome by glory.
 Jessalyn Hutto, Inheritance of Tears: Trusting the Lord of Life When Death Visits the Womb (Minneapolis, MN: CruciForm Press,, 2015), 3.