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In the Shadow of Miscarriage

Nov 15 2010
Elise Erikson Barrett's 'What Was Lost' aims to help women who have suffered miscarriage reconnect with God.

Miscarriage has been in the news cycle recently. Former President Bush confessed in an interview last week that his mother, after miscarrying, kept the baby in a jar and showed it to her young son. Bush says that act solidified his pro-life stance and went on to shape his presidential policies. His confession started a conversation about cultural attitudes toward miscarriage in post-war America and today.

Contemporary American culture offers plenty of rituals surrounding birth and death. We know how to hold baby showers, congratulate new parents, offer condolences, attend funerals, and bring casseroles through it all. Why is it, then, that we don't seem to know what to do after a miscarriage? The grief that women experience after miscarriage is intense, and the people around them—family, friends, and co-workers—are often unable fully to understand that grief, finding themselves at a loss for words and acts that might bring comfort. Women themselves may find themselves surprised and confused by their own grief, struggling to walk through it and to understand it in light of the Christian faith. Though I've never had to walk down that particular valley, chances are that you or someone close to you has walked it: The American Pregnancy Association estimates that between 10 and 25 percent of all medically recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage.

Which is why Elise Erikson Barrett's recently published book is for you.

In What Was Lost: A Christian Journey through Miscarriage (Westminster John Knox), Barrett, a United Methodist pastor, candidly recounts grieving the loss of her first child through miscarriage. More than a memoir, it is a remarkably comprehensive resource both for women enduring miscarriage and for their families and friends. It comprises basic medical information on miscarriage, an outline of the grieving process, discussion of the inevitable "why God?" questions, and how to respond to well-meaning yet hurtful comments (e.g., "Most miscarriages are due to genetic defects, so it's all for the best"), as well as an annotated bibliography and prayers, service outlines, and hymns chosen and composed with miscarriage in mind. Barrett points out that often people are unable to recognize and validate the pain of miscarriage—and that this is true even of women going through it. Thus, What Was Lost is, as she puts it, a guide to walking through the grief and learning to trust God again.

Some might be concerned with Barrett's purposefully hazy discussion about what happens to miscarried babies; she hints that they are persons capable of salvation and suggests praying for them. However, I think her avoidance of platitudes and simple answers is refreshing. There are no simple answers. But, as Barrett reminds us, we are created and loved by a God who became flesh and walked with us and suffered as we do. He walks with us still, and because of him we are walking toward the joy of the new creation, where death and pain will be no more.

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