The Babies We Never Saw

It has been forty years since October 20, 1980, and again I mourn for the baby I never met face to face.

The memory of lost children periodically brings new pain to every woman who has suffered a stillborn or miscarriage. Faces that we never saw press to the surface when particular stimuli cause the sadness to surface. Many women have never really grieved this trauma, we have just pressed on with life. I write this as part of my own catharsis and opportunity for readers to pause and process their own loss.

Not only is this anniversary especially poignant personally, many other news items are bringing thoughts to the forefront. In Colorado, proposition 115, which limits abortion after 22 weeks gestation, is on the ballot. Senate confirmation hearings for Judge Barrett keep the topic in the headlines. The celebrity couple John Legend and Chrissy Teigen is attracting attention with her frank description and vivid black and white photos documenting their grief at the loss of their unborn child.

Miscarriages and stillbirths are a common experience, and lately in addition to widowhood, I have been inundated with the life experiences of a mature women. Putting it all together, here are some thoughts while looking back on those lost babies who left a chronological and emotional gap in our lives. Thoughts that are prayerfully helpful and comforting to those living with this tragedy.  

I rest assured that I am not bringing up memories preferably left forgotten. This experience is quite common and is never forgotten. About 20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage and according to CDC about 24,000 stillbirths occur yearly−technically death of the baby from typically unknown causes at 20 weeks until full-term. 

The experience may be put in the back of a closet, covered with other memories, but it is always there, brought out suddenly by unexpected and seemingly unrelated events. For me, the time of the year, a nice October day, and years that end in “0”, bring back the old feelings. My first thought at waking up from anesthetic that morning was, “what a nice day this would have been for a birthday.” Within twelve hours I went from expecting a baby to no baby at all. Sunshine pouring through the window was incongruent with my feelings; the rest of the world was going on as usual.

We were informed the baby was an eight-pound girl and appeared normal. That was all the information we wanted. I regret over the years that we had decided not to see her, but how does a couple anticipate this choice? The times have changed concerning how to help bereaved parents grieve. At that time, no one was available for photos or perinatal bereavement care. Taking the pill to stop lactation, the post-partum recovery, leaving the hospital without a baby. This all occurred in a fog of numbness and denial. It had to be a bad dream.

I had done everything right with the pregnancy: good nutrition, Lamaze classes, the baby’s room was ready. This first pregnancy progressed well, except the baby was in breech position. Two more days and I was scheduled for a C-section. The water broke at home and the cord slipped out. It was painless on my part; I could not imagine this so deadly for the baby but after four minutes of no oxygen, brain damage occurs.

Women have had babies successfully for millennia. Why was I a failure? The whole experience was a crushing defeat. In the following weeks I consoled myself by making a scrapbook with all the cards and letters we received. That was the best I could do for her. That was all I had for this baby. A small funeral and burial followed.

At the time I thought that the pain would dissolve through the years. Indeed, with the busyness of two successful pregnancies and a family growing up, the memory receded but certainly did not disappear−one member was always missing. Now her father, my husband is also gone. He was always by my side and main support, but the loss of a baby is a lonely grief. The mother is really the only person who knows the baby through fetal movement, acid reflux, and growing abdomen. My husband’s main concern was for my recovery and support.

Interestingly as his Alzheimer’s progressed and simultaneously our granddaughter was born, he brought up our lost baby girl more frequently. It was surprising how vividly he remembered the event forty years earlier when he was typically not the one who would think of her birthday as the years passed. I too realize as I get older, her memory also becomes closer to me. What may seem rather incongruous, this observation has helped me consolidate thoughts on abortion.

What does involuntary loss of unborn baby have to do with voluntarily taking the life of an unborn baby? This brings me to Proposition 115 which will require a voting decision in just a few days in Colorado. For years, having lost a baby, I was adamantly against abortion under any circumstances. With the history I have, how have I finessed my thoughts on this issue?

I present here a small excursus, which is background on issues that can be reviewed more extensively from many other sources. Presently, Colorado is one of the few states where abortions can be performed at any gestational age. Despite the availability, the number of abortions has decreased steadily in this state and nation-wide because of increased education, availability of birth control, and medical care.

No one is FOR abortion−no political party, neither men nor women, nor any religion. The heated argument is HOW the rate of abortion is further decreased. According to the Colorado Department of Health, in 2019, 170 abortions were reported after 21 weeks: the data does not capture the reason for the abortions.

Education instead of legislation is my argument on two fronts:

First, education of boys and girls, age appropriate and biologically accurate, so there is no confusion as to how pregnancy and birth control function. This includes fetal development and maternal care with accompanying discussion of responsibilities. Abortion is clearly presented as not a method of birth control. How, when, and who offers this education in church, school, and family, is another topic too large for this essay. Sex Ed does not cause sex to happen. Parents can still choose the school their kids go to or teach their kids at home. But do it!

The second education factor is even more important and most difficult to overcome with greater cultural obstacles. The status of girls and women must be raised so they have access to the above-mentioned education, and further that they can imagine career opportunities and purpose in their lives beyond early dependence on a man in marriage and childbearing. I am speaking from the first-world perspective here. Not only females themselves but the social structures must be in place to encourage and enforce the value of investing in girls’ education. This is a continuing struggle, and in many regions only in the beginning stages.

Now back to my original story. My husband as he descended into Alzheimer’s and nearer death, recalled his lost daughter more vividly. I also, in approaching old age, look forward to seeing loved ones preceding me in death. This is the hope that does not disappoint (Rom 5:5). I do not accuse God of any death. There is no “greater good” achieved by the death of a child. Death is evil; God is not the author of evil. Christ constantly healed illness and disability while he walked in Galilee and overcame death on the cross. God does generously surround the tragedy with mercy and grace in many forms (Romans 8:28). God gives us the greatest hope of all, which seems far away in youth, but enlarges as the end of life creeps closer.

We, and I am assuming this readership is Christian, believe in a heavenly afterlife, where we join all the other saints. We will see our loved ones again, including the children we never saw. A brief review: there is ample biblical support for reuniting with departed believers in heaven: David’s son lost in infancy (2 Samuel 12:23); Jesus telling the centurion that many will come from the east and west to sit with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Matt 8:11); Jesus assuring his disciples that he will not drink from the vine until he drinks in his Father’s kingdom with them (Matthew 26:29); Jesus at the transfiguration (Matthew 17:3); the assembly of the firstborn are gathered (Hebrews 12:23); God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep to join with those still alive (I Thess 4:14).

This is where the intersection between the stillborn experience and abortion takes place. Yes, I realize there is a difference between babies willfully destroyed and those who died of natural causes, but I believe they are all waiting. I do not care to guess how we will recognize our babies and how old they will be, but all our aborted, stillborn, and miscarried babies await us in the afterlife. There will be a final accounting. If you are in doubt and trust the Bible, a few references to the judgement include Hebrews 9:27, Revelation 20:11-12, Acts 17:31, John 5:29, Matthew 25:46, I Corinthians 4:5, Romans 14:10. Those women who have casually destroyed their in utero children will be held accountable by God. How will they also face the children they aborted?

This is the summary, be merciful with me, the topic is complex, I will continue to tweak my thoughts, and I am trying to keep this succinct. When the circumstances are so terrible that abortion must be considered, the mother and medical team must prayerfully imagine speaking to that child and explain to him/her why they are destroying his/her life. This is a painful dilemma that belongs to the mother, with the advice and support of the people she chooses, not legislation.

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