When she first learned she was pregnant, Taralyn Parker did everything right.
It was her first pregnancy. She went to the doctor for early blood work at eight weeks — relatively early, by many doctors’ standards — and all the results were normal.
“They didn’t get a heartbeat, but I was told that that was kind of normal for eight weeks,” Parker said. “A couple weeks later I started spotting so I set a doctor appointment for the next Monday. By Monday afternoon, it was obvious that I was miscarrying.”
Parker went to her doctor appointment alone, hoping against hope that there would be good news. There wasn’t.
“I remember this poor ultrasound tech, a guy not much older than I was, trying to explain to this young girl what was happening,” Parker said. “He said, ‘Yeah, there’s not a baby here.’ So then I was confused — was I even ever pregnant at all? What does he mean, ‘There’s no baby?’ None of it made any sense to me.”
The doctor explained to Parker that the pregnancy had been a blighted ovum, a condition the Mayo Clinic describes as a condition in which “a gestational sac develops without an embryo, often due to chromosomal abnormalities in the fertilized egg.”
But for Parker and her husband, it meant one thing: they had lost their baby.
Simply stated, a miscarriage is the spontaneous loss of a fetus before the 20th week of pregnancy. The causes of miscarriage vary and are largely unpreventable, with anywhere from one in 10 to one in four pregnancies estimated to end in miscarriage.
“If a woman miscarries, it’s probably because there was a genetic problem with the embryo,” said Dr. Max Crouch, Ob/Gyn and chief of staff at Mountain View Hospital in Payson. “It’s probably a one-time thing that’s not going to happen with the next pregnancy.”
True as those statistics and facts may be, miscarriage is deeply personal and, in many cases, devastating.
“Maybe this happens one out of four times, but when you’re that one, it’s your whole world,” said Brittany Richins, who experienced a miscarriage just over three months ago in May 2014. “It was rare for me to find someone who didn’t treat miscarriage like it was a common, happens-to-everyone thing. That was difficult.”
For families who experience miscarriage, understanding what miscarriage is (a spontaneous, natural way for the body to prepare for a healthy pregnancy) and what it isn’t (the result of a mother’s bad choice, or a punishment from God) is crucial to mental and emotional healing.
“When one of my patients miscarries, I try to explain to them the physiology of miscarriage and try to comfort them,” Crouch said. “I tell them that this is not their fault, that it’s something that just happens, that it’s a protective mechanism that Mother Nature has in case there’s something wrong with the embryo. I emphasize over and over that it’s nothing they’ve done. It’s in a woman’s nature to find something she should have done — ‘I shouldn’t have eaten that,’ ‘I fell down last week,’ — they can always find something. But in most cases, none of those things could cause a miscarriage.”
Understand the doctrine
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have a unique view of family relationships and a distinct belief that they will be perpetuated beyond the grave. But when it comes to miscarriage, LDS doctrine is less clear. Many families are left with questions regarding the state of their child and the nature of their relationship.
“It’s never been defined by the Church,” Crouch said. “When a newborn baby dies, we understand that the baby got its body and will qualify to live in the Celestial Kingdom. The baby is registered in the genealogy of that family, but a miscarriage isn’t. We don’t know when the spirit enters the body. But I always think it’s best to reassure the patient that Heavenly Father knows the connection between that spirit and that family. It will be worked out, even if we don’t know exactly how.”
Since every miscarriage is unique, different women may come away with different questions.
“Once I understood the answers to scientific questions, I asked myself, ‘How does this apply in a gospel sense?” Parker said. “Does whether I’ll be with that baby forever depend on how far along I was when I miscarried? Does it matter that my pregnancy was largely chemical? Did there need to be a heartbeat? I don’t know if there are really answers to those questions.”
No official Church statement directly addresses the question of miscarriage, but prophets have discussed stillbirth on a few occasions. In “Doctrines of Salvation,” Joseph Fielding Smith wrote that “there is no information given by revelation in regard to the status of stillborn children. However, I will express my personal opinion that we should have hope that these little ones will receive a resurrection and then belong to us.” However, this statement doesn’t directly address miscarried children.
A statement by The First Presidency in 1909 titled “The Origin of Man” stated, in part, “The body of man enters upon its career as a tiny germ embryo, which becomes an infant, quickened at a certain stage by the spirit whose tabernacle it is, and the child, after being born, develops into a man.” Elder Bruce R. McConkie elaborated on this statement in “Mormon Doctrine,” where he wrote that the message “appears to bear out the concept that the eternal spirit enters the body prior to a normal birth, and therefore that stillborn children will be resurrected.” (For more on the Church’s view of this topic, read the Ensign article here.)
“Part of what was difficult was the not knowing. In time I found my own answers, but for the first couple days I felt like if I knew, from a doctrinal standpoint, that the child would be mine at a later point, or maybe that I’d have a chance to be this child’s mom later, maybe that would have given me peace and comfort. I remember feeling very protective of my baby.”
—Brittany Richins on her miscarriage
“Part of what was difficult was the not knowing,” Richins said. “In time I found my own answers, but for the first couple days I felt like if I knew, from a doctrinal standpoint, that the child would be mine at a later point, or maybe that I’d have a chance to be this child’s mom later, maybe that would have given me peace and comfort. I remember feeling very protective of my baby.”
But as time passed, Richins found her own answers and peace concerning her relationship with her unborn child. That peace, available to all who come to Christ, can keep families strong during the turbulent time following a miscarriage.
Time to grieve
Because miscarriage is different in many ways from the death of a living family member, some families struggle to navigate their emotions. Some even wonder if it’s acceptable to mourn. But grief is an important part of the emotional healing that follows loss, including the loss of a pregnancy.
“Looking back, I wish I would have taken a little more time to grieve,” Parker said, who miscarried eight years ago. “I think I downplayed it because it was ‘just a chemical pregnancy’ and I didn’t feel like it was a ‘real’ miscarriage. Taking that time to grieve and allowing yourself to feel it, no matter what kind of miscarriage it was — no matter how early or late — is important, because the same emotions are involved. No matter how you lose your pregnancy, you mourn the same hopes and dreams for your child.”
As part of the grieving process, Parker and her husband commemorated their pregnancy’s due date by making preemie diapers for use in their local hospital.
“I think it helped with the grieving process,” Parker said. “Maybe we couldn’t help our child, but we wanted to help someone else. It helped me that year to acknowledge that loss to myself.”
Richins says that keeping a journal was an important part of her grieving process.
“It helped me learn to be able to express those feelings and not feel like I was just forgetting about my child,” she said. “It helped me to be able to see the hand of the Lord at the time. When the timing was right for me to do that, I was able to see the small blessings that came in the process. For me, everything happened when my husband was home. It also happened the week after he started a new job, and if it had happened earlier, we wouldn’t have had any medical insurance. It was helpful to look back and see those blessings, even though it was a difficult time.”
Crouch says that extended families can help loved ones heal after a miscarriage by expressing love, even if they don’t know what to say or how to act.
“Just be there to support your loved one, and don’t avoid them,” he said. “Don’t stay away because you don’t know what to say — just hug them and tell them you’re sorry. I’ve seen that be an especially big problem if a friend or relative is pregnant or recently had a baby. There’s a tendency to stay away because you’re afraid you’ll hurt her feelings, because you got a baby and she didn’t. But it’s very important to be around that person and to let them bond with your baby.”
Parker said she experienced healing in just that way. Her family paid attention to her needs and talked to her about her desires, creating an ideal environment for recovery.
“I remember people didn’t want to invite me to baby showers because they thought I would be too sad, but I liked going to them,” she said. “I liked seeing it could happen. For me, it was a hopeful thing. I know everyone grieves differently, and for some people it would have been hard. But I babysat my two-month-old niece not long after I miscarried, and for me, holding this itty bitty baby helped. It was a big part of my healing to help take care of her every day.”
“I always make sure my patients understand two things. First, it didn’t happen because of anything you did. And second, your future looks good.”
—Dr. Max Crouch, Ob/Gyn and chief of staff at Mountain View Hospital in Payson
Faith in the future
Perhaps most importantly, families who experience miscarriage can look forward to a bright future.
“I always make sure my patients understand two things,” Crouch said. “First, it didn’t happen because of anything you did. And second, your future looks good. We know everything works — you’re ovulating, your tubes are open, your husband’s sperm is fine. Your future is bright. I try to help them understand that they can start looking toward the future.”
This is consistent with teachings of the Church, which emphasizes the role of faith that, as Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, “is always pointed toward the future.”
“A couple days after the miscarriage, my husband and I were reading President (Dieter F.) Uchtdorf’s talk called ‘Grateful in Any Circumstances,'” Richins said. “There was a quote that was just what I needed at that time. I wrote it on the board at our house.” The quote reads:
“True gratitude is an expression of hope and testimony. It comes from acknowledging that we do not always understand the trials of life but trusting that one day we will. …
“The more we learn about the gospel of Jesus Christ, the more we realize that endings here in mortality are not endings at all. They are merely interruptions — temporary pauses that one day will seem small compared to the eternal joy awaiting the faithful.
“How grateful I am to my Heavenly Father that in His plan there are no true endings, only everlasting beginnings.”
“That just helped me to find a lot of comfort,” she said, “because the miscarriage very much felt like an ending. We were mourning the loss of someone we loved. That message from President Uchtdorf didn’t tell me exactly what would happen, but it helped me find a lot of peace.”
As families look to Jesus Christ for help and healing after miscarriage, the pain of the present can eventually be swallowed up in those “everlasting beginnings.”