I will never forget the moment when I heard the sound of my timer go off. Three minutes had gone by in a blink of an eye. I took a deep breath before I stood up. My knees were shaking. I felt a cloud of emotions and thoughts fog up my mind. I looked at him; he seemed just as anxious as I was. We walked to the counter together and grabbed the test stick: two pink lines. My heart stopped and my breath was knocked out of me. “We’re pregnant,” he said. He wrapped me in his arms and we began to cry. “We’re pregnant.”
That day was filled with many tears. There were tears of joy, tears of relief, tears from laughter. My heart felt like it might implode. We had waited and prayed and worked so hard to get to this point, to become parents and build our own family. I thought of all of the nights I spent wondering, waiting, and yearning for this day to come. My desire for motherhood had been palpable throughout our relationship, engagement, and marriage.
That day was a moment of pure joy I will never forget. “I’m finally a mother,” I thought. Immediately, I felt a wave of shame and grief. The reality was that this was my husband’s and my first pregnancy, but it was not my first pregnancy.
Facing Miscarriage As an Unmarried Woman
My first pregnancy had happened years earlier, a year before my husband and I met during my senior year of college.
I had spent my first half of college swearing off dating and vowing to never marry. At that point, I had been abused in many ways by many men in my short life. The summer after my sophomore year, in a moment of vulnerability, I was assaulted. My identity had been intrinsically linked to my virginity, as is the case for many young Catholic women. I struggled to find meaning in my suffering and turned to self destruction.
My junior year, I met the man whom I believed would change all of that. We carried each other’s broken hearts with tenderness and kindness. He was the first calm and loving man I had met, so I ignored his demons. We fell in love and I loved him with all that I had at that time; which, in hindsight, was not much. Eight months later, I shared myself with him in a way that I thought could undo what had been done to me, could redeem what had been taken. I would consider this my “first” time.
Five weeks later, I knew something was different within me, though in my naivety I could not believe it. The weight of the possibility of being pregnant was too much. “Not now,” I thought. “I just started living.” For the first time in my life, my period was over a month and a half late. I knew I was avoiding the issue; I thought he noticed, too. My body was changing and the nausea had begun. I could no longer deny it: I told him I thought that I was pregnant, and we cried in each other’s arms. He was happy; I was angry and terrified. He promised to take care of us, to stop drinking, and to work to support us. He told me he would marry me. At that moment, all I could think about was how I wished it could all be over.
A week and a half later, in the middle of the night, I felt a sharp pain I had never felt before and I started to bleed. We went to the OB/GYN hours later, and they confirmed I was miscarrying at almost 7 weeks. The nurse practitioner looked at me and said, “You’re so young and it was so early. We won’t ‘count’ it on your record.”
I sought therapeutic help at my Catholic college. My Catholic counselor told me it would be best if I focused on my own issues rather than something so minor since “most women don’t even know that they’re pregnant that early.”
All that followed were weeks of bleeding, months of denial, and almost a year of silence.
In Pro-Life Catholic Circles, My Miscarriage Was Met With Discomfort and Dismissal
When I started opening up about my miscarriage, I was surprised to find my inner circle of faithful Catholic friends less than empathetic.
I don’t believe it was their intention to approach things in that way. They seemed uncomfortable and unsure of what to say. The issue wasn't that they were scandalized that I had had sex; a few of them weren’t. The issue was that my story was met with responses like,
“Well, God works in mysterious ways.”
“Trust in God’s plan for you. You might not have been able to graduate if the pregnancy had lasted.”
“God in His mercy allowed your child to pass because you weren’t ready. You should thank Him.”
“God knew He had something better in store for your life than being an unwed mother.”
When I began to make friends with married Catholic women – married mothers who had also experienced miscarriages – it made the wound even deeper. There was a tendency to downplay the gravity and depth of my grief, as well as my identity as a mother. In some instances, I was met with dismissals of my miscarriage and the reality of my motherhood as a result of my loss; these left me feeling like my pain should not be as heavy because I “did things the wrong way.” It wasn’t until I got married and moved to bigger cities with Catholic communities made up of converts that I felt my experience was ever validated.
A newer friend of mine had gone through a similar situation, except she was 19 and had gotten pregnant by a 24-year-old in an on-again-off-again relationship. She miscarried at nearly 6 weeks. Her doctor called it a chemical pregnancy and told her to use protection since she is too young to have a mistake ruin her life. She became severely depressed and started seeing a psychiatrist, who put her on several antidepressants and mood stabilizers.
She shared with me that while she saw her friends going to pro-life events, they outwardly judged the young women who clearly had married due to becoming pregnant while on a college campus. She didn’t feel safe telling them what happened until years later. When she did, she was met with the same discomfort and dismissal that I experienced. She had left the Faith largely due to this experience, but now as a married mother of two children, she wanted to find a way back. She told me she was scared that her daughter might experience the same isolation and dismissal she had faced, but she was comforted by our shared experiences.
After Miscarriage, Our Marital Status Shouldn’t Determine Whether We Receive Empathy and Care
I miscarried as an unmarried young woman. Yes, my child was conceived out of a 'sinful' relationship – but my loss matters, too.
The stories we share about our miscarriages are each painful, tragic, and traumatic. Yes, there are differences between each person’s situation. There are differences of context, relationship status, weeks of gestation, etc. But does that change the fact that a child was lost? Does it change the fact that we also grieved – and continue to grieve – the loss of their lives to this day? Is the grief substantially different when the loss results in the discovery of infertility disorders (as mine did), in a loss of hope for the future, or in a loss of the actualization of motherhood?
Not one of our faithful Catholic friends or family members who knew our history wished us a happy Mother’s Day until I became a mother to a child on this side of existence. I know many married Catholic women who have had loss after loss and who experience the same thing. Many of us suffer silently. We grieve our children deeply, in ways only someone who has experienced it themselves can understand.
The tragedy and trauma of losing a child – regardless of whether it is outside of or within marriage – is worthy of empathy and care. When we think about mothers, we think about the sacrifices they make to nourish their child as they live and grow. In truth, women who do not yet have the opportunity of meeting the milestones of motherhood due to miscarriage are still mothers. We carry our children in our hearts for the rest of our lives. You cannot deny the child’s little existence; once they are there, you know. You are irrevocably changed. It happened, your child exists. No matter how long they were within you or beside you, or the context in which they were conceived, their souls are forever in the hands of God and we will meet them again one day. We can hope in this together.
How to Care for Someone Who Has Lost a Child to Miscarriage
October is both Respect Life Month and National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. About 10-20% of pregnancies result in miscarriage, so the odds are fairly high that you will befriend a woman who has lost a child due to miscarriage.
For those who struggle to empathize with or care for a friend who lost a child as an unmarried woman: Dealing with someone else’s loss is always a challenge. Especially if you are dealing with pain from your own experience, it can feel hard to “equate” both of these experiences on an emotional level. I invite you to consider that no two experiences are exactly the same, even among married friends. Both losses are, however, equal in light of the dignity of mother and child. They both deserve the utmost care and are worthy of grieving.
For those who have never experienced miscarriage: There might not be much you can relate to in terms of context, but diminishing someone’s experience because the weight of their grief feels too heavy is not the answer.
For those who are looking for ways to support someone you love who has lost a child, I have a few recommendations:
Offer to pray for the child with your friend, or send them a spiritual bouquet and check in often. Ask if you can help arrange a private funeral Mass for the child, or offer a Mass for them on the anniversary of the child’s passing or would-be due date. Buy a keepsake with the child’s chosen name on it so your friend can physically carry the memory of their child.
I encourage you to walk gently with your friends who have suffered this kind of loss; they chose to share this loss and entrust their grieving heart to you, and you have the opportunity to love them in it.
Little Anthony and Faustina, pray for us.