October is Pregnancy Loss Awareness Month. In some ways, it seems like a strange month to choose. In October, we are often focused on the harvest. We have harvest-themed door wreaths and table decorations. We enjoy a taste of the harvest ourselves – picking apples and pumpkins. This is a time we celebrate abundance, and yet this is also the month when we honor when abundance is taken away.
As a child, I knew very little about pregnancy loss. I had an aunt who sometimes referred to infant she lost by name, but no one besides her talked about it much, and the subject was so hushed and confusing that I never asked many questions. As a chaplain, I experienced my first pregnancy loss with a patient. A whole new world of darkness invaded what had developed in my mind as a world of joy. I was at the age that my friends were starting to have babies. But no one had ever talked to me about the dark side of pregnancy. The darkness still felt very “other.”
Finally, a dear friend – one with whom I had shared many confidences – lost her pregnancy. We lived far away, but I had just seen her pregnant belly at a reunion of friends for the weekend. We had laughed and shared dreams about the child. It had been a weekend of light. And suddenly, that weekend was washed away with darkness. We all rallied, sending flowers, meals, and cards. We prayed and we cried. And we listened. My friend was very good about being vocal and honest about her pain. We journeyed with her through the darkness.
During our mourning period, I shared with a few coworkers about my grief. Slowly, the stories poured out. Of pregnancies lost, of an infant loss, and even of the grief of trying to get pregnant. No longer could I go on pretended that the world of pregnancy and babies was all roses and sunshine. There is a darkness, a fear, and an uncertainty that haunts every pregnancy. Most of the time those fears are unrealized, but unfortunately, not always. And sometimes that darkness crashes down on those who never even realized the darkness was lurking.
We don’t talk about pregnancy loss much in church. We have a liturgy for blessing a pregnancy. We have a liturgy for giving thanks for a healthy birth. And we have a liturgy for an infant baptism. But the liturgies for infant loss are scattered and hard to find. They are modified versions of other liturgies, often unauthorized by a liturgical committee. They are like the darkened corner room of the maternity ward where they try to hide away the mom who has to deliver her stillborn.
Today, I want you to know that I am willing to talk about pregnancy and infant loss. As a priest in the Church, I am willing to journey with you through the darkness – even if that darkness has been lingering for twenty years or more. Or if you are trying to get pregnant, or even if you are pregnant and are afraid of the darkness – I am here. You are not alone. I will stand in the darkness with you – for however long you need. And for those of you who are just now becoming aware of this issue and want to be supportive, I recommend this video. You will find great resources on the website, as well as a link to an amazing book of devotions. Join me in being the Church – a Church willing to sit in the darkness until we can find the light again together.