Birth Days, Death Days

By Chris Travis

I’ll never forget the day my wife, Lindsay, called me at the office and told me she was pregnant. I had dreamed about this moment. She texted a photo of the pregnancy test, and seeing those two little pink lines felt like Christmas morning. It felt like being in love!

I’ll never forget that first ultrasound: those tiny hands and that tiny profile and that tiny heart puffing away. It took my breath away.

We had a hilarious plan for how we would surprise our parents. We live in New York City (we moved here to help plant Everyday Christian Church), but are from Cincinnati, and usually travel home for Thanksgiving. They usually ask me to pray before the meal because I’m sort of the “family pastor.” My plan was to pray a long, boring prayer—to really drag it out until people were squirming, and then finish it this way: In Jesus’ name, amen . . . oh yeah, I almost forgot. And Father, would you also please bless the baby growing inside Lindsay?

Lindsay and I could picture their reactions so clearly! Everyone would blow up, shocked, and then begin laughing and crying. We would secretly record it on a phone so we could post their surprised reactions on YouTube.

01_Travis_JNI’ll never forget the day when Lindsay started bleeding. I prayed like I never have before. I fasted for days.

I’ll never forget lying with her on the bathroom floor and stroking her hair as she went through the painful contractions, so many months too soon. We sang hymns together—not because we’re especially spiritual, but because we didn’t know what else to do.

I’ll never forget the day we learned we were pregnant again, and got to see this second little boy or girl in the ultrasound. Of course we were grateful, but the shine was off a little. We were cautious. We had learned the hard way that a pregnancy isn’t the promise of a healthy birth, but only the potential for one. We did not make plans to surprise our parents with this news. We just prayed and hoped the baby would survive.

But we lost that little one, too. Later, we got pregnant a third time, and lost that child too. That triggered all the testing. Maybe doctors would find something and at least we’d know what was going on. But they didn’t. Genetics, body structure, blood work, you name it, it all checked out. They really didn’t know what caused the miscarriages and said we should keep trying.

So we did, and got pregnant a fourth time. And we lost that little one too.

Trauma, Fear, and Pain

I don’t think I can describe what this all felt like. The first miscarriage was stunning—like a sudden slap in the face. We had no idea how common this was (and as I’m discovering, very few people do). There was the heartsickness of a hope deferred, the death of a dream, and worse still, the death of a human. We had names picked out.

The second loss was a whole different level. The third triggered all the “why?” and “what’s wrong?” questions. Less than 1 percent of women suffer through four miscarriages, as my wife has.

However painful this all was for me, Lindsay had the added physical trauma and fear, the intimate pain of the severing of a mother’s love, the purgatory of not knowing whether she should continue pursuing her career or prepare to be home with a baby, and the tortuous frustration of feeling like her body was rebelling against her best wishes.

We both suffered through waves of guilt, shame, isolation, and confusion. I wish I could say I was faithful and trusted God throughout, but the truth is this rattled me. I found it nearly impossible to feel he loved me or cared about me. I could know it in my mind, sort of, but I could not feel it.

All I could feel was a broken heart. We loved those babies. I don’t know how it’s possible to love someone so much whom you’ve never met, but we did and we do. We wrote letters to our children in Heaven, and even now, if I think too much about what I wrote, I can’t hold back the tears.

Not Alone

We felt alone, but we had no idea how common miscarriage is. Each year in America, approximately 600,000 pregnancies end in miscarriage (in the first 20 weeks of gestation), and another 26,000 babies are stillbirths (after 20 weeks of gestation).1

More than 600,000.

Part of the feeling of isolation comes from the lack of answers. In a large percentage of first-trimester miscarriages, there is a genetic abnormality in the baby. Aside from that, medical researchers haven’t been able to confirm other causes.

But that hasn’t stopped us, as a society, from feeling like we know why it happens, and the misinformation can be incredibly toxic. A majority of Americans think a stressful event or lifting a heavy object can cause miscarriage, but that’s not true.2

The reality is we don’t know what causes miscarriage, and it is something we don’t control. I pray we learn more about it, and if there are variables we can control, we’ll come to understand them. But as with so many things in life, this is something simply out of our control. Few people understand how little control we have in life like the parent of a baby who dies in miscarriage.

Which leads me to the most insidious aspect of self-blame: the thought that maybe God is punishing for some completely unrelated sin. I don’t think God ever causes miscarriages as punishment, any more than he causes men to be born blind because of sin (John 9:1-3). On the contrary, Scripture is full of accounts of men and women who were dear to God and righteous, but who, for unexplained reasons, were unable to have children.

In the short days of winter following our first miscarriage, as I studied for our December Christmas teaching series, I ran across a verse of Scripture that took my breath away. About Zechariah and Elizabeth, future parents of John the Baptist, it says: “Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless” (Luke 1:6, 7).

I clung to that verse. It was like a life preserver in a sea of condemnation. If you’ve suffered through a miscarriage, you might need to sink your nails into it yourself. They were “righteous” and obeyed God’s commands “blamelessly.” And they were childless.

What Helped

In addition to life-giving truth like that, here’s what helped us in our grief:

• People who suffered through miscarriages themselves

Hearing from people who had themselves suffered through a miscarriage—especially from those who had gone on to have children, was often comforting. I think this is true with a lot a suffering. It’s why support groups can be so helpful.

When trying to comfort someone who has suffered, you’re always on thin ice if you suggest you know how they feel. But being with people who had themselves actually suffered through miscarriage was often comforting.

It was not, however, helpful when someone tried to relate by telling us about someone they know who had a miscarriage. I’m not sure why it works this way, but you can only offer this kind of comfort if you personally have been through it—or have at least suffered in some way. “[God] comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Corinthians 1:4).

If you have suffered through miscarriage, by all means, be willing to talk about it. You’ll be surprised by how many other people have similarly suffered. Once I gathered the courage to talk about this publicly, I discovered there’s always someone in the audience who connects deeply with our pain.

• People who took it seriously

Here’s the other thing that helped: people who took it seriously. If you have this sense that it’s not a big deal because the baby wasn’t born yet, then I don’t even know what to say to you . . . especially if you think abortion is sinful because an unborn baby is a human life. If you think that, and don’t take miscarriage seriously, you are a hypocrite.

We had a bunch of people bring meals over after our first miscarriage, and I think their love is the reason I’m at a spot where I can talk about this now, instead of hiding it. They took it seriously and that enabled me to own it as something terrible—something to grieve, something from which I needed to heal.

• People who prayed

Please pray for people who have suffered through miscarriage. Make a simple prayer for them a part of your Mother’s Day service. If you have any kind of a platform, look for opportunities to mention miscarriage as one of the terrible things that can happen in life, as you might mention job loss, sickness, or the death of a loved one, in an attempt to validate people’s experiences and how painful life can sometimes be.

 • People who said the right things

When trying to comfort someone who is hurting, it’s always better to be still, to be present, and if they want to talk, listen. But sometimes it’s appropriate to say something. In this case, it’s important to say the right things and not unintentionally say something that hurts.

If you stick to the following, and are careful not to say more than the following, you’re unlikely to go wrong:

“This is not your fault.”

“God loves you.”

“God is with you.”

“I love you and I am with you.”

Life Now

Our fifth little baby made it. Our son, Rowan, is currently learning to walk. He says “Mom,” “Da,” “ball,” “more,” and “belly button,” although that last one sounds much more like “di duh.” My wife is pregnant again, and if all goes well, we’re expecting another little boy this fall. [Editor’s note: Lindsay and Chris welcomed Galileo “Leo” Ephraim Travis on October 27; Mom and baby are doing fine.]

Chris and Lindsay Travis with baby Rowan, then 4 months old. The Travises recently welcomed another baby boy, Galileo “Leo” Ephraim Travis.
Chris and Lindsay Travis with baby Rowan, then 4 months old. The Travises recently welcomed another baby boy, Galileo “Leo” Ephraim Travis.

On the day Rowan was born, friends from my home church also gave birth to a little boy named Archer. Unlike Rowan, Archer wasn’t breathing, and never will in this world. I’ll never forget this. I will pray for Archer’s parents for the rest of my life—at least once a year on Rowan’s birthday. Maybe you could take a moment to pray for Archer’s parents right now too.

It’s wonderful that Lindsay and I get to have this son. I really can’t explain how grateful I am. But it’s important to “rejoice with those who rejoice” and “mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15).

It’s also important to remember many parents who miscarry never do go on to have a healthy baby. They will go through stages of grief from which God spared the two of us, probably knowing we aren’t good enough or faithful enough to bear them.

And it’s important to understand having Rowan hasn’t taken away the pain of our loss. Now that I’ve met Rowan, I’d happily live my life all over again, just as it’s been, with all the loss and pain, to have him just as he is. But that’s not the same thing as making everything all better. Rowan can’t do that. That would be asking an awful lot of a baby, wouldn’t it?

But God can. And God does. Somehow he’s working it all out for the good of those who love him—but only he knows how. Our job is to trust him.

My sincerest prayer for those who are suffering through the pain of losing a baby is that you will hold on to God. Don’t distance yourself from him, even and especially when he feels the most distant. Cling to him and he will lead you through this dark valley. Our Father is one who actually does know what it feels like to lose a child—to watch his beloved Son—his great delight—die before his time.

It’s not your fault. God loves you. God is with you.

________

1Statistics are from the Statistic Brain Research Institute, www.statisticbrain.com/pregnancy-statistics.

2Alexandra Sifferlin, “Most Americans Don’t Know the First Thing About Miscarriages,” Time, May 8, 2015; available at http://time.com/3849280/pregnancy-miscarriage.

Chris Travis serves as pastor with Everyday Christian Church in New York City.

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4 Comments

  1. January 23, 2016 at 7:36 am

    Chris, thanks for sharing your story. So grateful you guys have Rowan and praying for Archer’s family. We went through a miscarriage with our 4th and were blessed with a 5th (to come in April). For anyone interested, this was our thought process: https://patricklmitchell.wordpress.com/2015/06/20/broken-and-blessed-gods-presence-in-pain/

    There’s also a link of why we don’t wait to tell people when we’re pregnant.

  2. January 23, 2016 at 10:27 am

    Thank you for this.

  3. January 24, 2016 at 2:07 pm

    I lost my first child 32 years ago. I still miss them and think of them often. Someday I know that I will meet them in Heaven and I can’t wait. It was a very difficult time of guilt, loss, questions and pain. Now I know that not only was I blessed with 3 living children but also a forth waiting for me in Heaven. I pray for comfort, hope and faith for those that have miscarried. Remember though, you will see them all someday. God’s blessings! Lori.

  4. Becky
    January 24, 2016 at 4:39 pm

    I really needed your story. It means a lot to read stories of those who have been in a similar boat. We are a couple married for 7 years and are currently pregnant with our fourth little one. The other three were miscarriages. So far so good and every day we are still pregnant is a blessing.

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