In the Midst of Tragedy

We live in a culture and society that does everything it can to hide grief. But it’s not okay. Everything’s not okay.

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There hasn’t been a post here in over a month, and a sermon hasn’t been uploaded in over two months. At least in the case of sermons, this can be partially attributed to the way in which I deliver sermons now. I’ve switched from writing a full manuscript to using note cards. And since we don’t yet record my sermons in audio or visual form, this means I have to sit down and retype the sermon from memory as best I can (or at least its main ideas).

But I also haven’t written recently because my wife and I have been recovering from a personal tragedy. We’ve been sharing our story publicly because it has helped us heal and allowed others to share their own stories.

Debbie and I married two years ago on a beautiful, sunny, June afternoon and we always intended to start a family. Two years later, it still hadn’t happened. Until, of course, it did. In July of this year, Debbie found out she was pregnant. What a joy! I went with her to her doctor’s appointment and sat with her as she received an ultrasound. There was our little Gummy Bear (our name for our little one since, during the ultrasound, that’s exactly what it looked like we were seeing). Heartbeat, little movements, at eight weeks it was all there, like a little miracle.

Of course, it was too early to tell people, so we waited a few weeks. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary at all, so when my family came up to visit early in August we shared the good news. It took a few seconds for my mother to figure out she was looking at an ultrasound photo before it finally clicked, but my grandmother figured it out right away and woke up half the neighborhood with her ecstatic screaming. We told Debbie’s family through a Skype video call since they were gathered together with her extended family for their annual family picnic.

On Tuesday, August 16, Debbie had another routine doctor’s appointment and I had a Congregation Council meeting. I wanted to be with Debbie since she was going to be getting another ultrasound and we might find out the sex of our baby. However, we were discussing the budget for next year at the Council meeting, and I felt I needed to be there for that discussion. When I got home that night, Debbie was sitting on the couch and I could tell immediately that something was wrong. She stood up, shook her head–and as my heart fell, so did the tears. We spent most of the night and the next few days crying.

Somewhere around the nine-week mark, not long after that first ultrasound, our baby died. We don’t know why, though there were no indications that anything was wrong or that we had done something to cause our miscarriage–Debbie didn’t even feel anything or feel any different, which is why we shared our happy news. We, and the doctor, thought everything was fine. The doctor’s best guess is that the baby had a chromosomal abnormality, which accounts for the majority of spontaneous miscarriages. In other words, we were unlucky.

Because we had just shared our happy news, we knew we had to share our tragic news, too. Both Debbie and I posted to Facebook to let our friends and family know and to ask for their love and support. We can’t thank everyone enough for that love and support. After we publicly shared our tragedy, messages and cards came from across the country. It’s all meant the world to us as we’ve tried to put our lives back together.

But something else accompanied many of those cards and messages we didn’t expect. We knew that some of our family and friends had also had miscarriages, but we had no idea just how many. It turns out, we know a lot of people who’ve had miscarriages and never told anyone. They never got to share their stories.

Miscarriages, we’ve learned, are surprisingly common. About 30-40% of all pregnancies end in miscarriages, and that number includes pregnancies that miscarry so early that the mother doesn’t even know she’s pregnant yet. In pregnancies that are far enough along that the mother knows she’s pregnant, the number is about 10-20%. That’s up to 1 in 5 pregnancies that families know about and are expecting.

Miscarriages, we’ve also learned, are a taboo subject. Nobody talks about them. Debbie and I both knew that there were people in our families who had miscarried, but we were shocked at the number of friends–even friends our own age, with whom we went to high school, college, and seminary–who have also had miscarriages. These are people we talk with semi-regularly and keep up with on Facebook. And we never knew, because nobody ever talks about it.

We live in a culture and society that does everything it can to hide grief. We’re told to muscle through, to put on a good face, to pretend like everything’s okay and to grieve quietly and privately at home. Debbie and I each took time off of work, though not enough. We knew we had to get back to work if we wanted to keep our jobs. But it’s not okay. Everything’s not okay. And it’s okay to say that.

I don’t know if Debbie and I would have shared our miscarriage if we hadn’t told everyone yet about our pregnancy. Our hand had been forced. It was either share publicly, or share with every person when they congratulated us for our good news and embarrass them privately. We chose to share publicly so there would be no mistake and no misunderstanding. But in the process, we came to better handle our grief. We learned we weren’t alone, as we had friends and family across the country praying for us and checking in on us. Two of our best friends even drove 12 hours in one day to spend a weekend with us before driving 12 hours back. We learned that others had experienced the same hurt but didn’t have the same support because no one else knew; and that by sharing our story, we allowed them to share theirs, to know that they weren’t alone either, and that someone was thinking of them.

It will be a long time before Debbie and I can get our lives back together. We’ll never forget our little Gummy Bear. One of our friends told us how she remembers her child that was never born, and so there are now stars going up in each room of our house to remind us. But we’ll also never forget the messages of love and support we’ve received, that let us know we aren’t alone. And we’ll never forget the stories we’ve heard in the midst of tragedy from others who’ve experienced the same thing, who’ve finally been able to give a voice to their grief and pain.

Featured Image: “Double Rainbow” by Susanne Nilsson is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Author: Pastor Ken

Ken Ranos serves as the pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Three Lakes, WI, a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

4 thoughts on “In the Midst of Tragedy”

  1. You seldom hear this story from the dad’s perspective. Thanks for living your story out loud for those who don’t have the strength to. I am so sorry for your loss. Gummy Bear will always be apart of your heart.

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  2. Thanks for sharing your story! It’s a hard place, and I’ll be praying. Don’t be surprised if you come back to this place — my mom and dad went through something similar between me and my younger sibling, the only difference was in the absence of ultrasound you had to carry a few months too many until the docs were sure the baby had died — and even until my dad’s death he would get misty and walk away at certain times of year tied to that pregnancy. At least, this era has more of an openness to discussion surrounding pregnancy loss.

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