The following is a transcript from the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors podcast series, Truth in Love. You can listen to this installment, A Biblical Response to Miscarriage featuring our Editorial Director Rebekah Hannah here. For more information about this or other counseling resources, visit www.biblicalcounseling.com.
Heath Lambert: I’m Heath Lambert and you’re listening to Truth in Love, a podcast by the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, where we seek to provide biblical solutions to the problems people face. One of the most painful realities any person can experience in this fallen world is the loss of a child through miscarriage. Our guest today on Truth and Love is Rebekah Hannah, who is a certified counselor with ACBC and who works for Christian Union doing biblical counseling on the campus of Columbia University in New York City. Rebekah is a woman who has gone through the pain of miscarriage twice in her life and has done ministry with women who have gone through it in their own lives, and I’m so thankful that Rebekah is here to help us think through these issues and a biblical response today. Rebekah, we’re glad you're with us. Why don’t you begin by telling us about your own story?
Rebekah Hannah: Yeah, when I first endured my first couple of miscarriages I was already counseling people so I already had a biblical framework for comfort and hope – working through those particular things in my own heart as we do first. The hard part was going through the different stages of the miscarriage: going to the doctor, ending up in the ER, having the D&C and then afterward, explaining it to people and having to respond to people in different ways. Each time you experience one of those things – having to deal with the emotions, deal with the heart, understand how you are going to respond not only internally to the Lord, but also outward to the people around you.
HL: My wife and I experienced miscarriage – it was sort of a mid-term miscarriage. And we walked through so many of those things, including having to announce to a church who we had just said, “Hey, we’re going to have a baby.” And we had to go back and tell everybody, “No we’re not,” and that was deeply painful. And we were surprised during that process at the number of really well intended Christians who said unbelievably hurtful things. So we had people look at us and say, “Don’t worry about it. Maybe you’ll have two kids next time.” One woman looked at my wife and tried to encourage her that at least she would lose the baby weight. And, I’m shocked to even repeat that people would say these things to somebody, but these were well intended Christians who meant to comfort us, but they said really painful things. Why don’t you talk about that – things that you have heard and what you think drives some of those trite, painful things.
RH: You know I don’t think people understand the gravity of miscarriage because it’s not a loss of life that they experience themselves and then see that it is now gone. For a mother who feels like a desire and her purpose is to be pregnant and then give birth and then deliver life but that life is now dead – it’s the one thing that she was supposed to be able to do and now her body has failed her. And people outside of her body don’t know what to do with that. One of the most frequently said phrases to me personally was, “At least now your babies are in heaven with Jesus.” I completely understand where they are coming from and what they are trying to do there. The thing that struck me about that is – that I made sure that I didn’t want that to be my motivation – one, to be in heaven or two, for it to be the crux of hope for me. The reason for that – obviously I want my babies to be in heaven, that is a beautiful, wonderful thing – but if that is where my hope is, then I am not looking at Jesus. I’m looking at the babies. I need to be careful not to do the same thing with my kids who are on earth with me. If my hope is in them – we’d never counsel someone to put their hope in their kids. We’d counsel someone to put their hope in Jesus. It’s no different with a miscarried baby than it is with my kids on earth. I need to trust Jesus with both of them, and it actually looks quite similar. We just have a tendency not to push people in that direction because it’s uncomfortable. But what’s always comfortable isn’t the most comforting thing.
HL: So you’re saying that regardless of the situation, we call people to hope in Christ and not other important and precious comforts, first of all.
RH: Absolutely. Because his character, his nature is the most consistent and absolute thing that we can bank on.
HL: So you’re a woman who counsels other women who have gone through miscarriages. But as one who had to walk through this yourself, the Lord was teaching you things. And so what lessons did God teach you as you were going through this difficulty in your own life and in your own marriage?
RH: When James 1 is talking about being made complete, lacking in nothing, and that through trials and through suffering we are made complete, lacking in nothing – all those things. What I didn’t understand – and I still have a long way to go to understand those things, obviously – but that God uses our trials to help us understand His character in a deeper more full way. Now I knew that before – I counseled in that direction – obviously we counsel about His character, His nature. But the consistency and the perfection of His goodness is really where I dwelt. My miscarriages matter, but God’s goodness still reigns. And how do those things coincide? That’s really where I set out to understand – how is it that I feel like a walking coffin now but God is still perfect in His goodness. How do those two things work out? And that’s really what I had to figure out in my own heart.
HL: So would you say that in the midst of the really painful loss of the miscarriage that you grew to love Christ more and you grew in your ability to do wise and loving counseling ministry?
RH: Absolutely. I think it’s a matter now of using an understanding of God’s character that now propels me to worship when I see someone who’s pregnant. So the idea of life holds way more value to me than it did before I had a miscarriage. The idea that my friend at church could get pregnant and have five babies – I don’t get upset about that – I worship because of that. It propels me to worship because He’s a God of life. And that’s no less true just because I had a miscarriage.
HL: We talked about some really harmful, painful things that Christians can say to women who have lost children to miscarriage. Lets turn the corner – why don’t you talk to us as one who has experienced miscarriage, as one who’s had to minister to people who have – why don’t you help us understand some really helpful things that Christians might say to a woman to her husband who are going through the pain of this loss.
RH: We often talk about the bad things people say to us when we’re going through suffering. No one is intending to hurt someone who has lost a child any more. So I think first knowing that – speaking to someone who has had a miscarriage – when people say foolish things, they’re not doing it with an intention to hurt you more. So, having grace toward people first of all is huge, and understanding they’re just trying to help. They may not know and they may not be doing it well, but that is what they’re intending to do. So I think for the person who has had the miscarriage, understand to give grace to people who are at least trying to talk to you about it. Another thing that is incredibly important is be willing to ask questions. Be willing to understand how the mom is thinking about it, how she’s feeling about it – if she’s feeling about it – where are those feelings coming from? How is she believing? What is she believing from Scripture? Is there anything she’s dwelling on? What are the thoughts that she has? When she goes to sleep at night is she dreaming? What is she dreaming? What is she spending her time dwelling on? And not being afraid to ask her what those things are. So it’s not so much things to say, but more being willing to ask questions. And don’t be afraid to ask questions.
HL: First John 3:18 says “let us not love in word and in speech but in deed and in truth.” So a biblical response to miscarriage won’t just be words that we say. It will be things that we do. So help Christians understand some things that they can do to minister to people who are walking through this painful process.
RH: The biggest thing that I think is being willing to ask questions – a week later, a month later, six months later, years later – to understand how the mom is doing internally; her thoughts, her affections, those kinds of things. Secondly, be willing to serve – bring meals, babysit for them if they already have children, bring them coffee, go to the movies with them – being willing to do life. But more than anything, not forget that it’s happened. I had friends who sent me flowers on the due date of the last miscarriage I had, which was amazing. I didn’t even know that they would have remembered that. So it was – I felt incredibly loved and I felt incredibly known that they would have remembered nine months later, or however long it was, to send me flowers on that day. And it was a beautiful reminder to me to deal with my heart. If I had not, if I had put it aside, to come before the Lord and really spend time with Him and feel loved and known by Him in conjunction with that.