Eleven years ago, my wife and I sat on the edge of a hospital bed as a nurse placed a small felt blanket in our hands. We pulled back a fold to reveal the tiny body of a child — our child — who fit in the palms of our hands. We counted the little fingers and marveled at God’s handiwork. We wept over this little one, given to us and then taken away after only a few months in the womb.
After taking my wife home, I left the house again to run a few errands. I turned the radio on and caught the end of a conversation with a state official. He said he didn’t see why anyone would object to a piece of legislation dealing with abortion. It allowed abortion up to “just” so many weeks after conception. “So many weeks” was the gestational age of the baby we’d lost. His words felt like a punch in the gut. It was as though he’d picked up the body we would later bury and used it as a political football.
I’d never before considered how abortion conversations could impact parents grieving a miscarriage — until I was grieving a miscarriage. But it shouldn’t have been a surprise. Both deal with the same subject — the life and death of children in the womb. But some callous remarks about a “fetus” can cut deep, driving suffering parents into silence.
A few weeks ago, on June 24, the U.S. Supreme Court published its ruling in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. It declared that the Constitution does not grant the right to an abortion, overturning the previous rulings in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. The Dobbs ruling on abortion restriction returned the decision to the states, magnifying decades-old debates. No matter where you turn, you will find an argument about children in the womb.
A life God knows and cares for
Navigating miscarriage is a hardship on its own, but it can prove even more difficult amid a divided landscape such as ours. The opening of Luke’s gospel is a great place to start in the search for wisdom. Here, we’re introduced to a priest, Zechariah, and his wife, Elizabeth. Though the elderly husband and wife were “righteous in God’s sight,” they had no children (Luke 1:6-7). But after an angel tells Zechariah that he will have a son, the long-awaited day arrived — Elizabeth became pregnant.
Around the same time, an angel visited a young virgin named Mary. And Mary also conceived a child, by the Holy Spirit. This child, as we know, would be the Son of God, the promised Messiah. Soon after Mary learned of her pregnancy, she set out to visit Zechariah and Elizabeth, and, “when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped inside her.” Elizabeth’s baby, in the womb, seemed to leap with joy to be in the presence of the Lord.
How appropriate that Luke’s account of the good news begins with babies in the womb. Until a woman is “showing,” pregnancy is a secret thing, unknown to an outside observer. For most of a pregnancy, even, the child inhabits an “unseen” place. But that child is not unseen and unknown to God, who knows and cares about the life in the womb.
Mourning God knows how to meet
In the public square, medical terminology often depersonalizes these persons. Abortion advocates find ways of speaking that sidestep the child: Unborn children become “products of pregnancy” and “unfortunate situations.” This language devalues the personhood of a child, allowing politicians to treat them like chess pieces. But we mourn — and must mourn — a miscarried life, no matter the terminology.
Though the language of the national conversation may not pause to consider the grief of parents who have experienced this kind of loss, God will and he does. He loved the world in just this way: He sent his Son to take on the human experience. In human nature, Jesus Christ first appeared as a fetus in Mary’s womb. He was a newborn in a manger, a missing boy, a grown man who loved people when they suffered, and a righteous man who was put to death.
Jesus assumed every part of human nature, from conception to death, because every aspect of human nature matters. Whether growing in the womb or in an elderly body, every person is made in the image of God. Every stage of life is corrupted by sin, under a curse, and sentenced to death. But the Son of God was made man to know every stage personally and to redeem all of it.
Mourning miscarriage is an act of counter-cultural protest. Eleven years ago, my wife and I cradled the “product of pregnancy” in our hands because this is the image of God. And still, we lament “spontaneous abortions” because we know and hate what they are — dust returning to dust under the curse of sin. We weep over empty cribs because God made this world to be filled. We groan because God is good, death is not, and we cannot fix it. We press on in hope, proclaiming a kingdom where death will be no more.