When a couple says, “We lost the baby”, you get the picture that this was a loss that was out of their control; that it was something that happened to them and to the baby. There is no hint or insinuation that either one of them was at fault for the loss of their baby. This loss is something that is indicative of how life works. It is an admission that there are some things that are out of our control, and those sometimes lead to loss in life.
“I lost the baby” is a loaded statement
However, when a woman says, “I lost the baby.”, somewhere in someone’s mind, (maybe it’s only her own), there is a hint of the question, “What did you do to cause it?”
If you’re a woman who has endured a miscarriage, death after premature birth, stillbirth, a baby who died at birth, or neonatal death, you know what I mean when I say that “I lost the baby” is a loaded statement. It hits you in the same place where you carried that child for however many days, weeks, or months that you did so. The loss of that baby is not just something that happens in life, but the words, “I lost”, assume proprietorship of the loss.
That ownership shows up in the questions you have asked yourself regarding the loss of your baby: What did I do to cause this? Did I not eat or do the right things? Is there something I am being punished for? Was my child going to be a bad person and so God took him/her before they got to do bad things? Would I not have been a good mother? Were the stresses of my life too much for my body to handle both them and the baby? Did I not rest enough? Think good enough thoughts of the baby? And so on, and so on.
The difference between, “We lost the baby.” and “I lost the baby.” is that the man doesn’t take on the responsibility of the loss because he understands that it was outside of his control, and he enfolds the woman in that dome of grace that he gives himself.
So the question is, where does the weight of the loss that the woman carries come from? Might it be centuries of patriarchal belief that a woman’s worth is in the children she bears, along with the religious and cultural praise for said bearing of children?
Women have always been expected to bear sons to carry on a family’s name. The Bible that tells us that children are a heritage from the Lord, (Ps 3:5). Women feel this weight. We know that the baby planted in us wasn’t created by us, but because of centuries of history behind us, we have come to feel that the loss of a baby at any time between conception and birth, has to somehow be our fault, and that is why when we say, “I lost the baby”, it’s as if we are saying, “I’m not woman enough. I am guilty. I wasn’t able to deliver this baby safely.”
The burden of millennia of expectations
Women are generally fiercely protective of their children. The loss of a baby taps into their perceived ability to protect their children, and is a huge blow to a woman’s heart.
However, the burden put on her by millennia of expectations adds to that pain so that she turns the questions inward, searching for her fault in the matter, instead of starting from a point of accepting that bad things happen in this life, including the loss of babies.
With my miscarriages I latched on to a reason that I believed was why I was being punished with each loss. As the years have passed, those reasons have been cemented in my head and heart. I have taken the blame for those losses, forgetting that each time a doctor told me that it wasn’t my fault; instead, in my heart of hearts I knew it had to have been my fault, because, “I lost the babies.”
But it’s not true. I have steadfastly believed a lie, and so have many of you.
What if, when these losses occur, we start the process of grief, not from asking where we are at fault, but instead, by giving ourselves the same grace we would extend to others, and say, “It’s not my fault this happened. Bad things happen all the time; and this is just one of them.”? If we really believe that, then we can grieve the actual loss of the personhood of that baby, and not go on the fault-finding mission that points all fingers back at us.
After the loss of a baby most women walk around with their hands extended, waiting for someone to slap handcuffs on their wrists because of the guilt we feel. I imagine the Father looking at us with such love in His eyes, agreeing with the doctors who told us, “My daughter, this wasn’t your fault. You didn’t lose the baby. You suffered a loss, yes, but that doesn’t make you guilty of anything.”
I hope that walking through the examination of this phrase has given you pause to think about the freedom from guilt that the Father offers women who have to journey through any of these losses. And as you sense the Lord giving you freedom from the phrase, “I lost”, pull your arms back from expecting handcuffs, and allow Him to do His good work of comfort and healing in you. That’s what I’m doing.
© Debbie Mendoza, July 2021