I was barely six weeks pregnant when I started bleeding. A few days later, I found out the truth — I had a miscarriage. Even for the brief time I knew I was pregnant; I loved that child. But especially when cold and clinical terms like, “chemical pregnancy”, “spontaneous abortion”, and “fetus” are thrown around, I feel like my pain is being dismissed, as if the baby’s very humanity was in question.
What’s more difficult and painful to face are the doctrinal implications of the loss. Where is a child’s spirit during pregnancy, especially when it ends in a miscarriage — early or late? Is there any revealed doctrine about where spirits are after miscarriages? If not, how do I face the pain of not only losing my baby’s physical body but also their spirit? Praying for answers and relief.
You have suffered a tremendous loss and my heart aches for you. Although I don’t pretend to understand your unique situation, I do relate to the questions and confusion you share around what happens to these babies. My wife and I have also experienced the pain of miscarriage and join with you in longing to know what happens in the hereafter. I will share what I have learned about this topic and share some thoughts on moving through the grief and loss you are experiencing.
I’m sorry to hear that other people have been so callous when talking about the loss of your baby. Words do matter and it’s comforting to have loving words from people who value the life of your baby and care about your experience. I have also observed that many people use these clinical terms to create distance from the uncertainty and vulnerability that comes from losing a baby to miscarriage.
Just because the medical explanations for miscarriage are cold and clinical, doesn’t mean those words have to define your experience. Let the health professionals call it what they may, but you are grieving the loss of your child. Even though you didn’t get to spend much time with them, the connection is real the second you learn you are pregnant. You start dreaming and envisioning this new life and all the wonderful possibilities. Losing our babies isn’t just a medical procedure. It’s the loss of countless dreams.
Every couple who experiences a miscarriage is going to respond differently. This means you also get to have your experience without apology or explanation. Many couples don’t know how to feel and often turn to others to make sense of their loss. Unfortunately, many people want to dismiss it away because of the discomfort and uncertainty. They somehow believe explaining it away will feel better for the grieving couple. In my experience, erring on the side of loss and grief is a much better way to handle it.
I will never forget the kind and compassionate response I received from a teaching assistant at BYU who kindly excused me from class after I learned of our first miscarriage. I was in shock and didn’t know how to feel about what had just happened. He pulled me aside and looked me in the eyes and genuinely expressed his sorrow for my loss. He told me to go home and take care of my wife and to not worry about school. He didn’t ask how far along my wife was with her pregnancy or get hung up on the particulars of how I should feel. He truly “mourned with those that mourn.”[i]
You also had questions about the doctrinal implications of this loss. Unfortunately, there is no doctrinal teaching about when the spirit enters the body, so we can’t know if those spirits are given another chance or if they’ve received their body and will wait for the resurrection. There appears to be more information about stillborn children. President Joseph Fielding Smith gave it as his opinion, “that these little ones will receive a resurrection and then belong to us.”[ii] Val D. Greenwood wrote a thoughtful response to these questions in a 1987 Ensign article. While he did not have any definitive statements regarding miscarriage, he did offer this hopeful summary:
Though our knowledge of the plan of salvation does not explain why miscarriages and stillbirths take place, nor what the eternal result will be, we can know with confidence that God, who is the father of all spirits, is merciful and just. We can know also that there is hope. Worthy parents can trust in him and know that they and all his spirit children will—one way or another—receive a just reward for their efforts and sacrifice, perhaps in ways that we do not presently comprehend.[iii]
The Church Handbook of Instructions also offers comforting counsel about how leaders should respond to those who lose children prior to birth:
The loss of a child prior to birth is an event requiring emotional and spiritual support for grieving parents. Memorial or graveside services may appropriately be held according to the parents’ needs and desires. Although temple ordinances are not performed for stillborn children, no loss of eternal blessings or family unity is implied. If desired, the family may record a name for a stillborn child on the family genealogy group record followed by the word stillborn in parentheses.
While we don’t know the particulars of what will happen in the hereafter, it’s clear that these babies belong to us and are part of our co-creation with God. You began carrying a baby and suffered a devastating loss. No one gets to tell you that it doesn’t count. From the very second you learn that you are carrying life in your body, you begin forming a relationship with this baby. I pray you can receive the comfort and peace as you trust in the character and goodness of our loving Heavenly Parents who weep with us.”[iv]
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]
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About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, host of the podcast, “From Crisis to Connection”, and creates online relationship courses. He earned degrees from Brigham Young University and Auburn University. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
[i] Mosiah 18:9
[ii] Bruce R. McConkie, “Stillborn Children” in Mormon Doctrine (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966), 768
[iv] Moses 7:28