Tag Archives: pregnancy and infant loss awareness month

Grief through the eyes of Mary

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. So in honor of that, I want to highlight some of the women in the Bible who experienced grief and loss, particularly surrounding children or family.

Mary isn’t usually one that I connect with grief and loss, though she does experience quite a bit in her lifetime. Traditionally, Mary was quite young when she was betrothed to Joseph, a much older man. Mary received the news from the angel that she was going to have a baby while still a virgin. When Joseph finds out she is pregnant, he plans to divorce her quietly. This is not what is reflected in the law. It was well within his right to stone her.

In Deuteronomy 22, if her family couldn’t prove her virginity (which would have been hard to do with a growing belly), the men of the town were supposed to stone her to death. If they found the man who was sleeping with her, they were supposed to stone him, too. But Joseph is called a righteous man in Matthew 1:19, he wanted to protect Mary even before knowing who she was carrying in her womb.

While Mary is pregnant, she says a prayer recorded in Luke 1, glorifying God and prophesying the amazing impact that this little boy will have on Israel and the world. She even knows his power pretty early on. When attending a wedding banquet, she is the one who approaches her son when they ran out of wine.

And yet later, as Jesus is teaching, she shows up with her other sons wanting Jesus to come speak to them. And Jesus replies,

Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?

For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.

Matthew 12: 48, 50

I don’t think he was disowning Mary as his mother. Mary was special to him. In fact, on the cross, Jesus asks John to care for his mother once he was gone. But Mary had to learn to let go of her son, letting him fulfill the calling God had for his life. Which brings me to her biggest grief.

Mary watched her child suffer and die. The one she knew was a gift from God, a strong, intelligent, kind boy who grew into a powerful and loving man. One that valued his mission, even when she didn’t understand it, herself. I just can’t imagine hearing voices demanding my child’s death by torture. I can’t imagine the helplessness of watching my son die.

But at the same time, I wonder at the strength of Mary. There weren’t many witnessing the death of Jesus. Most of his apostles and followers had dispersed and were even hiding. But she stayed with him until his last breath. Maybe she was expecting another miracle. Of course, she didn’t know what was coming, but in that moment at the cross, I can’t imagine that overwhelming loss.

Even though her story seemingly ends at the cross, we know it didn’t stop there. Jesus would rise and show his power over death and sin. He really would change the world with his life. And Mary got to see it from first cry to last breath, and beyond. Mary’s prophetic prayer was fulfilled. And we know that whatever grief and loss we experience isn’t the end of the story. Jesus came to fulfill scripture, to seek and save the lost, to redeem the broken. He will wipe our tears away as promised in Revelations. And just like Mary, we, too are a part of that beautiful redemption story.

Grief through the eyes of Bathsheba

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. So in honor of that, I want to highlight some of the women in the Bible who experienced grief and loss, particularly surrounding children or family.

Bathsheba is the only story in scripture that discusses the loss of an infant. Technically, there was the infanticide that was carried out by Pharaoh in Exodus and King Herod around the birth of Jesus, and the death of the firstborn of Egypt, but Bathsheba’s story is the only account of an actual infant who singularly dies.

Bathsheba had a rough year. The basic story is that David was on his rooftop one evening, saw a lady bathing on another rooftop, sent for her, made love to her, got her pregnant, then tried to cover that up by bringing her husband home. When that didn’t work, he killed the husband. Nathan the prophet confronted David and told him because of his deeds, the child that was conceived would die. And the child did.

We don’t hear much of Bathsheba’s side of it, though there are a few hints throughout the chapter. It says she was the daughter of Eliam. Eliam was one of David’s mighty men, along with her husband Uriah the Hittite. Eliam is a Jewish name, though it is not perfectly clear whether she was Jewish or not, she did seem to follow the law as we will talk about later. Her husband was not Jewish, but he was a pretty well-respected military man. So, she was part of a very important family in the city of Jerusalem. Something that should have given her some sense of security.

Now, there are people who believe she was being seductive, bathing on that rooftop, but there was something in the verse that was particularly interesting. After it mentions that David slept with her, it says that she was “purifying herself from her monthly uncleanness.” It is quite possible that she was bathing on the rooftop because she was separating herself from her household, which was required during menstruation. When a woman was on her period, everything she touched was unclean for seven days.

But regardless of whether she was seductive or not (which borders on victim shaming), David had the power in this relationship. He was the king. He wasn’t even supposed to be there. At the beginning of the chapter it says,

In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabba. But David remained in Jerusalem.

1 Samuel 11:1 (emphasis added)

All the men in her family were off fighting a war that the king wasn’t even at. She was taking a bath on the rooftop during the time in her cycle when she purified herself, and was summoned by the king. We don’t know her thoughts as she entered the palace gates, the worry she might have had for her husband or her father. And when David was done with her, she was sent back home.

Then, she gets pregnant, sends word to the man who used her and cast her aside, and he tries to cover it up by sending her husband home. But her husband doesn’t even go into the house. Her husband couldn’t enjoy seeing his wife when all the men were still fighting on the frontline. Contrast that with the king who was still in Jerusalem, sleeping with married women.

After two attempts, David decides to have Uriah killed in battle. Still not setting foot in the war, David tells his men to pull back so that Uriah will die. And he does. Not only was Bathsheba used, but now she has lost her husband. When she heard that he died, she mourned him (1 Samuel 11:26), and when the mourning time was over (typically it was seven days), David took her to be his wife. She had a son, though he is not named in the Bible.

At this point, the Israelite people have no idea what has happened to Bathsheba. But God knew. And he sent Nathan to set David straight. But the consequence for David’s actions was the child was going to die. The child falls ill and seven days later, he dies. In that seven days, David is in mourning, crying out to God to change his mind, realizing all the wrong and pain and hurt that his actions brought.

When the child dies, David comforts Bathsheba. I get a sense that their relationship was also healing. They get pregnant again and give birth to Solomon, the next heir to the throne. Although, towards the end of David’s life, Bathsheba has to speak up to make sure Solomon receives that inheritance, which shows how fierce she became over her lifetime.

There was a lot of grief in Bathsheba’s life. Sexual assault, the loss of a husband, and the loss of a child. But God saw her. In Matthew 1, in the genealogy, she is mentioned as Uriah’s wife. I thought maybe that was a slight to her, to not call her by name, but it almost reestablishes who she is. She was the wife of Uriah, one of the mighty men of king David. Yet through it all, she is also part of the legacy of Jesus Christ.

I want to make clear that infant loss is not the result of some terrible sin in your life. That is something I had to work through, myself. But even in the darkest moments, God is working and moving. All the hurt will be redeemed. And one of the things that brings me most promise about my little ones is something that David says after his son dies. After a period of fasting, David’s attendants tell him the son has died. He cleans himself, worships God, and begins to eat again. When asked why he says,

Can I bring him back again? [meaning the baby] I will go to him, but he will not return to me.

2 Samuel 12:23b Parenthesis added

Just like David and Bathsheba, I will reunite with my babies again someday. But for now, I know they are cradled safely in the arms of God. Like Bathsheba, I was given a son after my losses, and I am so thankful for that gift. But I know that is not always the case in pregnancy loss. Still, even before my son was born, God was working in me. He provided community and hope when I needed it. Our stories do not end at pregnancy loss, they do not end in grief. God is a god of wonders who can use dark stories to shed the light of hope into the nooks and crannies around us. My prayer is that I continue to remember God is in control and he will never leave me, no matter may come.

Grief through the eyes of Rachel

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. So in honor of that, I want to highlight some of the women in the Bible who experienced grief and loss, particularly surrounding children or family.

Last week, I talked about Leah, so I thought it was only fair to talk about Rachel’s grief this week. I don’t know what kind of relationship the two sisters had before being married to Jacob, but it turns into a bit of a train wreck afterwards.

Rachel’s relationship with Jacob started in a much more romantic, much less problematic way. She meets Jacob at a well, he cries and kisses her when meets her. After a month, he bargains for her in exchange for seven years of labor for her father. And then things take a solid turn for the worse.

We all know where Leah was that first night of the wedding party, but I wonder where Rachel was. For seven years, Jacob was wooing her and then Leah takes her place when the wedding day finally comes. As with Leah, I think Rachel was grieving the seemingly lost chance at love. That is, until Jacob signs up for another seven years of labor to ensure that she is his.

But still, even though marrying more than one wife was pretty common at the time, I doubt Rachel had in mind to share her husband with her older sister. Then, when Leah starts having children, she doesn’t. And her grief is recorded. Even though she is loved more, she blames Jacob for her infertility.

When Rachel saw that she was not bearing Jacob any children, she became jealous of her sister. So she said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I’ll die!”

Genesis 30:1

She becomes obsessed with finding her place in this family. She uses her maidservant to produce two sons, both of which are named to reflect the competition she feels with her sister. Then, when she hears that Leah’s oldest son has found a mandrake root (which was supposed to help with conception), she bargains with the one card she has, Jacob. Eventually, she gives birth to Joseph and immediately asks for another son.

But there is more to the story of Rachel than just her ability to have sons. After she gives birth to Joseph, Jacob packs up her family and leaves after an altercation with Laban. Both Leah and Rachel agree that it is time to go, but it still must have been hard to leave. In fact, Rachel takes her father’s household idols (which was more than just a religious artifact in that culture, whoever had the idols would inherit the family’s fortune). She is crafty and quick on her feet when Laban pursues them and investigates. She hides the idols underneath her seat and claims she cannot get up because she is on her period. He never finds them.

They leave on good terms with her father, and when Jacob reaches his brother, they reconcile as well. Jacob continues on to settle in a place called Ephrath (which is called Bethlehem), but on the way Rachel dies giving birth to Benjamin. She doesn’t get to see her sons grow up. She is buried on the way to Bethlehem, not with Jacob in the family tomb, but her tomb is honored as a place in 1 Samuel 10.

Rachel was an incredibile woman, beautiful and smart and honored by her husband. She competed with her sister, left her homeland, and died giving life to a son that would represent a tribe that includes people like King Saul and the Apostle Paul. She was loved by God. And she is a great reminder that while our life might not look the way we think it should, God is working in the details to bring about his great legacy.

Grief through the eyes of Leah

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. So in honor of that, I want to highlight some of the women in the Bible who experienced grief and loss, particularly surrounding children or family.

When I think about the women of infertility, I am drawn to Leah and her sister Rachel (don’t worry, Rachel will be later this month). Growing up, I thought Rachel got the short end of the stick. Now as an adult who has experienced my own griefs and now sees the world is a little more complicated, I see how much Leah was hurting.

When Jacob shows up in Paddan Aram, he is running from his brother who wants to kill him, but also so that he will find a wife. He meets Rachel first at the well and it is love at first sight. After a month of highly probable googly eyes, he makes the proposition to Laban that he will work for seven years in return for Rachel.

And here is where Leah enters the story. She isn’t just the older sister who probably had to endure the puppy love Jacob had for Rachel, but she is mentioned to have weak eyes, or delicate eyes. Maybe she was nearsighted, maybe she had a lazy eye, not really sure, but the main fact remains that Rachel was more beautiful.

Seven years pass and Laban throws Jacob a party to honor the union of Jacob and his daughter. But not the daughter Jacob had in mind.

But when evening came, he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and Jacob made love to her.

Genesis 29:23

I thought it was Leah that had the weak eyes. After seven years, Jacob couldn’t tell the difference between the two sisters? How dark was it, and how drunk was he? Also, you have to admit, it kind of feels like he had it coming considering this is a very familiar to the trick Jacob played on his father.

When Jacob wakes up in the morning, and sees Leah there and not Rachel, he confronts Laban. Laban explains a loophole that the older daughter has to be married first. But if Jacob agrees to another seven years, then after this bridal week for Leah, Jacob can have Rachel as well.

This brings up three things. First, Leah has been on the sidelines with no prospects for seven years. Second, Jacob finished the bridal week, which means he continued to consummate this loveless marriage with Leah for a full week. And third, Leah was only married to Jacob for one week before Rachel entered the picture. I don’t know if Leah had a say in this trick, but I do know that she was unwanted and unloved, a pawn used and thrown away by her own father.

But now she was married, and God seeing that unloved status, decides to give her honor among her society. While Rachel wasn’t able to conceive, Leah has four sons. And as she names those sons, she reveals her internal struggle. With Reuben, “The Lord has seen my misery.  Surely my husband will love me now.”  With Simeon, “Because the Lord heard that I am not loved, he gave me this one too.”  With Levi, “Now, at last, my husband will become attached to me because I have borne him three sons.  And with Judah, she stops hoping and says, “This time I will praise the Lord.”

And right there, right when her focus returns to the Lord, she enters a time of infertility. There is a false belief that if we just do everything the Lord asks of us, turn our face to him, that we will get everything we desire. For Leah, that is not the case. But that doesn’t meant that God wasn’t working in her life, walking with her in this new grief of infertility on top of the grief of be unwanted and unloved.

Rachel and Leah then use maidservants (much like Sarah did, but this time it doesn’t seem as controversial to God’s plan since these sons are also added to the tribes of Israel). But then there is this whole conversation about a mandrake root. Reuben finds it and gives it to his mother which brings me to another thought. Everyone knows. The only reason Reuben would have sought out and gotten this particular plant for his mother seems to be for the aphrodisiac qualities and conception qualities. Even her own son knew her infertility troubles, possibly even the love troubles.

But Rachel gets the root and Leah gets pregnant with two more sons and a daughter. The final two sons reflect an acknowledgement of God’s glory. Leah doesn’t stray in her walk with God, even through being unloved, infertile, and watched by those in her community. Her life never quite reached the level of her own expectation, but her legacy would go on to King David and Jesus Christ.

Maybe you grieve the life you thought you would have some day, but didn’t turn out how you thought it would. Maybe you feel like your grief is in a fishbowl, being watched by your community (maybe with a little added unsolicited advice or judgement). But like Leah, God sees you. He sees what you are going through. He sees all of the injustice and is willing to redeem you. But in all the distractions, all the missteps, all the changes to your path, the truth remains and can never be taken away. You are wanted. You are loved. You are worthy.