Hope for Women Grieving a Stillbirth or Miscarriage

When a woman loses a baby to stillbirth or miscarriage, it feels like the ground has fallen out from underneath her. Because every experience is different, the grief that follows can be extremely isolating and misunderstood. Speaking from experience, in You Are Still a Mother: Hope for Women Grieving a Stillbirth or Miscarriage, Jackie Gibson reaches out, offering the only balm that will bring comfort to this very personal pain and loss.

Grieving the loss of a child to stillbirth can be a lonely and agonizing experience. Sadly, this overwhelming loss is far more common than one may think, affecting around 1 in 160 births. Jackie honestly acknowledges the sorrow, loneliness, and fears that come from suffering the loss of a child while pointing to the gospel with gentleness and understanding.

If you have experienced the loss of a child through stillbirth or miscarriage, we hope this interview with Jackie will bring you some measure of hope and comfort as you grieve.

Q: Your book You Are Still a Mother is extremely personal, sharing your own experience with stillbirth. Will you share a little bit of your story? Were there any signs that something may have been wrong leading up to your due date?

When our son, Ben, turned one, my husband Jonny and I started trying for another baby. Even though we had fallen pregnant right away the first time, this time we entered a time of infertility before getting a positive pregnancy test when Ben was three. We were so excited about this gift of another baby and a sibling for Ben! The pregnancy progressed very normally with no complications until a week before the due date when I felt that movements had slowed. After feeling some reassuring movements and being told by the hospital that we didn’t need to come in for extra monitoring, we felt that things must be okay. But the next morning I didn’t feel any movements at all. We went into the hospital and, after being unable to find a heartbeat, we were told that our baby had died at 39 weeks in the womb. Our daughter, Leila, was stillborn three days later on March 17, 2016.

Q: Why did you decide to share your story and write You Are Still a Mother?

I attempted to write what I wish I had had after Leila died. I wrote this book to bring comfort and hope to other mothers experiencing similar loss, pointing their eyes heavenward in the midst of their grief to the hope we have in the gospel. This book seeks to unpack, in a simple but theologically rich way, these different reasons for hope we have as Christians when our baby dies.

Q: Can you tell us about the grief you experienced in the months that followed the stillbirth of your daughter, Leila?

The months after Leila’s stillbirth were the hardest of my life, and I felt like I was in freefall. We left the hospital empty-handed, returning to a home filled with painful reminders of Leila’s absence: newborn clothes washed and folded, a Moses basket beside our bed, packages of diapers, and swaddling wraps. All that we had planned for and imagined didn’t unfold the way we expected, but life just keeps moving forward.

The early days blurred together, and the effort of doing anything normal like showering, changing out of pajamas, or taking Ben to preschool left us completely drained. We pressed on, weary and devastated, just doing the next thing—eating food people brought us, caring for Ben, finding a burial plot, and choosing an outfit for Leila to wear in her tiny, white coffin. As the days rolled by, bringing no relief to our broken hearts and exhausted bodies, we looked to the days stretching ahead and couldn’t imagine how life could continue without the baby we had so looked forward to bringing home.

Q: What was the first verse that a friend shared with you that helped slow down what felt like a freefall of grief and despair?

During this dark despair, a friend sent me Deuteronomy 33:27: “The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” For just a moment, stillness replaced the feeling of freefall. This verse assured me that, even when I didn’t feel like it, I was being held by the everlasting arms of my heavenly Father. I could lean the full weight of my sorrow into strong arms which would never tire or let me go. There was no grief too heavy for them.

Q: Why is grieving the death of a baby such a lonely experience?

It can be such a lonely experience because the death of a baby in the womb is quite a peculiar loss in that you are grieving the death of someone no one else knew. It is a difficult grief for other people to enter into and to talk about. Thus, the mother (and father), carry around much of that grief by themselves. And even the experience of a mother and a father can be quite different too—each person’s valley is each person’s valley—so it can be a very lonely road to walk.

Q: What comfort were you able to find in the man of sorrows? Why is the gospel the only place to find a comfort during such heartache?

There is only one companion in grief who knew what sorrow felt like, what my sorrow felt like. Only one person who would be present with me in every part of my suffering. That is, Emmanuel, God with us, Jesus. The man acquainted with grief, who bore our griefs and carried our sorrows (Isaiah 53:3-4).

There was not one part of my suffering that Jesus couldn’t understand. He could walk with me through my deepest sorrows because he was the ultimate sufferer, the truest man of sorrows that has ever walked upon the earth. Jesus’s suffering led him all the way to the cross. I had never felt such close fellowship with the Lord Jesus than during my own dark valley of suffering.

Q: There were a lot of “what ifs” that played through your mind in the months and even years that followed. When did you finally find peace in knowing God was always in control and you couldn’t have done anything differently?

Psalm 139 was a great help to me when I fretted over the question of whether I could have done anything to alter the outcome and save my baby from dying. In answer to the question, “What could I have done differently?,” God’s word is clear: nothing.Psalm 139 tells us that our babies’ days were numbered before they came into being:

Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. (Psalm 139:16)

This means that our babies were only ever going to live for the days that God apportioned to them. That was a huge comfort and relief to me.

Q: How did you and your husband help your young son, Ben, to understand God’s goodness, even through this terrible loss? Did assuring him of God’s goodness help to remind you of that truth as well?

You Are Still a Mother is the story behind my husband’s book, The Moon Is Always Round. This children’s book explains that God is always good, even when we can’t understand it or see it, by using the analogy of the moon that is always round, even when we can’t see all of it. Some nights we can see a bright, full moon glowing in the sky, undeniably round. But on other nights we can only see a half moon, or a crescent moon; or maybe the moon is completely obscured from sight. But what we see doesn’t change the fact that the moon is always round. This was a beautiful way of explaining to Ben, who was three-and-a-half at the time, that God was always good, even when terribly sad things happen, like the death of our baby.

After Leila died, I didn’t feel like God was good, but by his grace I tried to trust his infallible Word that assured me that he is good, even when I couldn’t see it.

Q: What are some of the scriptures that speak to personhood in the womb?

Psalm 139 shows us that our babies had dignity from the moment of conception because they were made by God.

So too, the Bible speaks of many people before their birth, and in each case, they are referred to as real people with personhood and dignity. People such as David (“from my mother’s womb you have been my God,” Psalm 22), Jacob and Esau (Genesis 25:23), Samson, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, and Jesus.

They are indiscriminately spoken of with pronouns and personhood from conception, through life in the womb, and to life after birth.

Q: You write about how you answer the question, “How many children do you have?” How do you answer that question and why is it important to you to answer that way?

When asked that question, I always answer that I have four children, and my daughter, Leila, is included as one of that number. Borrowing language from Oliver Heywood, a minister from the 1600s, I can say that I have “four children, all living, only my second lives with God.”

Just as life begins at conception, so does our motherhood. And death does not undo this reality. There are two examples in the gospel of Luke (Luke 7:11–15 & 8:49–56) where parents of a deceased child are referred to as mother and father both when their child is dead, and when their child is raised to life. Death does not sever that relationship, even though, of course, it impacts what motherhood looks like. But even though a woman’s arms might be empty, even if she didn’t get to raise that child, she is still a mother.

Q: What are some ways that your family remember Leila?

We have Leila’s hand and footprint on display on our mantelpiece and her photo on top of the piano. Every Christmas we hang ornaments on the tree with her name on it. And when we get the opportunity, we love to visit her grave in Cambridge, England. Some of our parental love for her is expressed in caring for that little plot of land—cleaning her headstone, sowing grass seed, and planting daffodil bulbs. And every year on March 17, now called Saint Leila’s Day in our home, we go out as a family and enjoy a meal in remembrance of her. Then we return home and let off yellow helium balloons into the sky, our gaze lifted heavenward, longing for that sweet reunion.

Q: What was the most surprising thing you learned following the loss of Leila?

The most surprising thing I learned following Leila’s death was that her story was not yet finished. I had always imagined saints who had departed in death as being in heaven with Jesus with their new-Creation bodies. But when Leila died, I realized that this was not yet a reality—she is waiting for the second-coming of Christ, just as we are. She is still waiting for the resurrection when she will receive her new, imperishable body (1 Corinthians 15:42–44). Our children who died in infancy are listening for the final trumpet. They are waiting for the day when they will rise from the earth so that they can begin Chapter One of the Great Story that goes on forever, in which every chapter is better than the one before.

Q: How has the pain of your loss changed over the years?

Because of God’s healing, my wounds aren’t as raw and painful as they were right after Leila’s death. While I am still prone to anxious and catastrophizing thoughts, God is weakening their grip on my heart, helping me to step outside of them and prayerfully view them more rationally. The waves of grief that felt relentless early on have abated, and the tears don’t flow as often. That doesn’t mean I am not hit by an unexpected wave every now and again, but the pain has softened, and its edges aren’t as sharp. And that’s because God is at work in me, binding up my wounds and healing my broken heart (Psalm 147:3). This is the God who meets us in our sorrow and suffering—God the healer, God the physician. That healing will not be complete until the new creation, but the process has begun.

You Are Still a Mother

You Are Still a Mother

Grieving the loss of a child to stillbirth can be a lonely and agonizing experience. Sadly, this overwhelming loss is far more common than one may think, affecting around 1 in 160 births. Jackie Gibson honestly acknowledges the sorrow, the loneliness, and fears that come from suffering the loss of a child while pointing to the gospel with gentleness and understanding.

About the author

Jackie Gibson

Jackie Gibson, MA, is from Sydney, Australia but currently resides near Philadelphia, PA. She is married to Jonny, and they have four children. She serves alongside her husband at Westminster Theological Seminary and is grateful to be able to be home with her two youngest kids. If she had a day off, she’d probably try to find the nearest beach, her favorite place this side of heaven. Jackie is the author of You Are Still a Mother.

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