Friday, April 18, 2014

A Deeply Personal Post about Stillborn Children and Differing Beliefs

(NOTE: I don't share the following very often, especially publicly, but . . . I will try to do so now, hoping what I type doesn't hurt anyone in any way but helps someone, somehow, and is inspired in that way.)

My mother was a very good secretary before her marriage to my father. She was one of the youngest Church Headquarters secretaries in the history of the church at that time - during Pres. McKay's presidency. (I have no idea if that still is the case, but it wouldn't surprise me.) She has a personalized letter of appreciation signed by the First Presidency given to her when she got married and stopped working. (totally her choice, not policy in any way)

She really wanted to have children and stay home with them, but her first three pregnancies ended in miscarriages. Her fourth went full-term, and she gave birth naturally to a stillborn girl.  My parents had no idea; the stillbirth came as a complete shock. Obviously, they were crushed.

I've written here previously about my parents' decisions after those four pregnancies and how they almost gave up and adopted instead, and I've written a post here in tribute to my father and the choice he eventually had to make for her sake. What I want to share now, however, has nothing to do with those subsequent decisions.

My parents understood that the Church's official position with regard to stillborn children is, "We don't know." It was intensely painful for them, but they (and I) understand that position. It is the best position to take, in my opinion - since anything else would open up all kinds of other issues that are best left closed. My parents knew the official position - and, since it is, "We don't know," they were free to believe they have nine children instead of the eight whom they raised. That was very important to them. It meant and means the world to them.

For me, however, it's strictly academic - since it all happened before I was born. Honestly, I struggle even to type her name or write "my sister". Since it's academic for me, and since that gives me the detachment to think about all the implications of different views, I have a hard time intellectually believing what my parents believe. It's hard for me to type this paragraph in a way in which I am comfortable, as it raises all kinds of emotions, not the least of which is a degree of consternation and even pain that I don't feel more strongly about it. It hurts my heart a little to know that, to me, I have five sisters (not six) and two brothers - and, to me, it's different than if it was a case of an older sibling dying some time after birth.

In that way, I am very different than my parents - and I wouldn't dream of saying that to them or challenging their view in any way. I'm not sure they would understand, and I think they might be hurt greatly. It is my own reality, however - and so I think I understand both views, at least to the extent possible for someone who hasn't experienced it personally.

I honestly am not sure why I felt like sharing that in this post today. This has been the most difficult post to write since I started this blog - since I really struggle to find the "right" words, both for others and myself. In the end, I simply am thankful that the "official position" of the Church allows me to feel differently about such a personal, emotional topic than my own parents do without any "doctrinal" guilt for either of us.

That means a lot to me, actually - and I don't think I've ever thought about it quite in that way previously.


ji said...

I appreciate your posting, and the sentiment you shared. It is good for each of us to be allowed to have our own understandings about so many things, and for those understandings to be allowed to evolve over time.

Richard Alger said...

Thank you for being brave and allowing yourself to be vulnerable.

Your post illustrates very well why not taking a position officially, has been merciful to both your parents and yourself.

The gospel is personal to me. It is hard to hear my most cherished beliefs dismissed with a wave of the hand.

Yet there is a part of me that understands some who cannot believe what I do. Who are skeptical and question everything. There is much value there.

It is important that we are kind to each other. To grant that we are coming from a good faith effort.

Camille said...

I may not agree with you ,but I do respect your right to have your view. And I do admire your courage in posting the blog.

Kim said...

Ray it is normal for you to not feel what your parents feel for their daughter. Their experience and struggle was not yours.

You were not only a child in this dynamic but you weren't even alive to see what your parents experienced during that pregnancy!

Just as people who miscarry almost as soon as they conceive don't really understand why a child miscarried late or stillborn is viewed differently by the parents, the church, and the law.... Bc it is not the same as their own experiences.... People who have not buried a child genuinely do not share the same depth of pain and suffering experienced by parents who do.

Human nature will diminish and decrease the profound suffering of someone else's experience so as to frame it within their own worst ever they cannot imagine anything worse than the worst THEY know.

So after burying my vibrant beautiful little girl a friend called in tears to say now she knew exactly how I feel!! Bc her family dog had been hit and killed in the street yesterday.

To her they were an identical loss. Bc she has never once experienced anything greater than the loss of a pet. But I have. I have experienced both. And the loss of a pet while painful does not in anyway compare to burying a child.

And while you have experienced parenthood and know that we, especially moms who feel the baby for so much of the gestational period, begin to view our family with the image of the new child and who they will potentially beg from the time we know we have conceived.

The pain and anguish of miscarriage in part is based on having to go back and cut that new little child back out of our image of our family!! The longer we carry that child the deeper the pain we feel. So many women count every conception they lose. While I count only those who made is safely to the 14th week.... Bc I expected my baby was safe!! So those still pain me. But not nearly as much as they did prior to burying the child I raised and held and kissed and hugged and whose personality and potential I fully saw with my own eyes.

Everything is relative. And based on your experience at this time and the fact that you were not present for any of the struggles your parents experienced related to this child ... Only further removes any possible emotional experience you would have. My youngest sons have limited memories of their sister!! Even though they were older and knew her intimately... Spending their days with her before they entered school! So their emotional attachment is different than their older siblings and even more different than my experience as her parent and 24/7 caregiver.

Should your wife suddenly and unexpectedly give birth to a still born child after a full nine month gestation of carrying and planning and knowing that child, your perspective will be different. And should you bury a once living child, your perspective would change still.

Most humans are not capable of comprehending experiences of others that fall outside of their own experiences. It's part of the human condition.

Kate said...

I don't agree with you. However, like Camille, I admire you for having the courage to post the blog. And I can see the wisdom of the church taking the stand that they don't know.

Merrill said...

Thanks for the post brother.

This is also a topic close to my heart and I have very strong feelings about the subject. We may not think or believe the same about this topic nor am I trying to persuade you or anyone else to believe as I do. Isn't that one of the beauties of the gospel? We are not expected to, nor should we see eye to eye on every topic. There are many instances where "I don't know" is the best answer and that's ok.

Carianne and I have experienced similar pains and have had some of the same questions that mom and dad have although not nearly to the same degree. We experienced a miscarriage with our first pregnancy and we had a difficult time getting over it. Do we believe we have another child to be reunited with at some future time? Absolutely not, not intellectually or spiritually. There were no signs of life in our case.

Do I know if we have an older sister who has been reunited with our father and who will eventually welcome mom and the rest of us when we pass from this life to the next? Absolutely not, but I sure hope so. I have visited her grave many times and have always wondered if she was alive and well, waiting for mom and dad in the spirit world. I have seen the hope and joy the thought of possibility of seeing her again brings to mom and dad especially during the last days I was able to spend with dad in this life. They believe with all their hearts that Lorna Sue has been waiting for their return just as we know dad is alive and waiting now for mom to return.

Do I believe our unborn child had received a spirit yet? No. What about mom and dad's miscarriages and stillbirth? Miscarriages, no. Lorna Sue, yes. For me, it boils down to when the spirit enters the body. Do we know when the spirit enters the body? The answer is "we don't know." Experiencing the births of our four children, however, makes me believe it is sometime between conception and birth. After all the thought and prayers I have put into this subject, every fiber of my being tells me I have another sister and that she has been reunited with our father. For mom and dad's sake, I hope I am right. Regardless, I know that mom and dad will be ok with whatever the outcome.

I am thankful for the knowledge that families are eternal.

Emily said...

Thank you for your post.

As a perinatal loss coordinator, I see loss at all different gestation's and that has caused me to have many deep conversations with myself on this topic. "I don't know" leaves so much to the imagination and I think it was intended to do so.....

I, like your friend, Kim have experienced loss on a different level and have sincere hope and yearning that we will be reunited with our babies, be it they died through miscarriage, stillbirth, neonatal death or other.

I appreciate that you share your thoughts on this tender topic in a thoughtful, loving manner. I have always enjoyed hearing/reading your thoughts.

Happy Easter to you and Michelle.

Sarah said...

Very, very courageous post which only increases my respect for you. Do I fully agree? Nope. But do I still love you? Yep.

I have not lost a child via stillbirth but have had multiple miscarriages. Several later than anyone would expect. Do I think I have several other children waiting to be raised in heaven? I don't know. Sometimes I think so & sometimes not. That's the woman in me.

The churches stance is a bit more complicated than implied (IMHO) considering they WILL add a stillborn child to your member record, but not a miscarriage. I think that makes things a bit clearer. Maybe it's just to soothe the need of the grieving parents. But I think the church only does things like that if they are serious.

Kate said...

I wasn't going to say anything more on this subject....mostly because I'm such a lousy communicator only the comment that an unborn child does not have a spirit yet? I just have to speak up. Because of an experience I had while carrying one of our children, I KNOW a child has his/her spirit with them before they are born. I'm not saying another word.

Donna said...

"We don't know" is good enough for me because I do not know. But I do believe that the potential child is present at conception.


The mother feels movement at roughly half way through the pregnancy. It is gentle and gets stronger as the baby grows. Therefore it is logical to me that there is movement before it is felt, but not strong enough to be felt. The mother feels that movement inside before father can feel it from outside.


What the mother feels is not some amoeba-type movement. The movements of my babies fit the personality of the child after birth - gentle/often, gentle/seldom, powerful/seldom, powerful/often. Demonstrated after birth those movements were through the "wall"/over the "wall/"around the "wall"/any way to the other side with someone by my side, etc.

For example, Laurie moved so seldom that I decided several times that if I did not feel her move by a given time, I would call the doctor - and she would give a gentle little movement to let me know she was there and all was well. She's always been our social butterfly - reaching out to others and never pushy.

Michelle was often and gentle, in case you're wondering. After birth, she was capable and willing to do, but doubting herself and needing encouragement--someone to help her in whatever way to get to the other side of the "wall." (That's why you have been so good for her - helping her believe in herself and feel not only capable, but confident, much more so as an adult than as a child.)

For me, the "I don't know" is whether or not there is a difference between the spirit in the prenatal body and an actual mortal body since a child who takes only one breath can be sealed to the parents; if not, it is not sealed.

The "We don't know" reminds me of a talk given several years ago by Elder Critchlow about women and the priesthood. He'd received a letter from a woman asking about it. His first draft answer to her was, "I don't know." He decided that was too brief, so the second draft was, "I don't know; I'm not supposed to know." He then enlarged on that in his Conference talk.

So, for me, "I don't know" about stillborns, is, "I don't know. I'm not supposed to know. If I was, the Lord would let me know.."

Papa D said...

"For mom and dad's sake, I hope I am right."

I hope so, too. I would love to have it be that way, and I hope it is. I just can't say I believe strongly either way. For me, "I don't know," describes how I feel.

Thanks, everyone. This was a very difficult post to write, and I appreciate how everyone has responded.

Jerry said...

The temple included a still born brother when my wife went to get her parents sealed.

Lance said...

I thought about posting a response to this thread. I am glad I did not. You said everything I would have said Merrill DeGraw ... but so much better.

Rick said...

For a unique perspective on this topic, read "Heaven is for Real". A young boy had a near death experience and shares an experience of finding out about a miscarriage his mother had before he was born. He met this sibling who died from a miscarriage in heaven. Very thought provoking insight, I highly recommend giving it a read.

I don't know how it works either, but I truly believe as Merrill states.

Ray, I really don't know you well as you were gone to college when I was still young but I have really enjoyed communicating with you the last couple of days. Keep sharing your thoughts, I enjoy reading and thinking about them.

Camille said...

Jerry ...I am so thrilled to hear that. I have hoped so bad my parents would be able to raise Lorna Sue and in the past few years I tell people my parents had nine children; not just the eight they raised here on earth.