How to Mourn with the Parents of Stillborn and Miscarried Children

July 10, 2013. It was the day I was supposed to go to the hospital and find out the gender of my unborn child, a mid-point milestone of pregnancy in the 21st century. Every day, mothers and fathers walk into the doctor’s office and wait with eager anticipation as the ultrasound technician helps them discover whether they will paint their nursery blue or pink. Will they plan for the creative destruction of a little boy or the emotional tempest of a teenage daughter? Will they clean peas and cheese smashed into the floor or entertain intense disquisitions about mermaids?

My wife and I already have three children and chose to forego this knowledge with each of them. We were happily surprised with a daughter and then two sons. Our fourth child, the fourth in only four-and-a-half years, threw our life into utter chaos. The baby was a surprise, actually a complete shock, and yet we had adjusted to the logistically nightmarish shape our life took on in March when we discovered this baby’s existence. We had four months to talk about a different house, different car, and contemplate the possibility of three kids simultaneously in diapers. We came to love the chaos brought on by the mysterious and awful power of new life. Who were we to judge what God had chosen to do in his providence?


But we did not go to the hospital on that Wednesday in July. We did not go to find out the gender of our little girl because we found out who she was when she passed from this world into the next at 17 weeks old. Our baby, our second daughter, was taken from us before we ever had the chance to know her. This far along in pregnancy, death in utero means that the mother must labor and deliver the stillborn child.

Stillborn child.

Was she stillborn, or was this just a miscarriage? Just a miscarriage? Medically speaking a child is considered stillborn in the United States once she reaches 20 weeks and beyond in the womb. Earlier death is considered a miscarriage. What do these words mean, though? Either way it means the extinction of human life. I do not know what to call it, but I know that I held my daughter in all her beauty for several hours in that hospital room; I beheld her lovely little toes and fingers and her glorious, if yet largely unformed face. I pleaded with God to welcome her into his kingdom with open arms and be a better father to her than I could ever be. I pleaded with my heavenly Father to help me deal with jealousy and envy at the reality that others would be spending time with my girl and not me. I begged him to keep me content on this earth, for the desire to be absent from this body and present with the Lord and my little Emma Llewellyn positively overwhelmed me. I did not think about suicide but rather a simple urgency just to be gone, to be taken from the pain of this world. Grief is strange that way.

I prayed that my wife would be cared for in the coming months, because I knew that her road ahead was different from mine in some ways. She actually delivered our lifeless child and has wrestled with the possibility she may have done something wrong. However rational her response, if you have experienced this kind of loss, such fears cannot simply be explained away. What if I had not indulged that one sip of wine? Did I inhale toxic fumes? Did I not love this baby in my heart and soul as much as my previous children? What about that potent medication I took four years ago on which you are not supposed to become pregnant? 

It is a tender mercy of God that we learned soon after Emma’s death that she died for a specific reason. A fairly rare condition had developed in which the umbilical cord did not attached to the placenta the way that it should have, resulting in a tenuous connection between baby and placenta. That connection failed when Emma began moving around in the womb.

Whether you know the reason or not, your pain is real. Your family has died to what it would have been. Those in your family, church, or community may not understand your pain. They may say insensitive things, act aloof, and fail to understand why you cannot get over losing a person you never met. You can always have another one, right? No, we know it is not that simple. Someone made in the image of eternal God has left your earthly family forever.

Grace must abound in the wake of the death of a child in the womb precisely because others do not understand. And I do not mean grace from others to you, but rather your grace with others. God may call you to the primary task of ministering to others, even as they attempt to minister to you. Their lack of understanding may call for patience and gentleness you can barely muster. God gives this strength, even as he continues to console your heart with his Spirit.

Comforting Those Who Wait for the Resurrection

Death, that most hateful of things, awaits every one of us, yet its sting is unique when it takes a helpless babe.  While we believe Jesus conquered death at the cross, we wait for the resurrection to fully realize the death of death. Until then we must bear the burdens of and mourn with those around us.

The comfort and hope of the resurrection give us great resources for responding to those in your community who have suffered the pains of miscarriage. Here are six thought to keep in mind as you comfort and console.

  1. Be content simply to “mourn with those who mourn” (Rom. 12:15). Know that your words of comfort will not be much consolation in the short run, even if you have experienced miscarriage yourself. As with most other kinds of loss, each person’s experience is profoundly different.
  2. Don’t try to be the hero. Your may desire to utter just the right words that will bring healing and resolution to mom and dad’s pain. But that desire may arise more from your own struggle to reconcile the reality of death with the hope of Christ than from the need of those suffering to hear your words.
  3. Remember mom. Her pain will linger after most people have ceased asking about it. Don’t be afraid to broach the subject and encourage her six, nine, or even twelve months after the fact.
  4. Remember dad. A miscarriage is not a set of circumstances in which mom suffers the pain and dad gives support. It’s tempting to think that mom bears all the pain, but a father feels helpless in his own way. He needs much love and encouragement.
  5. Be patient.  My wife and I have struggled over and over again to choose worship and dependence rather than despair or indifference. Sometimes we have failed. Be patient with those who seem not to be “getting over” their loss. Pray for the truth of God’s goodness to break through. Love, love, love on your friends who have lost.
  6. Read them the Psalms. Just pick them up and start reading. They give lyrical shape to the confusion, anger, pain, relief, hope, and every other possible emotion the suffering feel. Reading the Psalms helps us to live emotionally with a doxological mindset. Psalm 34 has been a key text for me.

Miscarriage, like all other loss, presents an opportunity to seek refuge in bitterness, independence, and hobbies or to rest in the bottomless grace of a God who has known the most severe pain and sorrow. His compassion for a family’s lost child is matched only by his goodness to us.

  • Aaron

    Thank you for sharing this John. My heart breaks when I read your story. I wholeheartedly agree with your six thoughts in responding to those who have lost a child through miscarriage. Psalm 56 (particularly vv. 3-4; v. 8) was comforting for both my wife and I when we experienced our miscarriages. And the anniversary’s of their deaths are still painful even over a year later. I appreciate your insight and transparency, I pray that others are able to benefit from your wisdom when comforting those who have lost a child.

  • Zack Skrip

    Hey John, thanks for writing this. We lost our first son to a condition that sounds similar at 8mos gestation. It’s a horrifying experience that cannot be explained. I read the first and last part of Isaiah 40 over and over again.

  • Charis

    God’s timing is always perfect. This showed up in my FB newsfeed just a few posts after a post about some friends whose child only lived for an hour after birth. God is good to give encouragement at all of the right times. Thank you.

  • Michael A. Coughlin

    Thanks for this; it was refreshing and honest. I have 3 living children, one on the way and 2 in Heaven, and I love them all.

  • Phil

    I had a still born brother. I have a really hard time with that in light of original sin. Any thoughts?

  • Jonathan

    John, beautifully composed.
    Thank you, I needed to read this.
    I am praying Psalm 13 for your family.

  • Lacey

    Beautiful article. We also just lost our 4th precious one in June. We were earlier in the pregnancy so I don’t know who awaits for me in heaven but it has been a trying experience. Psalm 64:1-4 helps me regularly especially as I found myself pregnant again 6 weeks later. Baby number 5 is due in March, so far so good.

  • Lacey

    sorry i meant psalm 61:1-4 :)

  • Cheryl Sheahan

    Thanks for this article! Another helpful resource is a book called Safe in the Arms of God by John MacArthur.

  • Pira Tritasavit

    Thanks for this article. My wife and I recently went through a stillbirth with our daughter at 39 weeks. Our baby girl Fia Jae Tritasavit was diagnosed with TRISOMY 18 at our 20 week checkup. The day before we delivered, we could still see her heartbeat in the ultrasound.

    We grieve our loss, but rejoice at her great gain because of the Gospel of our resurrected Savior.

    I have shared a few links below to posts from my blog, capturing some of our processing and grief, as well as celebration. May it bring hope and encourage anyone who is walking through (or walking with someone who is going through) the valley of the shadow of death. Jesus is greater!

    We have been dearly helped and encouraged by the awesome little book by Nancy Guthrie called “Holding On to Hope”

    Soli Deo Gloria,
    Pira Tritasavit in San Francisco

  • Pete

    Thank you for this article – it’s definitely a blessing and a comfort to me. My wife and I just went through a miscarriage; it has been great to see brothers and sisters help and support us, but also hurtful at times at some of the insensitive things people could say, or how they can easily forget what we went through quickly as two or three weeks after.

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  • Sarah

    The one thing that brought me the most comfort was my brother’s girlfriend. She’s never had a baby or a miscarriage, but she came over, sat down with me on the couch and just silently hugged me and cried with me. There are no words as powerful as a friend who will grieve with you in silence.

  • Laura

    I have two beautiful daughters. I had a miscarriage at fourteen weeks before and after my first child. When I held my daughter for the first time I cried for the baby I had lost. I never had any answers to why I had either of
    my miscarriages but do know the loss. Someone told me to not put a question mark where God had put a period. This is a great article for myself as someone who has dealt with this and helping me in dealing with others.

  • Marc

    Tears streaming down my face as I read your article and remembered the pain of losing each one of the four gone before us, 3 second trimester and 1 first trimester losses. God drove home the concept of worship in my soul especially on the last one. I had been reading Job and coming to chapter 40, God answers Job in verse 2, Job answers back in verses 4&5 (I am vile and I will shut up), God is not finished he takes the rest of chapter 40 and 41 to talk to Job. And then Job responds again in chapter 42. Repentance in verse 6, but worship in verse 3.”Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things jtoo wonderful for me, which I did not know. “. Oh how I had become stoic, I had covered over the pain, I hadn’t said God this is not fair, but I had shut up, I had stopped wrestling, my soul had become quiet. But God loved me enough to show me through loss, what it true lily means to worship “things too wonderful for me, which I did not know”

  • katie

    i am approaching what would’ve been my due date for our little boy, isaiah (due sept.26th). instead, he was delivered and released on may9th of this year due to a cord accident. at 16 weeks i had a heartbeat. at my 20 week checkup…no heartbeat. they estimated he lived until 17 weeks. he would’ve been our first son (we have two little girls). i went in for my labor and delivery the day i would’ve found out it was a boy. he was delivered and we held him and named him. as my due date approaches in exactly ONE week, your article has been used by God to remind me again that God is ALIVE and knows my heart and prayers and is “in my midst.” thank you for writing this. consider this comment a huge hug for your family in your time of grief. i felt that your article was a hug for my soul…a familiar hug in that you knew/know exactly what i feel. <3

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  • Yvette Medina

    Thank you for sharing this post.

    Years ago I lost a niece at 5 months old to SIDS. Watching my brother’s grief over the years has been very difficult. It was very difficult for me as well as I can still remember the day I found her in her bassinet as though it was yesterday. Grief can last a lifetime. Jesus is our comforter and our great help in time of need, and there was no time like then, that I needed Him dearly. Though, for a period I was very angry with Him for taking her from us, yet He still waited for me patiently to find my way back to His loving arms.

    Just this year, my daughter in law was pregnant with twins. She miscarried one early on and then later delivered prematurely the second stillborn. Our hearts broke for them as we watched them grieve the loss of their children.

    Over the last couple of years, God has poured out on me the gift of songwriting, and I have found that songs often come to me in my time of need. I wrote a song called “In the Arms of Jesus” and sang it for the twins funeral a few months ago.

    God is so merciful and faithful in our time of need. I agree, the Psalms are a great place to find comfort. I am so thankful for His word and believe that if we cling to His word, He will meet us right where we are and supply our every need. I could not have gotten through my grief without Him.

    You are more than welcome to hear the song I wrote at:

    I know the pain of losing a child. Only God can bring healing and I do find comfort in knowing they are in His loving arms. I am so thankful too, to know that we will see them again one day.

  • Joan

    Thanks for writing this article. I had a tubal pregnancy and was devastated by it. We had been trying to have a child for over 2 years when this happened. There were many slip-ups by the doctor and complications so I ended up in the hospital having emergency surgery, which diminished chances for pregnancy later. No one, even our pastor, seemed to understand the grief. The hospital did have a memorial service for parents with stillborn children and I asked to be included. Didn’t intend to be a formal part — just wanted to attend. Well, they read our name and circumstances and some of the parents with pregnancies that had lasted longer turned around and glared as the details said — as if we didn’t belong in the same room with them. And it turned out there were no children after so nothing ever erased this event. And even now, it’s very difficult. Some Christians in particular seem to take this as a sign of God’s judgment, that it happened only because I was unworthy. And it’s been difficult asking for help dealing with it since even the request for help gets a reaction that it’s just something so small, that it shouldn’t cause any trouble. Good did come of it — has increased my faith and reliance on God who has never turned his back. Reading Job and Psalms in particular was helpful. But people have no idea and seem very cold about it, at least in my experience.

    • Sarah Jo

      I am so sorry for your loss. Your loss is as real as any of the others that were named at that memorial service; it is not a small loss as some have suggested. I am so sorry for the added needless pain you have faced in light of others’ reactions. My prayers are with you.

  • Deacon Paul Speed

    This so true. Both my wife and I, and our oldest daughter and her husband, have faced this, though the babies were lost younger than in this article. Also be prepared for emotions to tank around the planned birthdays, miles stones, and so on. November is a little melancholy for us now, because Patrick would have been born then. Also, I would recommend that the couple experiencing such a loss should name the child. It makes it more of a ‘normal’ loss, to say we miss Patrick, than ‘the child we lost’. It is tough – there are no cards, no accepted ways to mourn. This article is very good.

  • Mike

    My eldest would have been 46 in November. The second would have been 43 last July. To my everlasting shame I blamed my wife for losing the first. When WE lost the second I had learned my lesson and tried to give her all the love, comfort and support that I knew how. I am old now and waiting for the day when all will be revealed and I meet them in heaven. I look forward to it.

  • Carol Haye

    Thank you for your compassionate words…
    I am so sorry for your loss.
    We felt so lost when our eighth child, Adam, died from a cord accident before he was born…and has now been joined in Heaven by other siblings as well.’Treasures in Heaven’?
    Some people do say the silliest things that only deepen the sorrow. Bottom line: we choose to trust God no matter what. This world may go completely crazy and fall apart, but God is still in control and will redeem it.

  • Karen Butler

    When our son died in my womb thirteen years ago because of Trisomy-18, I was collateral damage in the abortion wars because I refused to have the recommended D@C. I had very little consolation from my family, and the body of Christ as well, and this issue of grace towards the insensitive and also the downright cruel became very real to me. I had to learn to fly to the arms of the Father. I wrote here,

    “…sometimes the family of God displays their issues, and that “pity like a newborn babe” meant for another’s woe is a stillborn comfort. Instead of the warm hug or cold cup of water the Father meant for your consolation, there is only a lukewarmness coming from those in the household of faith. These are testing moments for a saint: Will we seek to escape this added pain of rejection — with entertainment or food or alcohol or drugs or even antidepressants? There is a way to forgive another when it hurts so bad, when we look for comforters, and there are none.”

    • angela

      Karen, I’m so sorry for your loss and for your courage at a time when there was little consolation. Our baby also had a chromosomal abnormality detected at the anatomy ultrasound, triploidy; an extra copy of every chromosome. They recommended we terminate the pregnancy, but we chose to carry her until the Lord took her at 21 weeks. I think a lot of times people just don’t know what to say…or they just speak without thinking…I too was on the receiving end of many comments that shocked me.

  • angela

    I am so very sorry for your loss. We have lost 4 babies, including a stillbirth at 21 weeks. Those are very good tips for mourning with parents…especially checking in on the family at those monthly memorial dates….and particularly at the 1 year anniversary of losing your baby. Your family is in our prayers for healing.

  • Mama of Six

    Good article. I have six live children and have had two miscarriages and a stillborn baby. I wish my friends and family had had this article when I went through my times of grief.

  • Joan Olsson

    The Winds of Spring

    Dear baby, cherished tiny child of ours
    who floated ever gently in my womb,
    who shared my life, my blood those few brief months
    so soon, so unexpectedly you’ve come.

    Your advent caught us off guard, unprepared
    to see your face and stroke your fragile skin,
    to end the private moments we have shared;
    your quiet, womb-wrapped hiatus within.

    Your eyes were hid behind translucent lids,
    what shades of brown or blue we’ll never know.
    Your fine and fragile wisps of infant hair
    the winds of spring and fall will never blow.

    But we have named you, loved you, held you close,
    and wrapped you softly, singing lullabies,
    and placed you gently, lightly, in your bed –
    a baby casket, such a tiny size.

    And then we laid that small box in the ground
    and bid farewell to you with tear-filled eyes,
    and felt the winter winds across our cheeks
    and stood out there beneath dark, rain-filled skies.

    But spring is soon, and life will be renewed,
    the warm Chinook of God will blow, will come,
    and in a distant, fragrant field of flowers
    you’ll run to meet us, shouting, “Welcome Home!”

    Joan Olsson
    Written for my nephew and his wife when they lost their little girl, born almost four months early.

  • Erik

    Thanks for sharing this. My wife and I are all too familiar with this type of loss. We lost Lainey Grace at 23 weeks gestation and birthed her on October 29, 2010. Then, less than a year later we lost Evelyn Juliet at 32 weeks gestation and delivered on August 11, 2011. Thankfully the doctors pushed for extra testing that revealed a rare blood clotting disorder that caused both losses. My wife was then able to take a drug during our last pregnancy that allowed her to carry to term and deliver our little girl Scarlet Noelle, happy and healthy, on August 15, 2012.

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  • Kathleen Babson

    Good article, I am 69 year old mother of ten beautiful children all now adults. I am also the mother od three children in heaven, who miscarried. There are not too many days that pass that these children are not thought of, or wondered about. I n wonder if they were boys or girls, would they haven looked like their dad or me or a beautiful combination of both. And I am a little jealous that their dad got to meet them first. But that was Gods choice. In any case I have saints in heaven to help their mother and siblings to get there.

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  • Beth Ann

    Beautifully written. Six and four years later, my own grief over our two lost children is sometimes still so fresh as I read the stories of others. They are largely forgotten by the world, but rarely a day goes by when I don’t think of them and miss them terribly. How grateful I am to serve a God bigger than time or pain, who turns sowing in tears into reaping with joy!

  • Myron Rau

    There is also an excellent book on this very subject written by one who experienced it. “Little One Lost” by Glenda Mathes. $10.00. Available through Reformed Fellowship, Inc., 3500 Danube Drive SW, Grandville, Michigan 49418.

  • Donna Binder

    Yesterday was the eighth anniversary of my son’s death. He was 21 years old. My day was spent answering texts, emails, phone calls, and Facebook PMs from his friends and mine reminding me that he is loved and missed and that his dad and brother and I are loved and thought about and prayed for even this long after. Thank you for reminding us that parents and siblings of stillborn babies should be loved, loved, loved in the same way.

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  • Lauren

    Thanks, John for sharing your story. A dear friend shared your article with me as she knew I would relate… I could have written this article with a few things changed – for us it was our fourth child and second boy… And he passed away at 16 weeks, but I carried him to 18 – only 2 weeks away from our ultrasound to find out his gender. Reading this has been another step, as a fellow traveler on this journey of grieving… It’s so strange to me to think that stillbirth is now part of my story – part of what makes me who I am, who are family is. Much love from our family to yours – Isaiah 61:3

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  • Steve Henderson

    Thank you so much for this. My wife and I suffered through a series of miscarriages until they finally took her ability to have children naturally. In all of this, we found the strength and hope that only the Lord can give, but we also found miracles. I have two children today. They were the lonely ones that God loves to set into families. My oldest, my son, is almost exactly the same age the baby we lost to the ectopic pregnancy which cost my wife “normal” motherhood would have been. My two teens are precious in ways hard to describe and I rejoice every day for them. There is hope for parents going through miscarriage. Thank you also for including dads. Most people don’t realize that he suffers and grieves over the loss of his children as well.

  • Sara Champi

    After three miscarriages I was moved to help form a ministry in my church called Embrace. We want to educate people in the way society treats families with miscarriage, still born, or early infant loss. It is a loss and we need to support families the same way we would if there were any other death in the family. They should be allowed to grieve and remember their children. We have there events throughout the year to help with this. A Memorial Mass near Mothers Day, A Remembrance walk and butterfly release in October for national infant loss day, and then Ornament making near Christmas. This type of loss is one of the last taboo subjects in American and that is too bad. We need to show compassion and support to all people in need.

  • Sara Champi

    I should have shared our web-site.

  • Mane1810

    You never said I’m leaving
    You never said goodbye
    You were gone before I knew it
    and only God knows why

    A million times I needed you
    A million times I cried
    if love alone could have saved you
    you never would have died

    In life I loved you dearly
    In death I love you still
    In my heart I hold a place 
    that only you can fill

    It broke my heart to lose you
    but you didn’t go alone
    as part of me went with you
    the day God took you home.

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