When country music star Carrie Underwood recently shared in an interview that her miscarriages caused her to become angry with God, women and men everywhere exhaled.
While the cultural awareness surrounding miscarriage and pregnancy loss is gaining momentum as people turn to social media to have conversations that are often clumsy and difficult in the school pick up line or the foyer after church, what's talked about even less than the pregnancy loss itself is how an event like this can impact one's faith.
Many people experience a crisis of faith when tragedy hits as questions surface about God's role in their miscarriages and heartache. Consider these stories women shared with me (identifying details have been changed):
"I feel like I had a strong faith before I miscarried, but all of a sudden my doubts about God became debilitating. I felt totally abandoned, like, where did he go when I needed him most? I had so many questions, which left me feeling like a failure of a Christian."—Jen
"Experiencing miscarriage derailed my faith completely. If a loving God would allow this to happen, then I have one thing to say about it: F&#% him. I'm done with Christianity. This feels nothing like love."—Beth
"I had no experience with trauma before my miscarriage, and when I tried to combine the belief that God was in control and that I had a miscarriage anyway, the wheels started to fall off my faith. I got totally stuck and began to resent this supposedly "good" God, but I didn't feel safe to process my questions with anyone. I felt like if I was honest, my husband and friends would assume I was backsliding."—Anonymous
Grief takes many shapes
My own motherhood experience has introduced me to the grief of three miscarriages. After having two children close together, our next three pregnancies resulted in back-to-back miscarriages before our sixth pregnancy gave us our youngest. It was during our five years of recurrent loss that I began to learn how differently grief can look not only for each individual, but each pregnancy.
With my first miscarriage I felt overwhelming sorrow.
With my second I felt an infernal rage.
And with my third I felt the despondency of defeat.
While these predominant emotions most characterized my grief response after each of my miscarriages, each experience also carried with it complexities and a spectrum of emotions that crisscrossed throughout. Anger, to some degree, was present throughout all of them.
Sometimes it was anger at my body. Other times it was anger at medical care providers who seemed insensitive or unwilling to help me understand. Sometimes I was angry with friends, pastors, and church circles for not responding with the practical care and support I needed in my grief. Sometimes I was angry that people seemed to forget my husband or acknowledge that men grieve, too. Sometimes I was angry that no one had adequately warned me that this is a common experience or how high the probability of losing a baby actually is. Other times I was angry that death and evil exists in the world at all.
You see, when a person's in pain, it's not hard to find a reason to get angry. Being angry with God is no exception, especially if we've bought in to the notion that God himself is the source of our miscarriages.
My years of weaving in and out of grief have taught me that under my anger or frustration was often buried pain. In actuality, my anger is grief coming out sideways.
There are no cultural norms for grieving a miscarriage
Because miscarriage is such an abstract form of loss, many women and men struggle with knowing how to grieve their loss. It feels fiercely personal and is often intensified by the fact that the loss feels so intangible to anyone but those closest. There's no cultural protocol for how to mourn the loss, no established ritual of remembrance for an unborn baby, and no social blueprint for how much emotion is enough or too much.
The awkwardness can be exasperated for mothers and fathers who may not have shared their pregnancy news yet. The "twelve week rule" urging parents not to share until it's "safe" perpetuates this stigma. And then when one of four pregnancies end in miscarriage we're left stunned and unsure how to share our grief. Are we "allowed" to tell people we've lost a baby if they never knew we had one in the first place?
Miscarriage unearths difficult questions in our faith
And if we question God about it, does that mean we lack faith? Will we disappoint him by admitting our anger?
You may be anchored to despair or confusion, anger or sorrow. You may be afraid your faith won't measure up to the scrutiny of the doubt of or questions your pain has exposed. You may feel caught in a free fall where one question leads to another, and the Sunday school answers you've recited your while life just aren't working any more.
Pain, grief, and suffering have a way of unearthing questions and doubts we didn't even realize we had, but that's not a bad thing. When you're in the tender days of a fresh loss, the most important thing you need to know is that Jesus is with you. Like the disciples in Mark chapter 4, you might feel like he's sleeping through your storm. But you need to know he's there. Present. With you.
God can handle your panic, your fear, your anger, even your crisis of faith. Your exposed grief doesn't repulse him. Your questions don't intimidate him. Your humanity doesn't threaten him. In fact, it can be the very thing that keeps you tethered to him because it helps us to see our desperate need for him.
We can approach God exactly how we are
When Underwood confessed she was angry with God and it was broadcast for the world to see, she gave permission for others to be real with God, too. Ultimately we don't need "permission"—Jesus has already made a way for us to approach God as we are—but sometimes it helps to be issued an invitation to be our whole selves. With the world looking on, Carrie did just that. Through being open about her experiences, she helped others to see that their grief experience is valid and that it doesn't have to be the undoing of their faith.
Underwood, and others like her, have decided to be honest with God and with the world about how pregnancy loss has impacted every area of their lives—faith included.
Grief can undo us but it can also remake us. It starts by extending the invitation to become known for who we really are, complicated emotions and all.