Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This December, Anna Pinckney Straight is curating a month of reflections on pastoral care in the 21st century. Join the conversation here or on Facebook. Today we re-visit this excerpt from Holding Hope as a reminder of the complex (and often silent) suffering that goes on in the lives of our congregants.
By Ashley-Anne Masters
The following is an excerpt from the introduction to Ashley-Anne’s Advent devotionals, “Holding Hope: Grieving Pregnancy Loss during Advent.”
Advent, which means “coming,” is the Christian Season of waiting and preparing for the birth of Jesus Christ. In the season of Advent:
for Emmanuel, God with us, to be born.
for the shepherds to hear the angels singing.
for Mary and Joseph to start their journey to Bethlehem.
for Mary to give birth.
for Jesus to make his entrance into the world.
Waiting for the birth of Jesus is similar to waiting for any other baby’s birth. We hear the announcement from the mother that she is pregnant, and from then on, everything changes. We are able to watch and see physical changes in the mother as the baby grows in her womb. We celebrate milestones of trimesters. We hear updates and see pictures of the baby’s new nursery, crib, clothes, and rocking chair. We plan for how we will take care of the baby. We wait for the mother to give birth and to find out the baby’s name. We wait to see who the baby looks like. We wait to see hope, light, joy, and love in the purest human form wrapped in brushed cotton with the smell of perfection that only babies possess.
But, what if that is not the way things happen? What if the mother begins to have cramping and bleeding before she even hears her baby’s heartbeat? What if the mother’s water breaks when she is only 20 weeks pregnant and there is no choice but to induce labor? What if the baby is born at 38 weeks, looks perfect, smells perfect, but the doctor brings the news that something does not sound right in the baby’s heart? What if we wait and there is no beautiful human gift to hold? What do we do? What do we say? In these situations,
with the parents and grandparents.
with the aunts, uncles, and godparents.
because the night is too silent.
because there are no adequate words.
because there is no other response.
Yet in the midst of our weeping, we dare to hope that in the pages of this guide you may find hope to hold. While we hold on to our feelings of grief, we also reach out to the hope of Christ in the world in which we live. We hold on to hope in the midst of confusion, grief and loss.
Why Holding Hope?
While infertility, miscarriage and stillbirths are unfortunately common, the details and grief processes surrounding such losses are something we do not often discuss. Too many parents suffer in silence or solitude and feel that there is no appropriate way for them to talk about their grief. Yet these experiences are not uncommon and do not happen in isolation. Therefore, Holding Hope is intended to provide a safe opportunity for us to share our experiences of pregnancy loss. By sharing the stories of our lives with each other, we can help each other through the darkness and carry some of the pain for one another.
Moreover, the grief of losing a baby, like any other grief, is often more intense or resurfaces during the holiday season. Perhaps the most significant reasons are that the Advent and Christmas seasons celebrate the birth of a child, and there is something magical about celebrating the Christmas season with children. Thus, Holding Hope is intentionally designed to speak to our grief in the midst of the hopeful expectance of Advent.
The purpose of Holding Hope is to provide a faith-based resource for all those suffering from pregnancy loss. It is not to serve as medical advice or to replace a counselor, spiritual advisor or support group. Holding Hope is intended to be used by anyone – mother, father, partner, friend, sibling, family member, caregiver, clergy, medical staff, counselor – who is grieving the loss of a child or children due to miscarriage, stillbirth, or other complications of premature births. The hope is that you will find this devotional comforting as you grieve or as you care for someone who is grieving.
How to Use Holding Hope
The four devotionals are written in light of the four Sundays of the Christian Season of Advent: Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. Each devotional offers a helpful perspective on a reading from scripture and questions for further discussion. We also provide a “prayer template” that helps you write your own prayers, and prayer examples from the perspective of a mother, father, child or sibling, and grandparent.
Depending on your need, there are many different ways to use the devotionals and supplementary materials. Individuals and couples may wish to light a candle each Sunday and read the devotional together at home. Friends and family members may meet weekly and discuss the questions in “Further Thoughts,” or use the prayers as a way of praying for someone who is affected by the loss. Congregational leaders and pastors may use the ideas throughout the guide to plan community worship services during Advent. There is no “correct” way to use Holding Hope, just as there is no “correct” way to respond to the loss of a pregnancy.
Ashley-Anne Masters is a freelance writer and pediatric chaplain in Chicago, IL. She is the author of Holding Hope: Grieving Pregnancy Loss During Advent and co-authored Bless Her Heart: Life as a Young Clergywoman with Stacy Smith. She blogs at revaam.org.