My children are, without a doubt, children of loss. Sometimes I worry about how their direct experience of miscarriages, stillbirth, and infant loss might affect them; but this past week, I saw how the Holy Spirit is using their experience of loss for the good.
by Heidi Indahl
How many children do you have? a new acquaintance asks innocently.
It’s an easy question, right? I should know that answer, but I can’t quite shake the feeling that whatever gut response I give in the next moment is going to be the wrong one. In the past fourteen years of marriage, I’ve had eleven pregnancies, but only six children are living in my home today.
Only six children, I think to myself even now. Who says that?!
For many Catholic families, being open to life and observing Church teaching on marriage and family life also means being open to loss. In the beginning, our children were young and I never thought much about how our decisions affected them. Until recently they never knew of my first and second miscarriages, which occurred when my now 10- and 12-year-olds were young. When our first daughter, Kenna, was stillborn when my oldest were one and four, I never really knew how much they understood or didn’t, although they were certainly aware that a baby was born but a baby didn’t come home. When we celebrated her brief life each year, her life was abstract and mostly outside of their understanding.
Through the next blissful period of family life, we welcomed three consecutive living children into our family. I truly believed that whatever happened back then was a thing of the past. Something I didn’t need to worry about any longer.
And then I miscarried at 11 weeks. With children who were 1, 3, 5, 8, & 10 years old who knew Mommy was pregnant. And I had to tell them.
Don’t worry, Mommy, the angels came and took our baby straight to heaven!
Yes, sweetheart, they did.
For the first time I had to think about how this loss affected them. I had to watch as their little hearts broke into a thousand tiny pieces. We talked about Kenna again, and they came to understand her life in a new way.
And then Siena happened. Siena was diagnosed with significant congenital abnormalities at 18 weeks. She survived a very high-risk pregnancy, only to die an hour and forty-five minutes later in my arms. Her brothers and sisters were all able to meet her and hold her and they loved her more than you can imagine.
And then they buried her.
Next to her sister.
My children are, without a doubt, children of loss. They have seen unspeakable heartache in their lives and they have a completely different understanding of the humanity of the unborn than what they can read about in picture books. They know things that children should not be asked to know and have born burdens that children should not be asked to bear.
From time to time, my parental worries max out on this fact. I worry that they will be afraid of life as they have seen how much loss that it sometimes brings. I worry that their understanding of openness to life will affect their own decisions to be faithful to these beautiful church teachings in their own vocation down the road. I worry they will resent all of the activities that they might miss out on because of another high risk pregnancy, or because it is their sisters’ birthday and those calendar days are sacred in our family.
I worry they will remember the loss instead of the love.
This week, however, my children showed me that in this, too, it is ok to have a little faith. Our youngest son’s godparents said goodbye to their precious unborn child. As my heart grieved for my friends, I worried anew at the thought of how this awareness affects my children who have been to more funerals for the young than for the old. One by one, I shared the news that their baby had gone to heaven. One by one I saw their sad, understanding faces.
Later that night, as my husband and I gathered to say our evening rosary together, one by one I saw my children again. One by one, they came from their bedrooms. They left their beds and television shows and their books and their iPads. Six pairs of little feet, literally sitting on top of each other in the smallest room in our house.
They came to pray with us.
A child had died and they knew that was what they could do. What they must do. To varying degrees, they each struggled with their own emotions in a different way upon hearing of their friends’ loss. We’ve talked about their sisters a lot in the last few days. We’ve shed new tears in remembering their lives and their deaths. We haven’t yet visited their final resting place at the cemetery, but I know we will again soon.
This week, I learned something vitally important.
I learned that just as my husband and I say, Jesus I trust in you, with the welcoming of each new child into our family, we can also have faith in how the Holy Spirit is working in the hearts of our children through each goodbye.
You can follow our loss stories more in-depth on our family blog, Work and Play, Day by Day.