Recently, several couples have publicly spoken of the deep emotional pain they experienced at the death of their preborn child. When Chrissy Teigen and John Legend suffered a miscarriage last September, Teigen shared on Instagram:
We are shocked and in the kind of deep pain you only hear about, the kind of pain we’ve never felt before… we for some reason, had started to call this little guy in my belly Jack. Jack worked so hard to be part of our little family, and he will be, forever….We will always love you.
Meghan Markle and Prince Harry also suffered a miscarriage last summer. Although pro-choice, Markle expressed her deep grief in losing her child writing in a New York Times op-ed piece:
Losing a child means carrying an almost unbearable grief, experienced by many but talked about by few. In the pain of our loss, my husband and I discovered that in a room of 100 women, 10 to 20 of them will have suffered from miscarriage. Yet despite the staggering commonality of the pain, the conversation remains taboo, riddled with (unwarranted) shame, and perpetuating a cycle of solitary mourning.
This Fall, Josie Bates Balka, from the reality show “Bringing Up Bates” too shared that she and her husband lost a child they were expecting:
…Our hearts have been completely broken. I’ve never experienced the type of pain and loss that I’ve had these past weeks. There is an empty spot in our hearts and in our home.
Meghan McCain, co-host of “The View” wrote after she and husband Ben Domenech suffered a miscarriage in 2019:
Miscarriage is a pain too often unacknowledged. Yet it is real, and what [women who have miscarried] have lost is real. We feel sorrow and we weep because our babies were real.
The deep pain these parents feel at the death of their preborn child may extend to siblings and grandparents. Recognizing this pain Florida, Nebraska, and Tennessee upon request will issue a “Commemorative Certificate of Nonviable Birth.” Receiving a certificate from the state is more than receiving a piece of paper. It is a public recognition of the birth and death of their child. To a small degree, it rejects the “solitary mourning” to which Markle refers. The state certificate makes the birth and death a public event. It is not unlike a marriage certificate issued by the state that publicly recognizes the union.
In Nebraska, the certificate includes the baby’s name, the date the nonviable birth occurred, and the parents’ names. The Nebraska Statute 71-607 stipulates that the certificate is not proof of a live birth and the state does not register the birth. The Department of Health and Human Services reports that 50-80 people request the certificate each year. The Tennessee certificate is similar to Nebraska’s.
In Florida, a “Certificate of Birth Resulting in Stillbirth” is issued if the baby is 20 weeks gestation or more. For a child under 20 weeks gestation, a “Certificate of Nonviable Birth” is issued. In both cases the baby’s name, date of nonviable birth or stillbirth, and name of parents appear on the Certificate. The parents must request the certificate.
The Wyoming legislature’s attempt to pass similar legislation in February 2018 was defeated when pro-choice activists, fearful that a “nonviable birth” certificate would be an acknowledgement of the child’s existence and effect abortion laws in the future, rallied support against the bill. So, mothers, fathers, siblings, grandparents are denied their right to choose to have a certificate recognizing the birth of their child.
Yet, even when the state, representing the public, recognizes the birth and death of this child, the miscarriage still remains largely personal and private. Often friends and some family may not even be aware of the death. There is no outpouring of concern and care. How can the church minister to these grieving families? What if the church offered quarterly worship services to celebrate the lives of children that died before natural birth? Parents could name the child, friends and family could gather and participate in worship remembering Scripture’s promise of eternal life and celebrating the gift of that child’s life, however brief.
Some years ago, a professor from Belgium speaking at a marriage conference observed that while the churches in Europe are largely empty, young people nevertheless return to the church for their wedding service. Thus, showing that the church’s ministry at the time of their wedding is important to them.
Perhaps if the church today reached out to couples, who have experienced the death of a preborn child, in their time of great sorrow, young people would once again hear the hope of the Gospel and see how Christ’s love meets them in their grief.
Sue Cyre is a past board member of the Institute on Religion & Democracy. She previously served as Executive Director of Presbyterians for Faith, Family and Ministry (PFFM), an initiative providing resources to assist adherents in their defense of the biblical theology. Cyre also served as editor of Theology Matters.
Comment by David on January 17, 2021 at 6:00 am
We know today that a large percentage, if not a majority, of human conceptions perish prior to term. This most often happens in the first six weeks when the pregnancy is often not recognized. The anti choice people have long sought to give legal status to fetuses as a way of furthering their aims. From the religious perspective, it becomes a question of whether a fetus has what is translated in English as a “soul.” The word is related to breathing rather than as a disembodied survival of the personality in scripture. One might argue that a fetus lacks a soul until it breathes air and thus lacks personhood.
A miscarriage is certainly a disappointment to those desiring a child, but it should be understood that many have severe genetic problems incompatible with life. However, we should not extend their feelings to those who elect to terminate pregnancies. The largest study on the matter found:
“Researchers found that at five years after having an abortion, only 6% expressed primarily negative emotions. The overwhelming majority of women surveyed — 84% — had positive emotions or no emotions whatsoever about their abortion decision, even if they hadn’t felt that way when they were making the decision to have an abortion.”
Comment by td on January 17, 2021 at 2:21 pm
Just to be clear david, christian belief is that the body and soul are one. There is a soul at the moment of conception. The soul does not later come in at a later date and join the body.
Comment by Loren J Golden on January 18, 2021 at 12:56 am
My wife and I have suffered two miscarriages—the first, conceived during our honeymoon, perished a month later; the second, conceived two years afterward, also died after he or she was conceived. We do not know whether these two children were boys or girls. But we know that they were human beings, made in the image of God.
In Psalm 51.5, David wrote, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” David, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, said that it was he that his mother conceived, not some non-person fetal tissue matter that did not become him until sometime later.
In Psalm 139.13-16, again writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, David said,
“For you (O LORD) formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there were none of them.”
In the second of the four Servant Songs that appear in his book, the Prophet Isaiah, also writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote, “And now the LORD says, he who formed me to be his servant” (Is. 49.5). The Servant in this and the other three songs (Is. 42.1-9, 49.1-7, 50.4-11, 52.13-53.12) is none other than the Lord Jesus, of whom the Lord His Father said, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” (Is. 49.6)
In his book, the Prophet Jeremiah wrote that the first word of the Lord that came to him was, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jer. 1.5) If before he was born Jeremiah was not a person, why, then, should the Lord have consecrated him to be His “prophet to the nations”?
In Luke 1.13-17, the Angel Gabriel announced to the Priest Zechariah that his wife in her old age (i.e., past menopause) would conceive and bear a son whom they should name John. And Gabriel said of John, that “he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.” (v. 15) If John the Baptist before he was born was not a person, then how could he have been “filled with the Holy Spirit, (while still in) his mother’s womb”? Or again, why should he have “leaped for joy” in Elizabeth’s womb upon hearing the greeting of Jesus’ mother to his own mother (Lk. 1.39-45)?
Likewise, in Luke 1.26-38 Gabriel announced to the Virgin Mary that she would miraculously conceive and bear a son whom she should name Jesus, and “the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.” And afterward, Elizabeth, “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Lk. 1.41), marveled, saying, “Why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Lk. 1.43) That is, “Why should the one who carries my Lord within her womb bring him into my unworthy presence?” If He was not a person before He was born, then why, while He was still in His mother’s womb, was He accounted to be someone’s Lord?
Now in Exodus 21.22-24 it was written, “When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm,” that is, that there is no harm to the mother or to her child who was birthed prematurely, “the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if there is harm,” again, to the mother or the child, “then you shall pay life for life,” etc. In other words, if striking a pregnant woman results in a miscarriage, a stillbirth, or the birth of a child so injured that he or she dies shortly thereafter, the one who struck her would be guilty of the unborn child’s murder and would face a murderer’s punishment.
Thus, my first two children, who were miscarried, were no less persons bearing the image of God than anyone who has been born. Miscarriage is a sad fact in this world lost in sin and is itself a curse of the Fall. Had our first parents not fallen, there would be no miscarriages, no stillbirths, and no infant deaths in this world. This is not to say that miscarriages, stillbirths, or infant deaths are punishments for specific sins committed by the children’s parents, any more than that a man should be born blind because of his parents’ sin (Jn. 9.1-3). But the sad fact of miscarriages will remain until the Lord Jesus returns in glory and makes all things new.
Furthermore, abortion is a sin, because it is the deliberate taking of a human life made in the image of God (Gen. 9.5-6, Ex. 20.13). It is not justified for any reason, except in the rare event that it is necessary to save the life of the mother. As tragic as the loss of a child through a miscarriage is, it is horrific that a mother should deliberately choose to terminate her unborn child’s life.
Following our two miscarriages, the Lord, who is abundant in mercy and steadfast love, showed His unmerited favor toward us, in that He blessed us with two beautiful daughters (who are now 9 & 6), and for whom I am tremendously grateful (as I am for the blessing the Lord has bestowed on me, in giving their mother to be my wife of 13-1/2 years, as of this date). The miscarriage of the two children whom I never met has taught me that human life is precious, sacred, and fleeting, and is something not to be taken for granted. “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!” (Ps. 127.3-5)
As I watch my daughters develop in their unique personalities, their interests, their talents, their love of and walk with the Lord—indeed, they are “fearfully and wonderfully made”—I cannot help but wonder how my two children I never met might have grown, what might they be interested in, what they might have the aptitude to do, what their walk with the Lord might look like. Sadly, we shall never know. And sadly, the parents who have aborted their children shall never know the joys of watching them grow.
Comment by David on January 18, 2021 at 12:39 pm
” There is no harm to the mother or to her child who was birthed prematurely.” I suggest you look at a translation more true to the Hebrew text and not altered to meet current politics. Bible publishers are now pressured to alter texts by some groups.
Comment by Loren J Golden on January 19, 2021 at 10:53 pm
The Hebrew phrase used here is yeled yatsa, which literally interpreted means “child depart”, obviously intended to say that the child is departing from the mother’s body, irrespective as to whether that departure is via birth, stillbirth, or miscarriage. Some translations of the Bible (e.g., RSV, NASB) do, indeed, translate this as “there is (or she has) a miscarriage”, but there is no linguistic reason to believe that yeled yatsa could not refer to a premature birth or stillbirth as well. Had Moses specifically meant “there is a miscarriage,” he would have used the specific Hebrew word that meant that, namely shakol, as he did just two chapters later (Ex. 23.26; cf. Gen. 31.38, Hos. 9.14).
The Hebrew word yatsa is a general word, commonly used in the Old Testament, that means to depart, to come out, or to go forth, and is nowhere else in Scripture translated as “miscarriage”. In fact, in Genesis 25.26 & 38.28-30, it is used of live births. Furthermore, the context of the use of the word yatsa in Exodus 21.22 militates against restricting its meaning to “miscarriage”. The passage is evaluating whether or not lasting harm (Heb. ason; Gen. 42.4,38, 44.29, Ex. 21.22-23) has occurred when a pregnant woman has been struck. Further, the text omits any specific reference to the recipient of the lasting harm—whether to the woman or to the child who proceeds from her after she has been struck—leading logically to the conclusion that the condition of the law is whether either the mother or the child has received lasting harm from the injury. If the pregnant woman’s child is born alive without having received injury from the blow that she had received, then no lasting harm has been done to the child. On the other hand, if she miscarries, lasting harm has, in fact, been done, terminating the life of the child, and the one who struck her is legally culpable for the child’s death and subject to the law’s penalty.
Thus, your inference that the translation of Exodus 21.22-24 in the English Standard Version, which I quoted, above, has somehow been altered from its original meaning in the Hebrew under political pressure is entirely without warrant.