Join us for "real talk" on pregnancy loss with Rachel Lewis, author of Unexpecting: Real Talk on Pregnancy Loss. Rachel has five children in Heaven and regularly writes about life after loss. She is the founder of Brave Mamas, an online community for grieving mothers.
Rachel shares about her new book, Unexpecting, which walks grieving moms through loss, lament, love, and legacy after the loss of a baby.
In this episode, we discussed:
Birth trauma and PTSD after pregnancy loss
Foster care and grief following reunification
Wrestling with doubt and finding authentic faith
The Book of Job
Heaven being "home" and familiar
Continuing Bonds grief theory and how bereaved parents grieve differently
Ways to create a legacy for your baby in Heaven
How to parent your baby in Heaven in community
Mount St. Helens and an analogy of finding beauty from ashes
Turning the question after loss from Why? to What Now?
All about her book, Unexpecting: Real Talk on Pregnancy Loss
Full transcript below.
Each episode has a special Hope Guide that you can download by clicking the button below. It is packed with hope-filled resources and extra information from the episode!
Discussion / Application Questions (leave your answers below in the comments!)
Rachel and Ashley discuss wrestling with doubts and faith, and Ashley shares a C.S. Lewis quote about how your beliefs don't become real until it's a matter of life and death. Has the loss of your baby confronted you with this reality - to decide what you believe about God, Heaven, and life/death? Has it caused you to doubt or dig deeper into your faith? Write about it here.
In this episode, Rachel talks about how we lose a lifetime of memories when we lose a baby, but that we can still parent them. She gives memorial ideas and ways to involve your community. Write some of these ideas down that you think would be helpful to you in your healing journey.
Rachel describes an analogy of Mount St. Helens and finding beauty from ashes. In what ways have you seen God redeem your pain/grief? Have you seen anything beautiful or a blessing come from the devastation/rubble of your loss? Read Isaiah 61:3 and then journal your thoughts.
Graphics to share on social media or pin on Pinterest!
MEET OUR GUEST
Rachel Lewis is a foster, adoptive, and biological mom. She has five babies in Heaven, three in her arms, and one foster child in her heart.
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MEET OUR HOST
Ashley Opliger is the Executive Director of Bridget's Cradles, a nonprofit organization based in Wichita, Kansas that donates cradles to over 1,090 hospitals in all 50 states and comforts over 26,000 bereaved families a year.
Ashley is married to Matt and they have three children: Bridget (in Heaven), and two sons. She is a follower of Christ who desires to share the hope of Heaven with families grieving the loss of a baby.
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Episode 17: Real Talk on Pregnancy Loss with Rachel Lewis
Ashley Opliger: [00:00:00] You’re listening to the Cradled in Hope Podcast where we believe that the hope of Heaven, through faith in Jesus Christ, has the power to heal our hearts after the loss of a baby. It’s a pain no mother should have to endure and we want this podcast to be a safe place for your broken heart to land. Here, we are going to trust God’s promise to restore our joy, use our grief for good, and allow us to spend eternity with our babies in Heaven.
I’m your host, Ashley Opliger. I’m a wife, mom, and follower of Christ clinging to the hope of Heaven. My daughter, Bridget, was stillborn at 24 weeks in my first pregnancy in 2014. In her memory, my husband and I started a nonprofit ministry called Bridget’s Cradles, and God has given us purpose in our pain and we’ve seen beauty come from ashes.
Although we wish you didn’t have a need to be listening to this podcast, we believe God has a reason for you to be here today. We pray this time would be a source of healing for you as we remember that Jesus cradles us in hope while He cradles our babies in Heaven. Though we may grieve, we do not grieve without hope. Welcome to the Cradled in Hope Podcast.
Ashley Opliger: [00:01:26] Hi friends, and welcome to Episode 17 of Cradled in Hope. Before we start this episode, I wanted to let you know that we send an email out on release day for each episode that includes links to listen and the downloadable PDF that we call the Hope Guide, which is full of Scripture, links, and other helpful resources, as well as more information about our guest.
If you haven't done so already, go to our website at bridgetscradles.com/podcast and sign up for our email list, so you can be alerted on the 1st and 15th with a special email.
Today, we have Rachel Lewis on our show and we can't wait for you to hear this conversation. Rachel is a foster, adoptive, and biological mom. She has five babies in Heaven, three children in her arms, and one foster child in her heart.
She is the founder of Brave Mamas, an online community offering support to thousands of bereaved moms, and she is a well-known contributor to Still Standing Magazine and Pregnancy After Loss Support. She is the author of Unexpecting: Real Talk on Pregnancy Loss, a book that she just released last year.
We are looking forward to you hearing more about her heart behind the book and hearing her story. Let's jump in right now.
Ashley Opliger: [00:02:50] Welcome, Rachel. We're so glad to have you here.
Rachel Lewis: [00:02:52] Thank you so much for inviting me to be on. It's such a joy.
Ashley Opliger: [00:02:55] Where are you joining us from? Where do you live?
Rachel Lewis: [00:02:58 I live across the Puget Sound from Seattle, Washington. And it is just as gray and just as rainy as you always imagined Seattle to be.
Ashley Opliger: [00:03:10] And how do you deal with that? Do you like it or is it depressing?
Rachel Lewis: [00:03:14] Oh, it's depressing.
Ashley Opliger: [00:03:15] Oh, no!
Rachel Lewis: [00:03:16] It's been a very long winter so far, even though winter only started recently; lots and lots of rain. I didn't grow up here. My husband did, so he's quite used to it. My children are very used to it. And I was a military kid, so I grew up all over. And I spent quite a bit of time in Hawaii and Georgia, so I'm more of a warm weather, lots of sun kind of person.
Ashley Opliger: [00:03:38] Yeah, that’s a big difference from Hawaii, huh?
Rachel Lewis: [00:03:16] Yes.
Ashley Opliger: [00:03:38] I visited Seattle once and I loved it, but it was for a short visit. I don't know that I would be able to cope with so many dark and rainy days, I'd probably need one of those. what do you call, like the therapy light lamps that you put on? Do you have one of those?
Rachel Lewis: [00:03:57] I don't, I've considered getting one, but no, I don't. And I guess the thing that keeps us here is there's this brief summer that is glorious and beautiful. And so there's the mountains right nearby. There's lots of water everywhere. There's a million things to do outside. And so those couple of months, keep all the rest of us here, I guess.
Ashley Opliger: [00:04:25] Yes, you soak them up, for sure. Well, Rachel, thank you for joining us. I would love for you to introduce yourself and share a little bit about your motherhood journey.
Rachel Lewis: [00:04:32] Well, I would say that my journey to motherhood has been complicated. Very little of it has been easy.
When I first got pregnant, it was 10 months after my husband and I got married and it was unplanned. And if I'm being honest–and my daughter knows this–she understands all of this, but I didn’t feel prepared to be a mother. And I just wanted to go back to being not pregnant, somehow just for it not to have happened. While I was pregnant, that's how I was feeling and just very disconnected.
And what was interesting is all growing up, I wanted to have four kids. I wanted to be a mother. The idea of mothering was incredibly important to me. And so my initial reaction to this pregnancy was shocking to my system. Like, who is this person? How did I become this?
And so I had a subchorionic hemorrhage at eight weeks. And what was interesting about the way other people responded is that I technically hadn't even miscarried yet and people were already giving me platitudes about miscarriage and loss.
So when I hemorrhaged, we went to the doctor, they said I had a 50/50 chance of miscarrying, that there was nothing I could do. But we all know that when you tell a mom there's nothing you could do, she's going to do something anyway. She's going to try.
So I called into work. I put myself on bedrest and just stayed as still as I could for a whole week, until I went in to the doctor to see if we had miscarried or not. And we had not. Our daughter was still alive.
But during that week, people were already saying, “Well, it will happen when the timing is right.” Or, “This is just nature's way or God's way of taking care of babies that are unhealthy.” And so it was just interesting that the people were already dismissing this pregnancy and I hadn't even lost the baby yet.
And so we went on to have a threatened premature labor at 28 weeks. So I was back on bed rest again, really mostly until the end of my pregnancy. And that happened at 36 weeks, and I had a severe amount of pain and nausea.
I went to the hospital. They did not catch what was going on, and so they sent me home. And a couple of days later, I went back in and this time it was very obvious that I had preeclampsia and that had turned into severe preeclampsia with HELLP syndrome, which, as nice as I could put it, it's basically your body trying to kill itself because you're pregnant.
And so they said, “You're going to have this baby today.” Her heart rate dropped during my trial of labor at the hospital. For eight minutes it was like in the fifties. And so after that, they were like, “We've got to get this baby out right away.” And they did, had emergency C-section, and she lived, and I lived. even though I left that hospital with PTSD.
And I didn't recognize that there was something else going on and that I had a lot of risk factors for also postpartum depression, because I was just a new mom and I didn't know what to expect.
And so many people kept saying, “Well, at least the baby's healthy. That's the only thing that matters.” And that kind of discounted my whole experience of almost losing my life and almost losing my baby's life in the hospital. And so that was sort of the stage that was set for my motherhood, just not what I expected.
And I had already known that I'd always wanted to adopt. I figured that out in middle school, that this is what I wanted to do. And my husband had always been on board. And so we decided that rather than continue to have biological children, because we did not want a repeat of this experience, that we would just go ahead and move forward with adoption.
And it was actually right after getting our license for foster care that I found out that I was unexpectedly pregnant again. And I think that because this was unexpected, but also something I had just sort of given up on, the idea of being pregnant again, I just jumped in with two feet.
I was over-the-moon excited! It was a second chance at being excited and embracing a pregnancy I felt like I didn't have. And so for the weeks that we were pregnant, I was so full of joy and happiness. And it was like, someone had just plastered a smile on my face and nobody could get it off if they wanted to.
And all that changed when I had an episode of severe pain. My co-workers actually peeled me off the floor in the bathroom because I was in so much pain I could hardly stand. And they took me to the ER and they said, “Well, we actually can't find the baby. We don't know where the baby is. And this could be a threatened miscarriage or your dates could be off, or this could be an ectopic pregnancy.”
And so yet again, I was in a situation where they didn't know what was going on with the pregnancy. And I thought, “Well, I know it worked last time. Last time I prayed a lot. I sang a lot of worship songs. I had support and this is what happened. And then at the end, I got to keep my baby. And of course, if I got pregnant again, God loves this baby as much as He loved the first baby, and so the same thing's going to happen.”
And so I prayed those prayers, and I sang those same worship songs, and I did all the things that I thought a faithful person would do. And in the end, my baby was in my fallopian tube and my tube tore. And again, I was rushed into surgery and my OB was able to save my life. She was able to save my fertility, but she was, of course, unable to save my baby.
And that experience felt a lot like spiritual whiplash, because I just had this expectation and, I guess, this theology of, “You scratch my back, I'll scratch Yours.” Like, “If I do all the right things, then You're going to come through for me and make sure that the people that I love, that they're safe,” and realizing, “No, I'm actually just as vulnerable in this world and the people that I love are just as vulnerable,” was sort of terrifying and hard.
And I was plunged into a very deep grief, and that was the beginning of a season of a lot of loss. Nine months later, we tried to get pregnant again and I had a miscarriage at eight weeks, and we had our first foster care placement call.
It was going to be a brand new newborn baby girl, who was born healthy and was guaranteed to go toward adoption, which is unheard of in the foster care world. And we had everything packed and ready to go pick her up from the hospital, and we got a call saying, “Never mind, the social worker changed her mind and picked a different family.”
And that was just a couple days before the first anniversary of our loss of our ectopic baby, whom I named Olivia. Just weeks later, we ended up meeting our daughter through foster care. And this was joy that we were able to meet her and love her. And we fostered her for about a year and a half before we were able to adopt her.
And then shortly after adopting her, we heard about a five-month-old baby boy. And we were not planning on fostering again, but the story of his life and why he was in foster care was so heartbreaking, I felt like I couldn't call myself a Christian and say no in the same sentence.
And so we said yes to him and he lived with us for a year and a half right before we had to return him home. He was almost two when we returned him home, and we did not see him for a very long time. For two years we didn't see him.
And during that time of fostering him, we experienced three more first trimester losses. And so it was five back-to-back losses, and then the experience of reunifying our foster son, who we'd gotten very attached to, understandably, and I was just at a very dark place.
And my husband was like, “I want to keep trying.”
And I said, “No. I think I'm done. I don't think I can handle another loss.”
My OB had always said, “You have to just think if you could handle one more loss, and if that answer is ever no, then you need to stop.”
And so I was like, “I think I'm at that place.”
And he says, “Well, I don't think we're done.”
And so I said, “Fine, we’ll try one more time and then that's it”. And that is when we fell pregnant with our rainbow baby, Eleanor, who is now five. And then to round up our story, when our foster son was four, he needed to be returned to foster care again. They called us.
We, of course, said yes. And he moved in and we had him for another two years, and then returned him home not this past summer but the summer before. And so we had him for a total of three and a half years.
And so anyway, that was a very long explanation of our journey. I apologize, that was so long. But again, it's so complicated. And maybe my least favorite question of all time is, “How many kids do you have,” because it's hard to say.
I just say, “Well, I have three in the home.”
Ashley Opliger: [00:14:23] Yeah. You have been through so much Rachel, so much heartbreak and so much loss in the journey to motherhood. I feel like when we're young girls growing up, we just expect for it to be easy and clear cut and follow this path, and that when we want to get pregnant, we'll get pregnant and babies will live.
And so when you start navigating through all of these uncharted waters and experiencing miscarriages, it's so devastating because it's just so contrary to all the dreams and hopes that we had growing up and what we expected motherhood to be like in growing our family.
And you brought up your foster children, and I'm really thankful that you did, because there's been a few people–I haven't personally fostered children, at least not yet. And I have read some stories and blogs online of families who have experienced grief and loss after returning a foster child back to their home, as they walked through the reunification process that they didn't expect to feel as though they were grieving a child.
And it's almost a living death in a way, because your heart becomes so connected and they really are your child. You've had them in your home. You've loved them like your own. And then even though it's a wonderful thing to have reunification and have the redemption in their story, and for them to go back to their biological parents, there's still grief and loss there. And I don't know if that's talked about enough. Would you agree with that?
Rachel Lewis: [00:14:26] Absolutely. It's a disenfranchised grief because society wants to put foster parents on this pedestal and make us immune to the loss, turn us into heroes of people who are so selfless, and we can just give and give and give, and it doesn't cost us anything. I never really understood why that is.
But there is a sense of judgment, if we get attached. And the interesting thing about that is that the foster system and the way that it's designed goes against all of our biological systems, all of the ways that we are meant to bond and meant to attach.
And they're trying to move foster children less. They're trying to recognize that bonds happen and that they're important. They're trying to recognize that it actually is healthier for the child if the foster parent bonds with them than if they don't, than if they protect their heart and just say, “I'm just going to treat you differently than I would treat my own children and love you differently than I would love my own children.”
So the foster system is trying, but really just the basics of foster care, it just goes against our natural inclination as parents to love, to bond, to attach. I mean, we're doing all of the bonding activities. We're reading their books at night. We're tucking them in. At least in our case, our child chose to call us mother, mom and dad, or mommy and daddy. We didn't ask that of our child, but that's what he decided he wanted to do. And for all, but four hours a week when they were at visitation, I was mom to him.
And so anyway, that bond is real. And when that bond is broken, it is a very real grief. And we all know that you don't have to have death to grieve. If you have a job loss, if you have a divorce, if you were suddenly separated from someone, all of those things can cause grief, even if there was no death that happened.
And so I liken it to having a missing child. I know my child is out there somewhere. I don't know if they're safe right now. I don't have a way to contact them and so I'm separated from them. And I know that they're living and I can hope that they're well, but I just don't always, I don't know that's true. And anyway, so that is a very real grief.
Ashley Opliger: [00:18:21] Yeah. I've never heard it said that way, but that analogy put just this pit in my stomach. As a mother, I can only imagine how horrible of a feeling that would be to know your child is out there, but you don't know how they are and you can't be present and love them. And that is so hard.
Rachel Lewis: [00:18:37] Yeah, and I think it's true for biological families as well. I mean, that's that same concept of, “Somebody else is raising my child and I'm not in the day-to-day.” The biological families have more rights than foster parents do and there's a lot more potential for them to really know what's going on. But that idea of separation, I think, is just as hard maybe, if not more hard, for biological families.
Ashley Opliger: [00:19:00] Yeah, that makes sense. So after you lost your daughter, Olivia and your ectopic pregnancy, you mentioned to me that your relationship with God really took a direct hit, and that you were wrestling, and had doubts, and were in a season of very deep grief. Do you mind talking more about what that looked like?
Rachel Lewis: [00:19:23] Yeah, so I think growing up I had such a strong and untested faith. I had been given the answers of what I should believe all of my life and that continued, so from my home of origin to going to Bible school and getting degrees in both Bible and theology to then working at a Christian marketing agency.
And so I was just so inundated in the Christian culture and in these ideas of what I should believe, and then of course going to church throughout all of that time as well. And so I had never, ever given myself permission to ask what I believe, to ask what I understand from the Bible and to say, “Actually, I have some questions here. Actually, this doesn't make sense to me.”
And if I'm honest, initially, that felt very threatening to me. It was not welcome. I did not want to wrestle with these questions. I didn't want to feel doubt. I wanted to feel nothing but comfort from my faith. And I think when people look at other people who are wrestling with doubt, it's easy to look at that person and say, “Well, maybe they're just being lazy or maybe they're just not being as faithful.”
At least previously, that's what I felt. And then walking through this period of doubt, I realized that actually, “This is taking so much more out of me than if I just went with the status quo. It's requiring me to really dig deep and to ask the questions that are uncomfortable and don't have those easy answers. And I can't wrap any of it up in this beautiful bow.”
And that feeling can be, it's like feeling untethered, in a way. And so yeah, I don't want to say that the wrestling process has been easy, but I will say that for me, the wrestling has been worthwhile, and that of the faith that I have and the beliefs that I hold and the beliefs that I'm still wrestling with and trying to come to terms with, those things are more authentic than it was when I was just following all of the things that other people were saying, and repeating to God the things that I thought He wanted to hear versus telling God all of the realness, all of the humanity that I had, all of the parts that weren't faithful.
And so to be honest about all of that was hard, but also it created a more authentic faith.
And I don't think everybody has to go through that. I don't think a loss like this has to mean that somebody needs to go to that depth. For some people. I know that they derive only comfort and only this feeling of being wrapped up and held, and that's a beautiful thing. And so I don't want to tell anybody that they are being inauthentic, if that's their experience. But for me, I felt like I had to start wrestling in order for my faith to be true.
Ashley Opliger: [00:22:40] There's a CS Lewis quote, it's from A Grief Observed, and it goes in line with what we're talking about. It says, “You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you.”
And I would say the same for me. I grew up a Christian following Jesus. And once I had my own flesh and blood in Heaven and was preparing a funeral for my baby, it was like, “Wow. My faith really now is real to me. And do I really believe what I have always said to believe,” because it was a matter of life and death, what I believed at this point.
And I felt like if I was going to choose to believe that Bridget was in Heaven and I was going to really get to see her again, then I needed to wrestle with and make sure that my faith was true, that the Bible was true, because if I was pulling, say, a verse about the fact that Heaven is real and that I get to see her again because of Jesus, if I'm going to claim that to be true, then I want to know that the Bible really is the infallible Word of God and that I can turn to it for everything.
And essentially that led me into this deep path, I guess you could call it apologetics, figuring out. And again, not everyone is going to go into this deep theological wrestling, where you feel like you have to have absolute proof in order to believe everything that you believe or believe that the Bible is true.
But for me, I feel like I've been walking this out for seven years of really wanting to have the apologetics and the defense of my faith, because if I'm going to choose to believe this and share this hope with other moms, I want to know that it's true.
And so essentially I feel like it all comes down to is Jesus really who He said He was? Did He really do what He said He did? And was He really resurrected from the cross three days later?
And we could go into all of that, but just looking at scientific proof, historical proof, and not everybody needs all of that. Obviously, the definition of faith is having a belief in something that you can’t actually see. We can't see God, and that makes faith all the harder for some. I think different personalities have different needs in terms of how much they can rely on that blind faith or how much historical and scientific proof they need for the existence of God and the existence of Jesus and who He said He was.
But I think that's very normal to walk through those questions, especially when you've experienced something as devastating and heartbreaking as the loss of a child, to have those big questions and ask those kinds of things of God. And I do think God wants us to be authentic and vulnerable and tell Him what we feel about Him or what questions we have or where we're wrestling and all of that.
In one of our previous episodes, we talked a lot about where we go with our wrestling really matters. If we turn to the world, or to different things, we're going to come out in a different space with our wrestling. But if we turn to God and to the Bible and try to wrestle with Him, I think the outcome is a little bit different.
How would you say that process has looked over time?
Rachel Lewis: [00:25:45] Well, I share in my book initially about that hope of Heaven and how I experienced that directly after the loss of Olivia, in the days right after my surgery. At some point. I had gone to my husband's grandparents' house. I can't even remember why, but I know that they were taking care of me a little bit.
And I was trying to sleep, and I was having such a hard time sleeping. That is a hard time when you're grieving, because your brain is just wide open and you have all of this time to think, rather than being so distracted with everything that you have to do during the course of the day. And so when you're trying to rest, it's hard sometimes to rest our mind as well as the rest of our body.
And as I was trying to sleep and struggling, I had this image come to mind and it was of my grandmother, who had passed away several years beforehand, and she was holding Olivia. And she was just rocking her in a homey quilt on just this wooden rocker.
And that was the first time that the idea of Heaven became really personal and intimate, rather than it being this vast expanse of perfection, which is what we hear quite often when people describe Heaven–it's just this huge place and beautiful and lush and God's presence is there, and so it's amazing.
But to actually think, “Okay, my baby is actually being taken care of by my loved one, and if I can't hold my baby, having my grandma hold her is the next best thing.” And so for me, that was a different and new image of Heaven, but also very comforting to me.
And that image is something that I reflected on that day and in the future, as I was trying to quiet my mind to be able to rest and to go to sleep and that kind of thing. So I think even initially, Heaven was a big part of my hope and knowing that I would see her again.
I would say as well, people would sometimes say to me, “Well, at least you have her in Heaven,” and I would have given everything to have had her here on earth first.
It's like, “Yes, I want her in Heaven. But before that, I would like her to spend a solid 99 years on earth and have a really full life here, and then we can talk about her dying and going to Heaven.” But you know, I think all of us mothers, if given the choice, do we want our baby here on earth? Or do we want them in Heaven here on earth and then Heaven?
We would choose here on earth to be with us and to be alive and well. So Heaven was, I guess, yes, in a sense comforting, but then also it didn't take away from the loss of her experience here on earth and the loss of my experience parenting her and all of those memories that we would have had.
So when a baby dies in pregnancy, it's not that you just lose the gestation of where they were. It's not that I just lost seven-and-a-half weeks of pregnancy. I lost a lifetime of memories that I was going to make.
Just like my first daughter, sometimes I think about, “What if I had miscarried her? What if she had died when I had HELLP syndrome? What if I never got to know the way that she is an amazing artist,” like all of these pieces and facets of her personality, and then all of these memories that we would have made. I wouldn't have had any of them had I miscarried at eight weeks. I wouldn't have known any of that.
And so when I did lose Olivia, I recognized that I wasn't just losing seven weeks of pregnancy. I was losing this person that I would never get to know here on earth. And that was devastating, and that was hard for me.
To go back to your question about wrestling. I found a lot of comfort in the book of Job, and possibly not for the reason people think. When, as Christians, we talk about the book of Job, we usually sort of start and end with Job saying, “The Lord has given, the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
And for those of you who may be listening and are not familiar with the book of Job, it is about a very righteous, worthy man who has high standing in society. He's very wealthy and he's faithful to God. And Satan basically takes away everything or most of everything in his life. And it takes away his family, his status as a father or his role as a father, his wealth, his standing in society, and then even eventually his health. And so he's just left in this place of devastation.
And the first chapter, it talks about how he didn't charge God with wrongdoing. And then in the second chapter, it talks about how he didn't charge God with wrongdoing. And then in the third chapter, he charges God with wrongdoing. And that's something that the church very rarely talks about.
And that started a season of wrestling with Job. His friends had come to comfort him, and for seven days they were exactly the kind of friends that you hope that you would have. They were willing to sit in his pain with him and enter into his deep grief and his mourning with them.
But after that seven-day period, then they began to have all of the answers about faith and they refused to entertain the questions, whereas Job, during the course of this conversation, he is full of questions, even accusations and doubt and misunderstanding and frustration.
And for about 38 chapters, which, if we're thinking about the real estate in the Bible, 38 chapters is a lot of space in the Bible for God to reserve for wrestling, and then at the end of it, God is direct. Not going to say He gives off this tone of just being kind and comforting, because He's actually really direct with Job. But He shows Job more of who He is at the end of this space of wrestling.
So initially, Job responded, he didn't charge God with wrongdoing. But at that time, he didn't have a greater understanding of God. But when he entered into the space and he was willing to entertain the questions, at the end of it, he knew more of who God was. And he says something, if I were to sum it up, it would be, “I'd heard of You before, but now I know You.”
And then God gives His harshest words for his friends, who are so full of faith and so full of answers and certainty that they wouldn't even consider that they might be wrong. They wouldn't even consider asking those questions of God or of their faith.
And so for me, that gave me a huge permission slip, if you will, to say God is comfortable with the journey. He doesn't demand that we aren’t instantaneously transformed or instantaneously fixed, or that we aren’t instantaneously faithful and perfect.
He created humanity. He understands that we go through processes and it's not always this instant thing, but He's holding space for that. And so I really felt like God was saying, “I'm going to be here. We can go through this and you can go through this and I'm going to be here with you and through it, and I'm going to be here on the other side of it.”
Ashley Opliger: [00:33:20] Absolutely.
Rachel Lewis: [00:33:20] And so that was something that I clung to, and then my hope, as I shared with you earlier. I don't feel like I have somehow exited this season of wrestling and trying to figure out some of the answers and then figuring out, too, what I'm comfortable with not answering, just accepting that there is no good answer.
Ashley Opliger: [00:33:43] I don't know that anyone really does, truly-
Rachel Lewis: [00:33:46] Right. Right.
Ashley Opliger: [00:33:46] … because we're humans and we can't understand all of God's ways. His ways are higher than ours, and his thoughts are higher than ours. And there's just certain things about the Bible and about Heaven even that we can not know and we have to have faith in. But there's questions that are unanswered.
Like, for example, there's so much about Heaven in the Bible. And I really recommend Randy Alcorn's book Heaven. It's basically all of Scripture references into one book, and so I love that book.
But even though we know so much about Heaven, and to go back to your picture of your grandmother holding Olivia, one of the biggest misconceptions about Heaven is that it's this ethereal, very unfamiliar place where spirits are and there's nothing that seems like home.
But if you read Randy Alcorn's book and you really dig into Scripture, eventually it's going to be this New Earth and it's going to be worldly and familiar and like home. God created our hearts to long for that, and so I think Heaven will be very homey.
But to go back to talking about doubts, even the disciples, the 12 people who saw Jesus in the flesh, and witnessed miracles, and walked with Him, even they had doubts. Some of them even denied Him because they're human. And that's because of sin and because of our own brokenness. And because of our limited understanding, it's so normal and okay to ask these questions.
And I love that you brought up Job and that you talked about some hidden things that you saw in that book, because one of the things that I found when I was studying Job that not many people realize, but he actually talks about stillbirth in Job.
Rachel Lewis: [00:35:31] Yeah, he does.
Ashley Opliger: [00:35:31] And so in chapter three, this is the chapter where he's lamenting his birth because he's gone through so much suffering, as you had already described.
He had lost his family and his home, and eventually had a disease all over his body and was just going through so much suffering. He was to the place where he was wishing that he was never born.
And if you go to verse 11, it says, “Why did I not perish at birth? Why did I not die as I came from the womb? Why were there knees to receive me and breasts that I should be nursed? For now, I would be lying down in peace. I would be asleep and at rest, Or why was I not hidden like a stillborn child, like an infant who never sees daylight?”
And when I read that, being a grieving mom, I was just shocked to see that reference and him talking about stillbirth back in those Biblical times. And essentially, I think what he was saying is just how broken this earth is and how much suffering he had gone through, that he wished he never had been born.
But it brings us back to what you said about your living daughter and how, because you've had all these years with her and you've been able to see how uniquely God created her and all of her interests and her personality and her quirks and all of those things, you can now think about your other babies that are in Heaven and all of the things that you're missing out on and that you're grieving because they would have had their own unique personality and their own interests.
And I think it brings that perspective back when you have living children, rainbow babies or children that were living before you had a loss. You have all those memories and milestones with them, and I think it's easier to compare and look at the baby that you lost and be like, “I am missing out on so much and I'm grieving.”
And just like you said, even with the hope of Heaven, you're still grieving those things. You still wish that you could have had a lifetime on earth and then gotten to spend eternity with them in Heaven, after living a lifetime on earth.
And I think that's the difference of, it says we grieve with hope; even with hope we still grieve. And that part is not lost on us, even as Christians.
Ashley Opliger: [00:37:33] We hope you are enjoying this episode so far. We wanted to take a quick break to tell you about some other hope-filled resources our ministry provides to grieving families.
On our website, bridgetscradles.com, you can find many resources on grieving and healing including memorial ideas, quotes & Scripture, blog articles, featured stories, recommended books, and other support organizations. We share ideas on how to navigate difficult days such as due dates, Heaven Days, and holidays. We also have a page with ideas on how to care for a friend or family member who has experienced pregnancy loss.
In addition, every month I lead free Christ-centered support groups for bereaved moms called Hope Gatherings, both in-person and online. You can find a list of upcoming dates and sign up for our next support group on our website. You can also join our private Cradled in Hope Facebook group for grieving moms to find friendship and support. We would be honored to hear your baby’s story and be praying for you by name.
Lastly, our Pinterest page has beautiful graphics of quotes & Scripture from this episode, along with many other resources that you can pin and save. We would also love for you to connect with us on Facebook and Instagram. You can find us on these three pages: @bridgetscradles, @cradledinhope, and my personal page @ashleyopliger. We’d love for you to follow along and spread the word about the Cradled in Hope Podcast. Now let’s get back to our episode.
Ashley Opliger: [00:39:10] I would like for you to share a little bit more. We had talked about when our child dies, we're still parents and they're still our children. We’re temporarily separated from them until we are reunited with them in Heaven, but for the rest of our days on earth, we are going to be grieving and missing them. So can you talk about how a mother and a father can still parent a baby after death and create a legacy for their child?
Rachel Lewis: [00:39:35] Yes, absolutely. So even when I was referencing Job and I said he lost his role as father, that's not entirely true because he didn't really lose it. But society probably didn't recognize it.
And like you said though, we are still able to parent our child even though it looks so very different than what we ever hoped or what we ever wanted. In researching for my book I came across some research from somebody who studied grief, a doctor, Dennis Klass.
He was trying to understand why, when researching grief, parents of babies who have died, a very specific group, did not come to accept grief the way that, say, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross has come to define acceptance.
So it's almost like this group of bereaved parents of babies turned the idea of, “What does it look like to move forward with your grief,” turned that concept on its head. So Elisabeth Kübler-Ross is the one who, she came up with the five stages of grief. And she actually did that on dying people, not on people who are grieving, those who have died.
And so she had come to define acceptance in a certain way of the dying individual to accept that they were dying. And Dennis Klass, who was actually working with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, he was like, “Well actually, in studying this group of individuals, they're continuing their bonds. They've accepted that their child has died, but they aren't relinquishing the role of mother and father.”
And so I thought that was really interesting, because we don't sever the bonds with significant people and we don't have to sever the bonds in order to move forward with our grief, in order to heal within our grief.
And so this sparked this new grief theory called continuing bonds. And that's the idea that even if death has taken away the body of a person and the soul of a person and separated us physically, our role hasn't changed. Our role is still to be that baby's mother or that baby's father, and that we will always be that baby's mother and that baby's father.
Attachment theory teaches us that when we have that role, when we have that bond that we've created through pregnancy, and in some of the bonds we've even started creating before we even got pregnant with that baby, that attachment theory teaches us that we try to stay close to the people that we are bonded to.
And death makes that pretty hard to stay close. Right? Because physically we can't reach out. But we can still continue to nurture our desire to stay connected with our baby as a way of continuing bonds.
And so this can look very personal. I mean, it can look very different, however feels right to you. But you can do this privately, within yourself or within your family.
Things that you can do to continue that bond and nurture that relationship would be to name your baby and continue to refer to them by name, to continue to keep some of your baby's things close by to hold onto those in remembrance, to write your baby letters, collecting a symbol or animal that you associate with your baby, creating a special place for their things or their ashes, wearing memorial jewelry, planting trees.
And so I have a list in my book of lots of different ideas and it’s certainly not comprehensive. And then also you can parent in community. You can invite your community to engage in your parenting, just like you would, if your child were living.
If your child were living, you'd probably invite them to your piano recital or to do their softball games. And similarly, when our babies have died, we can continue to invite our community, our loved ones, to honor and recognize that bond and our baby with us.
And so that can look like continuing to post on social media about our baby, if we want to, if that's something that we're comfortable with, holding a memorial service and inviting people to attend, sharing our stories, going on a remembrance walk and inviting our loved ones to come with us, inviting them to come to the grave or to celebrate their first birthday, leaving an empty chair at the holiday meal table, or lighting a candle during a holiday meal or a family meal. So these are just different ideas of ways that we can do it.
So when my husband and I went on a family trip, we went to Mount St. Helens, as I shared, I live in Washington state, but I didn't grow up here, and so learning about Mount St. Helens’ eruption was never part of my educational process. So I knew generally what happened, but I didn't know any of the specifics.
And so when we went to Mount St. Helens, I was first struck by the beauty, because we went to this lake that was nearby, and it was just pristine. The water was clear and beautiful. The whole sides of the lake were just ensconced in these lush, green mountains. And peeking out in the distance was Mount St. Helens right over the ridges of those mountains.
And it looked out of place, because it looks scarred and it looks brown and it bears the scars of this devastation that happened to it. But this area that's right next to it was just so beautiful. And then I got closer and I looked into the lake and I peered underneath it, and there was a graveyard of trees that had been stripped of their limbs from the eruption, covering the entire bottom of the lake.
And I went home and I was like, “I'm going to research a little bit more about this eruption.” I don't know why I was curious, but I just was. And so I learned that the eruption happened with this landslide that was the largest landslide ever in recorded history.
And that exposed the magma to atmospheric pressure, and it resulted in an explosion that was nine times the thermonuclear power of all of World War II, including the atomic bombs. So that is the power of the devastation of this eruption.
And that eruption landslide hit a lake that started a tsunami of water going down the mountain, and that actually permanently displaced the lake. It moved the entire location of Spirit Lake. And it actually started new lakes, which is the lake that I was walking around, started from that devastation.
And then mudslides, lava flow, and then at the end there was 150-feet-deep pile of rubble. And it was like, “What do we do with this? How do we even start?” The devastation was just so enormous.
And for me that felt like an adequate analogy of how I felt after loss, because I had this inciting event of losing Olivia and that just caused this eruption of grief that seemed to affect every facet of my life. Nothing was untouched.
In the actual eruption, it talks about the force of it literally just took the limbs right off the trees and then severed the roots. And so you just had these long cylinders of tree trunks without any branches or without any roots. And I felt like that.
I felt severed. I felt like the roots that helped me deep and made my life make sense I was suddenly just upended from, and I no longer had those roots. And I felt untethered, like I shared.
And so this devastation is terrible and it's tragic, and I felt the same in my life. There's just a pile of rubble around me of all of where my grief has touched, my postpartum depression that I experienced, and loss, and cumulative, recurrent loss.
And then I recognized that, “Okay, now we have to do something about this.”
Sarah Philpott, who is the author of Loved Baby, and I know you've had a previous podcast with her, she asks the question in her book, Loved Baby, that I just loved. And it was, “We have to turn the question from, ‘Why,’ to ‘What now?’”
And so I imagined, “What did the scientists do with this pile of rubble?”
I could just imagine them being like, “Okay, but now we have to do something and now we have to address this.” And what was really interesting is how Mount St. Helens and the area around it overcame this devastation over time was through, there's little plants that survived the devastation and they made their way up through the rubble and the ashes. And literally, it was the beauty from ashes; literally they were going up through the ashes.
And there were some fish that survived in the lakes, shockingly, and there was just a couple of species, and they were resilient, and they grew through the ashes. And that allowed other living creatures and other animals and flora and fauna to come and re-landscape the area and reinhabit it with life.
And the most interesting thing is that species that survived and paved the way for growth, they're called biological legacies. And I loved learning that because I felt like that is how we find beauty through the ashes is to have a legacy and to create a legacy.
And it doesn't answer the question, “Why?” So if I create something out of my love for my baby and out of my grief for my baby, something that was going to help someone else, like I blogged, I wrote a book, that kind of thing, those are my Olivia's legacies. But that doesn't answer the question of, “Why did she die?” But it does answer the question, “What now?”
And the other thing I loved about Mount St. Helen’s is that it gave me hope, because if a mountain could experience the world's largest landside, and such a huge explosion, and a tsunami, and floods, and mudslides, and pyroclastic flow, I mean, if it could survive that level of devastation and still be beautiful, couldn't I do the same?
Ashley Opliger: [00:49:50] That’s so beautiful. I love that analogy and for God to bring you there and just to witness really the beauty among ashes. And that's from a verse in Isaiah, and if it's okay, I'd like to read it.
So this is Isaiah 61:3, and it says, “To grant to those who mourn in Zion, to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit, that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.”
That's what I love about God. Whether it's a devastating volcano eruption, or whether it's the loss of our babies, He does bring about redemption and restoration and beauty from ashes.
Going back to the quote that you said, the “Why,” versus the “What now,” it doesn't give us entire peace about why this happened, because for me personally, from reading Scripture, I believe that the, “Why,” is that God didn't want this to happen, that this was a result of a brokenness and of sin and of death, that I don't believe that Bridget had to die because of all the purpose that was going to be coming from it, that God forced this upon her or something, made her die for this reason.
But we know that God can bring beauty from ashes and purpose out of pain and that He can turn around what the enemy meant for evil and use it for good.
And that's like what you're sharing is bringing about beauty, and good, and finding those next steps as part of our own healing, and showing the worthiness and the value of our baby's life, that even if they were here for only five weeks, that they were loved, that we have bonded with them, and that they're always going to be our babies, that we're always going to be their mom, and finding ways to honor them.
And I love that you have that list in your book. We also have memorial ideas on our website, but I love that you put tangible ideas in there for moms and daddies to find ways to honor their baby on earth and to keep that bond and that connection.
We've talked about your book Unexpecting. Would you share more about your book, why you wrote it, what it's about and who it's for?
Rachel Lewis: [00:51:56] Yes. So as I shared earlier, I had a miscarriage after my loss of Olivia, and that was my first time going through a miscarriage because my experience with Olivia was an ectopic pregnancy, and so that was a very different and dramatic loss.
And this miscarriage we caught because they were monitoring my blood work and my hormone levels. And so I learned that I was having a loss for sure from a nurse's call. And all she said was, “Your numbers are dropping. You're going to miscarry. Please call us and let us know if you bleed through more than one pad in an hour.”
And that was my instruction. And that was my care, I guess, of trying to figure out this miscarriage and what was that going to look like. And I had no idea because I hadn't walked this path before.
And so I was like, “Maybe if I walk, that will get things started.” I mean, I didn't want to miscarry, but then the idea of being pregnant, but not really being pregnant was awful, and so I wanted to get things going.
And so I told my husband, I said, “Let's just go to the mall and we'll walk. I mean, I know people say it starts labor. Maybe it'll start a miscarriage and at least help it.” And so I did that until I got tired of that.
So then we went to Barnes & Noble at the mall and my head was just obviously very focused on my loss and very focused on this miscarriage, and then also seriously wanting to know how I could prepare and what I could do.
And so when we went to Barnes & Noble, I was looking for a book that could tell me what to expect and how I could care for myself in the midst of this loss. And I found two books that day.
One of them, the title insinuated that I just could have not miscarried had I tried. Obviously, I did not read that book. I just wanted to throw it across the aisle, if I could. I think the kind was something like How Not to Miscarry.
And then the second book I found was Taking Charge of Your Fertility, and that is actually an excellent book. And I highly recommend it if you're wanting more information on fertility or infertility, but it didn't have much to do with loss. And also, I had already tried to take charge of my fertility and, obviously, where had that gotten me?
And so I just sat there at Barnes & Noble, and I was like, “I'm going to write that book someday. I am going to write the book that I need right now that can tell me what to expect from loss, from my body, from my heart, from my mind, from my soul.” And that was nine years ago, so very long time ago, and my book just came out in August.
But that is the heart of the book. It is: What can you expect? And how can you prepare? And how can you take care of yourself? And how can you take care of your loved ones? And how can you allow your loved ones to take care of you? And for all of these different aspects, not just your body and not just your soul, but the entirety of who you are and your life.
And so I walk you through loss, the effects of loss. And this is from anywhere from a chemical pregnancy to stillbirth or even an infant child. I tried very hard to make this accessible and helpful, no matter what stage your baby was when they died. So what are the immediate effects of loss? And so those first couple chapters are shorter, a little easier to read, a little less heavy, I guess, for that immediate effect of loss.
And then I talk about lament, so then I go deeper into what does it really mean to lament? What does this look like? And then love. How can you grieve within the context of community? And how can you allow your community to love you and serve you well?
And then last, legacy. So what does this loss look like moving forward and how can you take it with you, not leave it behind, but take it with you? And how does it affect your fertility, and your family planning choices, possibly even infertility or not parenting after the loss? What does it look like moving forward?
And I really felt like it was important that it didn't just reflect my story. There are pieces of my story in this book, but this book is not my story. I had a focus group of more than 150 bereaved parents, men and women, who contributed to see the book. And so you're going to see snippets of their story all throughout the text of, again, anywhere from chemical pregnancy to infant loss and literally everything in between.
So that is the heart of this book. When life doesn't make sense after loss, this book will.
Ashley Opliger: [00:56:24] Oh, that’s beautiful. And you also have a community for grieving moms called Brave Mamas. Would you mind sharing about that?
Rachel Lewis: [00:56:34] Yes. I started Brave Mamas, my support group for grieving moms, because I recognize this hole, this empty space where support wasn't happening.
And in the baby loss community, we like to label ourselves and put ourselves into different categories. Like, “I'm a miscarriage mom,” or “I'm stillbirth mom,” or, “I’m an infant loss mom.” And oftentimes we connect just based on those things.
And so for me, my experience was that I was a loss mom, so I was part of a loss support group, but then I wasn't supposed to talk about being pregnant again. So you're supposed to go to another group if you want to talk about pregnancy after loss.
But then I kept going back to the loss group because I kept having losses. And I was watching all of these other people that I had made connections with move on to different groups, like parenting after loss. You know what I'm saying?
And so I was losing my community because I was just stuck in this, like I'm still just a loss mom at this point. And I was like, “There needs to be some sort of space where we can all gather together no matter what our loss is, embrace the fact that there's more that we have in common than what we don't, and that we can embrace the fact that our loss is going to be a part of us moving forward.
And there's going to be different parts of that for all of us. So for some of us, that's going to look like pregnancy after loss and parenting after loss, and for some of us it doesn't. And so this group is really for any woman who is grieving a child in any capacity.
So that could be from infertility to losing or reunifying a foster child to having an adoption fall through to giving up or needing to relinquish a child as a biological parent to having an infant loss to having a child loss who is an adult.
So we have this amazing group of women that are so encouraging, and so loving, and so supportive, and we come from all walks of life. And this is not to say that this group is going to appeal to everybody. For some people, they really need to be able to just focus on one aspect of their experience and they need to not be triggered by talk of living children.
So there is a place for all of that, but I just recognize there's a place, too, where as grieving mothers we can come around each other, and support each other, even if our losses look different and our lives look different.
Ashley Opliger: [00:59:04] And so is that how listeners can get connected to you?
Rachel Lewis: [00:59:07] Yes. They can read more on my blog, which is 10 years old now. I started it directly after the loss of Olivia and that's at thelewisnote.com. And you can also get more resources from my book, including you can read the introduction and the first chapter of my book, Unexpecting, at my website, unexpectingbook.com.
I also have a free bonus chapter that you can get immediately on the website, and that chapter is How to Support a Loved One Through Baby Loss. And so I highly recommend this chapter for you as a baby loss parent to get and send to your friends and family, and say, “Here is a primer on how you can support me.” And you can even highlight the parts that you felt would be really helpful for you as an individual or point those out to your loved ones.
But anyway, my book is really addressing bereaved parents, and this bonus chapter is really addressing your support group to help them support you. So you can get that at unexpectingbook.com and then you can find me on Facebook or on Brave Mamas. And then you can also find me on Instagram @rachel.thelewisnote.
Ashley Opliger: [01:00:23] Wonderful. And you are generously giving away two copies of your book. We will post the details of that giveaway on our Facebook and Instagram. So be sure to be following us so you can get those details. Thank you so much, Rachel, for being on today and for sharing your story.
Rachel Lewis: [01:00:40] Thank you so much for having me. I really enjoyed being able to share today.
Ashley Opliger: [01:00:44] Thank you for listening to the Cradled in Hope Podcast. We pray that you found hope & healing in today’s message. Don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss a future episode. New episodes will be shared on the 1st and 15th of every month. You can also find this episode’s show notes and a full transcript on our website at bridgetscradles.com/podcast.
There you can download a free PDF for each episode, called the Hope Guide, that is filled with notes, Scripture, links, discussion questions, and so much more. Be sure to leave your email address so that we can keep you updated on podcast episodes, upcoming support groups, and other hope-filled resources.
If you’re interested in volunteering or donating to Bridget’s Cradles in memory of a baby in Heaven, you can find information on our website on how you can get involved and spread hope to other grieving families.
One way you can spread hope is by leaving a review of this podcast on iTunes [or Apple Podcasts app]. Consider the two minutes of your time as a way YOU can personally share this hope with a mom whose heart is broken and needs healing. Thank you so much for listening and sharing. Until next time, we will be praying for you. And remember, as Jesus cradles our babies in Heaven, He cradles us in hope. Though we may grieve, we do not grieve without hope.
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