Abortion, Death, And A Call To Love

“Paula” was raised in a conservative church. When she wound up pregnant out of wedlock, fear of judgment from the church drove her to a dark secret place where her baby was killed and discarded as medical waste. Paula is a Christian and can share the love of God with everyone else, but struggles to forgive herself.

“Betty” was raised in a prestigious home, so becoming pregnant as a teenager was a “stain” on the family’s image. Her parents forced her to have an abortion. Betty is now a Christian and can share the love of God with everyone else, but struggles to forgive herself.

“Carly” became pregnant after being raped by a trusted family member. Her parents forced her to have an abortion. They were leaders in their faith community and regardless of how the pregnancy came to be, a pregnant teenager would not reflect well on their image. After turning to substance abuse and years of shame, Carly is now clean, makes a daily choice to forgive herself, and works to help others heal from trauma.

“Barbara” was surprised to find out she was pregnant. Although she was married, they hadn’t necessarily planned on having more children. She’d had several miscarriages early on, a stillbirth, and a preemie. When she went to the doctor for her first prenatal appointment he said, “You don’t have to go through with this you know.” She refused to see that doctor again and delivered another preemie, who today is a thriving beautiful child.

“Joy” had a miscarriage at six weeks pregnant. She grieved her baby’s death as deeply as I’ve ever seen anyone grieve their child. Her doctor said miscarriages happen all the time and made her feel like her grief wasn’t vaild. Her family and friends struggled to relate to the depth of her loss.

“Tara” called me when she had her first miscarriage, unable to flush the obvious baby who was unrecognized by the medical community as a “life” so therefore didn’t have the right to ritual and burial. Together we were able to secure a proper resting place for the baby she loved deeply. She had several more miscarriages to follow before going on to have surviving children. With each loss, the pain and bitterness and anger grew because so few people recognized her losses as real babies.

“Tammy” was told her baby had a lethal diagnosis and would never survive outside of the womb. Even while desparately wanting her baby, she chose to terminate. She carries her baby’s memory and the “what ifs” with her every day.

“Sue’s” baby was terminally diagnosed during pregnancy, but she chose to continue to carry. While her child has special needs and life hasn’t been easy for them, this beautiful soul is now a young adult and has taught all of us much more about the meaing of life than any formal education ever could.

And during a stillbirth I attended, I tapped out the following message on my phone to ask a few friends for prayer.

“It is sacred and peaceful in this space now. After the initial shock of the silent ultrasound machine, the doctors saying there’s no heartbeat, and as compassionately and matter-of-factly as possible, plans made to induce labor at just less than 5 months pregnant.

We’ve sat through hours of intake process at the hospital, nurses coming and going, the IV specialist searching for a suitable vein. There was even another ultrasound just to be sure…

No silence screams louder than a quiet monitor from that big machine that confirms for us hope and life or stillness and death.

Now, now we are waiting for the doctor to induce her, but in this space, husband and wife have both moved beyond exhaustion and surrendered to some moments of sleep. My heart breaks, hurts so deeply for their pain, for the unanswered questions, for the ways they feel abandoned by God.

Lines from a favorite song keep replaying in my mind. “One day soon we’ll see his face. And every tear he’ll wipe away. No more pain and suffering. Oh praise him for the mercy tree. Death has died, love has won. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Jesus Christ has overcome. He has risen from the dead.”

But here, there are tears. Lots of tears. Suffering beyond the ability to articulate. Words seem wasted trying to describe the intensity of the pain. There is fear. Fear of physical pain and knowing that after the physical pain is the most intense heart pain. To know this physical pain when there is hope for new life makes everything bearable. To know this physical pain will just bring you closer to the reality of death, for that, there are no words.

There is anger. Anger that this dream would “dangle in front of them” just to be jerked away. Anger for bodies that seem to fail us. Anger that a God who is good and for whom nothing is impossible still allowed death to call once more.

These emotions are normal. They are a part of the questions and grief. Yet God is still good. He is the bestower of peace and comfort in the midst of our hardest hard. He is the kind and gentle Shepherd, loving in spite of questions, fear, anger, and pain. 

The hardest pain is yet to come. The pain of delivery and the anguish of a quiet birthing room. The physical pain of empty arms that hang heavy by your side when every part of your body is reminding you that your arms should be cradling hope, new life, joy.

We need your prayers. We need your petitions that God would be our very present help in this time of trouble. May the presence of Jesus, the risen Christ, be with us in this time. While for us, death still holds a sting, may we cling to the hope of the Mercy Tree where death has died and LOVE has won. May we hold with a steadfast hope, the promise that our present suffering cannot be compared to the eternal glory that awaits us. Amen.”

These are all women I know personally. Theirs and many other personal stories I could share about abortion, pregnancy loss, family and community reactions, society’s view of the unborn and the challenges that creates for those grieving pregnancy and early infant loss.

Our own firstborn daughter was a dwarf, a “little person.” During our appointments with the prenatal specialists they offered to “terminate” the pregnancy even though there was no indication that her diagnosis was lethal and there was never any concern that hers or my life was in danger. My husband and I could not even entertain the thought of intentionally ending the life of our baby that had such a vibrant personailty in my womb. She died nearly seventeen hours after birth, but I wouldn’t trade those precious hours for anything. Ever.

Years earlier though, I was in a toxic relationship and thought I was pregnant. (Turned out I wasn’t.) While I had always wanted children, I was ashamed, horrified, and surprised at how quickly the thought of abortion entered my mind out of fear for myself, the baby, and judgement from family and church. I didn’t have to wrestle further, because I wasn’t pregnant, but it humbled me to think of the women who truly face that situation.

With New York’s newest laws passed and a bill introduced and tabled in my own state regarding third trimester abortion, these conversations have become front and center on social media, in our homes, Bible studies, and especially among our child-loss support group.

There is no question internally where I stand on the issue of sanctity of life for the unborn, but my heart simultaneously hurts for those who already live in judgement and regret. While there might certainly be those who’ve chosen abortion without carrying their judgment, I don’t personally know one single woman whose post-abortive regret and sorrow hasn’t consumed her in one way or another. As the church, we must provide space for these women, and men, to grieve, to talk, to call on the grace of our Savior whose kindness leads us to repentance and healing. (Romans 2:4)

As righteous indignation rises up in me regarding these bills, I have been repeatedly challenged by the apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13.

As radical as it sounds, I keep thinking, “If I post my oppositon to this legistalture with memes and Scripture, but have not love, I am nothing. If I protest at the local, state, and national level, but have not love, I am nothing. Even if I gave my own body for the sake of the unborn for which I profoundly and fundamentally believe are sacred and worthy of that level of my commitment, but have not love, I have gained nothing.”

Love doesn’t mean inaction. Love doesn’t mean silence. Love doesn’t mean not standing up for the most vulnerable among us. But Love does call us to operate in a spirit of love. 

Colossians 4:2-6 says to pray steadfastly, that God may open the door for us to declare the mysteries of Christ, to walk in wisdom toward those who do not believe. That our speech be gracious so that we might know how to answer everyone. (Paraphrased.)

It is from this perspective that I prayerfully measure my words toward all. What if I could sit with those who propose and support these bills I oppose? Would they hear me as a individual, or chalk me up as one more obscure number to defeat? What approach might help them listen? I will call. I will advocate. But I will also offer the invitation for conversation, praying that God might open a door for me to share the mysteries (and love) of Christ. Because only when hearts are opened to the Truth, can lasting change occur.

Lovingly signed, a mother of four including one in heaven and one by adoption.

*Names have been changed to protect the identities of the individuals. 

 

 

 

 

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Grief: misunderstanding to compassion

When I first witnessed her grief, I felt pity. In my youth and naivety, I somehow thought I could pray her grief away. How pious. How wrong. How antipathetic.

Several times a day she paced back and forth on the concrete basketball court beating her chest, raising her arms, rocking back and forth, wailing for her child.

She didn’t speak English, and her family shared with me that ever since her child died and they had come to the United States, it was if she had locked herself inside. She anguished daily for her child she left behind.

When I first witnessed her grief, I felt pity. In my youth and naivety, I somehow thought I could pray her grief away. How pious. How wrong. How antipathetic.

Today, on the eleventh birthday of my own deceased daughter, I anguished in a fetal position on our front porch couch, unaware and uncaring of witnessing neighbors or passers-by. My new normal has slowly evolved around this pint-sized hole in my heart and while my life is filled with tremendous joy, the ache of her absence is ever-present. Among the many things I’ve learned over the years, is that grief is lonely, even when surrounded by an entire community of love and support.

I weary of explaining to the “young mes” out there, that the Eternal Hope that carries me doesn’t mean I don’t miss her. I pray to not be deeply hurt when the “former Reginas” mistake my life-long loving and missing her as being ungrateful for our other children. I feel judgement from the “pious Reginas” when I succumb to anxiety regarding the health and well-being of our surviving children, especially given our family’s past year’s health situations. And today, I sit on our porch, tears falling like the summer rain dripping off our rooftops, and I remember the bereaved mother to whom I could not relate those many years ago.

If I could go back to this sweet grieving mama, I wouldn’t feel as though we needed to speak the same language verbally, I would wrap my arms around her grief-weary shoulders and cry with her. I would understand that I couldn’t fix it for her, but that I could walk alongside her without my ridiculous ideologies of what it means to parent a deceased child. Instead of trying to pray her grief away, I would pray that she would somehow sense God’s comfort and presence in her grief. Instead of coming to her with tired cliches and empty platitudes, I would tell her that I didn’t know what to say, then I would sit with her in weeping and wailing, in anger, in silence, in laughter, and without judgement.

I’m so grateful for the compassionate people who do the same for me, of which there are many.

P.S. Writing this out helped me gather myself together on this day of remembering. As I hammered out the words on my mobile blogging app, our 6-year-old daughter, whose own health has kept my heart anxious, came out from the screen door with a coffee mug and said, “Mama, I made you some lemonade. I thought you could use something to make you happy.” She wrapped her skinny little arms around my neck and held me as I feel apart. Again.

Broken Mirrors

I was going through an old binder of original and cover songs when I played and sang with friends on a regular basis. I found this song I wrote in 2005. In some ways it feels more relevant today than it did twelve years ago. I don’t have all the answers, and the song isn’t “all that,” but it did make me pause again to think about how I view myself and others.

Broken Mirrors

By Regina Cyzick Harlow

2005

We must be lookin through broken mirrors

Pointing our fingers and casting our stones

The tainted images need to be clearer

The weakness we recognize must be our own

We often point out the sin in each other

Walking on waters of self-righteousness

Piously judging our sisters and brothers

Blindly refusing the truth within us

We square our shoulders and mask our faces

Shaming each other for personal gain

When truth be told and we’re put together

No one is better, we’re all the same

We must be lookin through broken mirrors

Pointing our fingers and casting our stones

The tainted images need to be clearer

The weakness we recognize must be our own

Love is kind and forgiving and patient

Does not boast, keeps no record of wrongs

And if we really want changes in this world

Loving each other will make our hearts strong

We can’t keep looking through broken mirrors

Pointing our fingers and casting our stones

The tainted image is now getting clearer

The weakness we recognize there is our own

Dog Therapy

These two make my world a much happier place. I need happy right now and thought maybe you could use some too.

Yo. That’s good stuff!

What? You’re taking pictures of this?!

Sheesh Mom, stop embarrassing me with all the photos.

Would y’all stop the shenanigans? I’m trying to sleep over here!

Oh shucks! Now she’s taking my picture too!

Hrrrumph….

When love and pain get physical 

I’ve started this post a hundred times and simply couldn’t get it out. It feels so vulnerable, but for others who need to learn these same lessons, I must share. 

My husband, our children, and my mission through the Sadie Rose Foundation are, without a doubt, the things I love most in life, secondary only to my love for God. Who knew my deep and unwavering love for them could cause physical pain?



The past few years have wreaked havoc on my health and after many tests, the underlying “diagnosis” was a real wake-up call. Nearly two years ago, I “lost” my voice and was diagnosed with a hemorrhagic nodule on my left vocal chord. I use my voice in many ways, including singing, public speaking, conducting meetings, conversation, and of course, “mommy voice,” so this was a big deal to me. 

My Ear, Nose, Throat specialist prescribed, even ordered, silence in order for the nodule to heal. With the addition of a foster placement during that time, and our family’s entire routine upended, the children needed mommy’s reassurance and stability more than ever. No talking and only whispering when words were absolutely necessary seemed an impossibility, but I took the orders very seriously. Nearly a year later my voice returned to its normal strength and range. 

That experience was my first indication that my body was trying to tell me something. 

This spring I began having pain in my left side and my right foot. After nearly two months, I went to the doctor. The nurse practitioner believed the pain to be muscular. I was also diagnosed with a common infection that cleared quickly with antibiotics, but the underlying pain persisted. 

Another visit to the doctor led them to believe I should have more tests, just to “rule out scary stuff.” In the meantime the pain became unbearable and warranted a trip to the ED. A CT scan showed a few areas of possible concern and I tested positive for strep. 

(A few weeks earlier I had a trip to the ED for a trout bone that had lodged in my throat.) 

In the meantime, I did all I could to keep up with my family, our non-profit, my church responsibilities, and helping care for a beloved family member.   

At some point I realized I had nothing left to give. I drove into the church parking lot for a meeting and the gas light in my vehicle came on. I realized at that moment that the gas light in my life was glaring at me. I was “on empty,” and without refueling, I could not continue. 

Tests were coming back normal and negative, which was great except that I needed answers. I set up a counseling appointment (my first ever) and began seeing a chiropractor. I started noticing improvement with my first visits to both. I have known for a long time that I needed to find a way to release the pain, grief, and concern I carry for others, but I didn’t realize that not doing so could ruin me. 

Where there is love, there is vulnerability to pain. Laura Ramirez

I had dubbed myself “a sacred painholder” somewhere in my journey of walking with those grieving the death of a child, but I needed to learn how to be a “pain-releaser.” Connecting with new families for me always means that their miracle never came, there was no happy ending, it means that a child has died

This is heavy stuff. I held their pain so closely, it became my own. I was imposing my anxieties on my family, frightened with every small pain or problem that they were going to die too, because “I knew someone who…” Besides the weight of grief growing ever-heavier, my daily life became ever-busier. I had over-extended every area of my life, and my body started paying the price. 

My Psoas muscle (termed by some as the “muscle of your soul,”) was the cause of the pain in my side and my other complications seemed to stem from that. Some would say the Psoas muscle is where we hold stress, tension, and anxiety, and I was holding plenty of all three. 

As of several weeks ago, the last remaining tests came back clear, I’m seeing significant improvement from counseling and chiropractic care, I’m deliberately saying “no” to many good opportunities so I can savor the most precious ones more fully, and I am returning to hobbies I have loved in the past and trying something totally new. 

Ballistics and Ballet

One of my favorite hobbies and stress relievers years ago was target and skeet shooting. My husband and I have bonded more in returning to that hobby then I could have dreamed. I also signed up for an adult ballet class! That stretches me (literally and figuratively) far out of my comfort zone, but it is helping me rebuild my core strength and is forcing me to confront a myriad of insecurities. 


I’m taking time out and time off from many “extracurricular things” to return to the those that refuel me. I am purposefully praying for myself, something I do well for others but have neglected on my own behalf. I am finding refuge and peace in the constant relentless love of God and in these words from His Word.  

Psalm 139:7-10 7 Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, Even there Your hand shall lead me, And Your right hand shall hold me.

Philippians 4:6-7 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.  Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

Matthew 11:28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 

Of Compassion and Dance Parties

I couldn’t hold back the tears this evening while I stood over the kitchen stove preparing supper, feeling the weight of multiple burdens. Eli (5) and Elsie (2) were playing with play dough at the kitchen table. I tried to conceal the tears, but they are both very intuitive and within seconds Elsie was tugging on my leg saying, “I want to snuggle with you, mom.”

They were concerned, but I didn’t want to interrupt their fun innocent play with adult troubles. I wrestled with how to respond. We have prayed together as a family for the past two weeks for a young man named Marco Kauffman. Our family did not know him personally, but were moved by his story. He died today, leaving behind a young pregnant wife and a family and community who loved him dearly. I explained to the children that Marco died and that my tears were not for me, but Marco’s family and friends grieving this loss.

There are other burdens that have taken up residence in my heart, but I only shared this one with the children. Elsie wanted to pray for Marco again, so we did. Then she cupped my face in her hands and looked into my eyes and said, “I love you mommy.” Meanwhile, Eli set the play dough aside and drew a picture.

Image

He brought the picture over to me and said, “Mommy, when I die, I want to take this picture to heaven with me to show God and Jesus.”

Of course that comment alone increased my tear-flow considerably. He said the people in the picture are God and Mary and then baby Jesus in the middle. There is a donkey and a star that guided them. The hearts represent God’s big love for us.

The compassion from our children made for beautiful and tender moments. Soon Eli returned to the play dough and started making these.

Image

I thought they were “sandwiches” like he had made earlier in the day, but he lined them all up and said, “Mommy, I made some candles for you.” (Insert Mommy sobbing!) He knows that I light candles almost daily for remembrances, for reminders, for reflection, and just because I love light.

It is hard to explain to a child that you are crying because you are sad for others. All they knew was that mommy was crying. They both responded with beautiful sincere compassion and were completely at ease with my tears. I was reminded of the Scripture in Matthew 9:36 where Jesus was “moved with compassion.”

Soon after Eli brought the “candles” over, I regained composure and suggested we have a dance party to celebrate those things that we feel joyful about. I wanted them to know that even when we are sad, we can celebrate love and experience joy. I cranked up the music from my Pandora station and we danced until we fell over laughing.

That intentional act of praise filled our hearts with joy and poured back into our cups what had been emptied by sadness and worry.

While I treasure all the time I have with our children this was a rare and beautiful evening, one that I will cherish for the rest of my life. I pray that our children will always be moved with compassion and spontaneous dance parties.