Monday, 13 March 2023 12:49

Miscarriage stories show pain of grief, faith in healing

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2022 19The sonogram for baby Noelle Williams, who was miscarried in February 2022.By  DIANE SCHLINDWEIN
Managing Editor 

“A mother is never defined by the number of children you can see, but by the love she holds in her heart,” says grief author Franchesca Cox. No doubt, that’s how countless women feel after having suffered a miscarriage. 

Marie Fleck and her daughter Sarah Williams are two of those women. It has been about 25 years since  Marie and Greg Fleck, who are members of Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception Parish in Springfield, lost two babies in subsequent miscarriages. Fleck, who says she is the mother of seven — two in Heaven, was naturally devastated by those losses. After decades, she grieves those children, still. 

“I never told anyone at the time, other than my husband and my three older daughters. I didn’t quite know how to deal with those feelings, so instead of confronting them and allowing myself to grieve, I buried them. I just pushed the hurt down deep, thinking time will heal those memories.”

Marie and Greg later went on to have another daughter and a son. Fleck says that last born daughter had an important lesson to teach her. When she was about 12 years old, Emily Fleck overheard her parents talking about their miscarriages. “She came back later and said to me, ‘Mom even though you didn’t give birth to those babies, they are still your children and should have names. She decided to name them Matthew and Katharine and I gave them the names James and Therese, after the saints. What Emily did for me that day was the one thing I really needed to bring some sense of healing from my losses. I vowed that I would never forget my children again.” 

Because of her own experiences with loss, Fleck fully understood her second-oldest daughter’s pain, when Williams began having miscarriages. Williams and her husband, Joseph, have lost six children to miscarriages, including a set of identical twins. They have four living children, Clara (9), Grace (8), Nathanael (4), and Timothy (2). The also named their lost children: James, Philip, Francis, Gideon, Sophia, and Noelle. 

“It helped that she had walked the road I was traveling, that she had experienced the same kind of pain,” Williams said. “I didn’t try to make her understand what I was going through — she already knew. She has been a wonderful emotional support to me through the loss of my six children, and my parents have both acknowledged and validated the lives of all of my unborn children.”

SarahJoseph Wedding 252On her wedding day, Sarah (Fleck) Williams is shown with her mother, Marie Fleck. Williams says her mother has been one of her main supporters when she has suffered miscarriages, and has rejoiced with her when she has given birth to healthy babies. Williams remembers what it was like having her first miscarriage. “When I miscarried our first baby, James, in the fall of 2016, I was completely devastated. It was rather traumatic, and I ended up with a hospitalization and a blood transfusion,” she said. 

Fleck says she continued her own grieving process when her daughter lost baby James. “I found myself with Sarah, who was expecting her third child. She was having her 12-week pre-natal checkup and I was coming down to be with her. I remember being so excited to see this little one on the ultrasound and to hear the heartbeat,” Fleck says. “But when I got to the doctor’s office the nurse pulled me aside before I went into the room and said, ‘Don’t go in there.’ When I asked why she said, ‘We can’t find a heartbeat.’ What started out as a joyous event, soon turned out to be one of sadness and confusion.” 

When Williams decided to go home and wait out the birth of her lost baby, Fleck went with her. “She waited two days and then it happened. On Nov. 16, 2016, my little grandson entered the world, but not as we had hoped,” Fleck said. “As a mother, I felt totally helpless. To have your child ask you why God took her baby was a question I had to wrestle with. I silently prayed to God to give me the words  that would, hopefully, bring some comfort to my daughter.” 

Fleck was torn apart emotionally as she held her weeping daughter, who in turn held her own lifeless baby in the palm of her hand. “I began to tell her I really didn’t know why God took her baby home. I simply said to her that God’s ways are not our ways. Those babies are His children before they are ours.” 

Fleck told her daughter that she did know it was OK to cry out to God and ask why. “Even Jesus cried out, while hanging on the cross, to His Father, saying, ‘My God, My God, Why hast thou forsaken me?’ When Sarah placed my little grandson in my hand, he fit perfectly into my palm. I sat there in awe of this beautiful little infant and remember counting 10 fingers and 10 toes,” she said. “He was perfect and even had his eyes open, facing toward his mother.”

When Williams asked her mother to baptize the tiny baby boy — because of the emergency situation —Fleck baptized him with the name James Raphael, the name his mother had chosen . “Little did I know until later, that the name Raphael means ‘God’s healer.’ My  little grandson was the healing balm that I desperately needed. After doing this, I told my daughter that it was not a coincidence that I was here, but that I was supposed to be here. 

“That was part of my healing process. God allowed me to see my pre-born grandson at 12 weeks in order for me to come face to face with my losses. He wanted to remind me that my children, whom I had lost so long ago, were not forgotten. … I may not have been able to see them and hold them, or to hear their first cries, but God gave me the privilege to hold my grandson and wanted me to never forget the children I held in my womb so long ago.” 

After losing baby James, Williams said she experienced extreme anxiety and “couldn’t fathom being pregnant again.” “However, my husband and I both knew we desired to have more than two children, and I eventually got up the courage to try again and to let the Lord work. We were able to have our two boys (Nathaniel and Timothy) interspersed between our losses, which was a wonderful blessing, but after losing six babies in a span of six years (2016-2022), I was so broken.” 

Family editedIn a picture taken when the children were a little smaller, the Williams family poses for a photo. Shown from left to right are Joseph holding Nathanael, Sarah holding Timothy, and their daughters Grace and Clara. Williams says she spent 2022 (after the loss of her last child, Noelle, in February 2022) trying to process her grief. She attended two healing retreats — one at Our Sorrowful Mother’s Ministry in Vandalia and one at Catholic grief ministry for parents of child loss, Red Bird Ministries in Louisiana. “The Lord and His Blessed Mother have been so good to accompany me through this vale of tears. It has definitely tested and tried my faith, but I am a better mother and a better person for having birthed all my children and my faith would not be what it is today if I had not experienced such acute suffering.” 

Williams thinks it is important that siblings know about lost babies, even if they are very young.  “Our children know about their heavenly brothers and sisters, and we say their names at the end of every family rosary and ask for their intercession,” she says. “It has given my children a much deeper awareness of the communion of saints and where our true home lies. At times my eldest daughter has happily exclaimed, ‘I am the oldest of 10 children!’” 

Williams, who along with her family belongs to St. Agnes Parish in Hillsboro, has advice for people who have a family member or friend who has had a miscarriage. She says that how people react to a pregnancy loss can make a world of difference to grieving parents. “Be gentle, and do not assume that if the parent has other children, this lessens the degree of their loss. A child is a unique and unrepeatable person who can never be replicated,” she said. “Miscarriage is child loss — no matter if the mother was 5 weeks along, or 25 weeks along, she feels the same pain. Be supportive and loving, ask if there is anything you can do to help, and offer a listening ear if they want to talk about it.

“Allow them space and time to grieve, and recognize the life of their child by sending a sympathy card or a small remembrance gift,” she said. “There is nothing more special to parents of loss than someone who validates the life of their child and acknowledges that child by name.” 

 OB/GYN answers questions about miscarriage/advice for women

Dr. Ann Church, a long-time NFP (Natural Family Planning) only obstetrician/gynecologist who is also trained in NaProTECHNOLOGY (Natural Procreative Technology) and who is based in Galesburg, feels it is important for all people to understand the frequency of miscarriage, but also the devastation when a woman miscarries a child.   Managing Editor Diane Schlindwein interviewed Dr. Church to get answers about miscarriage and advice for women.

What can you tell us about miscarriage?

Miscarriage, or the loss of pregnancy before 20 weeks gestation, is fairly common, occurring in one of every five to six pregnancies. Most miscarriages occur in the first trimester. Knowing that they are common does not make the loss any easier. Emotional and spiritual support, in addition to medical care, are essential to help women and their families heal after a miscarriage. Sharing the grief of the miscarriage with supportive family members and friends is very important. Many clergy will offer prayers and memorial services for the child. Some organizations will provide burial locations, but this varies widely from place to place. 

What are the main causes of miscarriage?

In the majority of cases, the cause of the miscarriage is not known. We believe that many are due to genetic or chromosomal abnormalities that occur randomly as the new embryo develops, but not specifically inherited from its parents. 

There are a few conditions that may increase the risks of having a miscarriage. These include, but are not limited to: increased maternal age (more than 35 years); underlying health conditions such as poorly controlled diabetes or lupus; hormone related conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome or abnormal thyroid disorders; some autoimmune or antibody producing conditions; certain infections, especially those that lead to a high fever early in the pregnancy; structural problems with the uterus or cervix such as fibroids that distort the uterine cavity or a weak (incompetent) cervix; and abnormal weight (very underweight or very overweight). 

If a woman miscarries, what is the chance that she will have another miscarriage?

Fortunately, the chances of having a successful pregnancy after a miscarriage is 85 to 90 percent. If you have two miscarriages, the chances are still 75 percent the next pregnancy will come to fruition. If a woman has three or more miscarriages, there is recommended testing that can be offered. 

What is your advice to a woman who had a miscarriage if she wants to have another child?

It is common for women who have had miscarriages in the past to be anxious about future pregnancies. Again, most women will do well in future pregnancies. We recommend a healthy diet and exercise and getting plenty of rest. Avoid smoking and recreational drug use. If the patient has any underlying health concerns, these should be managed prior to conception. Doctors who have an interest in fertility care-based medicine will offer progesterone monitoring and support to help keep the pregnancy going. 

Dr. Ann Church practices with OSF Healthcare in Galesburg.  She has also practiced in South Dakota, New Mexico, and spent a year in New Zealand. In addition to being a NFP only obstetrician/gynecologist Dr. Church is also trained in NaProTECHNOLOGY (Natural Procreative Technology) which aims to discover and treat the root causes of infertility and other reproductive system issues. She and her husband, Todd, who is a Catholic deacon, have two grown sons, a daughter-in-law, and a 2-year-old granddaughter.