You’re young. You can try again,” the phlebotomist says as he sticks a needle in my arm. He’s drawing blood for tests that will confirm what ultrasounds are already saying: I am miscarrying. I recognize the young man’s attempt to offer comfort and receive it as such. What I do not say is, It’s not that I just want a baby.

Before this third pregnancy, I’d told my husband I was done. Any additional members added to our family of four would not be coming from my body. So it is with two young children at home and in the middle of waiting for our first foster care placement that we find out we are pregnant again.

My body tells me early on that I am mothering my third child, affirming in intimate ways the hidden presence of the little one being formed in my womb. The all-day queasiness of “morning” sickness. The fatigue. The slow tightening of pants around my waistline. In these ways, in the giving of myself, I am getting to know this baby just as I did his or her older sisters.

When I begin spotting and having cramps, I get to know—to love—this baby another way, through anguished pleading with God. I’d prayed similar prayers once before. That time, a doctor’s “I don’t see a heartbeat …” was followed by the relief of seeing the tiny, flickering heart of my now 10-year-old. This time, there is no flicker.

The heaviness settling deep in me is not because I want a baby. I want this baby, my baby. I want my child to live.

My baby dies in my womb early in my first trimester, and I am unprepared for the grief that rocks me. I am also unprepared for the ways I will struggle to feel that this grief is permissible, even as sobs seize my body unexpectedly throughout the day, even as a mild depression settles in for months, even despite the news that I am pregnant again.

Eventually, I’ll come to find this is common, that those who miscarry often seek permission to grieve. Although 10–20 percent of all known pregnancies end in miscarriage, it can feel like an “invisible” loss, often occurring before family and friends even know about the pregnancy. Medical trauma, involuntary childlessness, societal stigma, and guilt or self-blame can converge to make this suffering complicated.

But there’s something else that can make grieving hard—and that’s wondering whether or not our heartache is justified; about what, or more precisely, who we’re grieving.

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In the weeks following my miscarriage, I feel a dissonance. Even as I mourn, a part of me casts suspicion on my sadness. My pain tells me that I have indeed lost a child. But is that really true?

A few things contribute to this question. I’ve been influenced more than I realize by the cultural milieu, which frames any affirmation of the personhood of unborn babies as ignorant at best and harmful to women at worst. Given how common miscarriage is, some argue, it’s absurd to believe each loss is the death of a person. Someone once casually remarked to me that she didn’t believe heaven would be filled with fetuses.

I’ve also spent my life in Asian American churches and ministries, where topics like sex, abortion, and miscarriage are rarely explicitly addressed. Outside of church, most of the arguments I’d seen from the pro-life movement appealed to later stages of fetal development. But my baby never looked like the ones pictured on posters at rallies and, to my knowledge, he or she never had a heartbeat.

Is it appropriate for me, then, to grieve the death of a baby who I have only known in positive pregnancy tests and nausea and a slightly swelling belly?

Some would argue that it doesn’t matter whether my baby was a person with a soul. They’d reassure me that it’s ultimately my “conception of the pregnancy” and personal attachment to the fetus that matters, not any objective claim about fetal value. But for me, there is no escaping the question of personhood. The claim and comfort of my faith is far more wide-reaching than subjective experience and emotional relief.

The Christian hope is based on the person of Christ, broken not in my imagination but truly, bodily, for me. Jesus’ heart really did begin to beat again in that tomb on the third day, so our bodies really will be raised imperishable on the last (1 Cor. 15:51–54). Christianity acknowledges that one implication of paradise lost is the physical reality of death reaching inside me, so that I know it in cramps and bleeding and cries of “My baby, my baby.” It also assures me that insofar as my grief corresponds to reality, my hope—that the Creator truly has my baby in his hands, that he sees and cares, that he will bring this child beyond the veil into eternity—is real too.

In the end, it is through the sorrow and comfort of others that I find full permission to grieve.

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My husband says, “I miss Pax”—the name we end up giving our baby. My father-in-law weeps for our loss. My mom tells me that Pax will always be her grandchild. Church members who’d hoped with us for better news now drop off pig’s trotters in black vinegar, chicken and ginger soup, and sweet red bean porridge—Chinese postpartum food—at our door. In doing so, they are honoring the toll pregnancy has taken on me. As they tend to my body, they are tending to my heart. Each person who acknowledges our loss is saying, You’re right. Your sadness is justified.

If each human life can invariably be traced back to its very beginnings, and if every person is made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27; James 3:9), then we who have lost babies in the womb are right to grieve.

But even in a church that affirms life from conception, there are subtle ways in which the narratives we absorb prevent us from mourning with those who miscarry.

We are tempted to give false assurances about the future (“You’ll get pregnant again”) or reasons the miscarriage might have been good (“It’s better than if the baby had been born with a genetic disorder”). Sometimes blame is harmfully placed on parents (“You disobeyed God” or “You didn’t take care of your body”). These responses fail to acknowledge the reality and weight of our loss, and the personhood of the babies we grieve.

If the babies we lost were truly babies, then Christians—tenderly and in ways sensitive to each person suffering—must weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15). The church must be solidly pro-life here. We must acknowledge the personhood of children from the womb not merely by teaching against abortion but through entering into the grief of those who suffer pregnancy loss in all its forms.

Many in our pews have lost babies to miscarriage and stillbirth. Others are brokenhearted over babies lost to abortions, those they could not prevent or once chose and now regret. In a culture that extends sympathy for pregnancy loss but stops short of acknowledging the fullness of what that loss implies, Christians have a unique opportunity to make space for this suffering. We of all people have solid ground from which to offer comfort, hope, and healing.

In the weeks and months following my miscarriage, I have conversations with other women who have miscarried. Some are older women who had no pro-life movements in their countries of origin. Many have never had anyone affirm to them the personhood of the babies they lost. So it is healing for me and for them to speak openly about these children now.

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“I also have a child in heaven,” one mother tells me. Another woman wants to know, “Do you really believe that your child is with God?” She is asking me about Pax, but she is thinking of her own sorrow, the babies she will later tell me she’s lost too.

Do I believe my baby is with God? Yes, I tell her without hesitation. I do.

Faith Chang is the author of Peace over Perfection: Enjoying a Good God When You Feel You’re Never Good Enough. She serves at Grace Christian Church of Staten Island and on the editorial board of SOLA Network.

[ This article is also available in Français. ]