Last week Shepastor shared the following regarding the painful realities of losses in life…
...One of the most tragic and painful losses, however, is the loss of a child. Statistics show that couples who lose a child are at higher risk for separation and or divorce. They are also at higher risk for depression, isolation, and other physiological and psychological maladies.Today, Shepastor begins a two part series, highlighting the soon to be released book, Still a Mother: Journeys through Perinatal Bereavement (Judson Press), by Rev. Joy Freeman and Rev. Tabatha Johnson. Below, Joy and Tabatha answer some specific questions about this sensitive and important topic…
Harder yet may be the loss of an unborn child. Sadly, frequently, people minimize the pain women and their mates endure as a result of perinatal loss… For clergy women, this grief is often hidden due to perceived and real pressure to "grin and bare" it as a "woman of faith."
The “call” does not exempt a woman from grief, anger, depression, and befuddlement. It can be even more complicated when the woman is a pastor. Over the next two weeks Shepastor will share insights about the "elephant" of perinatal loss and women clergy.
Why did you choose to write about this topic?
My writing about this topic was not intentional at first. My own experience with pregnancy loss was one I was open about a bit, but because it involved a medically necessary termination and I live in a more conservative part of the country I choose to keep that part silent. It was only after nurses at work that I am close to asked to know more of what happened that I began sharing verbally my story. A couple even told me I needed to write, but I did not take it seriously. A couple years later at the first chaplain conference I attended after Hope’s death, I had to field the inevitable question of how many kids. I would answer hesitantly two, one on earth and one in heaven. As any good chaplain would, they realized there was more of a story to tell and would query for more and listen intently as I shared. Almost always the response would be you need to tell/write your story.Tabatha:
It was this encouragement from colleagues to tell my story and my own personal realization that the only way for this topic to become less taboo is for those of us who are touched personally to speak out. In the car on the drive back from the conference my husband and I realized I was being called by God to no longer keep silent and it was time to write my story.
Shortly after that, I met Tabatha and she raised the idea of this book. And now here we are.
I choose to write about this topic first from my own experiences as a woman who has experienced two miscarriages and then as a clergywoman trying to help other women process their grief. It's a lonely place to be—a mother without her child(ren). I think we live in a society that avoids grief in general, and definitely avoids grief involving the death of children. So, I wanted a place where the sharing of those experiences is helpful in hearing another's story and is also affirming of sharing one's own story.Share some specific things you believe clergywomen “hide” and the Church avoids related to this topic…
Speaking of my own experiences, I was in my mid-twenties, and in the course of a year had two miscarriages, was diagnosed with cancer and began my first ministry position. It was a rough year, one that profoundly changed me. I looked for resources to help-both theological and personal testimony and could not find any that seemed to fit me and what I needed at the time.
I felt the need to be 'real,' and I felt what I was seeing out there may have been helpful for some, but for me didn't feel 'real' to me--theologically or emotionally. There seemed to me to be a rush to give thanks to God for healing, to be healed or to say that everything was good. And for me, it wasn't and I was so angry with God there was no way I could give thanks for anything. I was doing my best to serve God while my whole theology was falling apart.
Another of my motivations for writing and editing this book is this idea that clergywomen are not ultra-spiritual or better in any way because we are clergywomen. We, too, get angry, jealous, depressed, hurt, lonely... I wanted a safe place where clergy women, along with lay women could read stories that rang with truth so that they could then turn around and say, “this is my story...” and feel like wherever they are and whatever they feel is legitimate. This project, to me, is a way for women to support each other, to hear their truths without judgment and then to be able to share their own story.
Society in general and church specifically, I believe, are extremely uncomfortable discussing this matter...discussing the very intimate but painful details of medical processes that surround fertility issues and perinatal loss. There is very little understanding of what it means physically to experience this type of loss. The result can be a distinctly felt shaming of reproduction issues and difficulties that go along with them and so the personal challenge is dealt with in a very isolated manor.Tabatha:
I don’t think we raise enough how we feel about and deal with our felt imperfection. Some examples being: broken body image, broken faith and broken relationship with God.
I don’t think we discuss enough just how this topic affects the fathers and the siblings that may be in the family. If it is talked about at all, it usually centers on the woman. I think in an effort to protect those around us and minimize the fishbowl affect for our families, we as clergywomen do not acknowledge to our church community that they need to be reaching out to our husbands and children as well as us.
One topic that is especially hidden is perinatal loss that happens because of a terminated pregnancy. The politically charged atmosphere around this specific type of perinatal loss makes it especially scary for clergywomen and the church to talk about. This silence has created an atmosphere of shame and creates even more pain. If we would be willing to look beyond the black and white to the fact that this type of perinatal death is very gray, we would see that such decisions are never made lightly. They are made within the context of perinatal end of life conversations of quality over quantity and parental love. Such a view would open up a whole new area of much needed spiritual grief care.
There's so much pressure to be clergy-to represent God, the church, our ministry, we can fall into a trap of feeling the need for perfection. I can't speak for my male colleagues, but I know as a clergywoman I feel the pressure to have everything together all the time-both at home and in ministry. It's hard, I think, to show how human we really are and that to be a clergywoman does not mean we are not first a woman. To add to that, miscarriage is such a taboo topic-one in which we do not overburden others with our private grief. I find myself asking, 'why is that?' I mean, really, why is there this veil of secrecy and sometimes shame associated with miscarriage and infant death? There are so many women who experience this—and yet it is incredibly isolating.Next week, Shepastor will delve deeper into the interview with Joy and Tabatha in Part II of this series. Look for their insights on how the Church in general and clergywomen in particular can address perinatal loss in healthier ways. In Part II, they will also share words of wisdom on how clergywomen can care for themselves during this difficult experience.
For clergywomen I think, too, there is always the additional knowledge that we must not violate appropriate and healthy boundaries in our ministries-but I wonder sometimes if we take that too far. We, too, need the church to minister to us in a healthy way when we are hurting. We, too, need others to represent God to us in our sorrow. How can we have what we need if we do not ask for it and allow others to minister to us in the way in which we minister to others? I think we have to find a healthier balance in ministry-one in which we share these experiences so we too can experience the hope, nurture and love that God offers through God's people…
You can read more from Joy and Tabatha by visiting their blog at www.chaplainhood.blogspot.com
Post a comment or send me an email at Shepastor1@hotmail.com
Until next Wednesday,
In Faith, Hope and Perseverance,