Episode 68: Interview with Rachel Lewis on Pregnancy Loss and Infant Loss

In this episode we take a break from our usual format to discuss pregnancy loss and infant loss with Rachel Lewis. This week we look at books and information for the parents and those who want to minister to families who are grieving. 

Next week we will discuss books that will help children going through these types of losses. 

Our Guest Today: Rachel Lewis

Rachel Lewis (www.thelewisnote.com) is the author of Unexpecting: Real Talk on Pregnancy Loss (August 10, 2021). She is the founder of Brave Mamas, an online community offering support to thousands of bereaved moms. Rachel is a well-known contributor to Still Standing magazine and Pregnancy After Loss Support. She’s the creator of Unexpecting: A 4-Week Grief Workshop for Pregnancy Loss for couples. Her work and family have been featured by the Today show, Upworthy, AdoptUSKids, and Babble. Rachel has experienced the loss of five pregnancies, as well as the unique grief of reunifying a foster son with his birth family. Follow Rachel on Facebook at Rachel Lewis, speaker and author. And on Instagram @rachel.thelewisnote. Find out more about her book at www.unexpectingbook.com.

Links:

To her free chapter, “How to Support a Loved One Through Baby Loss”:https://mailchi.mp/ad64aec8efdc/unexpecting-bonus-chapter-how-to-support-a-loved-one-through-baby-loss

For more information on the Discussion Community: https://unexpectingbook.com/discussion-community/

Books I recommend: 

Always Ours by Christy Wopat

These Precious Little People by Frankie Brunker

Imperfectly Perfect Family by Amie Lands

The Invisible String by Patrice Karst

Grieving Beyond Gender by Kenneth Doka and Terry Martin

The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk

Links: 

Facebook: www.facebook.com/Thelewisnote

Brave Mamas: www.facebook.com/groups/bravemamas

Unexpecting book website: www.unexpectingbook.com

Blog: www.thelewisnote.com

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/rachel.thelewisnote/

Books Discussed in This Episode:

Transcript with Links:

Terrie:

Welcome to “Books that Spark,” a podcast for parents and caregivers, celebrating books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion, leading to teachable moments with our kids.

Today we’re going to take a little break from our usual format. Because this is October, and it is Pregnancy Loss and Infant Loss Awareness month, I wanted to feature some episodes that deal with this very difficult subject. So today we have a guest with us who has written a wonderful book about these kinds of losses. So I am glad to welcome Rachel Lewis to the show today.

She (www.thelewisnote.com) is the author of Unexpecting: Real Talk on Pregnancy Loss (August 10, 2021). She is the founder of Brave Mamas, an online community offering support to thousands of bereaved moms. Rachel is a well-known contributor to Still Standing magazine and Pregnancy After Loss Support. She’s the creator of Unexpecting: A 4-Week Grief Workshop for Pregnancy Loss for couples. Her work and family have been featured by the Today Show, Upworthy, AdoptUSKids, and Babble. Rachel has experienced the loss of five pregnancies, as well as the unique grief of reunifying a foster son with his birth family. Follow Rachel on Facebook at Rachel Lewis, speaker and author. And on Instagram @rachel.thelewisnote. Find out more about her bookat www.unexpectingbook.com.

In the show notes I will also have links to these different website as well as some extra bonus materials that she offers to you, and so you will find those links in the show notes.

Rachel, thank you so much for joining me today. I’m looking so forward to talking with you.

Rachel:

Thank you so much for having me, Terrie.

Terrie:

I know your heart is to really just minister to those listeners right now who are experiencing, or have recently experienced, pregnancy loss or loss of a child. So can we just start there? What would you say to someone who right now is going through the middle of this grief process?

Rachel:

Well, I would start by saying you are not alone. I think that grief and specifically the loss of a child, especially when you feel like you either, you know, alone know intimately, or maybe a baby that you didn’t get to officially meet when you were just waiting still to say hello. I think that saying goodbye to a baby like that is one of the most lonely griefs. And so I just want you to know, as you feel perhaps lonely, I just want to remind you that you are not alone, that you are surrounded by a community of parents who support you and can love you through this and are grieving your baby with you. And I would also just say to let yourself feel however you need to feel without judging it or comparing it or discounting it. Just allow yourself to feel exactly what it is you need to feel in the moment that you need to feel it and know that that’s okay.

Terrie:

And what caused you to write this book?

Rachel:

My second pregnancy was ectopic. Because my first pregnancy had been so life-threatening and we almost lost our daughter and that pregnancy twice, when I did lose my baby and my second pregnancy, it was shocking. And I suppose that’s because I believed that somehow love was going to be enough or that if God had created her to begin with that he would want her to live. It seemed that God had intervened in our first pregnancy to sort of ensure that our daughter lived. And so it was just this, like I would call it like whiplash, emotional whiplash, spiritual whiplash, just a very shocking existence that I never anticipated that I would live in. It was just sort of like time gets suddenly divided into a before and after. And no matter how badly I wanted to just go back to what I thought was how life should be with my baby in our lives, you know, living that was not an option. And so it was so hard and it was also a very discounted grief because my loss was early, it was seven and a half weeks. I got a lot of mixed messages and some really well-meaning grief support that hurt. So that was sort of the beginning of an era of loss, not quite an era, but we had five losses back-to-back over five years. It’s sort of in the middle of that, we adopted one daughter, we had one adoption fall through, and then we also had a foster son that we loved and raised and returned home. Then we finally had our rainbow baby and returned home our foster son. He came back to us and then we returned him home yet again. So it’s been sort of a whirlwind, you know, through it all. I became very well-acquainted with grief and with loss. And I recognized this gap in support and in resources for people who are experiencing this kind of loss. And that’s why I really wanted to write a book so people could know what to expect from their bodies, hearts, minds, and souls when they’re going through this kind of experience.

Terrie:

Yeah. I really appreciate it in your book that you kind of broke that apart and dealt with each thing and how it affects your mind, how it affects your heart, and walked us through each part of those emotions and physical experiences. It’s very helpful and very healing. And then to have the little testimonies from the people in your group. And then you have a group that you called Brave Mamas. Can you tell me about that?

Rachel:

So Brave Mamas is my online support group on Facebook. And really it comes from this place inside me in which I recognized that there were so many different kinds of losses of a child. I found that a lot of times people were trying to pigeonhole like experiences like, well, you could only join this group if you’ve had a stillbirth, or you can only join this group if you are pregnant after rainbow. And then with each of those kinds of like categories, I guess that’s the word I’m looking for, there were all these rules, like you can’t talk about your living children, or you can’t talk about pregnancy, or you can’t show a picture of your dead baby. Like there were all of these rules that I was struggling and, and that’s not to say that any one of those things is wrong. I think that there’s a place for those. I just recognize that there’s a place for people like me who may have experienced a loss of different kinds or could gain support and understanding from other people who had losses that were different than mine and that our grief, which sort of ties us together. This experience can be big enough and broad enough that we can sort of encompass a lot of people in a lot of experiences and just sort of hold our arms open, so to speak, rather than to say, you have to have experienced a very specific thing. This group isn’t for everyone in the sense that some people really want to only connect with somebody who has had their specific kind of loss or some people aren’t in a place where they can handle any talk of living children. It’s a matter of like what fits you. Our group is if you are grieving the child at all of any kind, whether that’s through infertility or pregnancy loss or child loss or adult child loss, or foster care or adoption, any of those sort of areas, and you are absolutely welcome to join us at Brave Mamas.

Terrie:

You mentioned rainbow baby a few times. For those who are not quite sure what that is, would you like to explain what that means?

Rachel:

Rainbow baby is a term that we affectionately use for our babies who are born or adopted after loss. I think everybody sort of defines that a little bit differently for themselves. The idea is sort of based off the quote, “After every storm, there’s a rainbow.” You know, we know that not every storm comes with rainbow, not every couple is able to have a rainbow baby. So there, you know, there’s some back and forth as to whether that’s an appropriate term or not. But for me, that’s how I affectionately refer to my daughter. And I guess the reason for that is for me, it encompasses that–not that she means more to me than my other children–but it just sort of shows what I had to walk through to get her. If that makes sense.

Terrie:

You mentioned how God helped you save your first daughter and you know, twice, you almost lost her. And then the second child you did lose, and that whiplash, that spiritual whiplash. How did you come to grips spiritually with God saving one child and not the other?

Rachel:

Well, I would say that it was a long journey. I guess I preface that by saying, I don’t want anyone to listen to this and think, “Oh, well, she has the answer. Therefore, this is the answer. And therefore I should be fine with God, like right now,” because I think that’s a really hard thing. I mean, it’s a strain on her relationship with God. And so that’s such an individualized, personalized thing. For me, I think I had to start in disentangling all of the things that I had been told about loss and about faith and about God and really parsing out what is true and what is not. And I discovered things like there’s a reason for everything that happens or, you know, this must have been God’s will. Like that always sat wrong with me. Always. I’d always be like, well then why create her in the first place? What he just suddenly changed his mind? I’m like, that doesn’t make sense to me. It never did. So coming to realize, you know, not everything that happens to us is God’s will. God tells us that, that his will is love and life and goodness, and he’s a God of compassion and a God of support, and he’s not a God who, you know, takes babies and then tells us to love him anyway. And just to trust him and to have faith. I think that he grieves with us. And I think that rather than us saying, well, he caused this for some reason, he allowed it. And I know that for some people that might not be enough, you know, differentiating between what he caused and what he allowed, because at some level he didn’t act on our behalf when we felt that he should. And so there is that sense of betrayal that could be there. For me recognizing, okay I don’t actually think that this was God’s will. I think that this is a by-product of having a world that is so imperfect. That is what I came to recognize. And then also recognizing that it’s okay to wrestle with God. I think, for me, a lot of my hope came from Job, and I know that that is sort of cliché in a sense that whenever we think of suffering, we always go to Job. But I think that sometimes in our current Christian walk, we, or faith, or just sort of in the culture, we get it a little backward. We see that Job responds, you know, without quote unquote, “sinning”–without accusing God of wrongdoing. And that happens in like the first two chapters of Job. And so then we think that we have the answer to suffering and we forget that there’s 42 chapters to Job. And so there’s so much more of the story. And in fact, Job does charge God with wrongdoing. He wasn’t the perfect sufferer. He didn’t always have faith. He didn’t always feel like he, you know, he was standing up for God or his faith. And so we don’t have to do that either. And when I was sort of looking at just the overall structure of Job, I realized that God reserved 38 chapters of the book of Job for nothing more than wrestling. If we’re supposed to get from Job, just the right answer, then why include 38 chapters? I mean, when we think about the real estate of the Bible, if this is God’s written word to us from the beginning of creation until you know, eternity, this is how many books and chapters and verses there are 38 chapters is a lot of real estate if it doesn’t mean anything. I looked at that and I thought, okay, at the end of Job, what happens? Yes, Job gets his fortunes restored and he has more children, but really at the end of Job, he knew more about God. God revealed more of himself to Job as a direct sort of correlation, caused by this questioning and this wrestling that Job went through. And so that I took as permission to wrestle and to be honest about my questions and stop worrying about trying to protect God from my grief and my anger and my fear and my betrayal. And instead say, okay, if our relationship is what I say it is, then it can take it; it can withstand this kind of wrestling.

Terrie:

That’s really good. For me too I feel like I grew closer to God as he carried me through it. I knew he could heal my baby and save it if he wanted to, he could even bring it back to life when they couldn’t find the heartbeat, you know, if that’s what he wanted to do. I had no doubt about that. But then when the loss actually happened, and one time I nearly died. You know, you have to walk through that. If you don’t, it’s like denying Christ, it’s like denying your feelings. It’s just living as a, I don’t know, half a person. Acknowledging that pain and taking it to God and not understanding why was really important. I think more than anything that is important. And I saw someone was saying that you grow more through that grief than you do through the good times, almost because that’s when you really begin, like you said, to understand your relationship with God, and to wrestle with what’s real and what’s been just platitudes, misunderstandings. And I don’t think we’ll ever understand why he allows things to happen in this world. But we do know we live in a fallen world, bad things happen in a fallen world full of sin. And that’s kind of where I came to was just understanding that’s where we live in a world that just has disease and problems. And yeah, that’s, that’s really good.

Terrie:

I want to talk about the book, but I also just feel like I want you to be able to minister to those who are listening. I know some of my listeners, and I know what some of them are walking through. And I know some of the others have many children and are very happy being moms, and they care about their friends and family who have lost babies. What advice could you give to those of us who want to minister to others who’ve had pregnancy loss or who have lost a child? What would you give them as far as advice?

Rachel:

Well, I would say number one, thank you for wanting to support your loved one. I have done some research on trauma with trauma expert, Dr. Bessel van der Kolk with his book, The Body Keeps the Score. And what he says is social support is actually the number one thing that can either exacerbate trauma, make it worse, if it’s done poorly or it’s not there at all, or it can be the very thing that can help promote healing from trauma and reduce the effects of trauma. And so it’s actually like the most important thing. Your desire to do that and to do it well, I just want to commend you and say, thank you so much. And for taking the time to learn about how to support someone through grief, I feel like I could come up with a list of like don’t do this and do do that. But I do feel like that could be overwhelming. And so what I’d like to offer is again from Dr. Bessel van der Kolk’s definition of true social support. He says it’s this issue of reciprocity. It’s truly being seen. It’s truly being heard. It’s being held in someone else’s mind, it’s this visceral feeling of safety. And so what I did, I have a chapter called “How to Support a Loved One Through Baby Loss.” And that breaks down each one of those things and gives you examples of what that could look like. So, for instance, you could sort of keep this principle in your mind, like, how am I seeing them? So that may look like, am I noticing needs in their life? Am I paying attention? Am I checking in with them? Am I responding to their posts about their baby on social media? You know, am I affirming and validating that their loss is real and their grief is real? Am I hearing them? Am I stopping to listen? Or am I more worried about talking? The one thing I can say is to let yourself off the hook, because you don’t have to have any answers for this loss whatsoever. Your job is truly just to listen. And that could be asking questions such as like, you know, if you would ever like to talk about your baby, I would love to find out more about him/her, or if you ever would like to share about your birth story, I would love to hear it, or that kind of thing. Or if somebody wants to share pictures of their baby, okay, look at them. If they do it on social media, like them, comment on, you know, their beautiful hands and their beautiful feet and, you know, hear them and listen to what they’re saying, hold them in your mind. Are you willing to just say, here I am, I’m here to support you. I’m here to love you. I’m here to hold you. Even just physical touch is such a powerful way to communicate love and support and acceptance to someone, and then provide that visceral feeling of safety. One of the things that our bodies need when we go through something traumatic is we need to feel safe. And until our bodies feel safe, we just cannot even begin to process the emotional fallout from this kind of event. And so that would be things like providing a meal or setting up a meal train, or a give-in-kind to make sure that their tangible needs are met, or that means, you know, providing plastic ware so that they don’t have to do dishes or coming in once a month and mowing their yard or taking their kids to the park for an hour a week or something like that. So I would say, don’t try to do every single one of those things, but pick something from your strength, something that you can do without completely wearing your own self out and then offer that. If I am going to give a don’t, it would be please don’t say, “Let me know if there’s anything that I can do.” And the reason for that is first, it puts the onus on them to ask for help. And you might say, well, I’ve offered it so they know. Well, I promise you, they’re still going to feel like they shouldn’t ask, or they don’t want to ask. And too, you’re asking them to do a lot of executive functioning to figure out exactly what they need to figure out when they need it, who to communicate that, to how to communicate it organizing support is that process. It requires a lot of executive functioning. And one thing we know about trauma is that it rewires the brain. Say something like I would love to organize a give-in-kind for you. This will help ensure that you have all of your meals taken care of. Child support, financial support, anything that you need. And that way we don’t have, you know, you don’t have to be talking to a lot of people. I could just help ensure that it gets taken care of for you. That could be really helpful or saying, I can bring a meal on Wednesday or Thursday, which would you prefer? Or I am really good at organizing. Can I please come and help you? Like, all I want you to do is just pick a place in your house that you would like me to organize it, and I’ll come on a Saturday and I will organize. Things like that that are just creating that visceral, that environment of support, where they can feel like they’re safe, their needs are met, they are taken care of, and they can start to heal.

Terrie:

Let’s just talk about your book for a second. Unexpecting is the title of the book, Real Talk on Pregnancy Loss. Tell us a little bit about the book.

Rachel:

The way that it’s structured. I have it broken into four different sections and that’s Loss, which goes over the immediate days and weeks after loss. And these are shorter chapters that are really more principally based and they just provide a short explanation of how your body, heart, mind, and soul could be affected. And some of the things that you need. Lament goes into each one of those things much deeper. And so for those of you who may be a little bit further out from your loss, or if you’re like me, I was just reading everything I could get my hands onto, that sort of dives down a lot more deeply parsing out things like what is clinical depression versus complicated grief for the chapter on your mind? Or what do you do when you start regretting all of the decisions you made? What do I do with all of this anger? So there’s those kinds of things that I just delve a lot deeper into. And then the third section is Love, and that is grieving in the context of community. So this is not only finding your own community of support and how to interact with people who are hoping to support you, but also it’s supporting your living children or your subsequent children that are coming after this baby, learning to support them in their grief, interacting with your partner and understanding your partner’s grief. And then also learning to embrace your own role as your baby’s parent and learning to continue those bonds moving past stuff. And then the last chapter is on Legacy. And this basically answers the question “What’s next?” It kind of goes over what to expect. If you decide you’re going to try again after loss, or if you’re not, adoption or foster care after loss, or having a pregnancy after loss, parenting after loss, and then creating a legacy for your child.

Rachel:

There are snippets of my story and each one of these chapters. But what I really did is I leaned very heavily on my community of bereaved parents, both men and women, who have lost a child at any stage in pregnancy, from chemical loss to birth trauma all the way through after birth infant loss. And so I use these. There’s snippets of their stories sort of interjected into the chapters. And the reason I did that is because one, I know that sometimes we relate best to the people whose experience most resembles ours. Knowing that they get it can be so helpful. And I also knew that with my experience of back-to-back losses, not everyone can relate to that. And so I wanted to make sure that everyone who came to this book would see, in some capacity, their own stories and their own experiences reflected back to them so that they could know that there is a portion of this book that is written very specifically for them. It’s very much a guide of what to expect when you’re no longer expecting.

Terrie:

I really, really love your book. And I highly recommend anyone who is going through this, or knows someone going through this, to get the book and give it as a gift or read it. And I’m so thankful that you came today and shared with us. I know your words are going to minister to many people. I appreciate you so much.

Rachel:

Well, thank you so much for having me, Terrie. I really appreciate you sharing my words.

Terrie:

Thank you for joining us for “Books that Spark,” a podcast celebrating books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussions as we disciple our children and help them follow Christ with their whole hearts. If you would like to connect with Rachel Lewis, you can reach her on her website at www.thelewisnote.com. The links will be in the show notes as I said before. If you would like to join my mailing list and get my monthly newsletter and have access to some freebies that are only available to those on my mailing list, you can find me at TerrieHellardBrown.com.

Your Host:

Terrie Hellard-Brown writes and speaks to help children and adults find God’s purpose and plan for their lives. She teaches workshops and writes devotional books, children’s stories, and Christian education materials.

Her podcast, Books that Spark, reviews children’s books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion leading to teachable moments with our kids. Her podcast posts each Tuesday morning.

Her blog posts are published each Thursday and discuss living as a disciple of Christ while discipling our children. She challenges us to step out of our comfort zones to walk by faith in obedience to Christ.

For more information, visit her website at terriehellardbrown.com

Terrie uses her experiences as a mother of four (three on “the spectrum”), 37 years in ministry (15 in Taiwan), and 32 years teaching to speak to the hearts of readers.

Her motto is “Growing older is inevitable; growing up is optional” and keeps her childlike joy by writing children’s stories, delighting over pink dolphins, and frequently laughing till it hurts.

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