By nine weeks of life (11 weeks gestational age), a baby has developed arms and legs (with individual fingers and toes), which he or she can begin to move. All the baby’s major organs have formed, including the reproductive organs particular to the baby’s gender, although a baby’s sex isn’t yet clear via ultrasound. Parents can see the baby’s breathing movements during their ultrasound. Her eyelids have closed and fused, and her taste buds have begun developing. The baby is approximately two inches long, about the size of a golf ball.
In medical jargon, the baby moves from being referred to as an embryo and is now called a fetus. The different medical terms exist to differentiate the stage where the child is developing the major organ systems (embryo) from the stage where those systems are in place (fetus), and the child is mainly growing and maturing. However, these terms often obscure the fact that the baby is a baby—right from the moment sperm meets egg. No matter what the child is called or what stage of development he’s at, the baby is a human being God is knitting together with great care and purpose. Some developmental timelines may use phrasing such as, “your baby is beginning to look more human.” Yet, the baby from the beginning has looked exactly as a human should look at that stage of development. We all know our looks change as we age post-womb, yet no one would suggest an 80-year-old looks more human than the same person at one week after birth (age doesn’t determine personhood).1
When I was pregnant with our second baby, I had some pretty strong cravings for foods from places like Burger King and Long John Silver’s (I shudder just writing that). We had seen the baby’s heartbeat via ultrasound when he or she was about six weeks old and were happily preparing for our newest family member. A few weeks later, my cravings stopped suddenly, and I didn’t feel sick anymore. At my next visit to the obstetrician, she again used ultrasound to examine our baby and found that he or she was measuring small and no longer had a heartbeat. We returned the next day for another ultrasound that confirmed our baby had died. It was devastating news to receive.
At my next visit to the obstetrician, she again used ultrasound to examine our baby and found that he or she was measuring small and no longer had a heartbeat.
Instead of waiting to deliver our child naturally, we chose to have a procedure later that afternoon. My doctor told us that afterward, she would examine the “tissue” to ensure nothing was left that could cause further problems. But she wasn’t just examining “tissue,” she was also examining our baby and accounting for all his or her parts. It’s so easy to gloss over the personhood of an in utero baby when we use words like tissue to describe the child. Yet, thanks to advances in ultrasound, we know that our baby looked something like the photo below when we lost him or her (I refuse to use the word it in reference to a baby—from the beginning of fertilization, a baby is either a boy or a girl, never an “it”).
When I shared on social media that we had lost our baby, I was surprised by how many other friends had also suffered a loss. And yet, a family member has died. Why shouldn’t we talk about the death of our baby and be allowed to openly grieve our loss? One of the best things my coworkers did when they found out was to send a basket of flowers (peace lilies) to acknowledge the death of our baby and let us know they were grieving with us. In fact, I still have that basket and those peace lilies—a precious reminder of friends who came alongside us in our grief.
As those who are pro-life, we don’t need to be ashamed of mourning the loss of a baby we’ve never met face to face. We know our baby was a human being, made in the image of God from the moment of fertilization, valuable to his or her Creator and to us. Nor should we feel as if our pre-born baby is less of a person than a post-womb baby (residence doesn’t determine personhood), and thus our grief should be less than someone who may have lost a child after birth—or more than for a child who did not make it even this far in gestation. That includes acknowledging the baby when people ask, “How many children do you have?” We have three—two with us and one in heaven.
Miscarriage can be a dark time for those who walk through it.
Miscarriage can be a dark time for those who walk through it. It’s easy to ask the “Did I do something wrong?” questions and wonder at the cause of the miscarriage. However, the simple fact is that the baby had lived the life God ordained for him. Whether it be 9 weeks, 9 months, 9 years, or 99, the Lord has determined the number of our days before we are even conceived. Although we have a responsibility to care for the body God has given us, we can do nothing to lengthen or shorten the life God has granted us. And we should remember that death isn’t natural. It’s our enemy—and God’s (1 Corinthians 15:26)—at any age, 9 days gestation or 99 years post-womb.
In the loss of a child, we are reminded that we are living in a world that is no longer “very good”—a world marred by sin and its resulting curse. The loss of a baby in utero isn’t (generally) the result of anything the mom or dad did. But death, in general, is the result of Adam’s sin (and ours through him). We are thankful for the salvation Jesus offers through his death and resurrection on our behalf, and we look forward to the future when we live with him forever—and are able to meet the sweet baby we didn’t get to know here on earth.2