Miscarriages and Stillbirths: The Loss of a Baby in Muslim Communities
Whispering a quick prayer asking Allah for strength, she stepped into the prayer hall. After weeks of calling upon her Lord as she dealt with the pain and grief of her miscarriage, she decided that she should get out of the house and attend the program at the mosque.
As the ladies spotted her, they immediately crowded around and started firing question after question at her: What happened, did you do something wrong? Why didn’t you take care of yourself properly? Did you eat something you shouldn’t have? Did you find out if there’s something wrong with you?
Although perhaps well-meant, these kinds of questions can have dire effects on the person being questioned. The ending of this situation varies from person to person, but often it ends with the sister going back to her state of grief, blaming herself for the miscarriage.
Every community has their share of couples who suffer the loss of their unborn or stillborn baby, and every community has their share of curious questioners. What we need to realize is that just as we would be considerate for the sorrow of those who have lost a relative or friend who lived a life, we should be considerate for the sorrow of the couple who has lost their baby. It is a death all the same, and no matter how little time passed before the loss occurred, the parents would have already built a strong sense of attachment to the child – they are now dealing with the loss of the object of their affection.
With a rate of 15-20 percent of expecting women having a miscarriage, it is unfortunately common. Miscarriages can occur within the first 20 to 24 weeks of pregnancy, while stillbirths can occur onwards and during labor. Both forms of loss can occur for a variety of reasons, a vast majority of which are not preventable by anyone. Besides easily identifiable causes such as smoking, alcohol consumption, caffeine surplus and serious diseases, other unanticipated reasons can include chromosomal abnormalities, hormonal imbalances, harmful infections and positional complications of the fetus.
After a baby is miscarried or stillborn, especially in the many instances where no clear cause can be pinpointed, it is difficult to come to terms with what happened and to figure out what can be done to prevent it from happening again. Thoughts about whether or not it was their fault or about how life would have been had the baby survived, are going through the couple’s minds.
Indeed, it is a way of life among our communities for everyone to be involved in everything, sharing in each other’s sadness and happiness. So either as a close relation or as a distant acquaintance, we all feel inclined to help the couple through their situation. For each role, however, there are some vital things to keep in mind so as not to intensify their grief or make them re-hash their harrowing experience.
You obviously want to help the couple through this difficult time, and you want to help solve their problems, but it is important to choose your words carefully. Essentially, remember not to say anything that sounds like you’re dumping all the blame on the husband or wife for the loss of the precious little life.
The best way to show your concern would be to let them know you heard of their loss and are sorry. Say that you will remember them in your prayers or take out Sadaqa in their name, and offer your help should they ever need anything. Of course if you, or someone close to you, have gone through a similar experience, then you can express your understanding of their situation and perhaps provide some helpful information. If they choose to talk about the details, let them do so at their own ease – do not try to force it all out of them by shooting rounds of intimate questions at them.
When you do ask questions, keep in mind your location, your surroundings and your relation to the couple. If you’re in the middle of a crowd or particularly if you have never really spoken to the couple, then keep your questions few and respectful of their privacy. If this sounds like your situation, then here are some tips on behaviors and questions you should avoid:
- On the one hand there are people who will shun the sister who lost her baby, as if she has become an outcast of sorts. Realize that miscarriages and stillbirths are common occurrences even in the most technologically advanced countries. Most of these losses are not preventable. There is no reason to act as though it’s a strange thing that brings humiliation to the couple, or as though there is no worth of the woman if she has lost her child.
- On the other hand, there are people who will overwhelm the couple with a string of questions and relentlessly bring up the topic each time they meet. While it’s thoughtful of you to be concerned, ease up on the questions. It may just be a query or two from your end, but the grieved couple is being asked the same questions by everyone else too. Having to answer each time means subjecting them to seeing a reel of their experiences played all over again in their memories.
- The couple had a miscarriage and is trying to move on, so don’t ask them to relate all the intricate details of their unborn child to you. So if it seems like they don’t want to volunteer the information, then don’t ask about the fine details of the surgery, whether it was a boy or a girl, whether they got a chance to hold it, and other questions along those lines.
- Don’t suggest that this is karma or punishment for a sin, that perhaps the couple wasn’t worthy of raising a child, or that maybe this happened since they put the evil eye on someone else’s happiness. Allah has His merciful reasons for what He does, and no one else needs to speculate about what the reasons could be.
- The couple’s love for the baby shows in their sadness at the loss. Every loving parent tries to do what is best for their child before birth, during childhood, during adulthood, and indeed until the very last breath of life. So to ask a question that suggests that the would-have-been mother or father did something to harm their child is appalling! Not only is it rude, but it would likely also plant a seed of baseless blame for themselves or for one another into their minds. Even if did occur because of one of them, they would already be aware of that fact and have enough guilt to deal with, without anyone adding to it by pointing it out.
- When Allah will decree it, He will gift them with a child. By pestering the couple with questions of when they want their next child right after they have lost one, or of whether they can ever even have a child after the miscarriage, you will not be speeding up the implementation of Allah’s plans – so don’t ask those questions.
- Keeping that in mind, don’t ask for a progress report every time you see the couple. Insha’Allah once there are improvements which they wish to share with everyone, you will find out. Until then, just pray that they be blessed with a healthy child someday.
Pray to the Creator that He gives them strength, and that they will be blessed with an adorable bundle of joy and delight when He deems it appropriate. With the formula of Du’a and Dawa, supplication and medication, insha’Allah everything will work out for the best.
In order to avoid causing the couple pain because of our words or actions, in order to help them through this time of sorrow and recovery, and in order to maintain our standard of Akhlaq, we must make the effort to think before we speak. If we are careless in our behavior, we may very well be earning the displeasure of our Lord by striking His believers when they are most hurt.