My longed-for baby died. How can I still believe in God?
Everyone who has lost a baby, through miscarriage, still birth, cot death or any other way, knows the terrible grief it brings.
Zoë Clark-Coates and her husband Andy lost five.
They set up a charity, the Mariposa Trust, to support others facing such suffering and now Zoë has written a book, Saying Goodbye. It tells their story and also includes a series of 'daily support' writings and meditations, one a day for 90 days.
She and Andy lost three babies before having Esmé, now eight, then another two before their next daughter, Brontë, now six, was born.
They were all lost through miscarriage or 'missed miscarriage' – where one day you go for a scan and they just tell you the baby's heart's stopped beating.
'After the third loss, we didn't know if we would carry on trying. Then we found out I was pregnant again.' They weren't offered tests to find out why this was happening, but they could have asked. They decided not to. 'Some people want answers. Most tests come up inconclusive. I did not want to be told there is no hope.'
When she talks to women who've gone through this experience she makes it a policy not to discuss how long a pregnancy has lasted before a baby is lost.
'Everyone always asks about the gestation of the baby because they determine how much grief a person is suffering by how far are on they are. We decided never to refer to it. It does not matter to us what gestation someone is. Every baby is important. We don't determine how much support someone needs by the gestation they are.'
One thing the book addresses is what to say when a friend or relative has a miscarriage – and what definitely not to say.
'The classic thing people say is, "Your baby's in a better place." Or, 'At least you can get pregnant." Saying the baby is in a better place gives the the clear message that God thinks the best place for your child is in heaven and your home's not good enough.
'When you hear that, all you want to do is scream, "What's the good of getting pregnant if I can't stay pregnant?"
'Also it's such a taboo suject, often people panic and say the wrong thing – they are almost so cautious and scared they literally do panic.'
Every personal situation is different.
Mariposa supports about 50,000 people a week through befriending, social media, connection and attending services. The charity supports people who have had miscarriages and still birth. Sometimes, mums can feel a miscarriage was worse than a stillbirth because that baby was never acknowledged.
Zoë lost children without having children, and lost children after having children. 'Every loss is completely different. The three I lost before having Esmé made me ask, willI I ever have a child? The two I lost after her, I grieved for children I thought would have looked like her, and for her not having a sibling.'
The charity supports people through their grief. It offers support for baby loss for up to four years old, for people who can't conceive, for people going through the adoption process and people whose child has been given a fatal diagnosis.
There is a team of 240 volunteer befrienders, fundraisers, a hospital team, political campaigners, doctors and midwives.
The charity is a secular organisation. but Zoë and Andy are Christians and 20 per cent of the team are Christians.
Zoë says: 'I don't believe losing a child is Jesus' plan. It never was. God didn't design children to die. For me, I never ever questioned why this was happening. Just because you are a Christian it doesn't protect you from the bad things. It actually brought me closer to God. In my utter brokenness I felt closer to him than ever before.
'So many people around me didn't get it, but I knew he did because he gave his son. God gave his only son because it was the ultimate sacrifice. God was saying to me, what you are going through is one of the hardest things that can ever happen. It made me cling to God more than ever.'
And, she says: 'By just showing love, compassion and following what the Bible says to help the broken hearted and bereaved, we are doing God's work without the Christian label.'
Watch Zoe talk about her book with Ruth Gledhill in a Christian Today Facebook Live