another life to remember

[ 12 ] February 3, AD 2012 |

Looking at pictures of the March for Life makes me happy, with a little twinge of “Oh-I-wish-I-coulda-been-there!”  All these people, many of them still students, interrupting their lives to joyfully support the great gift of life.  And every year when 40 Days for Life comes around I am grateful for a way to join in and I look forward to hearing the numbers of babies saved and abortion clinics closed because of the prayer and fasting.

But to be honest, when I compare all of the support and education that happens for abortion to the incredible lack of support and education that happens for miscarriages I can’t help but think that we pro-lifers are a little unbalanced.  This in no way is to undermine or shame the exceptional work done by exceptional people in the pro-life movement; I merely want to take the opportunity to point out the discrepancy in hope that we can assure every parent of the great dignity of their unborn child.

I have this view because my first child died in utero early in the pregnancy.  Had he survived we would have celebrated his fourth birthday this past January.  Though it is suggested that one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage, at the time I knew no one in my immediate life who had suffered through the loss of their child in this way.  I had never heard a Catholic talk about what to do with a miscarriage – let alone anyone else.  My copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting didn’t help, nor did my calloused doctor.  He told me that the baby probably had chromosomal problems and most likely had so many problems that there was no way the baby would have lived.  “Even if you would have carried to full term it would not have lived outside of the womb.  It’s probably better this way,” he told me.  Those were his words; that was what he said.  But what I heard was, “You conceived a monster and everyone – you, him, the world – are better off because he died now.”  He sent me home with a warning about fevers, told me the body would start to break down and be absorbed into the blood, and told me to “chin up- think positive.”

And so, not knowing what to do, I searched the toilet and feminine products for anything that looked like a body and, finding nothing, I walked out of the bathroom with a great burden of grief and guilt.  It is appalling that aborted babies are found in garbage cans.  But that’s exactly what I did – whatever was left of my baby’s body was thrown into the garbage or flushed down the toilet.  I have since heard that I am not the only woman who miscarried this way and feels a twinge of shame every time pro-lifers (rightly) demonize the abortionists who dispose of babies in such a way.

I know everyone deals with grief differently, but I do want to offer a few suggestions that may help if you or someone you know ever miscarry.  I also welcome and encourage feedback in the comment box.  Again, my hope in sharing all this is not to put down all the passionate people who are lovingly building a culture of life but to help in its building by pointing out a few areas of growth.  If we are going to be truly pro-life we need to grieve the loss of every child and we should be reaching out to the many parents who are suffering in silence over the loss of their miscarried child.

Things you can do to parent your child:

– Name the baby, even if you don’t know the gender.

– Plan a funeral Mass for the baby.

– Buy something special for the baby and keep it as a memento.  A onesie, guardian angel statue, stuffed animal, or children’s book are suggestions.

– Include her name, perhaps with a halo above it, on Christmas cards, family trees, or any other place where you are recording the names of all family members.

– Have  a Mass offered in his name on the anniversary of his due date.

– Count her in the number of children you have.

– Bury him in hallowed ground.  If you are at a hospital make sure you request your baby’s body so it is not disposed of.  If you are at home, as I was, you can cut up some absorbent cloth to use in place of feminine products.  These can be placed in a special box you buy or create and the box can be buried at your local Catholic cemetery.  Call your parish priest and explain the situation to him; if there is not an area in your parish cemetery for unborn children he can direct you to neighboring one, often located at a Catholic hospital.

– Teach your other children to ask for their brother or sister’s intercession.

Things you can do for a loved one who is miscarrying:

– Treat the loss of this child as you would had the baby been born.

– Send a card or flowers.

– Bring a meal or two to the home.

– Offer to help plan or get the word out about the funeral Mass.

– Ask how they are doing and offer to listen to them.  Let them know you are not afraid of their grief.

– Give them a gift to show your support, like a cd, book, holy card, or other memento.

– If they have other children, offer to babysit so they can get away for a good cry, counseling, to visit the grave, etc.

– Don’t expect them to be over the loss of their child in a matter of weeks or months.

– Don’t tell them, “You can always have more.” or “At least you have your other children.” or “It’s good that it happened this early.”  No matter how good the intention, those words sting more than they soothe.

– Pray for and with them.

 

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Category: Columnists, Family, Life

About the Author ()

Bonnie Engstrom is a cradle Catholic and stay-at-home mom. She married her dashing husband in 2006 and they now have five children: one in Heaven and four more wandering around their house, probably eating pretzels found under the couch. Bonnie lives in central Illinois and gets excited about baking, music, film adaptations of Jane Austen books, and the Chicago Bears. She was a cofounder of The Behold Conference and she blogs at A Knotted Life.
  • http://a-star-of-hope.blogspot.com JoAnna

    “But what I heard was, ‘You conceived a monster and everyone – you, him, the world – are better off because he died now.'”

    Oh, God, me too.

    My first miscarriage (12 weeks) was discovered via ultrasound, so we were able to get the baby’s remains and bury him/her in our local cemetery. We had a graveside service and a funeral mass. I wish we could have done the same with the second child we lost to miscarriage, but it was very early (5w5d) and happened in an ER triage room. I didn’t have the presence of mind to ask to save what could be saved for burial.

    Another comment that is NOT helpful is, “It was God’s will.” I heard that as, “God caused your baby to die.” Bad things are never positively willed by God, they’re reluctantly allowed by Him due to His respect for man’s free will and choice to live in a fallen world.

    Thank you for this post!

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  • Mia

    Great post! Thank you for the great suggestions on how to deal with a miscarriage. I knew of several family members growing up who suffered miscarriage but it was treated as if it was nothing. At least thats how it seemed. My mom suffered a miscarriage right before she got pregnant with me. She lost the baby at about 4 or 5 weeks. She told me about it but never seemed very upset about it. I’m not sure if she really wasn’t upset, or if she really was grieving in silence all these years. I have just recently started asking for my brother or sister’s intercession. My Nani (dad’s mom) had several miscarriages. My dad has only ever talked about one. His brother died in utero at about 5 months pregnant after an unfortunate accident where my Nani fell down the stairs. I recently asked my dad if they had a funeral or buried the baby, and he doesn’t know much about it. This baby died before my dad was conceived. I pray I never have to suffer a miscarriage, but the information in this post will help me better to deal with it if it ever does happen. God Bless!

  • Barbara

    I’ve had 4 miscarriages. The comments “it’s probably for the best” and “you can still have another” were so hurtful, even if meant in kindness. You feel as if you let everyone down, and that your own body was against you. I had 3 miscarriages before my first child was born, and one after the second child was born. I leave it all in God’s hands. At least I can say that I was not the one who chose death for my child, which one cannot say if the child was aborted. The guilt that must accompany that decision is far beyond my own grief. Praying for one’s unborn helps, as does working for prolife activities.

  • anna lisa

    I too have had four miscarriages. My last was at the end of July, at 36 weeks. He was a sweet baby boy. We named him Ambrose, for the day he was conceived. Like everything else that makes me have to confront that sin has altered our world, I don’t despair. My only true consolation is that these children, wonderful, unrepeatable, and willed by God are true miracles and blessings. They will be with me forever in heaven. Eternity. But there is another very powerful aspect of our suffering. The cross. I was gifted with this cross. My dear, beloved Jesus didn’t hide Himself in comforting me, but he allowed me to shoulder His holy cross with Him. When a wave of sadness grips my heart, I show Him the wound, and keep asking Him to save more souls. This holy bond of togetherness in suffering, makes me love Him more and more. Everything else is secondary to this profound reality.

  • claire
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  • http://thealluringworld.blogspot.com Kayla Peterson

    Beautiful post Bonnie. My mom miscarried one of my siblings while I was away at college. Reading this post reminded me of that and showed me in a new way what she went through. I’m sad to say that beyond the first “I’m so sorry” hug, we haven’t talked about it since. Is it appropriate to bring it up, and ask if she’s ok (this was about 4 or 5 years ago), or just to silently pray for her and the baby now?

  • Bonnie Engstrom

    Joanna, Barbara, and Anna Lisa, my sincerest condonlances for the loss of your children. Such a heartache. Please know that I will remember you and your grief in my prayers.

    Claire, Thanks for the link. How beautiful.

    Kayla, Personally I have a strong desire for people to remember Peter – he is one of my children and I love him! I don’t mind if people talk about him – in fact I appreciate it. I know all women will be different about this, but I truly think that since you’re asking your mom about your sibling it would be completely okay with her for you to bring it up.

    Also, on the 15th of each month I take prayer requests related to infertility and the loss of a child on my blog; I call it “For Pete’s Sake.” Please feel free to stop by and leave a prayer request in my combox.
    http://learningtobeanewlywed.blogspot.com/search/label/for%20Pete%27s%20sake

  • Perinatal Loss Nurse

    It was a loss at 9 weeks 19 years ago that changed the course of my life. I was a young mom of 2 boys unexpectedly pregnant with #3 and as a Neonatal ICU nurse, I thought I understood the whole childbirth thing. I learned that I loved my baby and he death inside me was life altering…I also knew that I wanted her buried but no process to do that was available and that felt so wrong.

    The pivotal internal changes that my baby made in me lead me to gravitate towards the grieving in my midst…it eventually lead me to leave neonatal nursing to work in Perinatal Loss exclusively. I work with at least 2 families a week, 100 a year, for 7 years…those 700 women have honored me with being the keeper of their combined wisdom in many ways (and like the Verizon guy on the commercial where you see one fellow with hundreds of fols behind him when they widen the shot) I take those 700 women into the room when I go meet a new lady who has just learned her baby is dead.

    One thing that really needs to change is the dearth of information given to women…most Catholics can rattle off abortion stats but did you know that in addition to the 900,000 early losses (I hate the word miscarriage) each year, there are 25,000 naturally occurring deaths from 20-40 weeks gestation and another 26,000 neonatal deaths in the US every year. We need to give young couples reliable info on this totally removed from the abortion debate.

    Lastly, its insane that with the number of losses that we all suffer, no one ever speaks about respectful disposition of the remains of the pregnancy. The moment of grief/shock/fear of finding your babies self in your hands is not a good moment to try to learn what to do. If you flushed in the past, please dont beat yourself up for it, you were never told any better. With my 9 week baby (Laura Elizabeth) as my motivator(she went to a dump in Nevada) I started an interfaith, intercultural hospital based burial program in my city available for babies who dies prior to birth. We have buried 350 babies in 6 years. Im not a genius…if you want to start a burial program, you can to. (full disclosure: although not impossible, doing this is logistically very difficult, red tape nightmare from hell, but it IS possible).

    I would love to do more education about perinatal loss for the Catholic community, but I don’t know where to start. I teach nurses locally, regionally and internationally but we as a group is so focused on abortion that we forget our own will suffer unintended loss and we will need care.

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