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another life to remember

February 3, AD 2012 12 Comments

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.


Filed in: 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.