When you ask Christine how many children she has, the answer isn’t as simple as you might think. Three young children are easily spotted, but another four have been lost to miscarriage. Her family’s story is not uncommon. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists estimates that up to 26% of pregnancies end in miscarriage.
Despite the frequency of these very real losses of human life, many find it difficult to find ways to grieve and to heal from the death of their unborn children.
In recognition of All Souls Day, my parish is visiting its local cemetery to pray for the dead, stopping first to pray for miscarried babies, many of whom are buried onsite. This is one community’s way of acknowledging the full humanity of deceased babies. Tragically, this humanity is so often dismissed or denied. Christine first lost a baby in 2019.
Everything was normal until 8 weeks, but then nothing looked right. We received very poor care. Health care workers had very little sympathy – as if my baby wasn’t a real person.
While this dismissal is not universal, it is common, and many parents have similar stories to tell. Finding a way to properly grieve, therefore, becomes even more important.
A space to grieve
Jenny Bliley is the Program Director for Interment of Angels, the service responsible for the babies buried and remembered at my local cemetery. She explained how the program began:
The Interment of Angels service was started in the 1980s when one of our managers recognized a need in the community to provide a space and a service for families to properly grieve and bury their babies that they had lost through miscarriage or stillbirth. I have been the director of the program for the last six years and I am always moved by the healing that I see take place at these services. Although miscarriage is a very common occurrence, most couples still feel very alone and do not know who to turn to or how to make sense of what has happened.
Along with participating in Interment of Angels for one of her babies, Christine and her husband have been blessed by Memorial Masses for each of the babies they have lost. “It gave Richard some closure that he didn’t even realize he was seeking and for me it provided incredible peace.” In Christine’s case, a priest suggested a Memorial Mass to celebrate what Christine calls “heaven’s gain” as each baby joined the Holy Innocents.
Loving and remembering
Christine and so many others have been blessed by local and national initiatives. Yet, grieving doesn’t end when a miscarried baby is buried. Christine has found very concrete ways to remember her miscarried children throughout the years:
We have memory boxes for all of our babies, living and gone before us, that we keep in on the walls in our room. My other favorite is daily prayer. We ask for their intercession by name daily, and it is so beautiful how the boys have each attached to certain siblings in different seasons.
Parents handle telling their living children about miscarried siblings in different ways. Christine and her husband have chosen to explain to their children and invite them into loving and remembering their siblings. “We have explained the losses to them that God has called the babies home and that those babies are where we all desire to go and that one day in heaven we will all be together again. The why’s are answered with “I don’t know but I know that God desires only our good, so this is something that He allowed so that we can draw closer to His Sacred Heart.”
Their children now pray with them for family friends going through difficult pregnancies and when a baby is lost “our boys have been able to offer sincere concern, comfort, and love to the kids who are processing it.”
This sort of community outreach and recognition of human life at the earliest stages is exactly what will happen in our parish visit to the cemetery for All Souls. There will be parents present who have a child buried there and other parents who have lost a child but didn’t know these sorts of resources were available. There will also be children praying for siblings they’ve never met, along with children who are recognizing, perhaps for the first time, that a loss has happened, but that we live in hope of meeting these lost babies again.
Christine has some wisdom to share from the loss of her four babies.
Surrender your sorrow, anger, disbelief, embarrassment, regret, gratitude, hopelessness, hopefulness, pain, and any other sentiment that comes up. These children are gifts from God and are fruits of your marriage. Name them, recognize them, celebrate them. Pray for them and ask for their intercession — trust in the Lord’s mercy and His knowledge of your desire to baptize your children had they been born alive. Ask their guardian angels for prayers, especially in the hard-pressed (sometimes) fight for others to recognize your children’s existence, for peace in that desire and resignation to His will. Then, when you are ready, be an advocate for those around you who are suffering, first and foremost with listening in solidarity and remembering their babies.