By Melissa Gorley, FSI Coach and Staff Writer.
Miscarriage is a hard topic. The loss of an unborn child is experienced by many couples and yet, each loss remains entirely unique. It can feel hard to know what to say or do to support a mother and father who’ve miscarried. It can feel hard to do “the work of grief” ourselves. Thankfully, the subject is not taboo the way it once was, but the challenge is still there. There may or may not be bodily remains to bury and so, miscarriages are not deaths we typically honor publicly. When a child is lost early in pregnancy, before his or her conception was even shared, it is arguably even harder to share the news of the loss because family and friends are not prepared to hear it. Harder yet, no one ever celebrated the life of the child with the parents. There is no “easy miscarriage” for a couple who believes every life is a gift from the moment of conception.
My husband and I experienced our only miscarriage after the birth of three sons. It shocked us to the core. We had come to expect our babies would live to a full-term delivery. We had started to take our fertility for granted. Never again have we assumed we would get pregnant easily or that our conceived child would live. We named our miscarried baby and still remember him, Gabriel, by name when talking about our whole family or especially that season of our family life. Naming him and using his name has helped us to feel that he was a real child, rather than to only know that truth intellectually. A friend gave us a Christmas ornament to remember him by because we lost him around Christmas. At the time, I was grateful but uncertain I wanted a reminder of the pain. Over the years, that ornament has become a treasured memento of his sacred existence and a gentle way we have been able to tell his younger siblings about him-when they ask about the ornament or when I think it’s a good time for them to know.
Renowned Catholic writer and speaker Kimberly Hahn is a mother and grandmother who has experienced three miscarriages herself. She once spoke at a conference where she summarized her thoughts on miscarriage and child loss from her book Life-Giving Love. She advised that there are tried and true, concrete things to do for couples to ease the pain of miscarriage:
- Accompaniment begins by simply expressing sorrow for their loss. Say “I’m so sorry for your loss” with a squeeze of the hand.
- Encourage them to memorialize the baby however they can, especially because their grief will make it hard for them to think about such things themselves. If there is a body to hold, encourage them to hold it. Encourage them to talk to hospital staff about taking pictures and making molds of Baby’s hands and feet. Offer to help make it happen. These will be treasures later.
- Be there for the parents over the long haul, after the actual loss and immediate aftermath.
- Memorialize the baby as friends and family can, with meaningful gifts. Plant something. Offer a Mass. Pray. And tell the parents.
- Remember Baby’s due date and death dates and accompany your loved one on those days. It is better to ask if a parent wants to talk about Baby on those days and be told no, then for that parent to feel utterly alone because others have forgotten or don’t want to mention Baby.
- Ask miscarried children to pray! We believe these children join the communion of saints and can pray for us.
Getting a New Period
A new menstrual cycle does not feel like a new beginning or new opportunity to one who has recently miscarried but is, rather, a vivid reminder of the loss of a precious life from within. Ultimately, charting one’s menstrual cycle can possibly be a first step in finding answers to repeated miscarriages or fertility struggles caused by hormonal imbalances when a NaPro-trained or restorative reproductive medicine-trained physician is consulted. The FSI Directory (fertilityscienceinstitute.org/directory) is a growing resource for finding these types of providers.
Catholic women have long known the need to support their sisters, especially when they are pregnant or have suffered loss. Founded in 1991, Elizabeth Ministry International (elizabethministry.org) and its 700 parish-based chapters worldwide train volunteers to support women and their families in the child-bearing years, beginning with personal visits modeled after Mary’s Visitation. Their mission has expanded to include efforts to support relationships and sexuality. From the beginning, Elizabeth Ministry has honored the profound loss of miscarriage with prayer ministry and accompaniment.
Red Bird Ministries (redbird.love) is a grief support ministry and the only Catholic apostolate that “systematically guides individuals and couples through the complexity and trauma that happens with the loss of a loved one.” Their methods include utilizing the power of personal stories, access to multi-media resources, and one-on-one mentoring. Red Bird’s powerful downloadable pdf entitled “7 Pregnancy Loss Points of Pain” .
The innocent suffering of miscarriage remains one of the great mysteries and trials of faith. Borne of hope, accompaniment and prayer are our best human responses.
Check out the FSI Directory to find providers that offer support after a miscarriage.