Miscarriage: what a loaded word! Technically, it means the spontaneous abortion of a fetus, but miscarriage is not a technical experience. It hits at the core of the person, and it happens more often than we realize. It is estimated that between 10-20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage, which means 1-2 out of every 10, though that number may be as high as 50% as many occur before a pregnancy is suspected. Regardless, miscarriage affects many, many families.
In this post we would like to share our story of miscarriage in hopes that it helps others in either dealing with their own loss or that of someone they know, and to pass along some of the things we learned along the way.
It started one Friday afternoon when I began lightly spotting. We were about eight weeks along and already very excited about this new life. The bleeding wasn’t sufficient to warrant an emergency room visit, so it was not until Monday that I saw my doctor. We did an ultrasound and the doctor said the baby looked fine, though her development was off by two weeks and the heartbeat was slow. She kindly did not brush aside my worries, but she could not dispel them either, saying the spotting could be normal and the slow heart rate due to early gestational stage if we were off a couple of weeks calculating ovulation. Going home I felt a false sense of security, particularly because I knew I had calculated my ovulation correctly. I could have been off a day or two in my NFP charting, as any method can only pinpoint ovulation within a 24-48 hour period, but that did not account for two weeks lost in fetal development. If a miscarriage was occurring, nothing could be done. Maddeningly, all we could do was wait.
By the next Friday, only one week later, my pregnancy symptoms had almost entirely disappeared and the bleeding and cramping had increased. I was sure that the baby had died. I had been praying and preparing myself for that outcome, but that night it hit me and I wrestled with God for this baby. Though intense, it was short-lived, and by the grace of God I was able to pray for guidance and ultimately that God’s will be done. I knew what the following Monday’s ultrasound would find, but hearing the doctor confirm it that day made it all so final, and seeing the baby’s yet unformed body still in my womb brought my heart to my throat. Three pairs of hands were passing tissues, including our little two-year old daughter who was also stroking my face. Some moments are hard to relive, but somehow you need to remember them too.
That was a difficult week in many ways. While we felt a spiritual peace, it was also physically and emotionally painful, but that pain was necessary too. Pain can be redemptive, and this pain united us with our sweet deceased baby and allowed me to pray for her in a special way. We allowed some more time for me to pass the remaining tissue, but finally resorted to a D&C procedure the following Friday, just two short yet interminable weeks from the onset of bleeding. Surprisingly, by the afternoon of the D&C I had recovered so well that I felt physically better than I had before the pregnancy, which was almost harder than the being sick. It was another proof of separation from the baby we had already loved so much.
Though deeply personal, we do not mind sharing our story. Our tiny baby was just as much a person as one that had been born to live to an old age. A part of me wants to shout out to the entire world that she existed, that she was of inestimable value and dignity though her earthly existence was so short. Some would simply describe her as a fetus or tissue, but fetus describes her only as fully as corpus describes me. Though only two months along in the pregnancy, we loved her deeply, though we did not realize just how much until she was gone. When we knew she had died, we commended her to and named her after a patron saint, and are finding ways to remember her in our daily lives, for she will always be a part of our lives, and we hope to meet her in heaven one day.
Eternal Life & Baptism
Our baby’s heartbeat stopped a week before her body was expelled, and so she could not receive the sacrament of baptism. We found solace, however, in talking with a couple of priests about this, who assured us of God’s merciful love, as it says in the Catechism, “as regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus’ tenderness toward children which caused him to say: “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,” allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church’s call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1261). And so we know that we can trust God to be merciful and sweep up the souls of these little ones, Him who loves greater than we can ever know. (The Archdiocese of Boston’s webpage has a good question and answer section concerning baptism.)
Handling of the Remains & Burial
We do believe in the eternal life of the soul, but our human natures cry for some physical remembrance. The hardest part of all of this has been that we do not have a body to bless and bury. She is simply gone. While dealing with the bleeding and the trauma of miscarriage, one impossible question was how to handle our baby’s body when she passed. Typically I am not one to balk at tackling the difficult, but while in the thick of it I simply could not think about it. Both my husband and I were immobilized by shock and disbelief. By the time we found the voice to ask it was too late.
Since, we have learned that there are a few ways to give the remains their proper due. According to the Catholic Church’s Charter for Catholic Health Care Workers, “a dead aborted fetus [which, again, technical term for a miscarriage is spontaneous abortion] must be given the same respect as a human corpse. This means that it cannot be disposed of as just another item of rubbish. If at all possible it should be appropriately interred.” By the time we asked someone knowledgeable on the subject, it was too late to collect the remains, though I feel we should have had the common sense to do so. Our hearts, however, were in the right place, which ultimately is what matters most. We have been comforted by the priests we confessed to, whose kind, compassionate words mirror those of Father Peter West, quoted in a pamphlet on burial available through the Elizabeth Ministry website. He says that we should not blame ourselves for our ignorance: “Those who have disposed of their baby in a way other than burial should not feel guilty. They just didn’t know. But, in the future, we should try to show greater respect for the sanctity of life by our care for the child who has been miscarried and by making sure that they have a decent and proper burial.”
And so, we now know that a baby’s remains should be collected in some way in order to give him or her a proper burial on sacred ground. Burial kits are available through Elizabeth Ministry International and can be rush shipped. With or without remains, it is possible and recommended to have a funeral, burial or prayer service, which could be either public or private. Also, asking for Masses to be said can be done at any time. The Archdiocese of Boston’s webpage has made available possible prayer or funeral services.
When we first began sharing our story, we were surprised to learn just how many of those among our acquaintance have experienced it. There are undoubtedly more who are simply unable or unwilling to talk about it. It is one of the most common complications of pregnancy, but it is not talked about, and so there is a great lack of understanding among the general public, especially in regards to addressing this deep grief. It is often not recognized as a loss, which makes it all so much harder.
If you are looking for a way to help someone who has experienced the death of a child, or would like to know for future reference, it is always helpful to read up on the subject and know what resources are available. You never know when this kind of information will be wanted. The Elizabeth Ministry website has a lot of great information on a variety of topics, notwithstanding miscarriage, stillbirth and infant death. Below are other resources and websites, including one very well-written article that really spoke to me about our loss, The Hidden Face of Love: An Open Letter to Women (and Men) Who Have Lost Children, and Those Who Know Them, by Maria Grizzetti. I highly recommend anyone and everyone to read it. Most of all, understanding that the loss of a child at any age or stage is a deep grief, and acknowledging that pain and loss is always a helpful thing to do.
Charter for Health Care Workers, the Church’s teaching on bioethics.
Elizabeth Ministry International offers support and information regarding these difficult occurrences, and a store where burial vessels may be purchased.
Miscarriage: Overcoming Obstacles, an article on miscarriage available via the USCCB.
Note: This post is the second in a series entitled Sharing the Journey, in which NFP families share life experiences about one of the many direct or indirect ways the use of NFP influences our lives. The views expressed in these posts are personal in nature and do not necessarily reflect those of the Couple to Couple League, Inc.