Being Pro Life: Pregnancy loss is a real loss
She practically danced into the doctor’s office for her standard ultrasound appointment. When the sonographer placed the transducer (the handheld device that transmits the sound waves) onto her abdomen, nothing unusual was anticipated. But after some time, the technician informed her there was no heartbeat, and the baby was measuring the size of an earlier stage of pregnancy. The baby had died, and she left the office devastated and ill-prepared to share the news with her family.
She is not alone. According to Web-MD, between 15-25 percent of known pregnancies in the United States end in miscarriage, and that doesn’t count earlier losses like an ectopic pregnancy or the later loss of stillbirth, which is defined as any loss after 20 weeks of gestation. That’s a significant number of people, and any of us could do a better job reaching out and ministering to these members of our congregations.
First of all, pregnancy loss is a real loss. It is not a made-up loss, a half-loss or a loss only to those who having nothing real worth complaining about. If we believe that life begins prior to birth (at conception in fact), then actual death can also happen prior to birth. Still, too many people don’t seem to recognize this loss, and many parents end up suffering in silence.
How can we better support those suffering from a pregnancy or still-birth loss?
First of all, recognize that this is real grief. Comments like, “Well, at least you now know you can have children,” or “You still have your other children,” are not helpful. Even something like, “At least we know your baby is in heaven,” can sound more like a dismissal of the real loss of watching a child grow up, than something comforting. Instead, be understanding and listen. Ask how they are feeling. Do not tell them how they ought to be feeling. Acknowledge that a baby’s life, no matter how short, is equal in dignity. If parents who lose an older child can grieve the loss of a future wedding or graduation, cannot the parents of a lost unborn child grieve the same things, in addition to the loss of first steps, first words or late-night feedings? Rather than thinking that the shorter the life the less there is to grieve, recognize that grief also includes what could have been.
What can parishes do? Be prepared to minister to a family who suffers a pregnancy loss just as you would the death of an older loved one. Offer a memorial service. If your parish has a cemetery, reserve a special designated space for families who want to bury remains and have a grave marker. Heaven’s Gain is a local ministry that specializes in providing services and products for families suffering the loss of a child through miscarriage or stillbirth. They also provide one-on-one advocacy through a certified baby loss doula. You can contact them through their website at heavensgain.org.
The archdiocese is also sponsoring a Healing Mass for all those who have suffered the loss of an unborn child, including ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage, abortion and even stillbirth. Whether you have experienced that loss recently or many years ago, or simply want to support those who have, please join us at 7 p.m. on Monday, April 29 at one of four locations. For more information go to www.catholiccincinnati.org/unbornloss.
This is not the whole story. Please watch the interview online or subscribe to the podcast at www.catholiccincinnati.org/Being-Pro-Life. Together we can help raise awareness, and continue to work together to minister better to those grieving a pregnancy or early infant loss.
This is the seventh topic of a 12-month series, focusing on a different aspect of Respect Life issues each month.