Q: After giving birth to three wonderful children, tragedy struck our family. I miscarried our fourth child. The experience was extremely difficult for the whole family, but especially for my husband and me. My question is, what does the Catholic Church teach about what to do following a miscarriage? What can a couple or a family do to heal from this painful experience?
A: To begin with, my heart and prayers go out to you and your entire family. The loss of a child through a miscarriage is just that, the loss of a child, and this can never be anything other than a traumatic experience for parents and families. From the moment of conception, a new life has begun that is deserving of respect. As a result, we are called to treat this person with the dignity they deserve both in life and in death.
The prophet Jeremiah reveals the amazing love that God has for us at all stages of life: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you.” (Jeremiah 1:5) Our call is to have this same love and respect for all human life, most especially in its most vulnerable stages at the beginning and end of life. This important and fundamental teaching of our church informs how we should respond to the tragedy of a miscarriage.
Thankfully, the church offers women and families who have suffered a miscarriage or stillbirth an abundance of pastoral resources to help them heal from that difficult experience. The stage of pregnancy can determine the specific pastoral response a woman or family might receive from the church.
If the miscarriage occurs very early in the pregnancy, there is a beautiful Blessing of Parents After a Miscarriage or Stillbirth that can be used either at home or in the hospital. A section of this blessing says, “For those who trust in God, in the pain of sorrow there is consolation, in the face of despair there is hope, in the midst of death there is life,” and it reminds grieving parents — and all of us — that as we mourn after death, “we place ourselves in the hands of God and ask for strength, for healing, and for love.” It is important for the family to know that God and his church are with them and accompanying them during that difficult moment.
If the miscarriage occurs later in the child’s development in the womb, the church offers a mother and her family some additional pastoral responses to help in the grieving process. These may include celebrating a vigil, a Christian funeral or a graveside committal service. If a miscarriage is predicted, special preparations at home or in the hospital make it possible to celebrate any of these funeral rites. Parents should consult their pastor for guidance.
Recently, a family contacted me and asked about the options available to them following the miscarriage of their 12-week-old infant. While we were not able to celebrate a funeral in this instance, I did meet the family at the local Catholic cemetery where a special section is reserved for the burial of miscarried infants (a service offered free of charge).
Once we were gathered, we celebrated the Rite of Final Commendation for an Infant. The experience was meaningful and healing for the family, especially this prayer from the rite: “Lord Jesus, lovingly receive this little child; bless her and take her to your Father. We ask this in hope.” I cannot recommend enough that you consult your pastor and take advantage of the beautiful and healing pastoral responses that the church offers you and your family.
May God’s blessing be with you today and always!
Northwest Catholic - December 2016