Naming and Pregnancy Loss
Thursday, March 4, 2021

“Do you have a name for this baby?” she asked.

“Um, no,” I responded.

After sharing that my husband and I had our second pregnancy loss, I received this question often from my friends.

In Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis writes something that still makes my imagination run wild:

“The gift of a new child, entrusted by the Lord to a father and a mother, begins with acceptance, continues with lifelong protection and has as its final goal the joy of eternal life. By serenely contemplating the ultimate fulfilment of each human person, parents will be even more aware of the precious gift entrusted to them. For God allows parents to choose the name by which he himself will call their child for all eternity” (166, emphasis added).

I had never considered the liberty God grants us in allowing us to name our children, but naming is something He has invited us to do since the dawn of Creation. In the beginning, God allows Adam to name the creatures (Gen. 2:19). In essence, we speak on God’s behalf. This is the first moment when humanity fulfills its prophetic role, a role we lost in the Fall and regain in the gift of Baptism, when our roles of priest, prophet, and king are restored. Naming is momentous. Naming makes us co-creators. In the midst of losing these babies, I wanted to hide from this role.

I knew people who chose a name for a child they lost before birth. It is a wonderful way to remember and make them a regular part of conversation and family life. I liked this idea — until I had a pregnancy loss myself. Like anything in life, you have ideas about certain experiences when you’re standing outside of them. Holding onto those ideas is a guiding force. But once you’re standing in those experiences? Be prepared to loosen your grip.

I have a 2-½-year-old. Naming her wasn’t a rushed process. We had a few names we liked but decided we wanted to lay our eyes on her before making a permanent choice. Names evoke a certain feeling and conjure memories. We wanted to see if a name would bubble up in our hearts when we stared at her face for the first time. The process we chose for naming her was one of my favorite parts of pregnancy and childbirth. I cannot explain the rush I felt as she was delivered into my arms. My husband and I just looked at one another. I said, “Mary?” and he nodded.

Naming the two babies we lost before birth was meant to be part of the healing process, but I wanted it to feel authentic. I wanted it to feel real. I didn’t want to name them simply for my own sake. My husband and I wanted answers to impossible questions. What were they going to look like? What would that pregnancy be like? All of the knowledge that played a role in “naming” my oldest child was unavailable to me. And this doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the more primordial questions I had around ensoulment, sex, and gender. I wondered — what began in me? Who began in me?

The only way I could settle down was to develop — in my mind and heart — a basic spiritual posture toward pregnancy loss. It was born out of a few things I knew for sure:

God Didn’t Cause Our Pregnancy Loss

Despite their best efforts to offer comfort, people still attributed these losses to “God’s will.” I knew this wasn’t a test from Him or something that was “meant to happen.” However, He is in the midst of it, redeeming our suffering and incorporating even the worst moments into His plan of salvation. He’s done it over and over again throughout history. Why would our experience be an exception?

I Knew These Babies

Perhaps I had never seen them or “gotten to know them.” But, as a Catholic, I embrace the oneness of the body and soul. Though they were hidden from my eyes, my body “knew” them. So I knew them.

As a Catholic, I embrace the oneness of the body and soul. Though they were hidden from my eyes, my body “knew” them. So I knew them.

I Still Want to Know Them More

This bodily way of knowing them still leaves me dissatisfied. As a pilgrim people, we’re journeying toward the Source of our desires, the Answer to our questions. This dissatisfaction shapes the path of my pilgrimage on earth.

Dissatisfaction and Inner Peace Aren’t Mutually Exclusive

A few decades of living as a Christian have proved this to be true: I can be hungry for a Love not found on earth and be joyful and hopeful here, too. I can desire an answer this world cannot offer and experience peace and contentment in this midst of this desire. This paradox is classic to the Christian life, because we are not an “either/or” people: either tumult or peace, either contemplative prayer or acts of service. We are a people who embrace everything in Reality — suffering, joy, celibacy, marriage. There is no shortage of “both/ands” in Christianity.

I can be hungry for a Love not found on earth and be joyful and hopeful here, too. I can desire an answer this world cannot offer and experience peace and contentment in this midst of this desire.

We’re All Being Held

Someone remarked that I was “womb and tomb” for these babies. This statement seemed trite at the time but was incredibly helpful when I let it take on real meaning in prayer. What would it be like to spend your entire life being held? To never be outside of the embrace of the one who loves you most, from the moment of your conception to death? This was the experience of these two babies. They didn’t know what it was like to be apart from me.

Hans Urs von Balthasar writes about the child as a paradigm for the spiritual life. The reason Jesus names children “heavenly ambassadors” is because they model, on a fundamental level, the posture that we should all take before God: to be utterly present and aware of our need.

The distance between me and a childlike faith is vast. Though we were together for such a brief time, these two babies made me aware of my need: that without my Creator’s embrace, I am nothing. My prayer in light of this experience has been, “Lord, I don’t want to know what it’s like to be apart from You.”

Though we were together for such a brief time, these two babies made me aware of my need: that without my Creator’s embrace, I am nothing.

Kelley Dawson

Kelley Dawson is a Scripture teacher who lives with her husband and their two children in Arizona. Her favorite times of day are when they go to sleep and when they wake up. She holds her M. Div. from the University of Notre Dame and loves thinking about the formation of young people in today's Church.

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