Please read with discretion, as this article shares a brief story about miscarriage.
After fighting infertility for years, battling cancer, and finally seeing the two coveted pink lines on a pregnancy test, Hannah was overjoyed.
Then, at her 8-week appointment, she received the devastating news that she had lost her baby. “I’m sorry, Hannah, but there’s no heartbeat,” Hannah’s doctor told her with compassion in his voice.
In the weeks following, Hannah oscillated between soul-wrenching grief, tearful anger, and utter confusion. She couldn’t understand why God would allow such seemingly senseless cruelty. Why would God bless her with a pregnancy, only to end it long before the baby’s first breath?
Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month Reminds Us of the Need for Better Support
Hannah is a member of my local infertility and loss support group who agreed to share her story with FemCatholic. She is not alone in her experience: Hannah’s story is the story of millions of women who have experienced both the elation of growing a tiny human in their bellies and the heartbreak that follows when that baby passes.
In October, women like Hannah take the time to remember their babies. October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, which offers a chance for grieving parents to honor their loss while also raising awareness of the magnitude of such losses to the general public. Though the whole month serves as a reminder of those babies gone too soon, October 15 in particular is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, when women and families around the country gather to cry, laugh, support each other, and light candles to commemorate their little ones.
Miscarriage and Infant Loss Are Tragically Common, and Yet Many Women Still Feel Shame
Miscarriage and infant loss are fairly ubiquitous. Approximately 1 in 4 women have experienced miscarriage. About 1 in 160 pregnancies end in stillbirths. And roughly 5.4 out of 1,000 infants will die in their first year.
Yet, for many women, the topic of miscarriage and infant loss can feel a bit taboo – or even shameful.
One contributing factor is the hidden nature of miscarriage loss: It isn’t as visible as other types of loss. Sometimes a miscarriage occurs before the couple openly shares the news about their pregnancy news. Other times, the woman is not yet showing a bump. Still others feel like their losses don’t count if they occur before (insert arbitrary number here) weeks of pregnancy. Perhaps worst of all, some mothers blame themselves for the losses:
“If only I hadn’t been so stressed…”
“I knew I shouldn’t have done that CrossFit workout…”
“I don’t deserve to be a mom…”
We Need More Support from the Catholic Church After Miscarriage and Infant Loss
When a miscarriage happens, couples often grieve alone, leading to isolation and feelings of shame – and the Catholic Church’s lack of resources on this type of loss doesn’t help alleviate those heavy feelings.
When Hannah, a practicing Catholic, had a miscarriage at 8 weeks, she didn’t turn to her parish priest or diocese for support. Instead, she sought comfort from her close friends and family, her counselor, and a non-denominational Christian support group. The thought of reaching out to her priest didn’t even cross her mind.
She explained, “The Church has a lot of resources for visible struggles, but there aren’t as many resources for internal struggles. No one can ‘see’ if you’re miscarrying – it’s hidden – and the Church doesn’t focus as much on the hidden struggles.”
Fr. James Brady of the Diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana, agrees with Hannah that support for miscarriage could be improved. Fr. Brady has counseled and prayed with numerous couples and individuals grieving the loss of a child. He believes that “a miscarriage is a death of a child that should be treated as such.” When a couple walks through his doors for miscarriage or infant loss, Fr. Brady assures them that the loss “is not something to be ashamed of, but rather is something that needs to be grieved.”
One thing he offers to grieving parents is a burial service and/or funeral Mass. A service can help a hidden loss feel more tangible, while also providing closure and community support. As one friend interviewed by FemCatholic shared, “having our baby’s soul prayed for out loud as we said goodbye was so moving – it still makes me cry with gratitude.” A service also brings comfort to a couple and reminds them that their child is united with God in Heaven. Many couples are concerned when their child dies unbaptized. Fr. Brady assures us that “God is not limited by baptism. God is an all-merciful God who wouldn’t deny salvation to the most innocent of His children.”
However, Fr. Brady’s compassionate approach is more the exception than the norm among clergy. Miscarriage and infant loss “is an area of pastoral care that’s under-served,” he said. Seminarians don’t receive practical training or courses on miscarriage and infant loss. Once ordained, there is no uniform pastoral training on how to equip priests to handle those losses.
Father Brady also acknowledges the big elephant in the room: that priests are single, unmarried men who usually don’t have personal experience with this type of loss. As Hannah candidly shared, “When it comes to miscarriage, a priest is a single man who doesn’t relate.”
Women, even if they have children themselves, often struggle to support a friend experiencing miscarriage or infant loss. So where do hurting women go?
Red Bird Ministries is Filling the Gap to Support Women and Men Grieving the Loss of a Child
The vast majority of women who miscarry today are millennials (the generation encompassing ages 26 to 41). Where do millennials go when they need anything, whether groceries, makeup, or emotional support? Their phones – or more specifically, the Internet.
But even the internet falls short when it comes to Catholic resources for miscarriage and infant loss. There are currently no widespread, uniform resources accessible to and implemented by all Catholic dioceses. And the resources that do exist are typically birthed from the general public, rather than from within the Catholic Church.
Still, there is hope. Priests like Fr. Brady and organizations like Red Bird Ministries (a Catholic organization that is perhaps gaining the most traction in this area of loss) seek to correct this disservice. Red Bird supports individuals and couples grieving the loss of a child, from pregnancy through adulthood. It was created out of founders Kelly and Ryan Breaux’s most painful tragedies: The losses of three children throughout their marriage.
Red Bird’s mission is twofold. On the one hand, Red Bird serves the immediate needs of grieving parents by helping them “address the profound healing that needs to happen while also honoring the memory of the child.” Equally as important, though, Red Bird also “partners with dioceses and parishes to provide the tools and resources to support families who have experienced the loss of a child from pregnancy through adulthood.”
In fact, Red Bird is currently partnering with Divine Mercy University to develop a formation program for clergy called “The Good Shepherd.” The goal of the program is to equip seminarians and newly ordained priests with the tools needed to effectively and compassionately pastor to couples grieving miscarriage, infant, and child loss. Such a program, if implemented broadly across the country, would be a huge step in the right direction.
Red Bird also offers a free, virtual retreat on Saturday, October 15, a yearly in-person retreat for both women and men, and an app featuring virtual small groups, webinars, weekly check in calls, and a safe space to share your raw emotions, fears, and doubts.
Beyond Red Bird, other resources include “Mommy To a Little Saint,” a private Facebook group dedicated to miscarriage and infant loss, Heaven’s Gains, an organization that provides caskets, urns, and other resources for pregnancy and infant loss, and Be Not Afraid, a non-profit organization that supports parents who decide to carry their child to term after a prenatal diagnosis.
Women and men who are grieving the loss of a child are sadly under-served in the Catholic Church. But it doesn’t have to stay that way – by supporting organizations who are filling the gap, we can provide these women and men with the love and support they deserve.