Does your diocese or parish offer a healing Mass for those who have suffered perinatal loss (miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, stillbirth, and infant death)? Beginning this Thursday, thanks to the efforts of our diocesan Marriage and Family Life Office, ours will.
The first annual Des Moines Pregnancy and Infant Loss Memorial Mass will be celebrated by Bishop Richard Pates this Thursday, October 11, 7:00 PM at St. Augustin Church (42nd St. & Grand Ave., Des Moines).
A commendation ceremony has been built into the Mass in which participants will have the opportunity to name their babies and offer them to the Lord. The names of these children will be collected and sent to the Sisters of Life, who will pray for them throughout the month of November. A reception with refreshments and resources for perinatal loss and infertility support will follow.
Why is this so important?
Studies by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists indicates that approximately 1 in 6 “clinically recognized” pregnancies result in miscarriage. Accordingly, most of society has either direct or indirect experience with a miscarriage. Indeed, the topic touches a nerve with people who knew others who had suffered miscarriages but didn’t know how to help them.
According to one long-time canon lawyer, “Many annulment cases we see involve either an unresolved death or an unresolved fertility issue. Miscarriages are both.” Indeed, we received a testimony from a woman who indicated that a string of miscarriages and failed fertility treatments led to despair, depression, and ultimately divorce.
The Nature of Perinatal Loss
Clearly there is a need to be filled, but what is the nature of that need? Our investigation found the following.
- Compassion: Men and women grieve differently, which can slow the healing process. “We just needed someone to walk with us. We needed someone who understood what we were going through to listen and pray with us. We didn’t even know how to talk to each other. We felt isolated from each other and from everyone else.” Knowing you are not alone and that your grief is normal goes a long way toward healing.
- Closure: In a death, the opportunity to “say goodbye” is an important part of the grieving process, which usually takes the form of a funeral and burial. However, depending upon the circumstances of the loss, there may be no remains or they may have been discarded. “Even if it is just the parents with a priest who could have a 15-minute service to acknowledge the life that was lost and in essence ‘bury’ the child. A lot of people who miscarry don’t get to say goodbye and hand over their child to the Lord in a formal way, and I wish we could have done that, or at least have been encouraged or made aware if there was any kind of opportunity like that.”
- Catechesis: For Catholics, and presumably other Christians, a perinatal loss can produce faith-shaking questions. Some of these questions need to be answered in an instant, in the midst of the emotional trauma. Other questions the couple is left to ponder as they mourn the loss and work through their grief. For example:
- Does this mean God doesn’t want us to have children?
- Are we being punished for something we did wrong?
- Can our baby go to Heaven without being baptized?
- Fertility: Following perinatal loss, women may wonder, “Can I have another baby?” This question strikes directly at the core of a woman’s identity; she may genuinely have never contemplated the possibility that becoming pregnant is less than automatic if she so chooses. However, this is suddenly a natural question/fear that requires a qualified medical answer. Indeed, many women who have experienced miscarriages have also experienced ongoing fertility issues.
No, one event doesn’t wave a magic wand over all of these needs. However, the willingness of the Church to formally acknowledge the lives of these children and give parents permission to grieve can be a starting point for healing. Further, the institution that is the standard-bearer for the inherent dignity of every human person has a responsibility to do this. Holy Mother Church asserts that life begins at conception. She has a duty to be there with comfort, mercy, healing, and hope every time a member of her flock suffers the loss of one of our Holy Innocents.
Our Lady Queen of Hope, pray for us!