Can Miscarriage and Abortion Grief Coexist Peacefully?

In Memory of the Unborn Children

To be perfectly honest, we were feeling pretty good about things.

As part of the diaconate formation in our diocese, each candidate is required to develop an Icon of Christ the Servant ministry project.  Essentially, each man or couple is to ascertain a genuine need in the community and undertake a personal outreach ministry to fill it. This directive doesn’t mean a new ministry must be developed. For example, some fellow deacon candidates are visiting shut-ins in hospitals and nursing homes.  Others are working with homeless shelters in the area. One couple is bringing a Catholic divorce care program to the area.  All worthy endeavors that have the potential to bear much fruit, both practically and spiritually.

As we discerned the particular need we might explore, we kept coming back to one thing: miscarriage. If you have read our previous columns, you may know we have suffered two miscarriages ourselves. Through those experiences, we found our local Catholic community was rather ill-equipped to deal with the practical and spiritual questions that arise, let alone help effect some spiritual healing. To be fair, our local Catholic hospital actually has a part-time perinatal bereavement coordinator who is also a labor and delivery nurse. She has done great work over the years with little funding or help to assist those who have lost a child in the womb. However, for parents who don’t end up on her radar screen, well, good luck. They don’t likely know she exists. There is no diocesan component to her work, so there is virtually no connection back to the local parishes.

We learned about her work with miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant loss though a chance conversation with a deacon friend who is also a hospital chaplain. We met with her and discussed that a community outreach was needed and decided the best place to start was in the local Catholic parishes. We barnstormed a number of the parishes with her to meet with people, and discuss what was missing. Most people’s response could be distilled down to one thing: the Church. In the case of a miscarriage, when there is generally no funeral, how does a couple memorialize their baby? Without any direction at the parish or diocesan level, parents were left to wonder if the Church even cares.

We contacted the director of our diocesan Marriage and Family Life Office to see if the diocese would be interested in partnering with us to plan an Infant Loss Memorial Mass. The response was enthusiastic! Together, we planned the liturgy, which was celebrated by the bishop himself with specially selected prayers and music. A naming rite was also included in the Mass, and the names of the babies were collected, and sent to the Sisters of Life who prayed for them throughout the month. Following the Mass, there as a reception with related resources such as infertility and grief support. Attendance was double what we expected, and the feedback was humbling, particularly from parents who had lost babies many years ago.

“For myself, and I believe others who lost babies some time ago, it was the Mass I had requested long ago but was told is never done for babies.”

“I was moved seeing so many candles burning that evening, so many babies.  Although we lost our [child] nearly 30 years ago, tears came to my eyes as I actually wrote her name on the card — to see her name and to know that so many were praying for her and for us.”

The Infant Loss Memorial Mass was a success by every measure, and is now an annual event. To help promote the last one, we met with the regional prolife committee to enlist the support of the individual parish representatives. Many praised the initiative and assured us of their support.  Again, we were feeling pretty good about things.

Then one young woman spoke up. “Are post-abortive women welcome?”

Joel stammered through what turned out to be a rather long-winded, unsatisfying answer. It could be summarized as, “I guess so.” To the woman who asked the question, a post-abortive mother herself, it probably sounded more like, “No.”

We probably should have expected the question would come one day, but we weren’t at all prepared to deal with it. Can parents who lost babies they desperately wanted grieve alongside those who have had abortions? We don’t know.

If miscarriage grief is somewhat disenfranchised, how much more is this the case with abortion grief? Perhaps that was the point of the woman’s question. Post-abortive parents grieve, too. How much more is that grief compounded by having chosen to end the child’s life, often coerced by other(s) to do so.

There are those who work hard to convince the rest of us that abortion is a valid choice for the parents, never mind the child. To be fair, not everyone who has procured an abortion grieves. Some parents regard their abortions with indifference. Still others celebrate theirs as a sign of freedom and liberation from biological slavery. But not all. Many grieve deeply, only realizing later what they have truly done. Programs like Rachel’s Vineyard provide a wonderful resource to help bind the wounds of post-abortive parents. But what about the local Church?

One of the elements that many who attend our diocesan Infant Loss Memorial Masses find most healing is that the bishop himself celebrates the Mass. By him doing so, the institutional Church enters into their grief in a tangible way. The experience says, The Church cares about you and wants to help you heal. Couldn’t post-abortive parents benefit for a similar gesture of support? Absolutely. But how?

Not all parents who long to hold children they lost through miscarriage regard post-abortive parents so charitably. Without judging that particular dynamic, that’s simply a fact. Many women who have suffered miscarriages report feelings of anger, and even jealously toward women who have had abortions. Since that is our particular target audience with this healing ministry, we are extremely hesitant to group the two together.

As we approach the anniversary of Roe v. Wade and mourn the loss of tens of millions of children to abortion, we continue to ponder the following questions:

  • How should individual parishes and dioceses enter into the grief of post-abortive parents?
  • How should the local Church recognize and remember the lives lost to abortion?

Your thoughts?

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Comments

  1. says

    This is a really interesting thing to think about. I think there is definitely a ministry need for both groups, them working together could have a lot of benefits and healing for everyone but it would take special people to lead this and help guide any difficult emotions.

  2. Mark Campbell says

    I’ve been pondering this a good portion of the day because I really want to chose my words carefully on this subject. I would hope that miscarriage and abortion grief could peacefully coexist. I have met women who have made the regrettable decision to have an abortion. While I can’t know how they feel, I can empathize with the pain of losing a child. Here’s where I hope I’m able to communicate correctly- redemption begins the moment the parents begin to grieve the aborted child. I could grieve alongside someone who has lost a child to abortion, while also finding hope in the fact that a lost soul has a chance to find their way back into God’s grace. God is merciful, but how will they know that if we are not willing to stand beside them?

  3. Annie Doyle says

    The two are inextricably linked. It is every bit as tragic to deny a post-abortive mother or father their grief as it is when someone behaves as though miscarriage is “no big deal” or even, in some cases a “blessing”. To deny the grief of either is to deny that there is anything (or more specifically, anyone) worth grieving. While it is often painful to those of us who have lost children through no fault of our own to imagine someone intentionally terminating a pregnancy, we should embrace those brave souls willing to share their regret and grieve with them. The first feelings I have experienced with each of my pregnancies has been a mingling of fear and joy; I can only imagine what it must be like to experience the fear without the joy. The 56 million babies aborted in this country since Roe V. Wade are a stark reminder that 56 million times, we have collectively failed our sisters. Part of how we move forward from that failure, is how we minister to the millions of post-abortive parents in our midst. It begins with sharing our grief.

  4. says

    For my husband and I, trying to start our own pregnancy loss ministry in central IL, we have come across this question as well. The analogy we like to use is that there are two very sick/broken souls we are dealing with. If someone had a broken leg and the other had cancer you would not treat them with the same medicine. Both are sick and need healing-but the treatment is different. For our ministry we have said no to the post-abortive women who have inquired and instead directed them to a Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat. We have also ran into the issue of letting non-married couples come to our couples retreat. With that we do allow them because we see them both as the mother and father and though they are not married, they still have a relationship that has been broken because of their loss. We have also thought about what if the issue of same-sex couples seeking our ministry comes up, so far that hasn’t happened-nor do we have an answer for that yet! So, that’s something else within this ministry that could pop up. So many things to pray about. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this.

  5. says

    I would hope and pray that any parent grieving the loss of a child could grieve alongside another. No matter the reason for the child’s death. Yes, it is incredibly difficult that the reality of life is that some parents who want their children cannot have them and others who could have them choose not to. It is difficult. It is maddening. But if we believe that those babies are life, how could anyone be denied the opportunity to grieve? You cannot hold an infant loss mass and exclude those infants lost to abortion.

    Peace.

  6. Juliana says

    I love that you are trying to help these families! I have some very personal thoughts on this subject that have sat inside me for about 8 months. Please excuse the length.
    Loosing a child is an extremely painful experience no matter the stage of life the child was in. And they are extremely unique situations. There is a connection that mothers and fathers have when the child is unborn (whether wanted or unwanted). My husband and I lost our first baby through miscarriage and it can’t be compared to anyone else’s loss.
    My husband and i are from particularly strong catholic roots and after our miscarriage the response we received from family and friends was surprising. My family is openly pro-life and participates in numerous activities for at risk mothers and abortion victims. I know a lot about the organizations that reach out to these mothers and I love that fact (maybe not personal parishes but they have the ability to refer anyone to the organizations).
    Although my family sees an unborn child as a unique person, I received “heartfelt” comments such as….
    “you can try again”, “i know its hard but it happens to 1 out of 3 women”, “its mother natures way of saying there was something wrong, you should be grateful”, “it was God’s will”, “you are so young”.
    WOW! I was flabbergasted! how is it that people who care so much for unwanted unborn babies didn’t care for mine?
    It’s true that there was anger in my heart towards women who aborted, but it wasn’t because of what they did. At the time I felt like they were getting more help and better treatment than I was. I felt so betrayed by the Church. My own parish priest gave my husband and i a blessing and patted us on the back… that’s it!
    Miscarriage is terrible but being treated like that makes it 10 times worse.
    i didn’t feel like i was able to say i was a mother who lost her child, because i felt like that was cheating. I never met my child. But i loved my child terribly. I felt a stigma that says that i am not that same as a “real” grieving mother. And mothers who abort feel the same way. Maybe they did love their babies but life was cruel and so they became cruel. Or they learned to love there baby only after they lost them. Either way, there is a connection. They are both invisible mothers who aren’t given what they need.

    The truth of what i have experienced is that priests need to be trained on how to love these groups of people practically. Parishes need to become transparent and say… ” if this is you ___ , come and speak with us and we will help you heal”. Form sharing and grieving groups and allow them to be specific. there are more than enough parishioners who have suffered from these pains and really do want to speak about it.
    In terms of the mass it should not have a distinction between wanted and unwanted babies. Have it named as
    “The Holy Innocent Mass, Children who have died before birth”. Let their be equal grieving for all who have suffered. But I think that would only work if both groups of people are already being minister to by their parish. It hurts to be lumped together once a year then forgotten about.

    Thanks a lot for the great post. There is a lot of healing that needs to happen for these groups of people. I am glad to hear that it has started on other places. Luckily i have no more feelings of anger and have found so much peace. Continue this work please.

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