Can Miscarriage and Abortion Grief Coexist Peacefully?

| 01-18-AD2014 | [13]

Schmidt _AbortionMiscarriage2

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?

© 2014. Joel and Lisa Schmidt. All rights reserved.

About the Author:

Joel and Lisa Schmidt co-founded The Practicing Catholic, an antidote to the perception that piety is boring or that the Church is filled with “sour-faced saints”. In their writings, the Schmidts provide witness to the adventure of living an integrated Catholic life ... not just on Sundays. For more about the Schmidts, please see their individual bios (Joel's bio; Lisa's bio).
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  • http://www.dianemckelva.com/ Diane McKelva

    Joel and Lisa, once again your have highlighted an issue that should be addressed respectfully in every parish. Powerful message. I’m not sure how you reconcile the two mothers and their losses, or even how you approach remembering those children at the same Mass. The circumstances are so different. My only initial thought is, who are we to judge? If a woman expressed remorse for her decision then shouldn’t the Church, and thus the members of that Church, be the healing balm in helping her to embrace her loss and heal? You are correct not all people choose abortion for the same reason. Looking forward to reading other comments.

  • Guy McClung

    Joel and Lisa-Thank you. My wife Karen had two miscarriages. We are now 66 years old and I often think about these two children-in the present tense- and how, someday, I will play with them in Heaven…..and infinity will be how many hugs and kisses they get and eternity will be the amount of love I can give them. Guy McClung, San Antonio

  • Marion Smedberg

    I suffered both an abortion and two miscarriages. I was also blessed with seven living children. The abortion ultimately was what drove me to convert to the Catholic Church, many years later, when I was ready to face the truth and seek forgiveness through the sacrament of reconciliation? I was so incredibly blessed to have a perinatal grief counselor at the hospital where I delivered my dead baby (Francis Marion), and my pastor found a “Mass for Unbaptized Infants” in the Sacramentary and we had a funeral mass. The mass can be celebrated whether or not there are remains present. My grief at the miscarriages was terrible, but fell immediately into the same place as the grief of the earlier abortion.
    The symbolic power of having the bishop celebrate mass and include the post-abortive parents is huge. Jesus came to call sinners, and we all share in his proclamation of the Good News to sinners!
    But the issue of the mixing of those who miscarried and those who aborted must be addressed in an open manner to avoid anger and to welcome the sinner. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
    Post-abortive grief must first acknowledge that the mother is indeed a MOTHER, who has lost her child. And if those who miscarried can pray for and with those who aborted, then they themselves may be converted in spirit.
    The sacrament of Reconciliation should be available before and after mass!
    And perhaps the image of Michelangelo’s Pieta could be handed out as a holy card! to remind us that the Blessed Mother lost her Son, and she understands our pain and is our Comfort.

  • Elizabeth Cecilia Wellner

    I had a miscarriage last week. I just happened to stumble across this article as I’m searching for Catholic resources in dealing with this grief.
    I realize that I should be charitable, but what you say in this article is very true – that many families who suffer a baby dying naturally are going to resent women who have had abortions.
    In my case, even though my drive to my hospital, where I just spent 27 hours this week due to our little son’s death and a whole lot of blood loss, is just like four minutes, on the way I pass by a Planned Parenthood clinic where abortions are performed every Tuesday – coincidentally the same day I had to go to the hospital.
    Yes, the thought crossed my mind, that I wanted to stand outside that awful building and scream at the women going in asking what on earth they were doing while my little boy, Konstantin, had just died.
    Granted I’m going through the very raw trauma of this right now, so maybe in a while from now I’d be able to handle the thought better. But at the moment, if any woman wanted to talk to me about abortion, it would be a horrible psychological situation for me. I’ve been compassionate in the past to women (including in my own family) I know who have come to me in their post-abortive grief, but right now I would likely blow up and give them a really awful piece of my mind.
    That being said, if there was a separate ministry that included something like a Mass for women who are post-abortive and their babies, THAT would not bother me. I recognize that if they regret their actions, the Church really should help them to heal too. God does forgive us if we are sorry, after all. It is just that I could not handle being at the same place at the same time with them.
    Just my thoughts as you are trying to determine whether it is a good idea to put the two together, and I am literally suffering severely through this issue at this exact moment.

  • NurseTammy

    As a Periantal Bereavement Coordinator myself, Im glad your city has one but I also get the “for parents who don’t end up on her radar screen, well, good luck” comment. I have been doing this for 9 years and I am still befuddled when it doesn’t “occur to” staff members to call me. They sometimes act like they think I have a superhuman power to know this is happening without being told. I find the sooner I can get in touch with someone, the better.

    I run a burial program and support group for pregnancy loss/infant death and I think that the answer to the question of “can you minister to both at the same time?” depends on the nature of the specific event being discussed.

    For a Mass where you are welcoming large groups, it would be nice to address all deaths so that post abortive women can come and feel welcome. I would hope that the Priest could use carefully chosen words to not be especially shaming of the post abortive women. At that point lost life is lost life and should be honored.

    In circumstances where people may be openly sharing stories, I encourage more circumstance/case-specific support. There have been times when a post abortive woman would have been welcomed at my support group (by the other moms) and there have been times when they wouldnt have been. I dont ever want a person to not be emotionally safe in their healing at my group so Im honest with the post abortive women.

    Additionally…I would love to see a Perinatal Loss Support ministry in churches and faith communities that I could refer women to when I finish working with them at the hospital. I’ve spoken to women at the larger Catholic Parish in town(as well as Mormons, Baptists etc) and encouraged them to consider it but thusfar it has never passed the “great idea” stage – so I applaud what Joel and Lisa are doing…we need many many more groups just like theirs.

  • Amy

    While I can appreciate your concerns about putting the two groups together, having a separate Mass for post-abortive women and their babies would force them to “out” themselves. It seems cruel that order for them to have a Mass for their child, they would have to publicly reveal their sin.

    • NurseTammy

      Good point, I agree

    • Joel Schmidt

      That is precisely one of our reservations, too.

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  • leogirl87

    Rachel’s Vineyard has separate retreats for miscarriages and post-abortive mothers/fathers/family members.

    Yes, it is difficult for women who’ve miscarried or have trouble with fertility to be around post-abortive women.

    There can be separate masses for children lost through miscarriage and children lost through abortion. The abortion mass can be something about all babies who were aborted and everyone would be invited to join in to pray. If a woman wants to speak or come out publicly she can. Otherwise it can just be anonymous and about all abortions and not singling anyone out, especially since there are going to be women attending who have lost a child or have trouble conceiving.

  • BirthMother

    The quotation you highlighted resonated with me deeply. I am a mother who chose to give her child up to adoption. Unfortunately I have lost two extremely good practicing-Catholic friends who knew of my situation prior to them loosing their children: one through miscarriage and one through stillbirth. They did not know each other, or know of each others circumstances, but each reacted in the same manner in dropping me as a friend and telling me that I gave up my child, they (now, after examining their loss) cannot understand why I would choose to do so as they can’t have theirs and would never dream of parting with their child as I did.
    I wish I could attend a similar-style Mass; there is a lot of pain and grief for those who have placed a child. A lot of stigma and is similar to post-abortive women, shame and the inability to tell the world you have a son/daughter are just two. We have our own loss and need for healing.
    (I have met a few other Catholic women in my situation and we’re thinking that the Church celebrates the ‘birth mother’ and assists during the pregnancy, but then doesn’t do anything else to help with the adjustment and pain; it feels like falling off a cliff; a yearly Mass to acknowledge the life we carried and held deeply would be very helpful.)
    I thank you for addressing this — there needs to be more discussion on such topics. I will pray for this specific intention.

    • BirthMother

      I would also suggest that you contact the Tepeyac Family Center re. their yearly memorial service that includes abortion and miscarriage; I’m sure they could be of some help. http://www.tepeyacfamilycenter.com/apps/calendar/showEvent?calID=5963321&eventID=173417655&next=%2fshowAgenda%3fcalID%3d5963321%26pageNum%3d1%26showPreviousEvents%3d1

    • NurseTammy

      Birth mother, I will show some age-related disconnect with our society here, but I simply don’t understand society’s current hostility with adoption. I was born in 1964 so abortion was illegal when me & my age peers were born. I had a lot of adopted friends (some of them truly amazing people!!) and I always felt like it was such a blessing to all involved.

      As a mom, I would imagine that giving a child up would be horribly hard …that moment would have to be fueled by grace, selflessness and generosity. I applaud you for your gift. Again I cant understand why people in our current culture jump to the false conclusions that adoption is chosen for some of the “bad” reasons they assume motivates the decision.

      Your friends were terribly misguided in severing your friendships after their losses – in reality you all suffered loss. At my hospital, we acknowledge the loss of birth moms and create for them really nice keepsake boxes not unlike the loss parents.

      Loss is loss and it hurts. I hope your child has a wonderful life and you know deep down that you made it all possible. Blessings to you