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Perinatal Loss: The Rest of the Family

As more is learned about the emotional and spiritual pain that women suffer from losing a child before his or her birth, the Church and other non-profit organizations try to support and nurture these women as best they can. Groups like Project Rachel and the Elizabeth Ministry do amazing work for these women who carry such heavy burdens on their hearts. Both the loss of a child through miscarriage and abortion can be traumatic for all involved. It takes time to heal, and everyone’s journey looks different.

As an adult woman with many children, I feel immensely blessed to have never suffered a loss. I often feel like I have “dodged a bullet” so to speak, when I think about how incredibly rare it is to be able to enjoy all of your children alive here on Earth.

And though I am not missing any of my own children, there are two in Heaven that I miss every day. My sisters. My mother suffered both a miscarriage after my birth, and decided on abortion for an unwanted pregnancy before my birth. But, there are no support groups for me. There’s not a whole lot of information on how to grieve a sibling that some people argue never was a child in the first place.

I had, in my own words, a difficult childhood. Without going into detail, I often felt alone and like I was missing family members. I knew that my life would have been so much different, perhaps easier had I had more siblings. Someone to go through what I was going through, someone who understood, someone to talk to.

As a child, I could not form this idea into a concrete thought. I couldn’t put into words how lonely I was because I did have a family. I had half-siblings and step-siblings, but I had no one that is half my dad and half my mom, just like me. Looking back now, I can easily see why I had this emptiness in my heart.

When my mom shared with me her story after twenty-some years, I was at first overwhelmed with emotions for her. I couldn’t fathom the silent pain that she had gone through all this time alone. But the more I thought about it, the more pain I began to experience. I found that I truly missed these two children, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I began to almost obsess about them and question how different my life could have been. So many of my thoughts became about what they could have been and done in this world. Not to mention the thoughts that would plague me about my own existence and if I was really wanted in this world.

I knew that I needed to know these two siblings. I needed to have some kind of connection to them, so I prayed. I prayed to God to give me some glimpse of what they would have been. I asked Him to reveal some small detail of their faces, their hearts, their anything that I could hold onto. Over time, I had an overwhelming feeling when I prayed about these two siblings that they were girls. I knew this was my gift from God, the little glimpse into their lives I needed.

My heart knew that these two babies would have been my sisters, but once I had this tiny piece of information I needed more. I needed to talk to them, to pour out my heart to them as sisters do. I decided that I needed to be able to call them by name, and so I chose two inspiring Catholic Saints to name them after. I decided that my older sister would be named Gemma, and my younger sister, Gianna. Finally, I felt at peace.

As an adult I grieve every day for these siblings. It wasn’t until much later that I learned that many mothers are encouraged to name their children who have never lived on Earth, it encourages the healing process. I can say it definitely did that for me.

I know my mother doesn’t think of them as boys or girls, she certainly hasn’t named them, and that’s ok. She is somewhere else in the healing process, and I think it will be a long time before she can even think of them as her children. But, I needed to do something for me, I needed to recognize them as human beings that are missed and loved. By naming them, I began to feel as if I could someday heal.

I pray for their intercession daily, and I truly believe that they pray for my children and I. I feel peace being able to spill my heart to them as I would to any sister, we have a relationship even though I have not yet met them.

I would like to be so bold as to ask for your prayers. Please pray for these two children that their souls are joined with God in Heaven. Pray for my own saints, Gemma and Gianna.

August 8, 2012 - 8:40 am

Kerri - This is so touching! Thank you for sharing. I have always approached the topic of pregnancy loss from the perspective as the mom, because as a mom who has experienced multiple losses, this is the only perspective I know. It is so nice to read the perspective of the sibling. Thank you so much for sharing. prayers for your sisters, Gemma and Gianna.
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August 8, 2012 - 9:34 am

Brittany - Thank you so much for sharing this! My own mother took birth control during her fertile years (which she now regrets, but really didn’t fully understand at the time) and I often wonder if I might have brothers or sisters in heaven. I am blessed to have two little sisters here on earth though, and I thank God for them every day! Thank you for sharing about your sisters- Gemma and Gianna, pray for us!

August 8, 2012 - 9:49 am

Hannah - I’ve been in both seats when it comes to this. My parents first baby, a girl, died of SIDS at 6 weeks. 30 years later my own daughter died. Unlike you I had a name and a face to put to my sister and I do miss her. She was the only one of my siblings who looked like me as a baby so it would’ve been so interesting to see if we looked alike as grown-ups. There are some books out there now for helping siblings cope with such a loss. Someone Came Before You; We Were Going to Have a Baby but we had an Angel Instead; When Hello Means Goodbye. They are all available here http://www.griefwatch.com/topics.html?type=9

August 8, 2012 - 6:25 pm

Lisa C - What a lovely article. I have 8 children but have given over 7 babies to God in miscarriage so I understand so much of the feelings of which this gal speaks. Isn’t it wonderful and providential that our faith allows us to know they wait for us, pray for us and intercede?? What a huge comfort.

I was told by a friend and priest to name our babies and make them a part of our family and in doing that the pain has been lessened immeasurably. I have a beautiful picture of the Blessed Mother with all their names written under her mantle. We have 7 tiny stockings we put up at Christmas. They are a part of our family here too.

I will pray for her as she continues to grive for what will surely be known in heaven!!

Thank you for the wonderful article~

August 9, 2012 - 12:03 am

Big Families Violence in Bible Holy Orders Forgiveness | Big ☧ulpit - [...] Perinatal Loss: The Rest of the Family – Catholic Sistas [...]

August 10, 2012 - 9:29 am

Cathy - I have an older brother that I hope to meet in Heaven one day. He died shortly before he was born. My parents did not name him, and my mother never even got to see him.
I think of him often and wonder what our family would have been like had he been here with us. More often now I pray to him and ask for his help as a big brother – that gives me some comfort.
Unfortunately, my efforts to get my parents to name him didn’t go well. My father, who is 91, still cries when I mention him and still hasn’t dealt with the grief of losing him – even though it’s been 51 years.

August 10, 2012 - 9:31 am

Mary C. - Thank you for this touching article. The perspective of the sibling who lost a brother or sister is interesting and, like you commented, often never addressed. My first pregnancy was a miscarriage and it wasn’t until 24 years later that I finally realized I needed to name my baby and give her the honor she deserves. I put her name on the list at the Shrine of the Church of the Holy Innocents in New York. (http://www.innocents.com/shrine.asp)and after I did that the Lord has spoken to me (and she has as well) in many, many ways. I highly recommend this to anyone who has had a perinatal loss. It’s a wonderfully healing thing to do. God Bless.

August 10, 2012 - 2:56 pm

Jennifer - While I sympathize with your loss, I hope that you understand that your mother may be as “at peace” with her loss as she is going to get. I have 4 living children but have been pregnant 15 times. I’ve had 6 first trimester miscarriages and 5 second trimester miscarriages. I wish those pregnancies that ended in miscarriage had turned out differently, but they didn’t and I certainly don’t mourn those as my children. I mourn the possibility of what might have been, but understand that those pregnancies were not meant to be my children. I would be very uncomfortable if my children wanted me to acknowledge those miscarriages in some other way. Really, none of my living children would be here today if those pregnancies came to term, so what is the point? Miscarriages are sad, but they happen and they happen to some of us more than others. I would be a wreck if I had to name those lost ones. Why dwell on what didn’t happen? I’d rather devote my energy, time and prayers to my children on earth. If your mother wants you to let it be, I encourage you to do so.

August 10, 2012 - 3:44 pm

Brittany - Jennifer,
First of all, I am deeply sorry for your losses. While you seem to have a different opinion on how to cope with them, I know that they are never easy to go through. I would ask you a question in regards to your comment, “so what is the point?”. At what point do you think a person has an immaterial soul? Or do you believe that we have immaterial souls that are separate from our material bodies at all? For Catholics, that is the point. Whether your child has only spend 6 weeks in your womb or 80 years upon the earth, they have a soul and that should be recognized. We also believe that children are pure and innocent and upon death will likely achieve sainthood quickly, meaning that they are in heaven and that they can pray for us. Do you hope to reach heaven someday? What do you think it will be like to face the 11 children you never got to meet on earth after all the time you spent denying their very existence? You don’t have to name them if you don’t feel comfortable doing so, but I do feel that it should be acknowledged that they were indeed people who lived and died. I don’t say any of this to hurt you- I only ask these questions so that you might reflect upon this truth. It’s not about dwelling on what didn’t happen. It’s about acknowledging what did happen.

Peace and Blessings.

August 10, 2012 - 4:45 pm

Michelle - First of all, thank you for this post! While I’ve never been in this position (as a sibling of a child lost) I can imagine the pain you feel when finding out that you are indeed missing 2 siblings! ((((HUGS)))) and prayers!

Jennifer, to address your comments… I am a mother of 10 living children but I have 12 babies in heaven waiting for me. Many were very early miscarriages but 5 were second trimester losses, 2 later into the 2nd trimester. I wonder if you have ever been able to hold those babies that you lost? My first two second trimester losses I did not. It wasn’t an option for me to do so. The other 3 I did. I had to deliver those babies, one is a very traumatic fashion (You can read that story here on this website at http://www.catholicsistas.com/2011/10/15/williams-legacy/ ) I counted their fingers and toes, I kissed their heads. Their siblings held them. While too little to survive outside of me they were completely formed and absolutely perfect. There was no doubt at all that they were tiny humans, MY CHILDREN, every bit as much as the siblings who held them were.

I know that each person grieves differently and maybe for you denying that these babies are not truly your children help you to move away from something that is so utterly painful that it can destroy you. Also, perhaps your children didn’t need to heal in the same manner as mine did but for my kids, holding their siblings (the ones they were able) was healing to their souls. They could see the little person they had been praying for, hoping for, loving long before they ever laid eyes on them.

I didn’t name all my babies to begin with… in fact, many did not have names. However a very dear friend of mine encouraged me to name ALL my babies. I allowed my children to help name some of the babies, especially those who were lost and my pregnancy with them came immediately after. I lost a baby before getting pregnant with my oldest. My oldest daughter wanted to help name that baby. If that one had lived, she would not be here. She was thankful for her older brother and felt a connection to him. Likewise with several other of my children and babies lost directly before their pregnancies those children helped name the sibling lost. I can’t even begin to tell you how much it helped me to have names to pray for, to talk about, to share.

Acknowledging the loss of a baby right before another successful pregnancy does not take away from the living child but it gives the lost one acceptance and acknowledgment that yes, they were here, they lived and they were loved. It doesn’t matter the amount of time we hold our little ones, either in our wombs or in our arms. They were given to us by God, they possess a soul and are perfectly made. They have life and that life should be made known.

I understand that perhaps you don’t need to name your children but please know that if you do it won’t take away from the love you have for your living children… it actually enhances it because it lets your children know that you value their lives and love them (and any siblings that might come along) from the moment they are formed in your womb, not just when they get here. It is an acknowlegment of God’s precious gift as well.

We have to support those who have lost children and also support those who have lost siblings. I know my children hurt more than most people realize. They STILL hurt. They loved our babies from the moment they heard they would be coming into the world. We need to support them in doing what they need in order to heal. For this author it means naming her siblings and relishing in the fact that they are in heaven and are part of the communion of saints.

August 10, 2012 - 7:33 pm

Misty - Part of what compounds the pain of losing a child to miscarriage, for the vast majority of women, is the pervasive idea that unborn children are not really people. We adopted this to cope with and justify abortion, but it’s existed for time immemorial. Women gave birth to stillborn, full term babies, never named them, and buried them in unmarked ked graves. I respectfully suggest that those practices, along with any that deny the humanity and unique personhood of the children lost, are not in accord with our belief that every person is created with an incomparable dignity, made in God’s image. Would we deny or ignore the existence of a spouse, relative, or child that died later in life? Most women who suffer these losses would not find naming or acknowledging their babies emotionally devastating if they felt like they had permission from friends and family to do so without being accused of dwelling on it or giving too much importance to “just” a miscarriage. We consider it inappropriate for a miscarried child to receive a funeral or even a name, yet we recognize that one of the necessary steps in healing from abortion is to acknowledge, name, and memorialize the child. We will never create a true culture of life until miscarried children are afforded the same recognition and consideration that the rest of us are.

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