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Five Myths about Miscarriage

When our fourth child, Ben, died mid-pregnancy in 2007, I learned that when it comes to miscarriage, most people simply don’t know much about it until it happens to them. I also discovered there are far too many myths about miscarriage, which often increase the pain of those suffering the loss of a child. With October being National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month, let’s dispel a few of the most common ones.

Myth 1: Miscarriage is rare.

About one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage, according to the Miscarriage Association and the March of Dimes. This statistic stuns most people, who assume miscarriage is rare or that it “can’t happen to them.”

When our son died, we were part of a relatively small parish and I was shocked by the number of women who privately shared with me that they’d lost a child before birth. There was no “pattern,” either–some of the bereaved mothers had only lost one child, while others had lost multiple babies. These women had lost babies at all stages of gestation, from their teen years to their 40s, with the child being their first, second, or sixth child. It made me realize then just how common this sorrowful sisterhood really is.

Myth 2: Miscarried or stillborn babies go to limbo because they were not baptized. 

Guess what? Despite the media declaring a few years ago that the Church was “retiring” the concept of limbo, the Church has never actually taught that babies–or anyone, for that matter–go to limbo if they die unbaptized.

Long ago, St. Augustine so vigorously insisted that baptism was required to go to heaven that he painted himself into a theological corner when questioned about the fate of unbaptized babies who die before birth. Since having these children end up in hell for not being baptized (through no fault of their own) seemed not only harsh but in conflict with God’s great love and mercy for souls, theologians pontificated that unbaptized babies might go to “limbo,” a neutral place where the children didn’t suffer the pains of hell, but didn’t enjoy the fullness of God’s presence, either. Sort of like the “bosom of Abraham,” where the souls of the faithful hung out until Jesus opened the gates of heaven after dying on the Cross.

The official teaching of the Church has always been that ultimately, we simply don’t know what happens to the souls of our unbaptized babies. As the Catechism says, “the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus’ tenderness toward children which caused him to say: ‘Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,’ allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism.”

When it comes to the eternal fate of our children, we must simply trust in Our Savior’s love and mercy. And as Father Claude, our wonderful Maronite priest pointed out, even when we baptize living infants, it’s the parents’ faith–not the child’s–that stands in or “vouches” for the child being initiated into the New Covenant. This offers even more hope to us, he said, as parents who lose children before birth can similarly ask God to accept our faith and desire for our child to go to heaven, much as we do with regular baptism.

Myth 3: Only babies who die late in pregnancy or early after birth need to be named or have a funeral.

I suppose I was the anomaly when our son died, because NO ONE was going to deny me a funeral for him! Yet I’ve met countless Catholics who did not feel their miscarried child was entitled to be recognized through the funeral rites of the Church. Many of these people, who have been active in the pro-life movement for decades, didn’t even feel they could rightfully give their miscarried babies a name.

I’ll never forget the sorrow I felt for an older couple, who told me about the baby they’d miscarried 30 years earlier. They’d put the baby’s body in a mayonnaise jar and convinced a funeral home director to quietly bury the child in the grave of a stranger being interred later that week. This couple has stood outside of abortuaries and helped countless post-abortion women recognize and mourn the loss of their aborted children, yet did not feel they had the right to have their own baby’s humanity recognized by friends, family, or the Church.

To me, this is one of the most telling signs that even faithful, staunchly pro-life Catholics have been influenced and in many cases, cowed by the culture of death. If the Church teaches that we carry persons with full human dignity inside us from the moment of conception, why shouldn’t miscarried children of any age be treated the same as the rest of us? At what arbitrary point in development do our deceased children merit being recognized and publicly mourned? Second trimester? Third? I’ve been especially dismayed by the pro-life Catholics I’ve heard express clear disapproval of those rare couples who elect to have a funeral or memorial service for babies lost during the first trimester. Why not?

Sadly, while there’s copious guidance on how to help those who have suffered abortion, there’s frighteningly little out there for laity or clergy about how to properly handle the natural death of unborn children. One of the biggest areas of ignorance is in handling these babies’ remains; few people realize that we’re required to treat the remains of our miscarried children with the same reverence that we do the remains of any deceased persons. That means having the child’s remains buried in consecrated ground. Ideally, suffering couples should be able to confidently approach Mother Church about these issues and receive clear guidance on how to properly honor their miscarried loved ones.

Myth 4: Parents who have lost a child dread people mentioning their loss.

One of the most painful aspects of miscarriage is feeling like you’re the only person who remembers your child even existed once the first few weeks have passed. Especially if you’ve experienced an early loss, the feeling that no one cares about or remembers the unique soul you carried can be agonizingly painful.

Let me assure you: parents who lose a child won’t be reminded of their pain if you mention their miscarried baby. We never forgot our child, after all. But it touches us immeasurably if you remember our lost babies, especially if you remember and use our child’s name long after it feels like the rest of the world has forgotten him. You may see tears, but I promise you they’re happy, grateful tears because we feel blessed, not burdened.

Myth 5: The earlier the miscarriage, the less attached the parents were to the baby and the easier it is to move on.

I’ve never really understood why it’s so hard for people to just say, “I’m so sorry for your loss” when they encounter someone who has lost a child to miscarriage. Instead, in a clumsy effort to be consoling, people end up ironically compounding the person’s pain. One of the deepest cuts to a mother’s or father’s heart is to dismiss their miscarried child by saying any of the following:

  • “You can always have another.” (But I want this child.)
  • “At least you weren’t very far along.” (So why do I still miss him?)
  • “You’ll be pregnant again soon.” (I don’t want to be pregnant again; I want to be pregnant still.)
  • “You can always try again.” (So I failed this time?)

Interestingly, while we’re willing to admit that abortion does grave damage to the mother’s soul, regardless of how early she aborted, we tend to dismiss the pain caused by miscarriage, especially if the baby died early on. The bond between a mother and her unborn child is written in blood, which is why the loss of a child at any age usually causes intense emotional pain…no matter how that child died.

Yes, the longer a child is in our life, the more painful it will be to lose them; I don’t pretend that what I suffered losing my son at 18 weeks is as intense as the mother’s who loses her toddler or teenager or even adult child to death. But the bond between mother and child exists from the very beginning and any separation of the two will be painful. Mothers who lose their miscarried children are suffering terribly, too, and they have just as much right to mourn their child as does the person who loses an older child.

Our beloved babies are our beloved babies, whether they have been with us for two weeks or 50 years.

 

About Misty

Misty converted to Catholicism from atheism 13 years ago, just a week after becoming a mother to her first child. Prior to becoming a stay-at-home mom, she worked full-time as a magazine writer and editor. She has been married to her best friend for nearly 20 years and looks forward to many more decades by his side. Her days are now spent cooking, doing laundry, freelance writing, and homeschooling her five children. After spending so much of her life in spiritual darkness, she revels in the joy of being Catholic. Without a doubt, the Lord’s greatest gift to her has been saving her from a life without Him.

  • KellyW - Thank you for this article. I miscarried 2 babies and I always felt that I got more sympathy for the baby I lost at 17 weeks than the baby I lost at 12 weeks. I know that people aren’t trying to be insensitive but I found myself “fudging” the numbers and saying I lost them both in the 2nd trimester. Anway, thank you, thank you, thank you!October 25, 2012 – 12:07 pmReplyCancel

  • Tammy - Misty,

    Thanks for this good article. I am sorry for the loss of your dear Ben.

    Caring for women/families/babies at the time of perinatal death is what I do, so if its ok, I would like to expand on a few of your well placed ideas.

    Myth1. You are right, loss isnt rare. If you take abortion out of the equation to simply look at naturally occurring loss in the US each year, there are about 900,000 from conception to 20 weeks, 25,000 from 20 to 40 weeks and another 25,000 babies are born alive who die in the first month (which would include a lot born non viably who live an hour or so). It amazes me that until social media took over, these 950,000 deaths were never discussed in the media…mainstream TV simply never had to courage to tell the story. They were cowards too scared that they couldnt see ads on shows that dealt with this.

    Myth2. You did a good job of describing this conundrum. I used to have a very bold argument of “Baptism of Desire” for these babies but after getting into a detailed argument with some serious theologians about it, I realized that 1) I couldnt defend my argument 2) I will never be, nor do I want to be a theologian. Im sure there is something different in the experience of a baptized baby but how they get baptized and what the difference is, I dont know.

    Myth 3. As much as Im NOT an expert on baptism, I border on being an expert on this. I was recently published in an international journal for Bereavement professionals on this topic and I started a program that has buried 368 babies over the course of 7 years and had 26 group memorial services for them. I am also the mother of a wee one who was thrown in the trash, so I get it.

    http://lifeandloss.wordpress.com/2012/06/08/respectful-burial-for-wee-ones/

    I firmly believe that every city needs a burial program and (honestly and brutally) I get sick of people ranting about what ought to be without DOING something about it. I’m not any smarter than anyone else and my program didnt start itself…it took a great deal of work and suffering to get it done. Just to add to the irony, there is a very well funded prolife organization local to me who actually write in their fundraising letters about how babies should be buried and yet in their own back yard, they have never ever lifted a finger or given a single dime to make it happen. Im past wanting or needing their help; they can explain to God why they claimed to hold that as a value never did a darn thing about it.

    Myths 4 & 5…you are simply right..parents don’t forget and demographic details like
    gestational age DONT define & determine the amount of grief that people feel. When it comes to death of any sort at any time in life under any circumstances, we need to have the bravery and compassion to allow the bereaved to define it for themselves and never dismiss their pain based on our guesses about what we thing they might be experiencing.October 26, 2012 – 6:37 amReplyCancel

  • Tammy - Oh, just in case I sounded like a jerk (not my intention) I wasn’t referring to you when I said that I get sick of people ranting and not doing…I was more reflecting on my experiences over the last 7 years, not your article … I hope I didn’t offend.

    Maybe I will reach a few people who are willing to take some initial steps towards this goalOctober 26, 2012 – 6:47 amReplyCancel

  • Jill - Thank you for your article and honesty. I just lost our first child very early to an ectopic pregnancy and I can already feel people starting to move to the “okay…time to move on” stage when I am still experiencing acute grief. I know my husband and I will heal, but it will take time, and the grief is so very real, no matter how long I knew I was carrying our child.February 8, 2013 – 10:31 amReplyCancel

    • Misty - Jill, one of the greatest helps to me was a bereavement support group called The Compassionate Friends, for parents and family who have suffered the loss of a child…A child of ANY age. It was a tremendous blessing to be able to talk about my son long after it was socially inappropriate to do so, and to have his unique life recognized and respected by those people. They validated my pain and my son was treated the same as their children, who had died of cancer, auto accidents, murder, suicide. No one ever suggested his gestational age negated my right to mourn.

      I strongly encourage you to see if there’s a chapter locally. I started going six months after our son died, imagining I’d dealt with the worst of the grief. I was surprised to discover how much pain I still carried in my heart and the group was instrumental in helping me process that in a healthy way.February 8, 2013 – 11:55 amReplyCancel

  • Elizabeth - Thank you for this. We learned last week that our little son had died right at the end of the first trimester. We are so devastated.
    I’m reading article and blog after article and blog all over the place looking for pieces by other Catholic families on dealing with all of this. We are so fortunate compared to what many others have gone through. We have a lot of supportive family and friends, and immediately when I talked to him, our priest was only too obliging. He will offer a funeral for our little Konstantin in a few weeks from now, and until then, we have him here at home. He’s also helping us find a good way to have him buried properly.
    It is so hard to grieve as it is, without having to go through all the horrible things that many other families do when their child’s remains are not properly honoured and the Church does not provide many resources.
    While our pain is still terribly raw here, I am already thinking in my better moments that when we manage to heal more we are going to need to start a Catholic resource group in our area for other suffering families.January 22, 2014 – 4:48 pmReplyCancel

  • Mia - Thank you for this article. I lost our first child a week ago and I wasn’t “that far along,” but felt every symptom in the book. I haven’t been able to figure out what to feel or do. I was alone waiting for my husband to come home and thought about our child’s fate. I tried a search engine and here this beautiful article was to smooth my broken heart. Thank you.February 8, 2014 – 4:59 pmReplyCancel

  • Michelle - Dear Elizabeth and Mia, I’m so sorry for your losses. I will be holding you close in prayer. Many of us here at Catholic Sistas have lost babies, both early on and later. We know the pain you are feeling and we know how much your hearts hurt. Please know we are praying. <3February 9, 2014 – 10:56 pmReplyCancel

  • Samantha Peil - I recently lost my daughter Alaska Eileen to a second trimester missed miscarriage. Thank you for sharing in this way.March 5, 2014 – 9:06 pmReplyCancel

  • Sara Champi - I feel the same way as all of you it is time for the Church to see we need support with miscarriages. A friend and I started a local chapter of a ministry called Embrace. We are in CA but the first chapter is in Atlanta.
    We help with all aspects of miscarriage, still birth, and early infant death. We hold a memorial and healing mass in May, a walk in October, and ornament making in December. We also have a garden of life where names can be placed by Our Lady of Fatima statue. http://Www.embracefresno.com. Or http://www.embracefamilies.comMay 4, 2014 – 8:21 amReplyCancel

  • Laura Garica - I am so blessed to have found this article, I discovered two days ago my little Angelpass away while still Iin my womb. I have opted to let nature takes its course. I didnt even know that I could have a respectful burial. Many friends have suggested i have a DNC instead do yoh knw if the church permits this? I want to be able to let my child rest as peacful as possible. And I feel if I do an DNC I wouldnt have the opportunity to bury him I feel like theyll just dispose of my Angel like nothing and for me he was someone. I wish he only knows how much we love him. Thank you reading your article made me realize im not alone.June 26, 2014 – 8:56 pmReplyCancel

  • sherin vincent - thank u so much for the article…i lost my baby at 7 seven weeks…there are no miscarriage associations or memorial services…however i will ask my parish priest for a funeral mass…August 26, 2014 – 12:09 pmReplyCancel

  • Tony - Coming from an Italian family, most people aren’t sympathetic at all. My poor wife took an emotional beating from my family including aunts, uncles, parents, brothers, etc. my wife had three miscarriages, one before our daughter & two after. It took us 16 years to have our little daughter now that most of my anger is somewhat gone, I’ want to know that our three children are in heaven and that someday we will meet them. Im not sure I’ll make it but I know that my wife will. I know a churc in Dickeyville Wisconsin called Holy Ghost that has a tombstone for all the unborn children. Does anyone know if there’s one in Illinois? Please post an address. Thank youOctober 6, 2014 – 3:48 pmReplyCancel

  • Lucy - We lost our first (and only so far) baby super early over three years ago now, but reading this has me crying like it was yesterday. Somehow three years of trying to conceive seems worse right now when I sometimes feel that if the first had just stuck we’d have a wee toddler making our life chaotic!

    I am so glad there are supportive and honest Catholics out there who have also experienced this. When I stumbled on this post I was actually trying to help my priest to find a graveside prayer for a miscarried child who is being cremated/buried tomorrow – please pray for their soul and for their parents & family, and also in your charity for my husband and I.

    God blessOctober 15, 2014 – 2:43 pmReplyCancel

  • Pearly - We have just lost our 9 weeks gestational baby. We named him baby Miguel. We did an emergency baptism though baby was already dead the Intention was there and the catechism allows for it. No sacred ground for my baby in my area nor anyone knows what to do. But we will asked the priest to do a funeral mass. Hard to loss our baby Miguel But we are still thankful for the wonderful moment we had with him and in God’s time and will we will see him again. Mother Mary pray for us.December 24, 2015 – 7:28 pmReplyCancel

  • Pomeka Kitchens Kitchens - I am Mrs. VANISSA DANIEL from USA, i want to share a testimony of my life to every one. i was married to my husband, and i love him so much we have been married for 4 years now with three kids. when he went for a vacation to RUSSIAN he meant a lady called SANDRA, he told me that he is no longer interested in the marriage any more. i was so confuse and seeking for help, i don’t know what to do until I met my friend miss joy and told her about my problem. she told me not to worry about it that she had a similar problem before and introduce me to a man called prophet jeremiah omoto who is man of God for her ex and bring him back to her after 2days. Miss joy ask me to contact prophet jeremiah omoto I contacted him to help me bring back my husband and he ask me not to worry about it that the God of his fore-fathers will fight for me. He told me by two days he will re-unite me and my husband together. After two day my husband called and told me he is coming back to sought out things with me, I was surprise when I saw him and he started crying for forgiveness. Right now I am the happiest woman on earth for what this great MAN OF God did for me and my husband, you can contact prophet jeremiah omoto on any problem in this world, he is very nice, here is his EMAIL contact: [email protected] or watch him television marcylandtv com or +2347055176617 .March 27, 2016 – 10:59 pmReplyCancel

  • Lorelie - Hi! Your article has given me clarity. Thank you very much for sharing.
    My husband and I have lost 3 babies already. 2 miscarriages at 9weeks and 1 still birth at 33weeks. It was really tough going thru the same experience 3times in a row. We had a funeral service for our baby Khalil, still birth at 33 weeks. But I never thought that we should also have given the same amount of attention and rites to our other two babies. Coz we actually thought that the babies we lost at an early stage wouldn’t have a soul since they don’t have any heartbeat yet when we lost them. But you’re right. They too deserve the same amount of attention and rites to be given to them. We will be serving mass intentions for them from now on and will also include them in our prayers. Thank you and Godbless!September 22, 2016 – 8:44 pmReplyCancel

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