Miscarriage and infant loss touch many couples and the people who love them: in Canada, around one in four pregnancies ends in loss. In our neighbourhoods, at work and in our parish communities, we are crossing paths with families who have been through such a loss – and we may not even know it. As a faith community, we don’t always find ways to support them well through this devastating experience.
Too often, those who lose their baby during pregnancy or soon after birth feel alone in their grief, as the people around them struggle to find words of support or comfort. Some people may not say anything, or they say the wrong thing unthinkingly, causing further pain. “I’ve never had to defend my grief the way I had to when our infant son died,” says Karen Murphy Corr of British Columbia. “In some way, infant death is almost taboo. Or maybe people want to believe it’s so rare and unusual that they’d rather not know about it.”
It’s time to change all that. The loss of a baby is the end of many hopes and dreams; as a Church, we can find ways to recognize, honour and commemorate that loss. Through prayer, rituals, phone calls, visits, meals, memorial masses and much more, we can support couples as they journey through this dark time.
Some parishes and dioceses already have resources in place for those whose baby dies in the womb or soon after birth. The Diocese of Saskatoon, for example, has a Miscarriage Awareness Committee and a web page featuring stories, resources and more. My hope is that every parish, every diocese, will see the need for these resources and will begin to offer spiritual and practical support for single parents, couples and families who have lived this heart-breaking loss.
Every October 15, we mark International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day. Shining a light on the effects of this type of loss can help us to talk about it and to recognize those in our midst who are suffering after losing a baby. A number of dioceses across the country celebrate Mass in memory of these children who died so early in their lives and whose loss is keenly felt months and years later. If your diocese does so, help to spread the word and gather with those who mourn at this Mass as a sign of love and solidarity. If your diocese does not mark this day, talk to your pastor or write to your bishop to ask that a Mass be offered starting next year.
When one member of the body of Christ suffers, we all suffer. Recognizing that suffering and offering our care and compassion to those in our midst who have lost a baby before or soon after birth are tangible ways to bring some healing as they grieve.
Anne Louise Mahoney is Managing Editor of Novalis. She is the editor of Looking to the Laity: Reflections on Where the Church Can Go from Here and the author of I Hope, a book for young children.