Christian hope and prenatal death
Dominic has already mentioned Agnes R. Howard's article "Comforting Rachel" as a highlight of the November 15 issue, but I want to call attention to it again, and recommend another piece on the same subject at Christianity Today's "Her.meneutics" blog (I love it).
Howard's piece begins with a powerful personal story and goes on to discuss the need for, and challenges to, ministry to parents who lose children before birth. "Many churches teach women to value the life inside the womb from its earliest stages, and to view the developing fetus as a child God made," she writes, "but offer very little in the way of comfort, explanation, or even acknowledgement when that child dies through no act or intent of the parent." Having experienced pregnancy loss personally, she can attest to the confusion that accompanies the grief:
With the loss of a child in the womb, questions come up and stay unanswered at every point. Why did this happen? Was it my fault, a mother might ask, or something I failed to prevent, or did it happen in me but outside my control? Is it a baby or not? If a baby, do I name him, bury him, tell people, mourn in public? This last is not obvious. The loss of a child is worth public sorrow, but if others did not know of the pregnancy in the first place, revealing it after its end can produce a sort of emotional whiplash. Those who did know have to be told, but this is hard, too.
At Christianity Today, Caitlin Seccombe Lubinski touches on that same experience of awkwardness and loneliness in her post "The Miscarriage Secret."
As I experience the grief of miscarriage, I am struck by the hush-hush method with which our culture treats an extremely widespread women's issue. In some ways, I'm grateful for the privacy granted me. In the first few months, it was an extraordinarily painful thing to talk about–even with my closest friends....
As I see it, however, a few problems arise when we keep miscarriage private, away from the larger community. When statistics stop matching experience, our concept of reality becomes disjointed at best.... Because I knew of only two women who had miscarriages, I still thought of miscarriage as a rather exceptional case, like the chances you have of breaking your femur if you decide to go skiing. They exist –but you only know a few people in your lifetime to whom it happens, and it certainly would never make you think twice about getting on the chairlift.
Miscarriage, it so happens, is nothing like a freak skiing accident. It touches many more women than we realize. I think that if we girls and women and boys and men grew up with a more open sharing of the grief of miscarriage, then the loss, when it happens, would not seem quite so alienating.
Her testimony is moving, and I think her analysis is sound. I also think both Howard's and Lubinski's articles perform a service by breaking the usual silence and calling attention to a need that exists in all our communities, and in particular in our faith communities. Some people have responded with stories or insights of their own in the comments on the article page. Feel free to chime in here, too. What can be done to minister to, or acknowledge, the tragedy of prenatal death? And is Lubinski right that we would all be better off if we felt more able to talk openly about miscarriage?
Update: Also relevant--this post from Her.meneutics about Mother's Day and the difficult task of "rejoic[ing] with those who rejoice and weep[ing] with those who weep."
About the Author
Mollie Wilson O'Reilly is an editor at large and columnist at Commonweal.