In the next five minutes, 8 or more mothers will lose their unborn child in the U.S. The joy of welcoming a baby into the world will be lost. Many mothers have lost a child more than once. Christmas is a season given to celebrations of joy and focused on gifts to children. But many families feel a deep sense of loss. Christmas without children can mean days of sadness.
LOOK AT MY BABY!
We met at breakfast and passed around the picture of my granddaughter before she was born. The beauty of an ultrasound photo brings joy and confirms hope for millions of parents and grandparents. She and her sister have been sources of great joy. Sadly, millions of parents and grandparents will not experience this joy. In fact, many mothers and fathers suffer in silence as they struggle with the loss of a child they may have wanted for years. The term miscarriage sounds so dispassionate. Miscarriage makes the loss of a pregnancy like another medical event instead of the death of a child.
But medical technology has brought children to life in ways never seen before. Knowing that one is pregnant with a wanted child brings hope. Seeing a moving baby via ultrasound brings joy and confirms hope. My child is alive and well! Modern fathers say, “we are pregnant.” They are bonded as well. But many couples lose their child.
WHERE IS THE CULTURE?
“We are going to have a baby!”
Announcements stream across social media.
In the U.S. women report some 4 million pregnancies each year. Estimates vary but 15 to 20% of these unborn children will not be born. The language for the cultural experience of pregnancy is changing to reflect a sense that a mother is with child. And as noted above, many fathers share the experience.
We seem to be in an extended cultural transition when it comes to the role of children in contemporary industrialized cultures. Family sizes have shrunken to 1-2 children. Having huge families to help with a family business is no longer a part of industrialized societies. In fact, raising children in western cultures is expensive—if one is to keep up with social expectations.
Some successful children give back to their parents but many depend on their parents late into life. More and more, children are valued for their contribution to a sense of family—people bound together in the journey of life with a common set of values and the potential to make the world a better place. Of course that does not always happen, but babies offer promise and parents and grandparents invest heavily in the next generation.
As noted above, the language surrounding having children has changed. Advances in technology provide moving images of an unborn child. We see recognizable bodies in motion and we hear a beating heart. We are convinced this is a child—not a fetus or some other clinically distant term. People are having a baby—it’s not just a pregnancy. Miscarriage and abortion is not terminating a pregnancy—a child dies. Moreover, medical technology has advanced in saving the lives of unborn children that would have died in decades past.
I suspect that the current trend will continue. Increasingly, the unborn child will be viewed as a family member and expectant parents will keenly feel the loss when a child dies.
WHERE IS THE CHURCH?
Most religions are prolife. Some religions permit abortion in special circumstances. In the U.S., the prolife movement has been quite successful in their quest to protect the life of the unborn child. But where are they when millions of unborn children die each year?
More and more churches have responded to the need to provide homes for pregnant mothers who have been encouraged to keep their children. But where are the churches when parents lose these unborn children? My wife and I received cards, some calls, and a few visits when our parents died. People who have been part of a community for a long time usually draw large crowds when they experience the loss of a loved one. The loss of a child is a huge tragedy. And the support is usually generous as well.
So where are the churches when an unborn child dies?
After all, haven’t conservative churches been actively preaching that the unborn are children?
Don’t these parents feel the loss?
Don’t these parents grieve?
Don’t these parents need to mourn?
Why are there no funerals or memorial services?
Where are the graves?
Where are the markers?
Why the disconnect in caring for families when people die at different ages?
Does caring for a child in the womb count as being a parent?
Must your child be alive to still be considered a parent?
HOW TO HELP
Fortunately, parents are opening up about their losses and receiving care from family, friends, and healthcare professionals.
1. Some parents seem to benefit from support groups.
2. Some parents benefit from naming the unborn child and holding a memorial service.
3. Some parents benefit from cultural practices honoring the death of any family member—planting a tree, donating to charity, giving cards and memory gifts.
4. Some light candles and honor their loss in the U.S. on October 15, Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.
5. Churches who believe that the unborn are children can demonstrate this belief in the way they support any member who grieves a loss. And they may need to rethink how they honor parents on mother’s and father’s day.
6. Church members already help grieving families. An awareness that parents of unborn children also grieve can motivate congregants to include them in their circle of help.
7. Churches can be places where parents who lost their bundle of joy can find a measure of joy in caring for others.
There are many ways to bring joy to those who grieve.
And on a personal note, we too lost an unborn child. It was a time when mothers and fathers kept such events quiet. Times are changing for the better.
References and Resources
A recent article in TIME magazine. Someone I Loved Was Never Born
A related TIME article about miscarriage.
Day of Prayer for the protection of unborn children
Orthodox Church in America on October: Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month
African American Faith resources for bereavement
How one couple dealt with shocking news about their unborn child. ABC news
One mother's story ABC Good Morning America
Article for clinicians on complicated grief following loss of an unborn child NCBI
If you have resources to share, please add them with links in the comments section