An Intercessor in Heaven: The Joy and Sorrow of Losing Unborn Babies

On International Day of the Unborn Child, a look at a new book that portrays the Blessed Mother leading unborn children who die into heaven.

The Blessed Mother loves our little ones.
The Blessed Mother loves our little ones. (photo: Shutterstock)

Joy and sorrow intermingle so often in our human experience. Sometimes we cannot have one without the other, as we see in the life of the Blessed Mother. Her joy in the presentation of Our Lord is mingled with the sorrow of Simeon’s prophecy that her heart will be pierced. She would not have the joy of finding her Son in the temple, had he not put her through the sorrow of slipping back to Jerusalem without telling her. The joy of the Resurrection and the whole world being saved can only be preceded by the complete offering of her Son in his death on the cross.

The understanding heart of the sorrowful and joyful Blessed Mother is the refuge for the parent who loses a baby to miscarriage or stillbirth. Sometimes the only comfort we have is in knowing that the best of mothers has them in her hands. Having lost five babies in miscarriage, the most moving scene for me in the new picture book by Theoni and Bastian Bell, Jellybean: A Baby’s Journey to God, portrays the Blessed Mother leading the unborn child who dies into heaven. While it is a beautiful book, I am not sure I could ever read it without having to pause and choke back my tears.

The Bells have lost four children before birth through miscarriage and stillbirth; the picture book gives the story of a stillbirth. With beautiful illustrations by Bernadette Gockowski, the story portrays the life of a baby from implantation through her experience of being in the womb to her entrance into heaven.

Hoping, as the Church gives us grounds to do (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1261), that our unbaptized babies will go to heaven brings both sorrow and joy, for we know that death — the separation of our souls from our bodies — was not part of God’s plan for humanity. But we have joy in knowing that God brings about good through all of our suffering and that he is not bound by the sacraments and able to bring about the salvation of our babies. Some theologians hold that the desire of the Church supplies faith for these babies, and others hold that the babies are given an infusion of reason at the moment of death and are able to choose God on their own. While we cannot have complete certainty, we can remember the words of Jesus, “It is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish” (Matthew 18:14), and trust that God in his great mercy has made a way.

Along these lines, this book portrays the joy the baby has in being an intercessor in heaven. The Bells describe the baby “in a flash” being able to “see,” receiving as St. Thomas Aquinas writes, knowledge from “Divine light” (Summa Theologiae, I. Q. 89, Art. 1.), and seeing God face-to-face. The child, who understands and knows, now sees the suffering of her family and offers them comfort through her intercession to God. She realizes that her family needs her help and prays for them — so that after the sorrow of separation, they will one day have the deep joy of eternal communion with God and each other.

And this is where sorrow and joy are mingled — for all of our children we do our best to help them get to heaven. Yet it is all ultimately not our choice. It is a great comfort for me to hope that our family has five intercessors praying and waiting for us to be with them before the face of God.

St. Zélie Martin, the mother of St. Thérèse, wrote often in her letters about the care babies have for their families from heaven. In one such letter to her sister-in-law, she wrote:

“The misfortune that has just struck you saddens me deeply; you are really well tested. It is one of your first sorrows, my poor dear sister! May the good Lord grant you resignation to His holy will. Your dear little child is with Him, he sees you, he loves you, and you will find him again one day.” (“Letter 72”).

May all of us who have lost children too soon share in the confidence and joy of St. Zélie and her family, trusting that our little ones are with God, seeing and loving us, and where we will find them again one day.