Susanna Spencer has a masters in theology from the Franciscan University of Steubenville. She is a writer and the theological editor for Blessed is She, and writes on her own blog Living With Lady Philosophy. She is a homeschooling mother of four and lives with her family in St. Paul, Minnesota.
I have four living children. I also am a mother to two others. The only evidence I have of the existence of one of my children is a hunch based on careful charting, an early period, and a blood test with traces of HCG, which is a hormone produced by a placenta. His or her existence on Earth, when my eldest was 10 months old, was brief, but not forgotten by us. Our child always was and still is in the hands of God.
Today, October 15, is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. And interestingly enough, in a country where it is legal to murder one’s unborn children, we have a day to honor the loss of innocent life when it happens through miscarriage, through stillbirth, or through the death of a newborn baby. The text of the Senate’s Concurrent Resolution about this day of remembrance stated that “it is a great tragedy to lose the life of a child” and that “even the shortest lives are still valuable, and the grief of those who mourn the loss of these lives should not be trivialized” (H. Con. Res. 222). These statements are absolutely true, and those who have lost children or know those who have can understand them entirely.
I have many friends who have lost babies during pregnancy and/or shortly after their births. It is heartbreaking to hear about these little children and their parents, who while longing for them to be in their own arms, have had to entrust them to the hands of God. During our family prayers, our children regularly pray for certain families we know and “their new baby that died.” They still pray for our “new baby that died”, the one that died the in the spring over two years ago.
The second little baby whom we lost changed me through his death. I went into our clinic for a first trimester ultrasound on Holy Thursday of that year. Something was wrong. The baby was not big enough for the number of weeks gestation that he was supposed to be, and too small to detect a heartbeat. The only way to really know what was going on was to draw blood and check my HCG levels. I had to wait until the next day to know the results. My doctor called me the next afternoon. I listened to her voicemail sitting in the car after the Good Friday Mass of the Presanctified. My HCG levels were too low for our baby to be living. The only thing left to do was to wait for our baby’s body to pass out of mine, and as I had been on progesterone therapy, it could take a couple of weeks. My womb had become a tomb for my little baby, and I carried him in my heart to Our Lady holding her Son at His tomb.
It was strange to carry the body of my child inside me for those days between when we learned of his death and the day that he passed out of me. I clung to the thought of his little body still inside my own. My other children occasionally verbalized their wish that he still lived inside me. My bleeding began while I was at Holy Mass on Divine Mercy Sunday, but it was not until two days later that our baby left my body. I was alone with the kids, my husband at work, when the baby’s body was birthed. Having gone through three natural births before, I knew what that was like, but it did not prepare me for sitting alone in a bathroom as my child, my child who was already gone, came out of me. And then I hunted through all of the blood and tissue that had passed out of me to find his tiny, already deteriorating body. When I did, he was smaller than the tip of my finger. We arranged to bury him in a Catholic Cemetery that has a ministry for burying miscarried and stillborn babies.
I know other mothers who did not know that burying their babies is a possibility, and for them, they need to know that they did nothing wrong in not seeking burial for their miscarried babies. Their babies are still in the care of God, whether they buried them or not.
I am thankful that there is now a Rite for the Burial of the Unbaptized Child. Our pastor came to the cemetery with us and prayed the rite with us. And there was great consolation in that. We have entrusted our child, who still bore the stain that we all bore of Original Sin, to God’s great mercy.
After going through this loss, my husband and I experienced graces in our marriage that we had not experienced before. I think that our little baby, in the care of God, has been praying for us, his parents. St. Zélie Martin, mother of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, lost three children as infants and one at the age of five. She had great faith in the intercession of her little children, and she wrote the following in a letter of condolence to her sister-in-law after the loss of a baby:
When I closed the eyes of my dear little children and when I buried them, I felt great pain, but it was always with resignation. I didn't regret the sorrows and the problems I had endured for them. Several people said to me, ‘It would be better to never have had them.’ I can't bear that kind of talk. I don't think the sorrows and problems could be weighed against the eternal happiness of my children. So they weren't lost forever. Life is short and full of misery. We'll see them again in Heaven.
Above all, it was on the death of my first child that I felt more deeply the happiness of having a child in Heaven, for God showed me in a noticeable way that He accepted my sacrifice. Through the intercession of my little angel, I received a very extraordinary grace. (Letter from Mme Martin to Mme Guerin CF 72).
I have had other experiences of knowing that my child is praying for me, but the one that is most striking is the dream I had the night before what would have been his due date. I dreamt that he had been born, and that I had held him, a perfect little baby, in my arms. And then I woke to the reality that he was not with me, but I still knew that God has the care of our little ones. No matter how long they are with us, even if they leave before we are ready or even before we ever get to know them, they are a gift to us.
We all have different experiences and struggles in our marriages and parenthood, and there are many resources available to comfort those who have lost children. There is a beautiful lectio divina based couples study written by some wonderful Catholic women available soon to explore these issues. I have prayed with the other studies produced by these ladies, and they have been so beautiful to pray with. One can also enroll a lost child in the Book of Life at the Shrine of the Holy Innocents in New York. There are more resources linked here at a blog of a lovely friend of mine who lost twins after their emergency preterm birth.
Let us not forget the loss of our little ones, today or any other day.