Grieving Miscarriage as a Catholic
Women and married couples share resources for miscarriage ministry.
When Josh and Stacey Noem lost a child through miscarriage, they found consolation in solidarity. Once they shared their own experience, the Noems were surprised by how many people in their own community had experienced miscarriage as well.
“When we realized how helpful it is for other people to talk and name that miscarriage is an experience that they’ve had, it made both of us almost evangelists about miscarriage. We’re not quiet at all about it,” said Stacey.
The experience of miscarriage causes deep grief to mother and father, often leaving parents unsure of how to navigate the tragedy. Like the Noems, couples who experience miscarriages often rely on their community for support — as well as the Church.
“We found it enormously helpful to rest in the words that the Church has for this experience. It was a hard time to try to pray,” said Stacey.
The Church offers both prayer and accompaniment for grieving women and couples, and laypeople have created resources for grief. But many couples remain unaware of the available faith-based miscarriage ministry and resources.
Liturgical Rites for Miscarried Children
The Church offers various liturgical rites in the wake of miscarriage, but priests and laity alike are often confused about what should be done after miscarriage, according to a survey reported by the Archdiocese of Boston.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that the Church entrusts unbaptized children, including miscarried babies, to the “great mercy of God” that “allow[s] us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without baptism” (1261).
The “Blessing of Parents After a Miscarriage or Stillbirth” is provided by the Church “to assist the parents in their grief and console them with the blessing of God.” The Order of Christian Funerals contains “Funeral Rites for Children,” with adaptations for children who died before receiving baptism. Canon 1183.2 of the Code of Canon Law empowers the local ordinary to permit children who died before baptism to receive ecclesiastical funerals with these adaptations.
This means that diocesan guidelines determine whether or not a funeral can be said for unbaptized children, said Abby Jorgenson, a Catholic bereavement doula who walks with families through pregnancy and infant loss.
“When I’m working with a client, one of the things that I always start with is asking, ‘What diocese are you in?’ because that really matters as to what rites are available,” she said. Jorgensen also said that a family’s options may be shaped by the pastoral care of a local priest or deacon, noting that knowledge of and comfort with navigating miscarriage ministry can vary from priest to priest.
Catholic Resources and Ministries
Jorgensen, a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of Notre Dame, is writing a book about Catholic teaching on perinatal loss, stillbirth and infant loss, under contract with Ave Maria Press, with a targeted release date of spring 2024.
“It all started when I began doing grief work and realized just how little support and how few resources there are for families who are experiencing perinatal loss,” she said. “It kept making me think that we needed some kind of book or website on this topic that is grief-informed and science-based.”
Like the Noems, John and Sara Rogers responded to the need for better Catholic ministry in this area after they had their own grief-inducing experience of miscarriage. When they miscarried in 2008, they could not find information online about navigating the baby’s death in line with the teachings of the Church.
“There is a lot of misconception and confusion about what the Catholic Church teaches and what prayers and liturgies can or should be done when you have a miscarriage,” Sara Rogers told The Catholic Spirit in 2015.
Along with another couple who had also experienced miscarriage, they created Catholic Miscarriage Support, a website with practical and spiritual support for Catholics who have lost a child through miscarriage. The site includes information about the physical process of miscarriage and practical resources for navigating burial and suggests ways of remembering the child, among dozens of other resources to educate and comfort parents experiencing pregnancy loss.
“Even the priests sometimes need to research what is done in certain circumstances. The website has all of those resources in one place,” Sara Rogers said.
Laura Kelly Fanucci, who co-wrote Grieving Together: A Couple’s Journey Through Miscarriage with her husband, Franco David Fanucci, was not aware of Catholic miscarriage ministries when she experienced her own miscarriage.
“I had no idea that there were prayers or rites or anything that the Church had,” she said.
Grieving Together offers reflections on miscarriage, explores the grief felt by mothers and fathers, and provides practical resources, prayers and suggestions for how to remember the child. Perceiving a lack of awareness of the various resources for couples grieving miscarriage, the Fanuccis wanted to offer mothers and fathers a tool for their journey through grief.
In the process of writing her book, Fanucci spoke with the woman who started the Facebook group “Mommy to a Little Saint,” which offers Catholic pregnancy and infant loss support. With more than 4,600 members, Fanucci described the group as an active community of support that provides peer-to-peer ministry for women who have lost children in miscarriage. The group also offers prayer and discussion of pregnancy and parenting after loss.
After her miscarriage, Fanucci said she drew strength from her community, many of whom shared their own stories of miscarriage. “We just had no idea that so many of our relatives, friends and neighbors [had experienced miscarriage]. We thought, ‘This is so much more common than we ever realized.’”
Statistics show that miscarriage occurs frequently. Between 10% and 15% of known pregnancies end with miscarriage, defined as the death of a child before the 20th week of pregnancy. But because miscarriages are most likely to occur in the first trimester, they often occur before a woman knows that she is pregnant, and estimates suggest that about 50% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage.
Now that Fanucci has written and spoken publicly about her experience with miscarriage, she has become a resource for mothers and fathers in her own community.
“Miscarriage is a sad, hard part of life, but it happens. It is better when we can be honest about it and find the help that we need by talking about it,” she said.
Sharing the Story of Miscarriage
Josh and Stacey Noem lost their child through miscarriage while they were students in the University of Notre Dame’s Master of Divinity program. They had announced the pregnancy to family and classmates, but Stacey began to experience symptoms of potential miscarriage several months later.
“Once our miscarriage became known in our network, which was largely built around our faith community, people responded very generously and were really supportive,” said Josh. Though the majority of guidance and support came from their midwives, the couple relied upon prayers from the Rite After Miscarriage and the Rite of Christian Burial for Children, as well as Psalm 139, for comfort.
The Noems guide other couples through marriage preparation and try to make themselves available as a resource for couples experiencing miscarriage. They have also written about their experience of miscarriage for the website ForYourMarriage.org, part of the USCCB’s National Pastoral Initiative for Marriage.
Growing Openness About Pregnancy Loss
Learning that family and friends had also experienced miscarriage gave the Noems a sense of solidarity in suffering. Josh, who has a background in Catholic journalism, said that he has noticed an increased openness to speaking about miscarriage in the digital landscape and in Catholic media.
Jorgensen also noted an increased transparency and vulnerability surrounding the topic of miscarriage, pointing to major companies like Pandora and Uncommon Goods that have offered “opt-out” options for Mother’s Day emails.
“I have seen a shift in that. It is more common now to hear stories about miscarriage, whether it is celebrities or people feeling like that they can share that news on social media or with their friends,” said Laura Fanucci, who now includes the experience of miscarriage as a presentation topic for her speaking engagements.
Constance Hull, a contributor to CatholicExchange.com, has also given talks about her experience of miscarriage. She has lost five children through miscarriage and said that there were very few resources when she experienced her first miscarriage 12 years ago.
“I didn’t really have a way to process it fully,” she said. Hull found support from other women in her Bible study. “There are a lot more women who talk about [miscarriage], and men as well, because it’s a great grief for our husbands. I’ve been really happy to see the conversation becoming more and more open, especially since we are a pro-life people,” she said.
Preparing Priests to Help
Even though women and couples may be increasingly open to speaking about miscarriage, Hull said that her interactions with priests while navigating grief were often difficult. “In many ways, it wasn’t even their fault, because they didn’t know how to respond. More often than not, I’ve had to be the one to ask [for pastoral care], and in the beginning, I didn’t even know what to ask for,” she said.
Fanucci described miscarriage ministry as mostly decentralized in the Catholic Church. “There are some little pockets where beautiful miscarriage ministry is being done, but, unfortunately, it’s not something that has had a lot of time and energy put towards it,” she said, emphasizing the importance of ensuring that pastors and parish staff know about available resources and can share them with grieving couples.
Father Paul Hedman, a priest in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, became involved in miscarriage ministry after walking with a friend who had experienced a miscarriage. Father Hedman did not recall learning about miscarriage ministry in his seminary formation.
“Most of my knowledge came from a friend who had a miscarriage about a year ago. It was obviously a very traumatic and difficult experience for her, but then through walking with her and her husband, I wanted to figure out everything that I could possibly do,” he said.
Now, when Father Hedman hears that someone in his parish has experienced a recent miscarriage, he provides them with resources and connects them to other couples who have experienced a similar loss. He also organized a small miscarriage-support group called “In Mary’s Arms” that offers women a chance to find companionship through the grieving process and to share resources.
“It’s obviously a very difficult time to walk through, but it can be very beautiful to minister to the families.”
Recently, Stacey Noem has been walking with a young couple who experienced miscarriage. “They really have a strong faithfulness around the liturgy and meeting their child in the liturgy — that the baby isn’t lost, but is with Jesus, and they’ll get to meet their baby one day.”
Mary Frances Myler is a post-graduate fellow with the University of Notre Dame’s Center for Citizenship and Constitutional Government.