By Nina Ranieri | Family/Respect Life Office
“When a child loses his parent, he is called an orphan. When a spouse loses his or her partner, they are called a widow or widower. When parents lose their child, there isn’t a word to describe them.” — Ronald Reagan
On October 25, 1988, President Ronald Reagan, in proclamation 5890, proclaimed October to be Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. Since that time, the month of October, and specifically October 15, has been set aside to honor all of the babies who have passed away as well as support parents who are grieving their children.
One in four women (and their families) will experience pregnancy or infant loss in their lifetime. Although this may seem like just a statistic, it is all too common of an experience that affects so many of us.
On December 2, 2015, when I was 39 weeks pregnant with our son Vincenzo Louis, this “statistic” became our family’s reality. After a perfectly healthy pregnancy, we were joyfully awaiting the arrival of our fourth child, Vinny, as we had affectionately nicknamed him. His clothes were washed and folded. His bassinet was perfectly placed on the side of our bed. Our hospital bag was packed with all of our essentials. We were stocked up on wipes and diapers so that we wouldn’t have to run to the store on a cold winter’s day with a newborn. I had crocheted Vinny his very first hat, with the softest baby blue yarn and a pattern I had learned from my grandmother. His older siblings, aged 5, 4, and almost 2 at the time, could not wait to meet him. They even told Santa Claus, all they wanted for Christmas that year was their baby brother.
But they never got their Christmas gift. They never got to meet their baby brother Vinny.
On a cold and rainy Wednesday, I felt like something was wrong. Vinny wasn’t moving around like he normally would. I called my husband to come home from work. “The doctors want me to go to the hospital,” I told him in a shaky voice. “I can’t feel Vinny moving.” My brother came to watch our children and we drove to the hospital, as the sun began to set around us.
“Maybe this doppler needs new batteries,” the nurse said, as she struggled to find our son’s heartbeat. She rushed out of the room to get a new one. Our hearts began to race as my husband and I, lost for words, looked into each other’s eyes. A sonogram technician hurried her portable ultrasound machine into our already crowded room. “Please God, please let us hear Vinny’s heartbeat,” I prayed over and over in my heart. But there was no heartbeat. There was no movement on the screen. The sonogram technician snapped her screen shut and said the doctor would be right in to see us. That was the moment that we knew. Our son, who we had prayed for, longed for, was no longer alive. It happened in an instant, but it has changed our lives forever.
Each one of us who has been affected by pregnancy and infant loss has a story to tell. The stories are as unique as each beautiful child who is no longer in our arms. Yet, so many who have experienced this type of loss feel as if they cannot talk about their child, that they cannot share their story and that they must move on. They are not given the safe space or opportunity to grieve the life of their son or daughter.
As Catholics, we are called to perform both spiritual and corporal works of mercy for our neighbor. These include comforting the sorrowful and burying the dead. But how do we do this when a loved one has experienced a pregnancy or infant loss? In our culture, it is often taboo to talk about pregnancy and infant loss, as unlike other losses, our children died in our wombs or shortly after birth. Many times, our family and friends did not have the opportunity to meet our children and often, there are no common memories or pictures to share. Some well-meaning friends and family may feel like they will make us sad or are unprepared to handle whatever emotions we may be experiencing if they bring up our loss. As uncomfortable as it may be, we encourage you to compassionately step into your loved one’s grieving. Listen to their story, ask how they are doing, say their baby’s name (if they have one), bring over a meal, send a card, remember their child’s birth date or due date and acknowledge it each year, offer a Mass for their child, and most importantly, let them know that they are in your prayers. Remember, fathers grieve the loss of their baby, too, and even if it looks different than a mother’s grieving, support for fathers is just as important.
This month, in honor of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, we are breaking the silence on the loss of our children. The Family and Respect Life Office will be hosting a Day of Remembrance for Pregnancy and Infant Loss. This event of hope and healing will take place on Sunday, October 21, from 1-4 p.m. at the Good News Center in Utica. We will offer Adoration, Confession, and Mass, as we remember all of our babies who have gone before us. We will also be honoring each child in a special way and providing a safe space for community, where bereaved parents can connect and share their stories. All faiths are welcome to attend. No registration is necessary. We invite all parents and families who have suffered a pregnancy or infant loss, no matter what gestation or how long ago your loss occurred, to attend our event.
We ask you to offer prayers for families who have experienced pregnancy and infant loss by participating in the worldwide “Wave of Light” which takes place on October 15 at 7 p.m. Please light a candle and say a prayer for all babies who have passed away and their families.
Pregnancy and infant loss has changed our family. There will be a lifetime of memories that we will never get to experience with our son Vinny. He is always on our minds and in our hearts. We will always wonder who he would have been. We hold on to our Catholic faith, lean into our Blessed Mother, and offer our sorrows up to Jesus, with the hope that we will one day spend eternity with our son. If you have experienced a pregnancy or infant loss, I am so very sorry. My prayers are with each of you. Please know that you are not alone in your grief and that your baby and your story are important to us. If you would like support in the grieving process, if you want to share your story, or if you would like to connect with someone who has experienced a similar loss, you may reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. May God bless you.
Nina Ranieri is the Eastern Region Coordinator for Natural Family Planning, where she works to promote and support NFP as well as to create events for Catholic community among young families. She lives in the Utica area with her husband Mark. They have four living children, one son in heaven, and are expecting their sixth child soon.