By Nina Ranieri | Office of Family/Respect Life Ministry
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, along with being Respect Life Month, has also been set aside to honor all of the babies who have passed away as well as to support parents and families who are grieving their children.
While pregnancy and infant loss is a topic that many find difficult to openly discuss, one out of every four women will suffer the loss of a child who dies through miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant loss in her lifetime. This shocking statistic is all too common of an experience that affects many of us.
If you have lost a baby through miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant loss, I am truly sorry, and I empathize with your pain. On December 2, 2015, at 39 weeks pregnant, my husband and I lost our fourth child, our son Vincenzo Louis.
Shattered. That is the word that describes how a heart feels when you are told that your baby is no longer alive. It happens in an instant, the shattering, but it remains for a lifetime. If you have ever seen a broken glass window, you can picture this. When glass is broken, it shatters into a million jagged pieces. Some of the pieces are large and can be easily and carefully picked up by hand. Others are but tiny shards that can hardly be seen. Perhaps some are found only months or years later, hidden but still just as painful to touch. Sometimes, some of the glass remains unbroken, yet if you look close enough, you will notice that it is forever changed.
I have often said that my heart shattered when our son Vincenzo died. But what does that mean? What does that look like? My heart didn’t literally shatter, like broken glass. Fortunately, God designed our hearts to be much stronger than glass. But my heart is forever altered, it will never be the same.
After our baby dies, how do we pick up the shattered pieces of our broken hearts? Jesus tells us to “take up your cross and follow Me” (Mt 16:24). As Catholics, grieving our children who have gone before us is part of our cross. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that all pain and sorrow, if united to Christ’s passion, “can have a redemptive meaning for the sins of others” (paragraph 1502). Allowing our shattered hearts to share in Jesus’ cross “allows [our] suffering to have a new meaning” and allows us to mature spiritually (paragraph 1521).
On the way to Calvary, Jesus was aided by St. Simon of Cyrene, who helped Him carry the heavy wood of the cross in Jesus’ most difficult hour (Lk 23:26). Likewise, we too can look for other “St. Simons” who will help us carry our cross, ease our burden, and pick up our broken pieces on the journey of life after losing a baby. Along His difficult journey, St. Veronica wiped the face of Jesus on her veil and ministered to his needs. It took courage for St. Veronica to step out and enter into Jesus’ suffering amid the stares of the Roman soldiers and the crowd. Look for the “St. Veronicas” who aren’t afraid to reach out, step into your suffering, and wipe your tears.
These “St. Simons” and “St. Veronicas,” in my experience, are ever-present but may not know how to help or what to say to a grieving person. When someone loses a baby, look for ways to care for the parent’s physical, spiritual, and emotional needs. You can start by reaching out through cards, calls, or text messages. Through your presence, you can be a shoulder to lean on and a listening ear. Other examples of how you can minister to bereaved parents are by cooking them a meal, letting them know you are praying for them, remembering their baby’s due date or birthday, helping with household tasks, or offering to take care of their older children so they can have space to grieve.
We recognize that our grief over the loss of our babies exists because our love for our babies exists. When we lose someone that we love, especially our children, where does all our love for them go? We don’t stop loving someone just because they are no longer physically with us. Love never ends. And that is why grieving never ends. Love and grief ebb and flow as they become woven into our shattered, beautiful hearts.
Although our shattered hearts may never look the same, we can pick up our cross and take comfort in St. Paul’s words: “We do not want you to be unaware, brothers, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14).
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 and to create events for Catholic community among young families. She lives in the Utica area with her husband, Mark. They have five living children and one son in heaven.
For more healing resources, please see our Handbook for Parents (https://www.syracusediocese.org/assets/PDFs—Diocesan-Offices/Family-and-Respect-Life/Pregnancy-and-Early-Infant-Loss-parent-handbook-oct-2018-FINAL-Printer-Version-Nina-Ranieri.pdf)
Here are a few ways you can navigate your journey of grieving after losing your baby through miscarriage, stillbirth or infant loss:
- Journal your story or write letters to your child
- Talk about your child by name and include your child in your family count to acknowledge your loss.
- Memorialize your child in your home with a candle, statue, flowers, pictures, mementos
- Wear jewelry with your baby’s name, birth stone, etc.
- Have your child’s name put in the Book of Life at the Shrine of the Holy Innocents in NYC https://shrineofholyinnocents.org/shrine-of-the-unborn
- Purchase a memorial plaque at the Shrine of the Holy Innocents at the Divine Mercy Shrine in Stockbridge, MA https://www.memorialsonedenhill.org/sothi/
- See a counselor in person or online at catholiccounselors.com or www.twoheartscounselingandhealing.com
- Honor your baby on his/her birthday/due date-release an environmentally friendly balloon or lantern, volunteer or perform a random act of kindness in your child’s honor, make a birthday cake to celebrate your baby’s life, plant a tree or flowers
- Read healing devotionals such as
- Grieving the Child I Never Knew: A Devotional for Comfort in the Loss of Your Unborn or Newly Born Child by Kathe Wunnenberg https://www.amazon.com/Grieving-Child-Never-Knew-Devotional/dp/0310350654
- Loved Baby: 31 Devotions Helping you Grieve and Cherish Your Child After Pregnancy Loss by Sarah Philpott, PhD https://www.amazon.com/Loved-Baby-Devotions-Helping-Pregnancy/dp/1424555272/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=Loved+Baby%3A+31+Devotions+Helping+you+Grieve+and+Cherish+Your+Child+After+Pregnancy+Loss&qid=1571268031&s=books&sr=1-1
- Blessed Is The Fruit of Thy Womb: Rosary Reflections on Miscarriage, Stillbirth and Infant Loss by Heidi Indahl https://www.amazon.com/Blessed-Fruit-Thy-Womb-Reflections/dp/1681925044/ref=sr_1_fkmr1_1?keywords=o+Blessed+Is+The+Fruit+of+Thy+Womb%3A+Rosary+Reflections+on+Miscarriage%2C+Stillbirth+and+Infant+Loss&qid=1571268076&s=books&sr=1-1-fkmr1