Guiding Parents Through Miscarriage (We Need to Do Better.)

I've heard the story dozens of times now.

The baby's heart is no longer beating...

I'm spotting and I don't know what to do... 

The numbers don't look good and they think the baby isn't going to make it... 

I didn't even know I could name the baby let alone have a funeral... 

I had no idea what to do...

They wouldn't let me take the body...

Husband and wife in marriage are asked to be open to life. That openness to life isn't just a yes to diapers, sleepless nights, teething toddlers, noisy houses, hormonal teenagers, and a life that's no longer our own. When we open ourselves to life, we also open ourselves to loss, to pain, to grief, to heartache, even to death. It's an incredibly brave act to choose to be vulnerable, to choose to take that risk, to open our hearts knowing that it might mean they will break. Too many of us know how real that risk is.

And yet, despite the fact that an estimated 10-20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage (true miscarriage stats are pretty impossible to obtain), many of us have had zero guidance before or during as to what to do when it happens. Most couples that go through it have no idea what their options are and are left to figure it out on their own and do it in the midst of shock, grief, and a difficult physical process they've never gone through before. We're told that life begins at conception, that every life has dignity, that this baby had a very real soul and yet there is a huge vacuum of information and help when it comes to miscarriage. If we are a Church that values the life of every single unborn life, we have to do better. We have to provide couples with real, practical guidance through miscarriage and stillbirth. We have to give couples information on what might happen, what recourse they have, what spiritual support they might need and what is available to them and their baby. There are some beautiful ministries out there but they are spotty and still relatively unknown to the vast majority of parishes and pastors.

I personally believe that should start in marriage preparation. It needs to be a topic addressed before a couple is going through it. Not only that but it should be taught to every seminarian and every employee of the Church that might answer the phone call from a grieving parent. In my experience, most priests have no idea how to help or even what they have the responsibility to offer. Most priests don't realize how common it is and that there are dozens of couples in their pews that have lost a child without any help or guidance from the Church during the death. Most priest don't even know that they can and should offer a funeral Mass for the unborn child or, at the very least, a memorial Mass for him or her. Most priests don't offer couples the Blessing for Parents After a Miscarriage. Some don't even know how to appropriately answer questions regarding baptism or the possibility of heaven for the unborn child.

I don't mean to place this all at the feet of priests, of course. They quite simply don't know. And how could they if they've never been taught about it or if couples aren't sharing with them when it does happen? And I certainly don't claim to have all the answers. But I do know that parents need to learn about it before it happens and I know that seminaries and parishes need to do a better job about fostering awareness for the appropriate Christian response to miscarriage and stillbirth. Every obstetrician and midwife, Catholic or not, should be well aware that Catholics (and all Christians) treat miscarriage differently and know what options to offer. Catholic hospitals need to be training every single employee who may come in contact with miscarriage in how to lovingly and appropriately respond to it (or the threat of it), from the E.R. receptionist to the med student to the pathology technicians. They should facilitate contact between the parents and a Catholic priest or parish that can help them. They should ensure that any remains in their care receive the most dignified treatment and burial possible and that parents are given the option to easily claim the remains if desired. (Don't even get me started on the fact that in our state a woman can have an abortion for any reason up to 26 weeks - and then for notoriously fuzzy "health" reasons at ANY time right up until birth - and YET a mother suffering a miscarriage in the hospital at ANY gestational age cannot have the remains without intervention from a licensed funeral director because they're...wait for it...human remains.) 

A mother in shock and grief who calls the parish should receive immediate compassion and real, concrete help regarding funeral plans, how to save and treat any remains of the baby, if possible, and information regarding burial. Even better, she should receive meals and support from any bereavement ministry present in the parish. This should happen no matter what the parent's status is within the parish. A mother or father should realize that they even can make that call and that the Church of course cares deeply about the life of their little one. The death of the unborn needs to be treated with the same amount of concern with which we treat any other death in the family. In a culture where the unborn are deemed disposable, their bodies as medical waste, the Church should be shouting from the steeples the opposite, that each of the lives of these little ones matter and the loss of any of them is a tragedy to which we will respond.

Like I said, I don't have all the answers and I hesitate to post this, unsure if it comes off as to blame-y. But there's a very real problem when parents are met with blank responses to phone calls and most parents and priests alike have little to no idea how to practically and spiritually respond to miscarriage. It's because of this I've written so much about pregnancy loss and why I've included an entire chapter in a book about birth to miscarriage and loss from a practical and spiritual perspective. It's important and it's needed. I hope and pray that the more awareness we grow for this cross and the ways that we can respond as a Church, the better we will be at recognizing the dignity of every person and can better work toward an authentic culture of life.

Some other posts that might be helpful:


  1. Yes. Just yes. There's too much silence on miscarriage. If every life counts, than they count too.

  2. Thank you, Mary. And thank you many times over.

  3. When I miscarried last year I wanted my priest desperately for spiritual comfort. It took a while to track him down with some of my calls going to people who weren't sure if this was the type of "emergency" that warranted his attention. When he arrived, he was appropriately sad, but seemed lost and unsure of what to do. He actually told me he wasn't sure what resources he could offer. I don't blame him and I'm not mad at him, but I do wish he had been better informed of what his options were for me and I wish there had been a ministry or group of people he could have put me in touch with.

    1. I'm so so sorry. This is so common. Hopefully the more that those of us impacted by it can learn and share, the more that this will change.