Entering into the memories of a miscarriage is like praying with the Seven Sorrows of Mary.
By Susanna Spencer
The van pulled up to the cemetery that sunny late summer day, parking next to the familiar path to the tombstone for babies lost to miscarriage. The kids piled out of the car, one of them leading their grandparents to the gravesite. The kids asked where our babies were buried, and I showed them the grassy spots on the ground. And then I found the new engraving on the tombstone, one we had not yet seen: “Spencer Babies 2014, 2017.”
Those two had a Christian burial thanks to the mercy of God and the rites of the Church. Our first baby was too small when he passed to collect any remains.
Oct. 15 is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, a day the Senate brought into existence in 2006 as a day to honor the lives of babies who died in miscarriage, stillbirth and other causes.
For me this whole month is a time I remember the brief lives of my three children who died in the first trimester of pregnancy. I was thinking about the particulars last week, and while it has been three years since our last loss, the pain is so vivid when I enter into those memories. And I realized that entering into the memories is like praying with the Seven Sorrows of Mary. There seems to be an accompanying Seven Sorrows of Miscarriage.
1. Knowing the baby could be lost from before conception. When the Blessed Mother heard the prophecy of Simeon (Luke 2:34-35), she was given the knowledge that her heart would be pierced with sorrow. She is with us when we look at the positive pregnancy test and have mixed feelings of joy and sorrow. Joy in a new life; sorrow in the potential loss.
This knowledge never leaves my mind when my husband and I consider another pregnancy. Every act open to life is an act also open to death, in full knowledge that the children we bring into the world belong to God. And that knowledge, while it is a joy, is also one that pierces the heart.
2. All of the stressful early visits to the doctor. The Holy Family’s Flight into Egypt (Matthew 2:13-14) was a great sorrow for them as they left their homeland and left behind the slaughter of the Holy Innocents. The Blessed Mother is with us when we go multiple times to the doctor for tests and medications.
For me, visiting the doctor as soon as I have a positive pregnancy test is similar. I flee to a place where my child has a chance of survival and begin treatments to help maintain my pregnancy. But, also, in my heart is the knowledge that so many mother’s lose babies because they do not have access to proper care and further many mother’s forfeit their children’s lives through abortion. This early time may be the only time the child is physically present in my life.
3. The first ultrasound. Mary and Joseph briefly lost Jesus in Jerusalem, and they were stricken with worry as they hunted for him (Luke 2:43-45). The Blessed Mother is with us in those early months when miscarriage is most common and is with us on the seemingly endless drive to the doctor to confirm a heartbeat.
When I have had miscarriages, I usually find out at an early ultrasound, about six weeks into my pregnancy. Every pregnancy, a weight fills my heart as I drive in, wait in the room, and then anxiously watch as the technician searches for an image of a beating heart. But sometimes the child is lost to our earthly life already, and all that remains is the precious little body that stopped growing prematurely.
4. Looking forward to a Heavenly meeting. Jesus encountered his mother on the Way of the Cross as he was pressed towards Golgotha. When we know that we will not meet our baby on earth, the only hope of meeting is in Heaven. The Blessed Mother is with us on our Way of the Cross of loss and comforts us by reminding us of this meeting.
The Church teaches that “as regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them.” (CCC 1261) We know that God is not bound by the sacraments even though we must act to use the graces of them as much as we are able (CCC 1257). So, I imagine my children wrapped in God’s mercy, and I even talk to them and bring them to mind as I believe they are close to God already.
5. The pain of loss. The Blessed Mother stood at the Foot of the Cross as her Son was Crucified and died. She knows what it is like to lose a child. She is with us in our own losses, sorrowing in our pain, but also teaching us to trust in God’s Divine plan.
Our suffering is not in vain, because Jesus suffered first. So, as we wonder at the loss of our children, as we revisit the pain of losing them, we are also in the privileged place of a parent suffering, bereft at the Foot of the Cross. Only there can we find the hope in the Resurrection and the meaning of our suffering.
6. The passing of the baby’s body. Is not the Blessed Mother with the suffering mothers who pass their own, deceased babies out of their bodies? And she holds us as she held her Son’s Precious Body as we go through the suffering of the passing of the fetal tissue.
Often mothers undergo a surgical procedure to remove the body and any tissue. I have only passed my baby’s bodies out the natural way, with much cramping and heavy bleeding. And this time of passing is one of great sorrow, for having the little soul-less body left inside me is the closest I will be physically to that baby again. Even a womb that is a tomb, is a womb where a baby once lived. Twice I have even found the little body as it passed, and I have been blessed to have held two of my children on the tip of my finger.
7. Entrusting the baby to God’s mercy. The Blessed Mother watched her Son as he was placed in the tomb and the tomb was shut, but she also had hope in God. She is close to us as we part from the remains of our babies, be it at a hospital for testing, in the tissues that pass out of us, or in a burial rite with a priest. The Blessed Mother and Mother Church are close to families who lose unborn babies. And as we let them go, we have to again entrust these children to the mercy of God.
I wrote several years ago about a time of mediation I had on the Resurrection. I was sitting with the Blessed Mother in her room in Jerusalem awaiting the Resurrection of her Son. I had not even thinking about my three miscarried babies, but when Jesus walked into the room, with Resurrection light shining around Him, three little children came out from behind him into my arms.
For me, entering into my memories of loss will always be a little painful. It is painful, like praying the Stations of the Cross or meditating on the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary. For the losses of my children are one of the ways God has called me to enter into his suffering.
I pray this month for all families who have lost children too soon. I pray that God will provide you with comfort and hope in the Resurrection. Your suffering can become his suffering, if you offer it with his sacrifice in private prayer or during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.