A new book written by 40 Days for Life Campaign Director Steve Karlen highlights the necessity of acknowledging the human dignity of miscarried babies. While the pro-life movement has historically striven to convey the inherent dignity of every preborn life, sometimes the emphasis has focused more on abortion-vulnerable children while miscarried children have been overlooked.
“In America, few miscarried babies are treated with the dignity that their short lives deserve,” Karlen wrote. “Most are thrown out with medical waste, unnamed and unacknowledged. Even the Church today finds itself woefully unprepared to minister to couples grieving this loss.”
Excitement and Loss
Karlen and his wife Laura were overjoyed at a positive pregnancy test after a devastating struggle with secondary infertility. He wrote that they “beamed” when congratulated and “devoured all the fetal development materials we could find, eager to mark every milestone in our baby’s nascent life.” But several weeks later, “Laura realized something was wrong.” An ultrasound at their local hospital confirmed their worst fears: Laura was miscarrying. She passed the baby’s remains that very same evening.
Karlen wrote, “Suddenly, I was at the foot of the cross, helplessly consoling a sobbing mother clutching the lifeless body of her beloved child.” The couple chose to name their child (whom Laura believed was a girl) Gianna.
The Church is often unequipped to assist families with child loss
Unfortunately, Karlen and his wife found that their local parish was unequipped to either help them navigate the grief of miscarriage and honor their child’s brief life or respectfully care for their baby’s remains.
“Our faith taught us that our child… had the same dignity as any other human being. But the lack of an ecclesiastical protocol for handling a miscarriage indicated otherwise.” Two priest friends ended up working with the Karlen family to plan a funeral Mass, and one of them even donated a burial plot in his parish’s cemetery. Karlen recounted that because there were no protocols for a funeral after pregnancy loss, he ended up being the one to dig their daughter’s grave — an act which he found helpful.
He pondered how “we weren’t burying only a child; we were also burying our dreams. We would never hold this baby. Never play with her. We wouldn’t get to watch her grow up and become a woman and do all the things parents dream of their children doing. In a matter of hours, all those dreams had washed away.”
Parents of miscarried babies are “starving for their grief to be legitimized”
Karlen and his wife chose to invite “the entire pro-life community” to Gianna’s funeral. He wrote, “We wanted to lean on our friends during a difficult time, but we also wanted to send a message: building a true culture of life requires a greater respect for the lives of miscarried babies.”
The Karlens found that while “loss of a miscarried baby is a very personal experience and not everybody goes through it the same way,” on the other hand “the tears and the hugs shared… confirmed my suspicions that parents of miscarried babies everywhere are starving for their grief to be legitimized.”
Acknowledging the reality of child loss heals families
A difficult conversation with Karlen’s parents about attending Gianna’s funeral after their original demurral led to further healing in his family of origin. When his parents initially told him that they had other plans that night, “I was a little embarrassed, wondering whether I was being too dramatic in hosting the funeral and expecting family members to come.” And yet, “my convictions about the dignity of human life led me to ask my family to treat this child with the same love, patience, and compassion they would have if we had lost a born child.”
Further dialogue between parents and son revealed that Karlen’s mother struggled with unresolved grief due to a miscarriage of her own. Because of Gianna, Karlen’s family of origin was able to begin their own healing journey.
Much work remains to be done
As a result of assisting the Karlens, one of the family’s priest friends decided to create a miscarriage memorial and burial site at his parish. Karlen commented, “Such memorials were not and still are not regular fixtures in American churches,” but they need to be. Organizations like Red Bird Ministries are taking this unmet need seriously. Acknowledging the value of every preborn life demands no less.
Grieving parents can learn more here about the National Memorial for the Unborn.
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