The Loss of New Life
Dear John Isaiah,
Your mother and I named you after the saint, John the Baptist, whose birth we celebrated the day we lost you. Your middle name is the prophet whose words gave us so much solace at Mass that day: “The Lord called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name.”
We had only just gotten used to the idea of your existence. The faint line on the pregnancy test strip had appeared a couple weeks earlier. We told your siblings about you the day before we lost you, when everything seemed normal. They shrieked with delight and asked if we could fit a sixth baby in our minivan. We said we could, but they want to level up to something that looks built to move school students or Amazon packages.
Don’t worry: They handled your death well. We told them that not every baby in mommies’ tummies survive to birth. Every new life brought into the world is also a new death; it’s only a question of when.
So begins an achingly beautiful column by Brandon McGinley (in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette), about the loss of his sixth child, “Letter to the child I never met.”
In the days since the overturning of Roe, there has been lots of rage and fury about women’s “rights” and women’s “bodies”; and yet the prime issue is about someone else’s tiny body, just starting his or her life journey. The loss of that little life often brings piercing grief.
Reading McGinley’s piece brought back memories of my two miscarriages. Without going in to too much detail, I experienced fresh grief and guilt because there is no resting place for the remains of my two little ones, except in my heart.
Almost 30 years ago, after my first miscarriage, I wrote an article for the Review (“Bringing it All Home,” Fall 1993), about my new experiences of both pregnancy and pregnancy loss, and how I felt about it in light of my pro-life work.
Being pregnant held some surprises for me. I have always, always wanted children, and I was thrilled to find myself pregnant. Still, as the days of morning sickness (throughout the day), fatigue, and hormonally-induced anxiety wore on, I had some ambiguous feelings. Am I really ready to be a mother? Am I ready for my life to change?
Rather than spending every minute of the day in rapture about the
thought of a baby, I sometimes felt depressed about having no energy,
and feeling sick, and then guilty for not being constantly thrilled.
And yet I knew I already loved and fervently wanted the baby …
As I struggled with these new and complicated feelings, I understood
better, almost in spite of myself, the abortion controversy. If the
pregnancy had been unwanted, if I were unwed, panicked and alone,
then how would I feel? Very much like someone (for it was someone)
was taking over my body, very vulnerable, my fear exacerbated by
hormones, by the inability to make decisions.
I realized that part of the problem with abortion is that we are
asking women in crisis, women who are in their least calm and reasonable
state, to make a decision that will affect them the rest of their lives
and will end another life. In the “old days,” the consensus that
abortion was a grave moral wrong set up a sort of guard-rail for
pregnant women who might be veering, out of despair, towards a
dangerous edge. Today, with the idea pushed that a fetus is a human
life only if you want it, the guard-rail is gone, and women who
are in a crisis are being taken advantage of, by men in their lives,
by feminists who want to deny that childbearing is more than just
a choice among many other choices, and by an abortion industry
that makes millions of dollars a year from women “in trouble.”….
I wrote in my article in 1993 about the lack of resources for those grieving the loss of a pregnancy. Today there is so much more, and one organization that comes immediately to mind is Life Perspectives, founded by Michaelene Fredenburg, which has terrific resources for those suffering from pregnancy loss of any kind. She began in 2008 with AbortionChangesYou, a website where women, men, grandparents, siblings—anyone grieving pregnancy loss—can go for anonymous and confidential support. And now there is also a special website for those who have suffered a miscarriage, miscarriagehurts.com. In addition, Life Perspectives has recently opened the Institute of Reproductive Grief Care, which “provides education, research and expertise to health professionals and other care providers to offer support after reproductive loss.”
Back to my 1993 article, I reflected:
. . . we in the pro-life movement ought to know that each pregnancy is unique and irreplaceable. That is one thing I now know on a
level deeper than words. You cannot replace a pregnancy with the
next one. . . . And parents and families who suffer a pregnancy loss mourn the child who didn’t make it.
For those who work in Pro-life, and I am sure for those who work
in the medical profession, there is the added irony that we try to
save children we don’t know, but we often can’t save our own.
Yet in God’s mercy, those we love and lose will rest with the angels.