The Rapidian

Ethics and Religion Talk: What to do after a miscarriage? (Part 1)

Two days ago, my wife, who was 17 weeks pregnant, learned through a routine exam that our unborn baby had died. We also learned that she still needs to endure the process of labor and delivery.

What is Ethics and Religion Talk?

“Ethics and Religion Talk,” answers questions of ethics or religion from a multi-faith perspective. Each post contains three or four responses to a reader question from a panel of nine diverse clergy from different religious perspectives, all based in the Grand Rapids area. It is the only column of its kind. No other news site, religious or otherwise, publishes a similar column.

The first five years of columns, published in the Grand Rapids Press and MLive, are archived at http://topics.mlive.com/tag/ethics-and-religion-talk/. More recent columns can be found on TheRapidian.org by searching for the tag “ethics and religion talk.”

We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up on the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

Grand Rapids

Grand Rapids /Kiran Sood Patel

We are still in mourning and quite sad, yet also continually grateful for our other three children and grateful for the kindness and compassion of our family, friends, and caregivers. My wife and I are now pondering questions of what happens after delivery, how to honor the short life of our child, the question of burial or cremation. How might we properly honor and care for the deceased when the deceased is an unborn child. Is there anything that a faith tradition would encourage us towards? Is there anything a faith tradition would forbid us to do?

Fred Stella, the Pracharak (Outreach Minister) for the West Michigan Hindu Temple, responds:

Before anything else, you have my deepest sympathy. Without going into the intricacies the ceremony known as an Om Shanti Puja here are some basic elements that could be used by non-Hindus. A fire of some kind (candle, oil lamp, hearth, etc.) to represent sacred knowledge, which we gain from all experiences would be ignited. Prayers, whether spontaneously composed or familiar would be recited. A small altar might be constructed. Pictures of family, forebears, religious figures, family heirlooms might be included. Music or poetry would be appropriate. The idea of planting something to remember a family member is wonderful. If the planting doesn’t take place during the ceremony itself perhaps the seeds can be offered and prayed over. For a Hindu couple part of the reason for doing this is to invite the soul back into their lives. But there is no need to concern yourselves with this if it does not resonate with your personal theology.

Pujas always end with shared food. It could be something as simple as a piece of fruit. But allowing others to provide a meal invites them to contribute in a way that satisfies the need to offer solace. Finally, those who do not make it to a live birth, or those die shortly after are not cremated as most people are. They are buried.

Father Kevin Niehoff, O.P., a Dominican priest who serves as Adjutant Judicial Vicar, Diocese of Grand Rapids, responds:

My deepest sympathies for people experiencing the death of an unborn child which is tragic. Although there are other children, this one lost is a different and treasured human being.

The Roman Catholic Church provides liturgical rites for individuals such as yourselves. When a child dies before birth the child may be consider baptized. For parents who have a stillborn or miscarried baby, the Order of Christian Funerals offers the “Order for Blessing of Parents after a Miscarriage.” This rite includes naming and signing the child, if the body of the child is present.

The only things that are forbidden relate to the reverence of the body. ‘The bodies of the dead must be treated with respect and charity, in faith and hope of the Resurrection’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, p. 554).

The Archdiocese of Cincinnati offers the following on its website, ‘effective pastoral presence and sympathetic words are the heart of sound pastoral care. But we must recall that Catholics in grief seek and find in the Church’s liturgical rights an assurance of their child’s presence with God. Additionally, the Church’s liturgical rites allow for them to mourn and express outwardly their grief with a community of faith to surround them with their love and support.’

My response: 

May God comfort you on your loss. In Jewish tradition, we make a distinction between the loss of a child born after the point of viability and the miscarriage of a pre-viable child. The former is publicly mourned with full burial and morning rituals, including the seven days of mourning following the burial (I should add that Orthodox Jewish tradition does not accord full mourning rituals for a child less than 30 days old). The latter is mourned privately, which is to say that the loss is recognized, but the community does not take on all of the intense obligations of comforting the mourners for seven days. If possible, I encourage a burial. At 17 weeks, I don’t know if this is possible. We would then treat your wife (and you) as one who is in need of healing. Family and friends should help you out with meals and child care for several days and be around for the two of you to express your loss.

This response draws a careful line between miscarriage and stillbirth/neonatal loss. Based on your question, I know that it is not exactly what you are looking for. I can’t tell you how to honor the life of your child, but I can tell you that you will need to honor and mourn for the loss of your dreams, hopes, and plans for the child that you never fully had.

Next week:  Two more responses.

This column answers questions of Ethics and Religion by submitting them to a multi-faith panel of spiritual leaders in the Grand Rapids area. We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up on the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

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