Miscarriage: diocese, others offer help to cope with the loss of a baby

By Heather Welch
It’s a topic that not only pulls at heart strings, it’s one that can break the hearts of those directly involved.
The death of a pre-born or recently born baby can be troubling and difficult to understand. Today, more and more priests, religious and lay ministers are recognizing baby loss as a distinctive pro-life issue and developing resources to provide hope and support.
Christine Ostroski is one of those ministers in the Diocese of Wichita. She and Father John Jirak, who is currently studying canon law at Catholic University of America, have developed pamphlets and presentations about the topic, and resources for pastors to help those who have experienced the loss of a baby.
Ostroski said incidents of miscarriage and stillborn births are much more common than people think and that many couples do not discuss the subject because they feel it is too private or they don’t understand enough about it to even bring the topic up.
“It can end up being set aside and left in the past,” she said. “But as the book of Isaiah reminds us; a mother can’t forget her child even if she hasn’t seen the child, and that even if she should, God does not forget them.”
Ostroski, who has studied the topic for years, said she knows first hand the grief and pain that parents and family experience at the loss of a baby. Her third son, Michael Albert, was stillborn at full term.
“There is no way we could have coped with the loss of our child without our Catholic faith,” she said. “However, it was his life that brought us all closer to God and to one another. Before I lost my son I was already working in pro-life, but now that work has so much more meaning.”
She is adamant about affirming baby loss ministry as a pro-life issue and Ostroski stresses that as Catholics we have the responsibility to affirm and help those who have lost a child.
“From a pro-life aspect we need to educate that even if a child were to live for just hours after the birth, they have the right to live those few hours,” she said. “I have learned there remains a lot of work to do on this issue, and that in a way it remains untouched work. I want to help others – especially Catholic mothers – to cope with their loss.”
The Via-Christi Health Network also offers ministry and resources for their patients.
St. Joseph Campus Chaplain Ann O’Donnell said members of the TenderHearts ministry reach out to parents. “We visit and we also distribute resources for self-help and grief,” she said.
In addition, Via Christi partners with community resources for bereaved parents, including Compassionate Friends Sunflower Chapter, SIDS Network of Kansas, Inc., Wichita Child Guidance Center, Self-Help Network, and Three Trees.
Priests in the Diocese of Wichita may offer a blessing of parents after baby loss by using the official Book of Blessings, and a handful of parishes offer periodic Naming and Commendation of Infants ceremonies.
“Today, we are aware of the emotional as well as the physical changes caused when one loses their child before a live birth is possible,” said Church of the Resurrection Bereavement Ministry member Becky Knapp. “In times of grief the Christian turns to the Lord and His Church for consolation and strength.”
Even with helpful resources available in the church, Ostroski said there are still many misconceptions when it comes to baby loss. She said that parents may feel they are being punished, like they have done something wrong and that a sin is somehow linked to the death of their baby.
“For me, during that time in my life, I had to scratch my head at the death of an innocent child, but then I realized there was no one more innocent than Christ on the cross. I learned it was important to turn to the saints and various popes to learn what the church truly teaches on life and death issues,” said Ostroski.
Another misconception she said is that it is better not to speak about the matter.
“I encourage parents to talk with their family and with their children to share about what it means to be a Catholic family – that they have another family member who is not with them right now,” she said.
However, she said it is also important to offer help instead of offering advice to a grieving parent. “Tell them you are there when they are ready to talk, offer to take the kids, make a meal…be helpful with real actions, not statements of advice or sentiment. What could be completely well-meaning could be incredibly painful for a grieving parent to hear.”
Ostroski said that it is also important for priests to be educated in baby loss. She encourages priests not to be afraid to talk to couples, to pray and to offer Mass or blessings. In addition, she said people must be willing to contact their priests to ask for help, even if they are embarrassed at first.
“This is really a pro-life issue, one where the rubber meets the road in terms of life and death issues,” Ostroski said. “We must all work together to minister to those who are hurting.”