A way to navigate the overwhelming grief of losing a baby
In the past, the prevailing culture seldom acknowledged miscarriage as loss
‘It is our firm hope that other denominations and churches can avail of this new liturgy,’ writes Bishop Pat Storey. ‘It isn’t just for us.’
When you have a loss in your life, it magnifies every experience you have with someone who has not had that loss. Thus when, for instance, you lose your mother – all you can see out and about are women with their mothers. The world seems full of people who still have their mothers.
It can be a painful experience for quite some time.
In the same way, once you know that you are expecting a baby and you suffer a miscarriage, you notice every pregnant woman. Your personal loss is magnified. Every woman and man who has experienced the loss of a baby will identify with this. Loss goes deep.
In many ways society has been slow to acknowledge the loss of a baby through miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal death. Indeed, in the church too we have had no liturgy that might help to navigate the turbulent waters of this kind of loss.
We are excellent as a society and in church life at giving commiserations for loss when someone has had a very evident grief
However, I am delighted to say that at this year’s General Synod a Bill was presented, and a liturgy endorsed, that will give expression to this. A new service has been compiled that includes pastoral and liturgical guidelines for clergy (many of whom have suffered a similar loss).
These include suggestions such as involving siblings in the service by encouraging them to bring or to make a token of remembrance, thus acknowledging their loss too.
There is provision, where a child has died in utero or during or shortly after birth, for the blessing and naming of the child. The name is then used throughout the service as an acknowledgement that this child did exist.
General guidelines encourage that privacy, comfort and thought are given to the length of such a service, since by its very nature any such service is likely to take place when a mother is still uncomfortable after giving birth.
We are excellent as a society and in church life at giving commiserations for loss when someone has had a very evident grief. We are less adept at offering our condolences to someone who has lost a baby through miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal death.
As someone who has suffered miscarriage and the loss of three babies before I had my two delightful children, people were very kind but they did not know what to say, and there was no provision by the church at that time that acknowledged that there had been any kind of loss.
This is an introduction and one of the prayers that may be said at this new service:
We have gathered here today to commend a beloved child, (name )… to our heavenly Father, to assure the parent(s) … (and …) of God’s everlasting love,
to acknowledge the deep sorrow in this loss, and to offer comfort and support.
your Son took little children into his arms and blessed them.
Grant to us now the assurance that baby (name)
is encircled by those arms of love.
In the midst of our grief,
strengthen by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit
our faith and hope in your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
For the first time in the Church of Ireland, liturgically, we are agreeing together that “something has happened”. We are acknowledging and talking about the loss of a baby.
We are all acquainted with loss – sooner or later grief finds you
It is our firm hope that other denominations and churches can avail of this new liturgy – it isn’t just for us. We are reducing the lack of appreciation of miscarriage – an event where some feel a sense of devastation for a very long time, and others perhaps less so.
Of course, nobody has to take part in such a service – that is why it is called a “provision”. In previous generations, the prevailing culture seldom talked about or acknowledged miscarriage as loss. The introduction of this new service gives women permission to give a voice to their grief.
I know many women who remember a date every year when they expected to be happy, and they still remember this day with sadness even decades later.
We are all acquainted with loss – sooner or later grief finds you. For the first time, this service is an opportunity to put a name (literally) and words to the loss of women and men when they lose a baby.
I welcome the introduction of this service as a provision for families who would find it helpful in their journey of grief.
Most Rev Pat Storey is Church of Ireland Bishop of Meath and Kildare