"I'm so sorry, but the pregnancy is no longer viable. This happens often, but you're a healthy young lady in your twenties. I'm sure I will see you back here in a couple months pregnant again," the doctor said in a very efficient manner. He said he was sorry, but perhaps it was just his German mannerisms that made it seem like he was speaking purely out of habit.
This time last year I was in the midst of the most intense season of Lent I’ve ever experienced. I found out from my German OB that I was having a miscarriage at 6 weeks along and my husband was halfway across the country on TDY (military speak for “business” trip). I was alone trying to care for our twenty-month-old daughter in a foreign country and now I was going through this. On top of it all, I felt like I couldn’t talk about it. My doctor certainly wasn’t much of a help since he didn’t quite get how significant this was to me, and everyone I wanted to talk to was half a world away back in the States. I didn’t really know of anyone who had been through this over here because no one ever mentioned miscarriage.
As soon as I got home from my doctor’s office, however, I learned something interesting: more women go through miscarriage than I thought. I had to notify Scott’s squadron so they could possibly get him home from his TDY early and thank goodness they stepped up. Usually the military isn’t so accommodating, but several of the spouses told me they had miscarriages before and they knew how important it was for Scott to be with me. He was home the next day. I was bombarded by sympathy, flowers, and offers of help by women who knew exactly what I was going through.
However, it seemed as though miscarriage was only talked about among women who have had one before and treated as if it were its own category of loss only felt by the mother, not a death that affects the whole family or even the community. I felt like I couldn’t talk about it with someone who never had experience with miscarriage, like it was a forbidden topic. I felt like I couldn’t tell anyone what I was going through—even my women’s group at the chapel. I felt like I was limited in the community I could reach out to because it was just a miscarriage. It wasn’t as if I had ever held my baby or knew what it looked like. Heck, I didn’t even know its gender. What attachment could I have with it? How could I experience the loss of a child I never knew?
But, of course, it was a baby. It already was my child to me. It wasn’t just a clump of cells or some extra tissue in my body. It was another human being and I was experiencing real loss. So why did I feel so guilty about feeling bad over losing my baby?
Thanks to the culture of death in which we live, we are taught that something you only see wiggling on a monitor is just a “pregnancy,” not a baby. It’s a fetus, not a person. And so when that pregnancy “fails” or is “no longer viable,” then that’s that and it must be removed before it causes damage to the mother. From that point on, it’s a disease rather than a child and must be treated as such.
I had done some research, talked to my sister and a few friends who had miscarriages, and I knew that I just wanted the baby to pass naturally. My husband was with me at my next appointment and the doctor first confirmed that “the pregnancy was no longer viable,” but then he told us that I needed to go in for a D&C operation right away—that day, if possible. He didn’t even give us the option of natural miscarriage, though my brother-in-law back in the States who is an OB told us it was perfectly safe. Our biggest concern with the operation was that we wouldn’t be able to bury the baby—we’re Catholic, after all, and a burial was of upmost importance to us. When we asked him if it would be possible to take the baby with us to bury, he looked at us like we were crazy. He spoke wonderful English, so it wasn’t as if he didn’t understand what we were saying. He just didn’t understand why we would want to do that.
“It’s not as if it will look like a baby, it’s too early,” he told us.
That didn’t matter to us, but how could we explain the Theology of the Body to a German doctor? We walked out of that office and never went back. What bothered me the most about this doctor was that even though he was an OB, he didn’t seem to consider it to be a baby at all. To him, it was just a “pregnancy,” a lump of tissue. He may have used the term “baby” when it was alive, but he didn’t think of it as a person or that the loss of it could cause any sort of emotional pain. The pregnancy ended, it didn’t look like a baby; it needed to be removed right away.
As Catholics, of course, we see things much differently. No, it didn’t look like a baby just yet, but it was alive all the same. It had a soul. It was my baby. It had its own genetic makeup and it died. It didn’t just end, it experienced death.
But we’ve heard all this before. All of the pro-life rhetoric is engrained in our memories for our arguments against abortion, right? But when it comes to miscarriage, how do we internalize these arguments? Do they not also have serious implications for those of us who suffer miscarriage?
In the time that we spent waiting for the baby to pass, I was once again bombarded, but this time with unwanted advice from every corner. One lady at church explained to me that I absolutely needed the operation or else my future fertility and overall health was in jeopardy. Many people said the operation was just the easiest thing for them since it meant everything was over all at once.
The one person I listened to, however, was my sister. At that point she had had three miscarriages—and six healthy children born as well—so I trusted what she had to say. She passed each one naturally and never had to get an operation. She was still healthy, she was still able to have more children, and she knew how to grieve.
What my sister taught me was a truly pro-life way of going through a miscarriage. This was a child—it needs a name. This was a human being—it needs to be buried. This was a baby—going through a sort of “labor” brings that to reality.
My husband and I both prayed about the gender of our baby and we agreed—it was a boy. We named him Jude Anthony. I had been praying to both of those saints fervently, hoping against hope for a miracle. St. Jude, the patron of lost causes, and St. Anthony, the patron of lost things. I knew that they would at least take care of my lost baby until I could meet him one day in heaven.
The day finally came, nearly three weeks after I initially found out that Jude had died, when he passed through me. I cried as I held him and wrapped him in tissues. My daughter had no idea what was going on and I didn’t know how to explain it to a twenty-month-old. Scott and I held each other and made plans for a burial out in the woods—we didn’t know until nearly a year later that there was an actual cemetery for the unborn in our town. We also said some prayers for his little soul.
I eventually went to a new doctor to make sure everything was fine and he sent me to have a D&C anyway to remove the remaining tissue that wasn’t passing. We knew we had the baby, so now we had no qualms about the operation. I had actually held my baby, I was ready to take care of my own body. And now we are expecting the arrival of our next child, Benedict Alexander, due on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 3rd. God-willing, we will deliver a healthy and much-loved baby boy.
Miscarriage is a very real and painful experience, both for the mother and the father, and even for older children in the family. Everyone grieves in different ways, so these techniques might not be the best for some. A D&C operation might be better for some women's physical and mental health than natural miscarriage. But if we are Catholic, we should start treating miscarriage as the loss it truly is: the loss of human life. We should have a place to bury our unborn children. It should be talked about—so many families suffer through it alone, without much support from either family, friends, or their church community. Please reach out, please say something. Lend a family your support whether you’ve experienced miscarriage or not. And please pray for all the unborn.
This post was written in loving memory of Joan, Michael, Bernadette, Peter, Charlotte, and Jude.