“We shall find our little ones again up above.”
-St. Zelie Martin
Recently, the state of Nebraska passed a bill that is the first of its kind in the history of the United States. The bill allows parents who have lost a child due to miscarriage to apply for a commemorative birth certificate as long as a health care practitioner has verified the pregnancy. Unlike previous bills which mandated that the miscarried child must have been at least 20 weeks old, this bill has no minimum gestation period.
The beauty of this bill is that it publicly acknowledges the life of the unborn, no matter how short their time may have been with us. Miscarriage is an experience that is all too common but often not spoken about in our culture. It is estimated that 15-20 percent of all pregnancies in the U.S. end in miscarriage. Anecdotally, it seems to me that this number is an underestimate—almost all of the couples I know who have multiple children have experienced at least one miscarriage, if not more.
Although these children are unseen and never encountered face to face, their passing has an unavoidable impact on families, especially mothers. As one woman recounts in Karen Edmiston’s book, After Miscarriage, “I could no more pretend that nothing has happened than I could pretend to be fine if my husband died.” This natural response underscores the deep wound that all mothers who have lost children experience.
Many women may blame themselves or feel ashamed of their miscarriage, and may even be unaware of their grief. Holly Cave recounts one mother who confided to her:
“I thought to grieve you had to have lost something you’d met – like a person that you had talked to – or you could grieve over a baby that maybe you’d held,” she tells me. “I didn’t know anything about grief… I didn’t know whether I should leave that to people who had lost actual people, not a very, very tiny baby that you’ve never met.”
As Edmiston explains, “Grief is necessary, and our children deserve the dignity of our mourning, the recognition of their infinite worth, the respect that is manifest in our grieving of their passing.” Grief is an affirmation of love. It is an affirmation that a child is missed.
It is clear that our society needs to do a better job of honoring the grief of women who have experienced miscarriage. The Nebraska birth certificate bill is a great start in bringing a tragic event into the light in order to help facilitate healing for mothers and their families, especially by officially pronouncing a name for the unknown child. Although no parent should feel guilty if they have not thought of giving their child a name, this can be a beautiful way of affirming God’s gift of life. As Christians, we believe that the life in the womb of a mother possesses an eternal soul, and therefore, the child may possess a name. “Names are powerful,” Edmiston writes. “They identify us, shape us, connect us to one another. . . It is a small but very real gift you can give to the baby you were not able to see or embrace.”
On this Mother’s Day, let us remember and pray in a special way for all those mothers who have children whose lives ended before they were born—from miscarriage, stillbirth, or abortion—or whose lives ended after birth, from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) or other tragedy.
Here are some resources to help those who are grieving the loss of a child: