Following a recent Mass at St. Andrew Apostle Parish in Silver Spring, Maryland, for miscarried babies and their families, one participant said, “The couples... some were tearful, and I observed the husbands comforting their wives and vice versa. And it was a way to remember the babies we've all lost.” 

More than 100 people, including mothers, fathers and couples, gathered to pray together, recognizing the need for healing among themselves and for others who had experienced that loss. The Mass began with words of hope and light.  

Praise and worship music resonated in the sanctuary when everyone gathered before Mass. Father Dan Leary, St. Andrew’s pastor, shared a story about his mother who at one point had “given up” hope in faith and the Church because, “What was the use of hoping anymore when you have had six miscarriages?”

Father Leary encouraged couples to rethink their loss, not as miscarriages, but “babies miscarried.”  With that perspective, the children, who never made it fully developed and delivered, would be identified as a baby and a human gift, not as a bunch of cells. 

Many couples agreed that the most compelling statement was connecting with the sadness and grieving which comes from losing a baby who has died inside you. 

A couple shared their story about losing their child who had been diagnosed in utero with a life-threatening health challenge. They said they now understand that they have an angel in heaven as part of the communion of saints.

Another participant noted it was poignant at the Mass to hear “the sounds of the babies, here on earth who had accompanied their families” with that sound adding “a beautiful dimension to the Mass.”

After the homily, everyone was invited to come forward and light a candle for as many babies as they had lost from a miscarriage. As the line formed, mothers, fathers and children carried lit blue votive candles up to the altar. The resulting light first began as a few candle flickers and then enlarged to an illumination of cobalt light representing the babies who had been lost to miscarriages. Everyone was encouraged to move out of the darkness into the light. Nearly 100 candles provided that light to counter the pain endured by the participants.

After receiving the Eucharist during the Mass, each family was invited to receive an anointing, to give them strength and hope to move forward.

Then people were encouraged to name their babies, providing an acknowledgement of their babies’ lives to remain in their hearts. 

During a reception afterward, ideas were shared about the perception of how mothers are treated after a baby is miscarried, with people noting that members of the faith community can be lacking in sensitivity for the needs of families who have experienced great loss. Some participants said priests are either unaware or uncomfortable facing that need in their parish. Others pointed out that couples often remain silent as they privately endure their pain.

“Bruce and I lost our first two babies through miscarriage,” Nancy Shea-Starkenburg recalled.  “Because this occurred over 20 years ago, I assumed that couples/individuals attending the Mass from our age group would be fewer in number. On the contrary, there were many people from our age group there. We may possibly have outnumbered the young families present. What does that tell us?  It tells us that when we lost our children, there was no formal or spiritual outlet for dealing with our grief. No support from our church was available at that time. It is for this reason that this Mass was so important, because it offered an opportunity to heal, as well as to honor our unborn children.”

At the reception, Father Leary asked, “What was your experience when you had a baby miscarried?” Participants noted that people had told them things like ”you can have more children, you are still young” and “there must have been something wrong with the baby so it was better she/he did not live.” 

The participants were encouraged to be ambassadors of light to others experiencing such losses, and to educate priests, deacons and laity in their parish communities about this issue, so perhaps ministries can be formed to help bring comfort and healing to families who have lost a baby through miscarriage. 

For more information or to learn how you might become involved, contact St Andrew Apostle parish, www.standrewapostle.org.

(This article was submitted by Ann and Fred Salancy of St. Andrew Apostle Parish.)