By Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell
A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more. Jeremiah 31:15, reflected in Matthew 2:18
For the last two and a half years I was a volunteer chaplain at a small hospital. Though I was on call with the other two chaplains, I was the only chaplain who regularly did rounds, and I was the only chaplain who made a point of visiting the Women’s Center. I also made a point of letting the nurses know they could call me to come in and chat with young women who had experienced a pregnancy loss, no matter the cause or reason. It took a while for it to sink in to some of the staff that I wanted to be called when there was a fetal demise, that I wanted to be there to pray and listen, whether they were outwardly grieving or not. In a rural town, there was a lot of judgment: judgment towards those who were unmarried, and judgment towards those who chose to end their pregnancy, regardless of the reason.
We do a terrible job in society of recognizing pregnancy loss, because often it is unspoken, hushed, or just not known. The general “rule” that gets passed around newly pregnant women is not to speak of it to anyone but your partner and doctor until the first trimester has passed and the risk of miscarriage is greatly reduced. So what happens is that 1/3 of pregnancies end in miscarriage, meaning there is a large number of people and families who have suffered a great loss that very few ever know about. A good number of women do not know they are pregnant until they have suffered the loss.
As a church, I believe we have failed to acknowledge, reach out, and comfort those who mourn. We have failed to do so because we don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or make any private news public unnecessarily. But we have also not given space to grieve, space to mourn, and space to bring comfort.
October 15th is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day. Some denominations and churches have liturgical resources available; some churches choose to mention it during the prayers of the people. Still others offer a space and time for prayer and reflection.
In the liberal/progressive church, we have failed in another way. As we advocate for a woman’s right to choose, we must also advocate for her right to mourn. Just as a woman is able to choose to end her pregnancy for her health or personal reasons, so she should also be allowed to mourn and grieve if those emotions arise. As the church we need to mourn with her (and her partner, should the case may be). We need to acknowledge that the termination of a pregnancy, for some, is also a loss. Sometimes it is a necessary loss, sometimes it is life-saving. Nonetheless, at times, pregnancy termination is also grieved deeply by the one who has gone through it, and we have failed to acknowledge and give space for that grieving and mourning to take place in an environment that also supports her choice.
The verse quoted above has two contexts: the original context of the exile of Israel, those who were lost and forgotten, seeing Rachel as the matriarch of the tribes, and the context of Matthew, who was writing the story of Jesus’ early years and also alluding to the massacre of the infants in the Exodus story. However, this verse has also remained a silent understanding of the pain of a mother’s loss, especially a pregnancy loss, an unspeakable loss, a loss where there is no comfort to be found.
Let us step up for our families who grieve in silence. Let us reach out to those who have suffered an unmentionable loss, when it is appropriate and welcome to do so. Let us grieve, mourn, comfort, and stand in solidarity with those around us, who have experienced pregnancy loss due to miscarriage, stillbirth, or abortion. And let us acknowledge publically, without breaking confidence of those who wish to remain private, that these losses do take place, on a regular basis, and that it is ok to grieve and mourn these losses.
*For liturgical resources for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, I have included some on my site: