Recently, several couples have publicly spoken of the deep emotional pain they experienced at the death of their preborn child. When Chrissy Teigen and John Legend suffered a miscarriage last September, Teigen shared on Instagram:
We are shocked and in the kind of deep pain you only hear about, the kind of pain we’ve never felt before… we for some reason, had started to call this little guy in my belly Jack. Jack worked so hard to be part of our little family, and he will be, forever….We will always love you.
Meghan Markle and Prince Harry also suffered a miscarriage last summer. Although pro-choice, Markle expressed her deep grief in losing her child writing in a New York Times op-ed piece:
Losing a child means carrying an almost unbearable grief, experienced by many but talked about by few. In the pain of our loss, my husband and I discovered that in a room of 100 women, 10 to 20 of them will have suffered from miscarriage. Yet despite the staggering commonality of the pain, the conversation remains taboo, riddled with (unwarranted) shame, and perpetuating a cycle of solitary mourning.
This Fall, Josie Bates Balka, from the reality show “Bringing Up Bates” too shared that she and her husband lost a child they were expecting:
…Our hearts have been completely broken. I’ve never experienced the type of pain and loss that I’ve had these past weeks. There is an empty spot in our hearts and in our home.
Meghan McCain, co-host of “The View” wrote after she and husband Ben Domenech suffered a miscarriage in 2019:
Miscarriage is a pain too often unacknowledged. Yet it is real, and what [women who have miscarried] have lost is real. We feel sorrow and we weep because our babies were real.
The deep pain these parents feel at the death of their preborn child may extend to siblings and grandparents. Recognizing this pain Florida, Nebraska, and Tennessee upon request will issue a “Commemorative Certificate of Nonviable Birth.” Receiving a certificate from the state is more than receiving a piece of paper. It is a public recognition of the birth and death of their child. To a small degree, it rejects the “solitary mourning” to which Markle refers. The state certificate makes the birth and death a public event. It is not unlike a marriage certificate issued by the state that publicly recognizes the union.
In Nebraska, the certificate includes the baby’s name, the date the nonviable birth occurred, and the parents’ names. The Nebraska Statute 71-607 stipulates that the certificate is not proof of a live birth and the state does not register the birth. The Department of Health and Human Services reports that 50-80 people request the certificate each year. The Tennessee certificate is similar to Nebraska’s.
In Florida, a “Certificate of Birth Resulting in Stillbirth” is issued if the baby is 20 weeks gestation or more. For a child under 20 weeks gestation, a “Certificate of Nonviable Birth” is issued. In both cases the baby’s name, date of nonviable birth or stillbirth, and name of parents appear on the Certificate. The parents must request the certificate.
The Wyoming legislature’s attempt to pass similar legislation in February 2018 was defeated when pro-choice activists, fearful that a “nonviable birth” certificate would be an acknowledgement of the child’s existence and effect abortion laws in the future, rallied support against the bill. So, mothers, fathers, siblings, grandparents are denied their right to choose to have a certificate recognizing the birth of their child.
Yet, even when the state, representing the public, recognizes the birth and death of this child, the miscarriage still remains largely personal and private. Often friends and some family may not even be aware of the death. There is no outpouring of concern and care. How can the church minister to these grieving families? What if the church offered quarterly worship services to celebrate the lives of children that died before natural birth? Parents could name the child, friends and family could gather and participate in worship remembering Scripture’s promise of eternal life and celebrating the gift of that child’s life, however brief.
Some years ago, a professor from Belgium speaking at a marriage conference observed that while the churches in Europe are largely empty, young people nevertheless return to the church for their wedding service. Thus, showing that the church’s ministry at the time of their wedding is important to them.
Perhaps if the church today reached out to couples, who have experienced the death of a preborn child, in their time of great sorrow, young people would once again hear the hope of the Gospel and see how Christ’s love meets them in their grief.
Sue Cyre is a past board member of the Institute on Religion & Democracy. She previously served as Executive Director of Presbyterians for Faith, Family and Ministry (PFFM), an initiative providing resources to assist adherents in their defense of the biblical theology. Cyre also served as editor of Theology Matters.