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Treat miscarried babies with the dignity they deserve Print
Guest column
Thursday, Apr. 28, 2011 -- 12:00 AM

As soon as I heard my wife burst out the bathroom door that sunny spring day, I knew she was pregnant. I hadn’t yet opened my eyes but I didn’t need to. Her footsteps told me everything.

My wife didn’t have any particular reason to believe she was pregnant. But after a couple years of praying for a second child, I’d grown accustomed to Laura taking random pregnancy tests — hoping against hope that somehow that second pink line would appear. This time it did.

Joyful days

The days ahead were as joyful as any we’d experienced in our life together. We beamed when friends who knew of our struggle with secondary infertility congratulated us and we devoured all the fetal development materials we could find, eager to mark every last milestone in our baby’s nascent life.

Celebrating our first child’s birthday later that week, we couldn’t have been happier. Among the presents Peter opened was the Dr. Seuss movie, Horton Hears a Who. Reflecting on the film’s signature quote, “A person’s a person no matter how small,” it was clear that evening that our family of three had become a family of four.

At the foot of the cross

A week later I remember foolishly telling Laura, “I’m sure we’ll be sad again someday, but right now I just can’t see how!”

It didn’t take long for that question to be answered. It was another sunny spring morning — just 16 days after the positive pregnancy test — when Laura realized something was wrong. Five agonizing hours later, our worst fears were confirmed; Laura was miscarrying.

Before bed that night, we recovered the tiny body of our baby. Suddenly, I was at the foot of the cross, helplessly consoling a sobbing mother clutching the lifeless body of her beloved child.

In my household, we’ll forever remember April 29 as the anniversary of our miscarriage. But it’s a day that also holds significance in the Church calendar as the feast of Catherine of Siena, the patron saint of miscarriage.

Gianna and respect for life

This feast day presents a great opportunity to rethink the way we approach miscarriages. In America, few miscarried babies are treated with the dignity that the sanctity of their short lives demands. Most are thrown out with medical waste, unnamed and unacknowledged.

Even the Church today finds itself woefully unprepared to minister to couples grieving this loss. When Laura and I miscarried, we weren’t quite sure what to do. Our faith taught us that our child — whom we named Gianna — had the same dignity as any other human being. But the lack of an ecclesiastical protocol for handling a miscarriage indicated otherwise.

Ultimately, Laura and I decided to give our child a full funeral and a Christian burial. And as leaders of Madison’s Vigil for Life group, we went out on a limb, inviting the entire pro-life community to the funeral. We wanted to lean on our friends during a difficult time, but we also wanted to send a message: building a true culture of life requires a greater respect for the lives of miscarried babies.

Miracle of Life Rosary Garden

Certainly, loss of a miscarried baby is a very personal experience, and not everybody goes through it the same way. But the tears and the hugs shared that evening proved that parents of miscarried babies everywhere are starving for their grief to be legitimized.

As a Catholic community, we’ve got to help provide that sense of legitimacy by treating these grieving mothers and fathers with the same love, patience, and compassion we would if they had lost a born child. After all, a person’s a person no matter how small.

At Gianna’s funeral, Fr. Rick Heilman was inspired to step up and build the Miracle of Life Rosary Garden, which serves as a burial place for miscarried and stillborn children. The Rosary Garden opened last fall and will be dedicated this spring. For information, call St. Mary Parish in Pine Bluff at 608-798-2111.

Laura and Steve Karlen lead Vigil for Life of Madison, and Steve is the director of development at Pro-Life Wisconsin.