Weeping with those who weep
A British report shows how we can support those suffering pregnancy loss
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Dobbs v. Jackson has opened up a new era for the pro-life movement. The reversal of Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey presents new challenges and opportunities to affirm and protect unborn lives. Many have focused on the new potential for laws protecting the unborn. Others note that we must prepare to increase the capacity of crisis pregnancy centers to serve more women and families.
Those points are all true and worthy pursuits. But we should address more than just the particular issue of abortion, central as it is. We should think about how to foster a broader culture of life. One issue in which we can do so regards unintended pregnancy loss, whether through miscarriage or stillbirth. As high as one in five known pregnancies end in loss. Yet, we as a society have struggled to care for those women and families who have lost an unborn child.
My own family has faced this loss and the societal struggles in addressing them. My wife’s first three pregnancies ended in miscarriage. While many around us offered love, comfort, and hope, we also experienced notable problems with how many in our culture, including conservative Christians, think about and address pregnancy loss.
In late July, some help on how to care for mothers and families came from an unlikely source: the British Department of Health and Social Care. The department commissioned a report on pregnancy losses before the 24th week of gestation. The British government released its formal response to this review in late July. It discussed four categories of ways to help those who lost an unborn child. While not perfect or complete, the report gives some constructive guidance we in the United States should seriously consider.
First, the report discussed ways to acknowledge and remember the unborn child’s life. Even though unintentional, family and friends can fail to note and often forget those unborn children they never saw. Yet grieving parents want some recognition of their unborn child’s life and means to perpetuate that child’s memory. They’ve lost so much already. They don’t want to lose more.
The report supports a recommendation to make an official government certificate available for any family suffering an early pregnancy loss. The report backs this move with interesting language for a country that allows legal abortion for many reasons, up to 24 weeks, saying it should be given “In recognition of a life lost.” However logically inconsistent, we still should welcome the affirmation that life begins before birth and that children who die in the womb are real, were human beings, and were loved by their families.
Second, the report addresses how to treat the remains of the lost child. My wife and I struggled in particular with this point in her miscarriages. One doctor, while not outright rude, was dismissive of our concern about the lost baby’s body. In another situation, we had to send off our unborn child’s remains for testing. In none did we get the chance to give his or her remains proper treatment. As Christians who believe in the final resurrection, we wish we could have given our children’s bodies, however small, the dignified treatment they deserved. We would see it as declaring our belief that we would see them again one day.
The report gives needed voice to parents like us. The government response declares, “It should never be acceptable that fetal remains are treated like waste products,” as can happen in hospitals and doctors’ offices and which we fear happened with two of our children. Hospitals, moreover, should develop ways “to allow fetal remains to be collected and stored with due dignity,” and practices should be provided for the preservation of the unborn child’s body in miscarriages gone through at home, not just in hospitals. These means and procedures would provide welcome help to those suffering from pregnancy loss.
Third, the report points out the need to facilitate grief for the parents. My wife and I struggled with how to grieve—with what language to use in our prayers of lament, what words and deeds we needed from others. The biggest answers came from God’s Word (especially the Psalms) and God’s people (in His Church). The British report does not look to our ultimate hope in Christ, sadly. But it does say provision should be made to aid families in their grief. These aids include counseling or even a private space, upon hearing the news, in which to process and weep. We certainly did not have those means when we lost our children. They would have been welcome options that this report rightly wishes to make common.
Fourth and finally, the report said that women suffering pregnancy loss should get time off as well as fathers going through this tragedy. For the first loss, my wife’s place of employment showed extraordinary care in letting her off work. I had flexibility on that score, too, then being in graduate school. When the second loss occurred, my wife was a homemaker, and my own employer also showed amazing support for us.
But not everyone has those privileges. The tragedy of loss can then be shoved aside by the demands of work. But time away is needed, not just emotionally and spiritually, but physically, as the woman goes through the pain of a miscarriage. In response, the report sought up to ten days of paid leave for its female employees suffering a loss and up to five days for their partners. Similar policies would be welcome here in America, too.
Thus, Americans should look to this report for the guidelines it gives to help women and their families. We should seek how we can integrate the best of its ideas into our own public policies and private practices. And we should see these efforts as part of the promise of a post-Dobbs world where we rejoice and welcome with the parents of every born child while weeping with the sufferers of every loss.
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