Sunday, January 29, 2012

He calls them each by name.

 Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing. -Isaiah 40:26

While I know that my sons don't need forgiveness for their sins (they had no sins), I still wanted to have panikhidas for them. We had a panikhida the other night for someone and I had to sing because there were only a few of us there. I was paying very close attention to the words, thinking about Innocent and Andrew. Most of the prayers have to do with asking forgiveness for the person's sins and they would obviously not apply in their cases. I thought about why I wanted memorial services in church for them so much. The answer occurred to me tonight. I wanted to hear their names.

A whole cottage industry has sprung up for providing various means of seeing babies' names written out. Some are written in the sand and photographed, some are painted onto stones, some are tied to balloons and released. If your child has died before birth then you will not have the hand print on construction paper with the child's name and “Happy Mother's Day” to pin on your wall. You won't be signing permission forms for field trips, you won't be typing about the cute thing he said in your letter to Grandma. Parents of miscarried and stillborn children already suffer the feeling that everyone has either forgotten their children or refused to admit their existence in the first place. Hearing and seeing the child's name is validating. Your child lived even if they didn't draw breath. He or she is a person with an immortal soul.

I haven't had a big interest in seeing Innocent and Andrew's names written onto balloons, the beach, or stenciled onto stuffed angels. I want to hear their names in church with the rest of the departed. Given that we commemorate reposed catechumens and given that unborn babies of Orthodox parents are considered catechumens, you would think that they would be commemorated and included when Memory Eternal is sung in church, but they're not. I don't know what the solution is.

Even if I can't change the practice of the Church (and I don't know that in some churches they don't already do that), I can encourage people to do this: Say the names of the departed babies of your friends and family members. There is some sort of misconception that if you mention the babies by name you are hurting the parents even more. I'm not saying that for someone out there this won't be the case, but I haven't met them yet. Everyone I know wants to hear their baby's name, wants to know that someone else thinks about them and acknowledged their existence. The sound of your baby's name is no less beautiful for the child having departed this life.

Friday, January 27, 2012

New Page

There is a new page called How to Navigate the Hospital. It talks about dealing with admissions, consents, writing a birth plan, what to take to the hospital, etc. Additional information will be added later on disposition of the baby's body.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Andrew's Story

I updated the "Your Stories" page with the story of Andrew's loss and birth. I feel like a wrung-out sponge.

(Juliana has been gracious enough to share her story of little Philip on that page as well. Thank you, Juliana)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Some Upcoming Updates

I have several things in mind to add/alter here on Lost Innocents. I'm finally coming out from under the dark shadow of Andrew's death and would like to spend some time and energy updating this site. Some of the things I have in mind:
  • Resources for parents who are expecting a baby who is not expected to live
  • Resources for women who have had a stillbirth
  • Resources for women who have lost one of a set of multiples (including the "vanishing twin")
  • Information for women who have had multiple losses
  • Additional information about the care of your baby's body between birth and burial.
  • More information about induced labor for a missed miscarriage (i.e. - Andrew's birth story, just the medical parts)
  • Ideas for coping with loss anniversaries (due dates, birth dates, 40 days, etc.)
  • Information about infertility and loss
  • Information about pregnancy after a loss
This is a great time to let me know what else you want to see on this site. Have you come here looking for something and not found it? Do you think something is not explained well or not enough information (or an appropriate link) is given?

Also, do you have a birth story you wouldn't mind sharing or having me link to? Do you have photographs you would like to share of your child?

I appreciate the comments and emails I've gotten over the last 9 months letting me know that this site has been helpful to that person or a family member or friend. This is a place I never thought I would be. I've received so much help, encouragement and information that it would be wrong not to share it. A lot of those emails have come at a time when they were most needed.

Even though this has been a very rewarding work, it has also been difficult. In order to write Andrew's story I'm going to have to essentially relive it and I know that will be very painful. When I ask people if they wouldn't mind writing out their birth stories as a source of encouragement and solace to others, I really do understand what I'm asking. I will be writing Andrew's story sometime in the next few days. I know from having written Innocent's story that while it will be painful, it will also be healing. I need that healing and I encourage you to seek it as well. If you haven't written the story of your child's pregnancy and birth then I urge you to do it. You never have to share it with another living soul - you will still have the benefits.

Thank you to everyone who has helped with this site by writing, sharing, linking or praying.

Friday, January 20, 2012

New Site about Miscarriage in Romanian

I am very pleased to announce the beginning of a new site on miscarriage in Romanian by a Romanian priest's wife, Matușkăi Euphemia : Prunci Pierduți Și Născuți Înainte De Vreme. O perspectivă Ortodoxă (Lost Babies and Born Prematurely: An Orthodox Perspective). Matușkăi Euphemia lost her son Nectarie when he was 15 weeks gestation. She found Lost Innocents helpful and has decided to create a similar site in Romanian. To my knowledge there is not a similar site in Romanian so this is a tremendous blessing to Romanian-speaking readers. She has translated some material from Lost Innocents but her site also includes the story of her son Nectarie and some additional information. Please visit her site and pass it along to other people who may find it helpful. I have included it in the list of resource sites and I'm sure it will be a blessing to many.

May this new site be a wonderful memorial to her son Nectarie and may his memory be eternal!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Role of Miscarriage and Stillbirth in Seminary Education

A friend told me that after her daughter was stillborn a year ago she had trouble finding a priest to offer a memorial service for her. She wasn't living in the wilds of Montana where there are very few Orthodox churches, she was living in New York in an area stuffed with priests. The priest who eventually did the service was reluctant. This struck me as unreasonable. Why would we not do a memorial service for a departed infant? The answer was, the baby was not baptized. Even though infants who die before birth have no need of baptism (explanation here) consider what a comfort for the grieving family a memorial service is. By not permitting any sort of memorial service to be done we would in essence be denying the existence of the infant.

There is an excellent article on this site (Touchstone Article) that addresses the question of how the Church ministers to miscarried and stillborn children and their families. The upshot is that work needs to be done. The situation I described above certainly illustrates that. You would think that the Church has never addressed the situation but that is not the case. Below is an excerpt from that article:
It is in the other aspect of ministering to pre-born death—services for the infant himself—where there is more room for improvement, or at least for clarification. There are no prescribed Orthodox services for a miscarried child: no funeral, no commemoration, no anniversary observances. This is because the unborn child is not baptized. Indeed, there is a school of thought that the pre-born dead cannot partake in the fullness of God’s kingdom for his departed, and therefore should not even be buried in the same part of the cemetery with the faithful.

Thankfully, this custom—which has been condemned as “nothing less than barbaric” by Fr. Alexander Rentel, a professor of Orthodox canon law—is not universal and was not applied in our case. The funeral service for infants was read, with some modifications, over little Constantine. The monastic community at St Tikhon’s stepped in out of loving concern and conviction regarding the sacredness of all human life, and made room for Constantine among all the other Orthodox awaiting the resurrection in that place. The only distinguishing aspect of the pre-borns’ grave markers at St. Tikhon’s is that they bear only one date. Other monasteries exercise similar care over the pre-born dead.

Some progress is being made toward addressing the perplexities of theology and custom that have inhibited pre-born funerals for the Orthodox. In March 2001, the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece set guidelines for burials of unbaptized babies, classifying children of Orthodox Christian families as “candidate members” of the church: “After the establishment of infant baptism, the unbaptized children of Christian parents occupy the place of catechumens.” And catechumens may receive a Christian burial in the Orthodox tradition. [emphasis mine]

This decision by the Greek synod may be a welcome step toward ending the situation in which, in the words of Fr. Peter Jon Gillquist, “children who die in the womb are among the only human beings . . . denied any place in the liturgical life of the church.” We look forward to the day when such precedents will spread across Orthodoxy and Christianity as a whole, and extend to the pre-born dead the full range of services for the dead.
"...unbaptized children of Christian parents occupy the place of catechumens." Any Orthodox Christian knows that catechumens have their own special litany during every Liturgy. We even (with a special blessing from the bishop) have conducted memorial services in church for non-Orthodox family of members of our parish. It has been painful for me to hear catechumens commemorated when my own babies are not and to attend memorial services in church when my babies' services were restricted to the graveside.

It would seem that while at least one local Church has made an official statement, there is still a gap to be filled by the rest of the Church*. To the best of my knowledge the topic of miscarriage and stillbirth is never brought up at seminary unless it is in passing by a priest who has experienced it personally. A seminarian remains ignorant on the subject and is ordained and sent out to a church not knowing what to do if a woman comes to him having lost a baby. Chances are he will have never thought about the matter until it is staring him in the face. Certainly, that was the case with the loss of our own son Innocent in April of 2011. My husband was at a loss, not knowing what was going on, not knowing what services would be appropriate, not knowing what to say to me. Mercifully, his spiritual father was able to provide comfort and a service we could do at the graveside, he himself having buried six of his own miscarried grandchildren.

We need to do a better job in seminaries of educating men on the subject of miscarriage and stillbirth. It would be unthinkable for them to graduate and be ordained having no idea what to do upon the death of a child or adult, but we leave them empty handed when it comes to the unborn. It is not only unfair to the priests, it is profoundly unfair to the faithful to whom they minister. I don't know how many women have written me, telling me they went to their priests for solace, advice and services and were turned away or treated insensitively. In this day and age, when we can see unborn children when they are comprised of but a few cells, when we can perform surgery on them, when we know more about them than has ever been known, to ignore their plight and deny them the services of the church and to send their grieving parents away with empty words is absurd and wrong.

I don't know where exactly to start with this - I am but a single matushka in the middle of nowhere (as far as the Orthodox church is concerned). But really, this has got to be improved. Surely we can do better than this.

*Matushka Euphemia has emailed me and pointed out that the Romanian Orthodox Church has made a similar statement which predates by many decades that by the Church of Greece. The original statement is in Romanian but below is a translation. This is a tremendously important statement. Note that it predates Communism in that country, the ecumenical movement, etc.
The most important source is the decision of the Romanian Orthodox Church Holy Synod of 5 May 1908. It says:
Also, regarding the address of the same Holy Metropolis, relative to the issue whether it is proper to have the religious service of burial of children who die before they are baptized as well as those who are born dead.  After the discussion which followed, the suggestion of H.E. the primate Metropolitan and H.E. the Metropolitan of Moldova to allow the priests to do the religious service for children born dead as well as those who die before being baptized, being children of Orthodox parents.
 (Thanks to Fr. Peter Andronache for the translation!)