Two days earlier, we prepared her to leave our house. We took her out of our refrigerator, where she was stored, and and I cried as I placed a tiny Miraculous Medal pin inside the white towel that held what remained of her tiny body. The pin had been on all three of our babies' carseats over the years and I thought it fitting it would take its turn with Baby #4.
I asked Clara to draw a picture for the baby on a piece of paper I had cut small. She drew, honestly, what looked like the image seen on early ultrasound pictures, but I told myself it was a coincidence. As she drew, she whispered to herself about Catherine Gerard.
I wrote "To Catherine Gerard, We love you" on one side of the paper and placed the small drawing in the towel. I dipped my finger in holy water from Lourdes and made the sign of the cross on the sac, then wrapped up the towel one last time, wondering if we should have used a blanket, if there was more we could send with her. I made myself finish and then brought her to the living room where Ryan read a prayer for miscarried babies and we prayed. All five of us drove her to the funeral home.
The burial, on Wednesday, was a beautiful service, held in a chapel on the grounds of a Catholic cemetery. There were so many people there that Ryan and I, having left the kids with a babysitter, had to walk a ways from our car. It was standing room only in the chapel. As soon as I stepped inside my eyes met the eyes of a friend, a woman I know from the moms group at our parish. I didn't expect to see anyone I knew.
We stood for a few seconds, until someone made an announcement asking everyone who wasn't a parent to give their seats to those who were. We sat down on a pew in the first row. A few feet in front of us, sitting on three tables draped with white cloth, were 20 tiny white caskets. Each one had a small piece of paper attached that listed the names of the babies inside. I looked at the back of the program we were given and counted the list of names. Services like this are held every six weeks, yet there were 84 babies being memorialized that day.
Next to us and behind us were men and women, all nicely dressed, quiet, serious. The man seated to my left held a tissue and the woman next to him held his hand on her lap. To our right was a teary-eyed woman sitting alone.
A man from the funeral home spoke, welcoming everyone and explaining what would take place. He introduced a bishop from a Christian church (priests preside at some services, but not that day), who stood directly in front of us, behind the caskets, to speak.
The bishop told us why we believe our babies are in Heaven, what Scripture says to support that, and why it is so important we do what we were there to do that day. In his booming voice he validated all my feelings of doubt about going through these motions to bury something many consider a fetus (who, in our case, grew so slowly she never actually entered the fetus stage). He said we needed to do this. A baby in the womb is a person and no less important in the eyes of God than any of the rest of us. His words were beautiful and powerful.
I cried, wiping my nose on the rough sleeve of my coat, wishing I had brought tissues.
When he finished, the funeral home man announced we were to form a line to walk past the little caskets. Ours was the first one, all the way to the right. We walked up to it, touched it, and I nervously took some photos with my phone. I forced myself to overcome any reservations about documenting the day.
We walked outside where everyone was gathering and I scanned the crowd. Probably not surprisingly, I was drawn to the mothers. It was clear who they were. They looked exhausted.
Soon members of the Knights of Columbus walked in procession out of the chapel carrying the caskets, one at a time. I was overwhelmed by the respect given these tiny humans.
Once they were all placed inside a car that was to be driven to the grave site, we all walked the short distance for the burial.
The Knights once again solemnly walked each casket from the vehicle to the grave, bowing slightly after handing off each one. We stood close enough to read the name Catherine Gerard Nobles as it went by.
After all were placed in the shallow grave, someone spoke once more and then welcomed those of us who brought flowers to place them nearby.
It was over. I said hello to my friend from church, and discovered our sad stories had similarities. I watched as one woman wept uncontrollably by the grave as a man held her. And then we walked to our car.
And, as I walked, I tossed around in my head the very fresh concept that I now have a child in a cemetery.
Does that sound dramatic? Some may think so. After all, I was only 11 weeks into my pregnancy. And worse yet, the baby grew so slowly that she only measured 6 weeks and one day when her death was confirmed*. And we buried her? In a cemetery?
I'm here to tell you that yes, we did. And our baby, and all the others there beside her, deserved all the respect shown them that day.
And here's why: I was pregnant with a real baby. In our case, we were so blessed to see our baby's heart beat. She was alive. And then, unfortunately, she died, just like everyone will eventually. Her time just happened to come before she ever left the womb. She was smaller than a penny, but she was real and important and our child. She would have played an integral role in our family, an unknown role that will never be filled and will always be missed.
Our baby was only ever a human baby. If she had lived, she was only ever going to grow to become an older, larger human. She would have been Essie's play mate, maybe even her life-long best friend. She may have had red hair like her brother, and liked to draw like me and Clara. She surely would have given us headaches, and hugged us too many times to count. She may have married and had babies of her own.
What I delivered two Saturdays ago was my child, no matter how small or recognizable. Size or age doesn't determine a baby's value after a child is born, and neither should it matter in the womb.
She was a life, formed by our God. She deserved so much more than what we gave her last Wednesday. She deserved to be born and cry and keep us up at night. But I'll be forever grateful for the program, run by our diocese and a local funeral home, that so generously allowed us to bury her free of charge. We are so blessed that burial was even an option, that so many strangers worked together to show us that she was valued. It was pro-life in action. It was one of the most real, tangible life-affirming experiences that I've ever been a part of. And, sadly, in this day and age it felt very counter-cultural.
Those parents beside us that day were grieving their babies, and they were nothing less than babies. Not tissue, or merely embryos or fetuses. They were their children. And they are loved.
Rest in peace, Catherine Gerard.
"Here the will of God is done, as God wills, and as long as God wills." St. Gerard Majella
*We saw a heart beat at 7.5 weeks, so she was at least alive at that time. She died sometime between 7.5 and 10.5 weeks, but only ever grew to the size a baby should be at 6 weeks, 1 day.
I have a confession.
I had a hard time writing this post and I think that's because I couldn't figure out who I was writing it to. But tonight, it suddenly occurred to me - I wrote it to myself. It's hard for me to admit this, but pre-miscarriage, I think was one of those people who didn't quite understand someone burying a six-week-old in-utero baby. I don't think I would have gone so far as to have a conscious thought that it was weird, or wrong. And I would have definitely prayed and felt sadness for those who grieved. But if I heard they were going to visit their baby in the cemetery? Well, way back in the far reaches of my mind, I might have had the passing thought that it was a bit extreme.
And I'm pro-life. Always have been. I know it's a human life. I know it's a baby. I know my son was once a six-week old fetus in my very own womb. So if I can somewhere, deep down, feel that all the pomp and circumstance isn't necessary for babies who pass away so early in the womb.. then I know others must too.
So now I realize that I wrote this for me, to convince myself that what we were doing - what I needed to do the second I realized our baby was gone - was right and necessary. And I wrote it for those like me, so that we can start to change the face of miscarriage. If we are pro-life... if we pray for women considering abortion to see that fetus in their womb as the child that she is... then we have to treat miscarried babies the same way.