Tuesday, January 21, 2014

We buried our baby

Tomorrow it will be a week since we buried our baby.

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.



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{Addendum}

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. 

43 comments:

  1. Whoa. That. Was. Powerful. Thank you for sharing, and what an amazing ministry and service provided by the Knights and the funeral home. What a beautiful witness.

    Thank you for sharing! Crying over here!

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  2. Beautiful and sad. Know of my prayers.

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  3. Yes, so beautiful and so sad. You are champions for life for the love and respect you have given Catherine Gerard. Prayer for healing.

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  4. So sad and yet so very beautiful. Praying for you and your family.

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  5. I loved this. What a wonderful testament to the preciousness of human life from the moment of conception. I have lost two children to miscarriage - one at 10 weeks and one at 14 weeks. My husband and I mourned those losses deeply - and still do. Their short amount of time on this earth was not insignificant to us - we loved them so. We also buried them in a cemetery with the pastor who married us performing the funeral service and visit them as often as we can. They are our little guardian angels and I know we will see them one day.

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  6. I am so very sorry for you loss. I know those words may sound empty, but I am truly sorry. How wonderful that your community/city offers burials for these precious children. As you said, this is pro-life in action. May God heal your heart.

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  7. So beautiful. What a wonderful witness to the truth that every. life. matters.

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  8. I am so very sorry for your loss! You, your family and your sweet babe in heaven will be in my prayers. What a wonderful ministry provided by your diocese and community.

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  9. So, so beautiful what your diocese and that funeral home provide. They are hopefully an example for diocese everywhere and for the pro life movement. I'm so sorry you have had to experience all of this, but also saying prayers of thanksgiving for the ministry offered for your family and the others there! Catherine Gerard, pray for us!

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  10. Beautiful. I so wish we could have had that experience when we miscarried. Prayers for you, dear friend!

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  11. You gave Catherine Gerad a beautiful burial. Thank you for sharing this. I am so deeply sorry for your loss and so grateful you shared this experience so openly. It will touch many hearts. <3

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  12. Thank you for sharing. This was beautiful and heart wrenching. I wish the world could read and embrace your words.

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  13. This is such a powerful reflection. And I am blown away by the idea of 84 babies every six weeks. Two children miscarried a day, in the diocese of Richmond alone? Maybe I could have calculated my way there from the same number of miscarriages as live births (approximately - at least, that's my understanding), but it still seems staggeringly many. And so unreasonably invisible. I will be thinking of you and Catherine Gerard at the March tomorrow.

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    1. Thanks, Misfit. And I had the same thoughts about the number of babies. Perhaps some don't take part in the memorial until after many months, and they all happened to take part in this one? That really doesn't make much sense either though, because why January? It's interesting to note, though, that about 98% of those in attendance were African-American. If miscarriage happens equally across all races, then there were many more babies missing from that service.

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  14. So beautiful, K. I'm so glad you were able to have such a special service for sweet Catherine and were able to include the carseat pin with her. Brings tears to my eyes! Continued prayers, dear friend.

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  15. I am so glad your diocese offers this. I have been so comforted that our Catholic hospital and our diocese buries all preborn babies once a month. Thank you for sharing your story. We have two babies in a cemetery...babies, pray for us!

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  16. I haven had a chamce to comment on how sorry I am for your loss. Praying for your family.

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  17. I am so very sorry for y'all's loss and that y'all had to go through something so difficult. How truly beautiful that your Church honors all those little ones. You will definitely be in my prayers.

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  18. How beautiful! I am in awe that this is available in your diocese! So incredible and important. God bless you all.

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  19. Thank you so much for sharing these beautiful reflections. I am (surprise!) in tears over here. How sad, yet beautiful, and so very life affirming. May these little souls rise up to heaven and always, always, know they were (are) deeply loved. That was my one prayer, that our little one would know that she is loved, and deeply missed.

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  20. So beautiful, powerful and raw. Thank you for sharing for being honest and grieving for your child. My aunt miscarried years ago with twins very early on but a few weeks ago I went to the gravesite and I cried. I still cry for my cousins I never met but I know they are in Heaven. To grieve, to feel pain, to feel the loss is a gift from God, his way of letting us know that people, that children are precious. I will be praying for you as you continue this painful journey.

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  21. Oh Karey, what a beautiful time to say goodbye. As I read it, I found myself wishing so much that we had that opportunity for our babies. Both times, I went in for a D & C and came out with no baby...and it has always been hard to think about what happened to them. I'm so glad you got that opportunity to say goodbye. Just beautiful. Hugs to you. I know your heart is aching.

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  22. What a beautiful ministry for your diocese to have. I am so glad that you got to honour your baby. Again, I am so sorry for your loss.

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  23. Oh, Karey, this whole post is just beautiful. What a wonderful ministry your diocese offers. And the carseat pin...oh my goodness, that is precious. Catherine Gerard, pray for us!!

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  24. Such a beautiful ministry. The statistics blew me away!!

    That's awesome that was available to you!

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  25. I was in tears the entire time I read this. Though I have five children here on Earth, I have miscarried three more. You are so right- it seems that no one ever talks about miscarriage. The first time I miscarried, I had already had four healthy, uneventful pregnancies. The emotional pain I felt at the loss of my seven week unborn child was overwhelming. Friends and family did not understand because I already had 'so many children' and said that I should just be grateful for the ones I had. Of course I have always been grateful for all of my children, but I still love and ache for the three I never held. The hurt will always be there, and rightfully so--these are our babies, no matter how short their beautiful lives may have been. I am so glad you had the chance to say goodbye in such a beautiful way. I will pray for you and your precious family.

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  26. So beautifully written. Prayers for continued healing for you and your family. And what a fantastic ministry in your diocese.

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  27. Your words are powerful and beautiful. Every child, no matter what stage of life they obtain, have a soul and a human body. Because of this, their remains need to be honored and respected. It is a wonderful thing that your parish community recognizes this! We are working in our parish to start the same type of ministry. Your posts have been another sign from God that we are on the right path! Our prayers to you and your family. Catherine Gerard has achieved the ultimate reward, as she gets to be with her Lord! May we all be so fortunate.

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  28. Thank you for sharing this - it's beautiful. I've been praying for you all. Continued prayers!!

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  29. This was good for you to write it all down, I know from others that writing about a loss can be extremely cathartic.
    Praying for all of you.

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  30. I am so proud of you! I'm holding you in prayer. The funeral makes things very real and very dramatic--but there is so much healing. I got blessed twice unexpectedly since my Leo's funeral. My church automatically put him in for All Soul's Day. A candle with his name and date of death was right next to a Nun who died after living 94 years. It was really healing for me to see our Faith celebrate all life equally, regardless of length of life.

    I've been attending a grief group for parents who have lost children of all ages. I felt very scared to go in there after "only" suffering a miscarriage. There are people in that group who lost a child at age 20 & 36. These grieving parents were THE most supportive people. Everyone one of them validated my loss. Some even said that it seemed really hard because other people didn't get to meet my baby--so I was really alone in my grief, in a way that they weren't. It was a generosity of spirit and it just stunned me.

    God bless you and your dear family!

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  31. I am so sorry for your loss. I was actually wondering if I could email you. The email link doesn't seem to be working. Can you email me? pmojzak@yahoo.com I know this sounds akward and crazy, but I promise I'm not a lunatic!

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  32. This is absolutely beautiful, thank you so much for sharing this. I am so sorry for your loss, for all the loss experienced. Thank God for the hope you've been given.

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  33. Thank you for sharing your story. You certainly are not alone. We buried our stillborn son nine years ago. A local funeral home director/cemetery owner actually donated part of his cemetery so that people with miscarried/stillborn children could have a place to bury them. The day after our son's stillbirth he met with us and arranged a graveside funeral service that our parish priest presided over. We try to go back there when we can to put new flowers out on the grave. It is a special way to honor him, and for his brothers and sisters here to remember that there's always one more of us waiting for us in Heaven.

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  34. Karey,

    I am stunned at the similarities of our stories...our ages, locations, I lost my 4th baby at 6 weeks, just had an induction on 1/4/14 after the loss of our 10th at 17 weeks, we buried him on 1/13 at Sacred Heart Cemetery in Winchester. Please go read my blog about George Mary at http://theholywannabe.blogspot.com . I wrote mine, too, because women need to see positive miscarriage induction stories. I saw only horror stories about Cytotec inductions and ended up with insomnia and severe panic on top of the miscarriage. This last month has been unbelievable. Anyways, my story is in four parts. Three are done. I have yet to do the fourth, which I am avoiding. I am sure you understand. Please feel free to write me at discodoula@comcast.net . May Our Lord bless you and Our Lady comfort your heart in your time of healing. You are not alone.

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  35. This was beautifully written, and means so much to hear another woman's similar story. It makes the grief not quite so lonely. We buried our Francisca Julian last June, the 4th loss in a row, with the help of this compassionate Knights program. I also felt so honored by the service. It really helped with the grieving process. God bless you all, and thanks again for writing this.

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  36. K, I am so sorry for you loss and grateful for sharing this. I can definitely identify with the pain, and I greatly appreciate you speaking up about this topic. Of four losses, two were D&C's after and two were at home. none were buried :( I wish there was this service available to us, but I am grateful that anyone can ask their priest to do a service. We did all four of ours at once when we learned of this and it was very healing.

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  37. I'm so sorry, Karey, I didn't know. I'm so glad you were able to experience the healing and solidarity with other mothers during this ceremony. Thank you for describing it so vividly. Prayers, friend.

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  38. I just came across this post, and your blog, tonight (via a link from Messy Wife, Blessed Life). Thank you so much for sharing your story. After being blest with 5 healthy pregnancies and live births, I lost 2 babies last year- both in the early second trimester. The whole experience has been eye-opening for me. We were blest to be able to bury our boys next to one another (delivered 7 months apart), thanks to the generous help of our local funeral home. I am sure there were those who thought having a funeral mass and burial for our little ones, who fit in the palm of my hand, was 'over the top'. But, our motto has been "a person's a person, no matter how small". Thank you for articulating so much of what I have still been able to express. God bless you!

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  39. This post is amazing. I lost two babies early in pregnancy and am in awe that your church performs such a blessing as this service over and over! What I wouldn't give to have had that opportunity! Thank you for sharing, for validating what so many feel! God bless your church and all of the people so respectfully involved in this act! I'm so sorry for your loss!

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  40. We buried our baby a week ago tomorrow. It sounds like a very nice thing that your diocese does. Ours was just a private ceremony with our priest who is a good friend. I know what you mean about convincing yourself that it was the right thing. When I wrote a $500 check to the funeral home for transportation and cremation over 2 months after we lost him (the whole process was very drawn out) it seemed like the distance between then and the loss made me wonder if I should be spending so much money on him. I never gave it a thought in November when I had the D&C. It was what was right and I very much wanted to be sure I was doing the right thing. I don't have any other children and this was my first chance to be a mother. And when your baby dies at 14 weeks there are very few motherly things you get to do so I wanted to be sure I did them right. I agonized over his name and I went to great lengths to make sure he was properly buried. Because that was it. Just those two things.

    Thanks for sharing. My story is in many pieces on my blog, but you're welcome to stop by for a similar story.

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  41. You and our family are in my prayers. I think you wrote this for all of us who have had and lost a child. It was the right thing to do. She lived in the womb and then went to the Lord. She is a part of your family.
    .

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  42. Thank you for sharing your story. It brought tears to my eyes. I lost three babies to miscarriage and didn't find out you could bury them in a cemetery until too late. I am sad that I did not get to honor them that way. However with the first and third one, I did not find the remains of the babies anyway. I did name them, wrote a poem for the first one, and I think I know what each of them looks like. I think it was a good thing you did and like the comment above mine I think you wrote it for all of us, not just you. The grief will come and go in waves, some day you will have peace and you will be okay. It may take a while. Prayers.

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