By Maureen Otremba, MA, and Jim Otremba M.Div., MS, LCSW
WASHINGTON (USCCB) — The Rite of Marriage includes three direct questions posed to the couple. The third of these is “Will you accept children lovingly from God and bring them up according to the law of Christ and His Church?” While couples answer “yes” to this question every day, it probably doesn’t occur to most that perhaps children may not be a part of the future. The rite almost implies that children will be a part of the couple’s lives. Yet 15 percent of all recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage, and it is estimated that as many as 50 percent of all pregnancies result in miscarriage, since most miscarriages happen before a woman even knows that she is pregnant.
The Catholic Church rightly insists on the sanctity of life from the moment of conception, but we need to do a better job of ritualizing the loss of life when a miscarriage does occur. Couples often bear this grief in silence and confusion. The world seems to be telling them that a life was not lost, that a tragedy has not happened. And yet, parents know otherwise. Their hearts and minds cope with grief and sorrow that is no less real for going unaffirmed.
When a couple experiences the pain of miscarriage people may try to be helpful and supportive, but often their words are more of an obstacle than an aid to healing. Here is some wisdom that has helped others through this silent sorrow:
It is right to grieve. People may say things like, “It’s just as well; there was probably something wrong with the baby,” or “Well, at least you know you can get pregnant.” Such comments can lead us to think that there’s really no reason to feel sad. But remember: a life has been lost, along with the many dreams you had for this baby. Take the time to grieve and be gentle with yourself as you are grieving. Treat yourself like a best friend and give yourself permission to be good to yourself during this difficult time.
Surround yourself with people who understand, and avoid people who don’t. Even your best friend may not know how to support you. If necessary, avoid her or him for a while, and seek out others who have been through this sad experience and can validate your feelings. Give yourself permission to share with some people and not with others.
Name your baby. This simple yet profound action is a concrete way of affirming that this life was and is a unique person. It can even be helpful to put the child’s name on a Christmas ornament, a stone in your garden, or some other place where you will see it.
Pray even when words won’t come. God is indescribably near to the broken-hearted, although it may seem like God is very far away. Speak words from your heart, even if they are words of anger, rage, disappointment, frustration or hopelessness. God has heard it all (even from His beloved Son) and is big enough to handle your grief. You are carrying a special sorrow and are united to the sufferings of Christ in a unique way.
Men and women grieve miscarriage differently. Some women find the site “Hannah’s Prayer Ministries” particularly helpful as they grieve miscarriage. Some local Catholic hospitals have a support group for those experiencing pregnancy loss. Some spouses may want to be alone. While others may want to meet with a spiritual director or friend to share the burden. Some spouses discover that exercise can be healing, while other spouses find that just puttering around can be helpful. Find out what works for you and be gentle with yourself.
Ask your local parish to begin a yearly Mass for Hope and Healing. We began this in our parish seven years ago as a way to give voice to our grief and to pray for comfort and strength. Each year, this liturgy attracts people from the area, some who experienced pregnancy loss years, even decades, ago.
You are not alone: ask for help if you need it. We are all members of the Body of Christ and are never alone in our pain. God desires to bring healing in our lives and frequently uses others as instruments of healing. If your grief turns to depression or anxiety, seek professional help. Call your local parish for a referral to a therapist or Catholic Charities.
Reprinted from foryourmarriage.org. Additional resources are available at www.infertilitycross.com.
Maureen and Jim offer marriage workshops and retreats. They have experienced infertility and multiple miscarriages. To learn more go to: www.eucharisticmarriage.com.
Post abortion ministries offer forgiveness and mercy
As Pope Francis announces the jubilee Year of Mercy to begin Dec. 8, the Catholic faithful are committing to being the face of that mercy to those wounded by abortion. Sharing the message of God’s mercy and forgiveness, Project Rachel, the post-abortion reconciliation ministry of the Catholic Church offers hope and healing for women and men suffering from the pain of abortion and its aftermath. Along with Project Rachel, which offers one-to-one companionship/counseling, operating within the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend are two nascent ministries — Divine Mercy Ministry and A Haven for Healing — which offer group support for women wounded by an abortion experience.
Divine Mercy Ministry began in earnest in May of 2012 serving those in need in the Fort Wayne and surrounding area. A Haven for Healing is in its first year and serves the South Bend and Michiana area. Both of these “grassroots” ministries are approved by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades
Not only does Project Rachel offer a healing venue in which specially trained caregivers, including priests and other religious, lay staff, mental health professionals and volunteers work one-to-one with women and men wounded by an abortion experience, but the ministry is also able to direct those who would benefit from a group setting to the newly formed support groups.
In Fort Wayne, the Divine Ministry group meets at a confidential location twice a month from September through late April, with monthly meetings May through August, incorporating Bible study, song, group sharing and prayer. Though the meetings are sequential, women may join throughout the fall.
The ministry, which grew from the passion of a group from St. Vincent de Paul in Fort Wayne, uses portions of the Ohio-based Bethesda Healing Ministry manual as well as two other post-abortion Bible studies frequently used in crisis pregnancy centers throughout the U.S. The ministry manual offers structure for healing and is Scriptural and experiential.
“We move through the grief process, with a strong emphasis on forgiveness. Bible verses are sprinkled throughout to help women see how the Word of God can assist them in their healing,” says one Divine Mercy core leader, adding that the group’s caring chaplain offers the opportunity for Reconciliation at most meetings as well.
The South Bend area support ministry, A Haven for Healing, meets in fall and spring sessions at a confidential downtown location. The fall session is meeting currently and is closed to new participants. However, the ministry welcomes all inquiries and has information and brochures available upon request. The group uses a Bible study specific to issues of post-abortion trauma and provides a safe place where participants “can express regret, shame, despair and grief, … ask Jesus for forgiveness, and find relief, peace and even joy.”
Both ministries are facilitated by prayerful and compassionate leaders and include a priest chaplain, but are resolute in acknowledging, “We are not a therapy group, but rather a support group.”
Confidentiality is paramount to both groups as it is with Project Rachel. The Divine Mercy core leader notes compassionately, “We do not advertise the dates or locations of meetings anywhere, so that we can protect the confidentiality of every participant. Once a woman contacts us, we set up a one-on-one consultation and only after the woman agrees to join the group are they given the location and times. We are very cognizant of the need for privacy and confidentiality.”
A Haven for Healing advocate and board member notes the importance of the support group venue saying, “Meeting in a group with other post-abortive women allows participants to listen to each other describe their experiences and their deepest pains. …they learn that they are not alone in such feelings. … The women are truly a gift to each other.”
The men and women of the groups are pleased that Project Rachel and the support group ministries are available to meet the individual needs of the participants. “We offer a group format, whereas Project Rachel offers more one-on-one companionship. I love that we have both ministries because there are so many different needs out there. Some women may initially meet with a companion from Project Rachel and then move into a group format. There is something really powerful about being in a group with other women who share your experience and your pain,” says the Divine Mercy core leader.
She concludes saying, “We have done so well in the Catholic Church bringing the pro-life message to the world and fighting for the unborn. It is time that we learn to love, support and bring post-abortive women back into the fold.”
• Project Rachel Post Abortion Healing Ministry
Call the confidential toll free number 855-722-4354, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://sites.diocesefwsb.org/projectrachel/. To volunteer in this ministry or find out more about how to support Project Rachel, contact Allison Sturm at 260-399-1452 or email email@example.com.
• Divine Mercy Ministry
Call the confidential phone line at 260-445-8119, email firstname.lastname@example.org. or visit www.divinemercyministry.com.
• A Haven for Healing
Call the confidential phone line at 574-514-7471, see A Haven for Healing on facebook or visit www.ahavenforhealing.com.
All inquiries are confidential.
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