Guest Post: Honoring the Dignity of the Shortest Lives

The following is a guest post from my friend Heidi Indahl, and all photos are hers.  You can learn more about Heidi and her ministry at the end.

From Conception to Natural Death.

As Catholics, we use this phrase often.  Honoring the dignity of life from conception leads us to protest abortion laws and educate others on the nature of contraception.  The dignity of life at the point of natural death leads us to rally against assisted suicide laws and elder abuse.  To honor the space in between is to act for social justice and for the benefit of the marginalized.  Have you ever stopped to consider, however, what honoring the dignity of the human person from conception to natural death looks like when only a short time passes between the two?

Such are cases of miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant death.

As a church, can we do a better job of including these smallest of persons (and as an extension, their families) into our work as a pro-life, pro-marriage, pro-family people?

I think we can.

And more importantly, I believe we should.

I believe speaking for babies lost to miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant death is as hard as it is because the world has written these lives off as unpreventable losses . . . casualties of natural law and the fallen state.  Health care providers blur the line between early miscarriage and chemically induced abortion in their usage of terminology and procedures.  Celebrities grieve their miscarriage publicly one day and shout their abortion the next.  Family and friends tell women every single day to get over it because it just happens.  We all have a thousand messages a day telling us that the unborn baby is not a life that is important.  Even when we know the truth, the culture makes it easy . . . indeed, safer . . . to just stand by thinking, man, I hope that doesn’t happen to me!

And yet, it does happen.

Statistics of pregnancy and infant loss remain relatively unchanged.  We might not be able to change the frequency of this death through legislation or social justice action, but we can change the reality for a forgotten group of people inside our faith communities.

All of the unborn deserve dignity in their deaths.  They deserve to be properly buried if at all possible.  They deserve to be remembered in the prayers of the Church through mass and other available rites.  Their families need the same social support and comfort that we provide to all those grieving the loss of a beloved member of their family.  We are not just supposed to bury the dead, pray for the dead, and comfort the sorrowful when it is convenient, easy, and socially acceptable.  We are supposed to do it for every single human person that it is in our control to do so for.

I regularly speak with well-catechized, every-Sunday Catholics who have no idea that the Church provides a variety of funeral and naming rites, memorial suggestions, burial sites and more** for infants who pass away before or shortly after birth.   Women whose doctors say flush the fetus and they do, because no one has ever told them there is another option.

We can do better for our friends, our family, and ourselves.

A couple facing pregnancy and infant loss should never wonder inside the walls of the Catholic Church if their child’s life was valued and important.  It was.  Our whole pro-life argument is centered around the idea that the value of a life isn’t different because the life hasn’t existed as long or hasn’t produced the same contribution to society.  That doesn’t cease to be true because a person has passed away.

Every person matters from conception to natural death, because we know God formed human beings in His image and likeness.  Not because of their contribution to society.  Not because of their age, race, gender, or hair color.  Not because of the circumstances of their conception or death.  But because in them is the image and likeness of God himself.

And in them we can find God.

**Check with your local diocese for approved options.  If they don’t know, advocate for the next family to face this grave loss by helping get something in place!
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The mother of seven living children, three miscarried babies, a stillborn daughter, and a daughter who passed away shortly after birth, Heidi Indahl is the author of Blessed Is the Fruit of Thy Womb: Rosary Reflections for Miscarriage, Stillbirth, and Infant Loss and 67 Ways to Do the Works of Mercy with Your Kids.   With a passion for sharing her pregnancy and infant loss journey, she does so in a way that can enrich the spiritual life of all women while also improving the way we think and talk about pregnancy and infant loss to promote a genuine culture of life, centered in the truths of our Catholic faith. 

For more information and additional pregnancy and infant loss resources, visit Heidi’s website.