Jane Burmeister and her husband were eager about her first pregnancy.
“We were all excited and hadn’t told anyone yet, but then we started having problems, and I was put on bed rest for about a week,” she said.
The news of their first baby moved to sadness as Burmeister learned she was having a miscarriage.
That was 38 years ago, but Burmeister said the memory of losing their baby will always be with her. She and her husband had four children, who are now grown adults. They experienced a second miscarriage about 21 years ago.
A couple of years ago, the Burmeisters attended a prayer service that included the order of Naming and Commendation of an Infant Who Died Before Birth. The rite, developed by the Archdiocesan Office of Worship and the Respect Life Apostolate in 1990, is for parents whose children died before birth because of miscarriage, stillbirth, accident or abortion.
The ritual emphasizes the Church’s respect for the sacredness of all human life from the moment of conception, regardless of a child’s age or stage of development. It acknowledges that all life, even the lives of those who are never born, impacts families and individuals.
Attending the prayer service brought the Burmeisters peaceful closure and the chance to name their babies — John Paul and Maria — and commend their lives to God.
“It was beautiful,” she said. “My husband said there was closure and a chance to name the babies and recognize the reality of the loss. It was peaceful and hopeful, and we encourage others to go.”
Emotional, spiritual support
The Naming and Commendation rite is an example in which those who have experienced a miscarriage have found healing and support within the context of faith.
Other efforts, such as the Mercy HeartPrints program at Mercy Hospital St. Louis, offer pastoral care support through Catholic medical facilities.
“We want to provide that emotional support and treat their babies with the utmost respect and dignity,” said Jennifer Hibdon, Mercy HeartPrints coordinator. “From the moment of conception, they have these hopes and dreams for these babies, and it’s important to support them the best that we can, whether that be a first-trimester loss or a baby who died in the NICU. A loss is a loss.”
Hibdon said there are several areas where mothers might be seen for the loss of a baby, including the emergency room, labor and delivery and neonatal intensive care unit. Mercy
HeartPrints staff and volunteers are trained under the guidelines of RTS Bereavement Services, a national bereavement program.
A representative from Mercy HeartPrints contacts the family; the program also works closely with chaplains in the hospital’s Pastoral Services Department. A bereavement packet with information and resources is provided, including burial information. A patient response sheet asks if they want to be contacted by someone from Mercy HeartPrints. Parents also are invited to attend a support group that meets monthly at the hospital.
Other resources include special keepsakes for the parents and siblings, and in some cases, photography, if requested. Mercy HeartPrints also will maintain contact with the family, usually up to a year after the loss of the child.
A Catholic OB’s perspective
Dr. Michael Dixon sees his work of comforting grieving families as more than just part of his job — it’s a ministry.
One of the most difficult things an obstetrician has to do is inform a patient that her child is not alive, said Dixon, a Catholic OB/GYN with St. Gerard Obstetrics and Gynecology at Mercy South Hospital.
Dixon, who attends the Oratory of Sts. Gregory and Augustine, started his practice in the 1990s and observes the Catholic Church’s pro-life teachings.
The National Center for Biotechnology Information estimates that as many as 26% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage; most occur before the end of the first trimester, or around 12 weeks gestation.
In the case of a miscarriage, Dixon confirms that the baby does not have a heartbeat before deciding how to proceed. He offers to patients the opportunity to undergo an ultrasound by a different physician. “It is a diagnosis that has to be certain before one proceeds,” he said.
Once a diagnosis is made, the patient generally is offered several options, including letting the miscarriage happen naturally, a D&C at the hospital to remove the baby’s remains or managed medication to help expedite the natural process, said Dixon.
Dixon tracks patients who have experienced the loss of a baby, and the staff will follow up with a note to let them know they’re thinking about them. “All too often, people will have long forgotten, but (the patient) knows the date or the month the baby was due. I sign my name with the staff, to let them know we’re thinking of them, and it’s usually received in a positive way.”
He informs each patient that she has the option of having her child buried privately. In some cases (generally under 20 weeks), Catholic hospitals also arrange for miscarried babies to be buried at a communal gravesite at a Catholic cemetery.
Mercy South Hospital, SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital and SSM Health St. Clare Hospital have a communal grave at Resurrection Cemetery in Affton. Mercy Hospital St. Louis has a communal grave at Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis.
Support for infertility, miscarriage
Sometimes with miscarriage comes the pain of infertility. That was observed by the archdiocesan Office of Natural Family Planning more than a decade ago, when it began an infertility support program for couples seeking natural family planning instruction through the office. The Office of NFP is supported by the Annual Catholic Appeal.
Now called Enkindle, the program includes a free one-on-one session with Donna Whiteley, a licensed professional counselor; a monthly Rosary held live on Facebook every first Wednesday of the month at 7:30 p.m.; and regular posts and interviews on the NFP Office’s Facebook page.
“The counseling is for couples or individuals, for any kind of infertility: primary, secondary and miscarriage,” said Whiteley. “We really individualize the sessions to their needs.”
Enkindle is a
ministry offered through the archdiocesan Office of Natural Family
Planning for couples experiencing challenges in conceiving. Included is a
free, half-hour appointment with a licensed professional counselor in
person or over the phone. The ministry also offers a Rosary on the first
Wednesday of the month at 7:30 p.m. on Facebook. For more information,
call (314) 997-7576. Or look for the Office of NFP on Facebook and Instagram (@stlnfp).
Springs in the Desert
is a Catholic, nonprofit ministry that provides support to those
experiencing infertility and miscarriage. Resources include a podcast,
reflections, in-person and virtual retreats, small groups and other
resources. See www.springsinthedesert.org.
provides on going support for patients who have lost a baby. To learn
more about the monthly support group, see https://stlreview.com/3n2zoQD
is an international Catholic ministry designed to offer hope and
healing on issues related to relationships, sexuality, and childbearing,
including miscarriage. See www.elizabethministry.org.
Share Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support
is a national organization for anyone who has experienced the death of
their baby. Based in St. Charles, the organization serves parents,
grandparents, siblings, friends, as well as the professionals who care
for grieving families. See nationalshare.org.