Monday, 6 December 2010

Baby loss ministry

Today one of my fellow tweeters shared her feelings of inadequacy in helping a mum who has suffered baby loss.  I reassured her, as many others did, that being there with love is the most important thing to do and I know she will be more than good enough for this family.

Anyway, it brought me back to thinking about blogging about the ministry I feel called to for those who have suffered the death of an unborn child.

1. Some background:
I have been there; I have lost 4 children to miscarriage, 3 before Rachel and 1 after.  I lost 2 in the first trimester and 2 in the second trimester.  Each child was much longed for and loved; and much grieved for, then, today and for all of my life.  I was cared for by amazing friends, my incredibly supportive Mike and by the volunteers at the miscarriage association.  I am now a telephone counsellor for the same charity, I take calls from anyone affected by miscarriage who would like to talk to someone who understands.  Sometimes I take only 2 or 3 calls a week, sometimes a couple of dozen.  Each time I just listen, support and reassure as best I can.  In the most they just appreciate the fact that they know I've been where they are, it's amazing how reassuring that can be.

2. Ministering to those whose babies have died before or shortly after birth.

2a. Remembrance service
The 15th October every year is baby loss awareness day; and at 7pm around the world we light candles as memorials creating a wave of light.  For many years I have attended services of remembrance but the number of them has declined over the years, this year I finally realised it was my turn to organise one for others.

It was a service of music, poetry, prayer and quiet remembrance. It was open to anyone and publicised widely.  The service started with the lighting of candles as part of the international wave of light in loving memory of all babies lost.  It then moved into some appropriate music, both modern popular and hymns; and poetry.  In the middle there was a Short Talk, given by our associate priest on my behalf because I had lost my voice.  Here are the words:

"This evening, we are here together because we share something in common.  It is not something that we opted for, chose or sought.  In fact, we would have done anything to avoid our present situation.  In this church tonight there is a sense of connection between us, even though most of you will not know each other.  This bond that brings us together is not joy, but loss and suffering.

We are parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, and friends.
Us parents were a part of creating wonderful lives, intricate in the making, vulnerable, loved, nurtured and wanted. And yet today, we do not have these young ones to enjoy.  The hopes that we had have been shattered, the dreams that we carried have ended, and the family life that we have has someone missing.  
And those of you here tonight who are not the parents of these babies, you also have a feeling of loss, and probably feel helpless as you stand alongside those you love who have lost so much.

But I guess that we have not just come here to bear our pain, important though that is.  We have also come to acknowledge to somebody that we have known a  baby – born or unborn.  These were our children, these were our babies.  You know that in your child was something truly remarkable.

This evening, we want to pray together, that in our journeys through grief and suffering we will find the light of hope and healing in our remembering. 
May God bless us all.

The service ended with a simple blessing:
"May we know that our children will never be forgotten, and will always be loved.
May we know that our pain and loss is noticed by a God who cares and reaches towards us.
And may we know, that the blessing of God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit will always be with us and our children.

This service is now a firm part of our church calendar, my mission to the community we live in and as wide as people hear about it.

2b. Support at hospital
The chaplain at the local hospital has learned how I have experienced and now supper people suffering miscarriage. They have subsequently asked me to help them support women who are going through miscarriage or are in the hospital needing support.  I did not intend to be used in this way, yet, but have learned to follow where I am lead.  I therefore have sat, cried, walked and talked alongside a number of women at their lowest points.  I never know what to say, I never know how I will cope, I never recall how I helped; but I know that those I have travelled with have been thankful and hope that I have helped, God willing.

3. Liturgy
I have written a paper on the way I feel the church of England liturgical resources fail miscarried babies.  There is no formal service of remembrance and yet the loss is as profound for many as of a baby lost after birth.  This is an area I hope to pursue, I believe there needs to be a set liturgy rather than the individual priests being required to write something.

4. What I have learned
There are few people called to help people in these darkest of times, few people who feel they could help at all.  Priests ARE called to this ministry.  Yet many of them, in my experience, shy away from this ministry because it is so complex to deal with.  I am of course not deriding priests at all, it is difficult and the issue has become greater as pregnancy testing, later pregnancies and infertility treatments mean more women are aware of miscarriages.  I have learned however that people need support from their church (whether they attend or not) to help them make their way through the complex grief process of miscarriage; where guilt is so great for the mum.  It is not a difficult ministry, it is the ministry of bereavement care but without the memories, cuddles and experiences.  It needs love and time; that is all.

I am sure I will blog on this some more in the future, for now I am emotionally exhausted. With love.  In remembrance of my 2 angels with their brothers Kendi and Leof.

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