Mourning Miscarriages

More women are formally grieving for the tiny souls lost

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HealthDay Reporter

SATURDAY, Aug. 25, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- Every November for the last six years, Jennifer Greer of Alpharetta, Ga., has attended a special candlelight ceremony to honor the three "babies" she lost before they were born.

The fact that she remembers her three separate miscarriages, which all occurred when she was seven weeks' pregnant, may seem unusual to some. But Greer, who is now 31 and has three young children, says the ceremonies and Masses she has attended over the years have allowed her to heal -- and given her a new appreciation for her life today.

"I used to think if I tried to forget, I wouldn't be sad," she says. "But I was still sad, and it didn't get better. Now I'm much better adjusted than those who never, ever talk about their babies."

Greer is hardly alone in the way she deals with her pain: In recent years, there has been a surge in the number of parents commemorating the death of what they consider their unborn children, according to doctors, funeral directors and grief counselors.

"We have a much larger number of services for miscarriages and stillborns," says David Walkinshaw, a funeral director in Arlington, Mass., and spokesman for the National Association of Funeral Directors. "Twenty years ago it was unheard of to have services for miscarriages -- we weren't even called."

But, he adds, "No one knew the suffering women went through. Now, to be able to share [those feelings] with other people is very powerful, no matter at what age the death occurs. People are embracing the fact that when you have a death, you need some kind of ceremony and ritual. There's a saying, 'Grief shared is grief lessened.' "

Jennifer Mirabella, director of bereavement services for Horan and McConaty Funeral Services in Denver, says she's also conducting many more services for miscarriages than when she began her work seven years ago. "People are much more apt to say, 'We want to bury the baby.' "

One big reason for the heightened attention to even the earliest miscarriages is technology, doctors and health professionals say.

"You have to recognize that ultrasound has introduced a family to a baby at six or seven weeks," says Dr. James Woods, a Rochester, N.Y., obstetrician. If a woman has a miscarriage, "she hasn't lost a vague baby that is just associated with nausea, she has seen the baby… and it is truly the death of a child in her mind, even though biologically it is the death of a fetus."

People choose to commemorate their losses in many ways, Walkinshaw says.

"It's a very individualized thing," he adds. "It's more typically smaller, with parents and grandparents, but not necessarily. Last year we had a service for a 20-week-old [fetus], and 100 people came."

Some families keep the remains in receptacles as small as jewelry boxes; others have the remains cremated and place them in a container they keep, he says.

Tailoring services for the family

Mirabella says she works with each family to arrange a meaningful ceremony, which can range from a service in a chapel, to hymns for the family, to a ceremony in the funeral home.

Share Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support Inc. is a Missouri-based organization that has long offered remembrances for families who have suffered pregnancy losses.

"We've being doing this for 20 years, and the ripple effect is finally catching up," says the group's director, Cathi Lammert. "There's been an increase in the last five or 10 years in more people becoming involved with earlier losses, an increase in people wanting to bury earlier losses -- up to 12 weeks of pregnancy."

Share offers families a variety of ways to grieve. They include blessings at a hospital, annual memorial services during October, balloon-releasing ceremonies and "Walks to Remember." And each November, Share -- which has more than 100 chapters in every state but Hawaii -- sponsors candlelight ceremonies for mothers who experienced a pregnancy loss.

It's that candle service that means so much to Greer, a member of Share's Atlanta chapter.

"It is very intimate, about 20 or 30 women in a living room," she says. "We light a candle for every baby, and each woman stands up and says the baby's name."

The first time Greer went to a service, it was "just overwhelmingly sad because you are giving yourself permission to revisit the pain."

Now, she adds, "it's more like I'm so caught up in the lives of my living children that's it's the one night a year I leave them at home, and the whole night is devoted to just thinking about the babies I lost."

What To Do

For information about the causes of miscarriages, visit this University of California at Davis Web site, or The Medical Reporter.

For help with a pregnancy loss, visit the Share Web site.

SOURCES: Interviews with David Walkinshaw, funeral director, Saville & Grannan, Arlington, Mass., spokesman for the National Association of Funeral Directors, Brookfield, Wis.; Jennifer Greer, Alpharetta, Ga.; Jennifer Mirabella, director of bereavement services, Horan and McConaty Funeral Services, Denver, Colo.; James Woods, M.D., director, maternal fetal medicine, University of Rochester, N.Y.; Cathi Lammert, executive director, Share, St. Charles, Mo.

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