Twice in the past three weeks, I’ve had a Catholic (one client, one commenter) tell me that their priest told them they needed to confess their miscarriage in reconciliation.
No. Experiencing a miscarriage isn’t a sin. It’s a thing that happens to someone. Like getting cancer, or having a stroke.
Some Catholic priests may not understand the mechanics or experiences of miscarriage, or the theological implications of those. And, from what I’ve found, there’s not a lot of training about it in seminary. Yet priests, and parish priests especially, hold a lot of power in the words they say about miscarriage – in the pulpit, in the bulletin, in the hospital room, and in the confessional.
If you want to invite your priest to gain knowledge about or skills in supporting families through and after miscarriage, here are three ways you can invite him to learn more about pregnancy loss.
1. Share educational resources with him.
Many priests have probably not had the opportunity to witness an early death first hand, and so may be lacking an understanding of what families experience.
You can send them information about the basics of miscarriage, about how racism and miscarriage are linked, about what they might expect to see if they do witness a miscarriage, or about what resources exist in your local community for families suffering a miscarriage – including bereavement doulas, funeral homes, and grief counseling.
One script for this might be,
“Hi, Father, I just came across this article on the basics of miscarriage. I thought it was a helpful reminder of the basics for me, and I know that a couple of my fellow parishioners have been struggling with recurrent loss recently, so I wanted to send it to you in case you wanted to brush up too. Thanks, Abby”
Or another might be,
“Dear Father, I’m a parishioner of yours. I recently called around to the local funeral homes to see what resources they had for families suffering a miscarriage, and I found out that these three funeral homes will do free or reduced-price funerals for early losses. I wanted to pass the information along to you so that you have it on hand if a parishioner could use that information. Thank you, Abby”
2. If you have a story that you feel comfortable sharing, do so.
If you have experienced a loss, I am so sorry.
That story is yours, and you do not owe it to anyone, not even to your priest.
And, if you do want to share it with your priest, I encourage you to make sure you do so on your terms – in a location and modality, or to the level of detail, with which you are comfortable.
I also encourage you to be very clear about the purpose of your conversation. Some priests may immediately jump into pastoral mode, which is a beautiful urge but not the one that you may be seeking. If your goal is to educate them, just say that.
“I want to share with you the story of my child’s death to help you understand how families struggle with early loss.”
“I want to share with you the story of a miscarriage my family suffered to give you some strategies for supporting loss families in your upcoming Mother’s Day / Father’s Day / Feast of the Holy Family homily.”
Whatever your goal is, be specific so that the priest knows what you need and don’t need in that moment.
3. Facilitate his attendance at a miscarriage support training.
There are opportunities out there for clergy – or anyone! – to learn more about supporting people through early death. Writing to your priest can be intimidating, but making sure they (1) know about the training and (2) know their parishioners want them to take the training are key!
You don’t need to spill your heart out in an email if you don’t want to. So for example, you might write simply:
“Dear Father, There is an upcoming training from (insert organization) about how to support families through miscarriage and stillbirth. Here is the information (insert link); are you planning to attend? Abby.”
This helps them know the training exists and that you’d like them to consider it.
You might also be more personal, such as:
“Hi, Father, I saw an upcoming training for people who want to support families through miscarriage. It’s on X date at Y location. In honor of my little one, who died two years ago, I am trying to recruit as many interested pastoral leaders to come to this training as possible. Would you like to join me at this training? Abby.”
One other barrier for priests may be the financial cost of a training. If you have some spare cash to assist, you could write something such as:
“Dear Father, There is an upcoming training from (organization) about how to support families through miscarriage and stillbirth. If you would like to attend the training, I would love to sponsor your attendance, in honor of my friend’s / my little one (name if applicable). Please let me know. Thanks, Abby.”
And, if you’re looking for one specifically inviting priests to my upcoming training in South Bend, here’s one last script idea:
“Dear Father, A local Catholic bereavement doula is teaching a six-hour course on June 25 about how Catholics can support families through miscarriage and stillbirth. If you would like to attend the training, I would love to sponsor your fee. Would you join me? Thanks, Abby.”