sharing your stories and remembering your children
Nancy Kingma has been supporting women, children, and families for more than forty years. She is licensed as both a nurse and a therapist. She is also a National Certified Counselor and has a certification in Holistic Health. In combining these two professions, Nancy motivates and encourages individuals and families to move toward wholeness, health and their ultimate purpose in life.
Nancy's obstetrical background gives her a unique perspective in caring for mothers and families dealing with postpartum depression. Additionally, her 15 years as Bereavement Coordinator at Spectrum Health and Helen DeVos Children's Hospital have established Nancy as a leading expert in grief and loss, particularly with families having experienced the death of an infant of any gestation or a child.
On this podcast, Emily asks about Nancy about her background, what she's learned over her career about miscarriage, grief, and healing, and culture trends surrounding miscarriage.
By: Maria Servold EPLA Editor
After parents lose a child, whether in early pregnancy or not, it is natural for them to want to give their baby a proper burial if they choose. Unfortunately, that dream may not be as easy to realize as the parents may think. The state and local laws surrounding burial can make navigating this issue complicated, as a mother described in a recent post on our blog.
The main trouble parents may face when wanting to bury a miscarried baby is the fact that laws concerning burial of babies before a certain gestational age vary from state to state. Additionally, if the baby was miscarried in a hospital, parents may have to navigate regulations when trying to retrieve the baby’s body.
First, if you are in a hospital, ask your doctor about the procedures to retrieve your baby's body from the medical staff. Many hospitals also have bereavement coordinators - ask if your hospital does and if they can help you through this process.
If you miscarry at home, it is important to preserve the baby’s body if you intend to bury it. A sterile saline solution works well - Heaven’s Gain Ministries offers information and kits for this purpose.
Once you have the baby’s body, call a local funeral home. (Some hospitals may help make this connection for you.) Many funeral homes offer free burial urns or caskets for miscarried babies. As part of this process, you may also need to contact whatever local group is in charge of a cemetary in your area. You may need to purchase a burial plot if the cemetary does not have a special plot or mausoleum for miscarried babies.
Heaven’s Gain also offers information about burial rules by state and tips to help you navigate the process. Some states may allow burial of a baby on private property, but others do not - be sure to check with local burial officials if you want to bury a baby in your yard.
If you belong to a church, you can ask your pastor or priest to conduct a burial ceremony for the baby. It is natural and right to want to treat a lost baby with the same respect we give all members of our family who die. Do not be afraid or ashamed to ask for support from your church during this time.
Burying a miscarried child is something we hope no parent ever has to do, but we hope that if you do end up having to do so, these tips may be helpful.
Maria Servold is an Editor at the EPLA, Assistant Director of the Herbert H. Dow II Program in American Journalism, and Lecturer in Journalism at Hillsdale College
By: Katie Stockdale
How do you begin writing about burying your child? It’s not a subject often discussed because it’s so hard and so personal, but it is necessary. Vulnerability allows us to help each other. So, here it goes.
My husband Calvin and I found out about our fifth child when our fourth was only seven months old. It was a shock. (Granted, we are not known for planned pregnancies.) Even though this wasn't how we thought life would go, we wanted this baby, but just like that, it was all over. We lost Anastasius at 10 weeks, found out at 12 weeks, and delivered him at 13 weeks. (I will be using “he” as we do not know the sex.) We buried him two weeks later.
The ordinariness of life and death was in stark relief because we had to preserve Anastasius’ body until burial. This required a sterile saline solution, as well as refrigeration, and so our baby ended up nestled in among the leftovers in the fridge. Just like preservation, burial arrangements forced us into a necessary and limited emotional planning process. Because a baby born before 20 weeks is not considered a stillbirth, most states will not issue a death certificate.
Parents choose many ways to handle their miscarried babies. Because traditional burial isn't common, this lack of death certificate will confuse both funeral home directors and those who run the cemetery. Check on the laws in your state, but know that when you call those who run the cemetery (in our case we had to call the county clerk) to arrange for burial, you may have to wait for them to confirm that you do have the right to bury your child.
I learned from a friend that funeral homes will provide a free casket for a baby. I called two funeral homes and asked what their policies were for burying a miscarried baby. The first one was very empathetic, and would provide a burial container for free. The second showed less empathy and would provide a burial container at a discounted price. The choice here was clear.
If you choose traditional burial, check with the funeral home about burial laws. We were required to use an airtight and watertight container. Thankfully this was provided. The funeral home can either place the baby in it for you, or you can take the container home and do it yourselves.
The burial day was a cold March day. I placed Anastasius in the burial container, safely nestled in a muslin swaddle blanket. To bury him in the blanket was a way for me to take care of him. We had our goodbyes, took our last pictures, Calvin sealed him in, and we left for the cemetery. The sexton met us there along with my parents and our pastor.
Irrationally, I expected a large hole in the ground, but instead a small, square hole awaited us. This was shocking. It made the unnaturalness of burying a child all the more real. After Pastor delivered a fitting and brief message, Calvin and I placed Anastasius in the grave. Our eldest son, Timmy, helped Calvin return the dirt to its rightful place. The sexton finished the process, and we left.
The burial process wasn't straightforward, but it certainly was worth the effort. For us it provided needed closure, and I felt that my child was protected and safe in a beautiful graveyard. If you must walk this path, do not be afraid or embarrassed to enlist the help of those around you to help do the planning. You are not meant to walk through this alone.
By: Kathryn Wales
When my husband and I suffered the loss of our second child at sixteen weeks, we had never heard a story of miscarriage. We did not know what to expect. One day I felt the first quickening flutters, and the next day we heard no heartbeat. Because we would be traveling to see our families for Christmas the following week, induction rather than waiting seemed to be the better choice. My husband and I arranged for my two-year-old son to stay with friends, settled in at the hospital, and clung to each other through the storm. After eleven hours, I was holding my daughter in the palm of my hand. Her shining red face looked like us.
In the midst of that excruciating grief, a nurse told me that the local funeral home was ready to help. My beloved mother-in-law several states away had been preparing for us what would be a life-changing grace. She had called Cedar Grove Cemetery at the University of Notre Dame (where my husband was a in grad school) and learned that they had recently begun allowing students to bury their deceased children as a special privilege. My in-laws then gifted us with the burial plot and headstone.
All of this was ahead, however, because we had decided to have genetic testing done to determine the cause of death, and that process would be delayed through the holiday vacation. Our daughter’s remains stayed in the care of Palmer Funeral Home, which performs all services for miscarried babies free of charge. The Palmer family had suffered many losses themselves and so offered this as an act of mercy—such mercy.
After spending Christmas with our families on the east coast, we returned home to bury our child. A priest friend of ours performed the ceremony with only ourselves and our toddler present. Palmer had provided a white ceramic coffin on which we placed a peacock feather as a symbol of the resurrection of the body and a holy card of our daughter’s namesake. We sang as we huddled in the snowy cold. Later, a rose-colored headstone was placed there. It reads Theodora Nicodemus Wales, 2011. My family has moved away but not too far. Whenever one or all of us are in town, we visit and pray. We show our three sons and remind them that they have a sister who someday they will meet. We know that she intercedes for us, and especially me.
In the year following our loss, three of my friends suffered the same sadness. They buried their babies alongside mine. I recently learned that Cedar Grove Cemetery now holds a poinsettia/wreath fundraiser each Christmas to cover all burial expenses including headstones for Notre Dame families who lose children. It is my sincere hope that more opportunities like this will become available for families who miscarry all over the country. Knowing where my daughter’s remains are kept and with what care is a consolation beyond words.
By: Nick Carrington EPLA Editor
In the traumatic aftermath of a miscarriage, parents must make numerous difficult decisions. They have just lost a child, a son or daughter dear to their heart if not held alive in their hands. Many families want to honor their child by burying him or her. Unfortunately, parents are often unfamiliar with how to go about burying a miscarried child as in most states there limited guidelines for miscarried remains.
The EPLA provides small boxes as part of our miscarriage supply kit, but alone, we can do only so much. We would like to highlight other organizations that provide important information and resources that help families affirm the dignity of their child through burial.
One place families can start is with a local funeral home. Many funeral homes have information about the burial process and they will know what steps to take next if a cemetery burial is desired by the family.
Heaven’s Gain “specializes in providing services and products for families suffering the loss of a child through miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant death.” Their website also has information on how to move forward with a burial.
They offer a family advisor after a family loses a child with the following services:
Elizabeth Ministries seeks to honor all life including children lost to miscarriage. A Catholic ministry, they have services geared toward churches but also provide several burial vessels and bereavement kits. They also have a burial gown that appears to be free.
Parents or loved one may also be interested in the prayer cards that Elizabeth Ministries produces. These prayers may be read at a burial service for a little one and kept as a reminder of the child. Elizabeth Ministries also offers coins and jewelry of remembrance that parents might want to either bury with the child or keep in honor of him or her.
Samuel’s Lullaby was started by April Newell after she lost her son, Samuel, late in pregnancy. Another woman in close proximity experienced a loss around the same time, and April decided to comfort her through a gift basket. She has now created baskets for families in over 20 states.
These baskets are free, though you may provide a donation to help keep them that way. Gifts after a death are common at burial services, and loved ones may consider these baskets as a way to comfort the family and honor the child.
Local Ministries and Organizations
Local ministries and organizations sometimes have resources available for families who have miscarried. For example, Treasures in Our Hearts, a Catholic ministry in Michigan, will have a burial for your child at no cost with garments and a burial box. A religious leader of your choosing will reside over a customized service at your request.
You may want to check with your local funeral home, church, or non-profit to see about burial supplies, services, and other accommodations. They may be able to help you decide how you want to honor your baby through burial.
Burying a Child
Burying a child is never easy. These organizations may make the process a little easier by answering your questions and by providing the necessary resources and accommodations. For loved ones, consider making a special effort to attend a burial service of a miscarried child if the parents invite you. They need to know that other people loved their child and want to honor him or her. It’s one way we can all share the grief of losing a child in the womb.
Nick Carrington is an Editor for the EPLA and Assistant Professor of Professional Writing at Cedarville University.
By: EPLA Editors
On Monday we started a series on the burial of miscarried babies. Anyone who has walked through a miscarriage knows that this is a very difficult topic and we understand that things might get uncomfortable.
Our desire is to forge through these murky waters as we look at ways for parents to properly grieve and heal following loss. We hope to empower parents to make the best decisions for their families.
The question of what to do with the remains is difficult. Many mothers deliver their little one at home and are left alone to figure this out. Sometimes the baby is too small to identify as it has only developed as an embryo or fetus. Other parents surrender the remains for testing or they are simply dealt with by the hospital after a procedure such as a D&E.
The article Yes, I Had A Miscarriage and Yes I Flushed on Unexpected Family Outing is an incredibly honest story of one woman who chose to flush the remains of her little ones.
“In my hands was my baby– the size and shape of a small water balloon and the deepest shade of scarlet. Holding my bundle, carefully swaddled in toilet paper, I pushed open the door and leaned out. My eyes frantically searching for my husband because this time I didn’t want to be alone.
Our eyes met and he rushed back to the restroom door. He looked down at my hands and lifted his eyes to meet mine. There, reflected back at me, I saw my fear and my heartbreak and my last grasp at denial. Maybe this was something else.”
We share this article because this is the story of so many women. You are not alone.
"I shuffled out of the convenience store, traumatized by what had just happened. At the time, thinking I was traumatized because I chose to flush. Now, knowing I was traumatized for a different reason.
I was traumatized because having a miscarriage is traumatic."
This article does a gut wrenching job shedding the light on what might be a source of shame for many women. Do not be ashamed, mama.
By: Emily Carrington EPLA Founder
“What will happen to the body?” I asked.
“It won’t really come out as a body, at that point it is just medical waste,” responded my doctor.
“Oh, okay.” I paused for a second before I went onto the next question.
My husband and I were meeting with my OBGYN. Only two days earlier we heard the words that no expecting parents ever want to hear: “I am sorry, there is no heartbeat.” We had gone home to collect our thoughts and now we were back with a notepad full of questions.
In addition to mourning the loss of our first child, we had to decide how to move forward. The doctor explained that this was a missed miscarriage, meaning that the baby had died a few weeks earlier, but my body had not yet expelled the remains. I had the choice to wait for my body to catch up naturally or schedule a D&C, a procedure to remove the remains.
Less than three weeks away from moving across the country, we feared the unknown. What if everything started sometime on our 21-hour road trip? What if I had to deliver this baby in a truck stop in Arkansas?
After much discussion and working through our list of questions, we decided that the D&C was the best option. We left his office and scheduled the procedure for two days later.
A couple of weeks later, we returned to his office for my post operation appointment. He told us everything went as expected and the lab said it found “the products of conception.”
“Of course they found the products of conception,” I thought. Not only did I have a positive pregnancy test and 6 weeks of horrible morning sickness to prove I was pregnant, only a month prior we had seen our little one alive on the screen. There was a heartbeat. Of course there was a baby in there.
Since then I have thought a lot about that week. I do not blame my doctor for his words or for the medical terms he used. A miscarriage is a medical event, and we were making medical decisions. This was a place for a clinical straight forward approach, but we weren’t just talking about any medical procedure. This was the procedure that removed my deceased child from my womb.
We were also mourning the life of our baby. A life that we knew was there. A life that only ever existed inside of me. And when I asked the doctor about the body, I felt ashamed for asking such a silly question.
Five years, three more pregnancies, and one healthy child later this mama heart is no longer ashamed. Of course I wanted to know what would happen to the body of my child, even if my child was still in the early stages of development. I wanted my child buried or cremated, not thrown away with the medical waste.
The question of burial for a first trimester baby loss is a muddy one. Hospital regulations, cemetery procedures, and state laws vary. Additionally, the situation varies from family to family. Sometimes there is no discernable body due to gestational age. Sometimes bodies cannot be retrieved. Sometimes families need to surrender the body for testing. Sometimes the bodies are surrendered in medical procedures such as a D&C or D&E.
Over the next few weeks, we will to try to unmuddy the waters, as we explore burial options for early pregnancy loss. We know that everyone grieves differently, and for some, burial might not be that important or it might be important but not possible. But for others, it might serve as one way to honor and memorialize their little one.
As always, we hope to equip and connect our readers. Together we can bear one another’s burdens.
Emily Carrington is the founder of the EPLA and mother to four children.
By: The Editors
Families experience an extreme range of emotions before and after a miscarriage. The elation of pregnancy nosedives when parents find out they have lost their child. In the former, parents often rejoice with loved ones, all parties exuberant about the new life. In the latter, loss parents too often suffer alone, leery of how uncomfortable their sadness makes other people.
In the Daily Mail, Elizabeth Day sums it up this way while hoping Meghan Markel has a healthy child:
“So as Meghan prepares to give birth to what I hope will be a happy and healthy child, I think not just of her but of all the other women who might be experiencing loss. I would like these women to know that the sadness they feel over their miscarriage is just as important as the joy we are expected to channel for someone else’s pregnancy. I would like them to know that they are not alone.”
For those of you struggling with the sadness of miscarriage, know that your pain matters to others. Your little one matters to others. You are not alone.
Please check out the entire piece.
By: Maria Servold EPLA Editor
In the hours, days, and weeks following a miscarriage, a woman will have many physical needs. Unfortunately, miscarriage can be a physically painful and sometimes gruesome process - often feeling like injury added to the insult of having lost a precious baby.
At the Early Pregnancy Loss Association, we seek to support women and families in many ways after a loss. We found that many women struggled to know what sort of physical supplies they would need following a loss, nor did they want to have to go to a pharmacy to purchase what they needed while they were going through such a traumatic experience.
For this reason, we created Miscarriage Care Kits and began distributing them locally via doctors’ offices, hospitals, and health departments. We offer two kits: a small one with a few sanitary and comfort items for a woman whose miscarriage is complete or after she has had a D&C procedure; as well as a larger kit for women who plan to miscarry at home.
In order to gather exactly what we need for the kits, we have created an Amazon Wish List. Items purchased from the list will go directly to our headquarters, where our volunteers can put together the kits, helping to ease one part of the burden of miscarriage.
If you are able, please consider donating via this link.
Maria Servold is an Editor at the EPLA, Assistant Director of the Herbert H. Dow II Program in American Journalism, and Lecturer in Journalism at Hillsdale College
By: Carissa Dobson
Karen was a mother of four healthy boys and pregnant with her fifth when she was told that her baby might not make it. She was induced on her due date, September 10th, and gave birth to Stephen, who survived only a couple hours. “I’m a tender person, and I remember… it was so hard to talk to people without tears coming out my eyes, and that’s hard. That’s really hard,” she said. “Because, you know, you’re very vulnerable. And it’s not always fun going around with tears in your eyes, or stuff like that. It’s hard. Tears help to bring healing, it’s true. But it’s not easy.”
After the sorrow of losing Stephen, Karen decided to have a surgery to prevent further pregnancies. She later regretted her decision and had a reversal done. “I was excited. I said, ‘Oh, wow, I can go ahead and have kids now!” Karen said. Only two months later she was pregnant again, and she felt ready to have her next child.
Unfortunately, before even seeing a doctor she began to experience spotting and cramps, and then she miscarried. “I was surprised I had a miscarriage because I’d been really healthy all along without any problems, so this did take me by surprise,” she said. Karen was shocked and devastated by the loss.
Karen and her husband, Mike, decided to try again, and she found out several months later that she was pregnant for the seventh time. She went in for an ultrasound, and was met with shocking news. “The woman who did the ultrasound was really surprised. (She said,) ‘You know you have three sacs here?’ I said, ‘Are you serious?’” Although Karen was pregnant with triplets, it looked like none of them were alive at that point. “I just prayed and prayed that one or two of them would still be alive,” Karen said.
Once more, she miscarried. She lost all three. “I did miscarry on my own and it was just a horrible time again… Oh, it is just a scary, hard time. And you’re doing it by yourself, you know?”
Karen was devastated, and she felt alone. She had emotional problems, stress, weakness in her muscles, and the numbness and tingling continued. “I was crushed after I miscarried… It was very, very difficult.”
During this time, Karen would cry and talk to God, trying to sort out what was happening. “I knew I needed God, I knew He still loved me, I knew He was in charge, but yet it was hard,” she said. Her health was declining, and she didn’t feel comfortable going out of the house.
Karen kept her grief to herself. “I didn’t know a lot of people that had miscarriages at that point. Now it’s much more open and common… It was kept more inward, so those were some inner issues that I had to deal with.” This was a different experience than losing a child after birth. “I remember getting a card or two from people with Stephen, because that was public, of course. But with the miscarriages it was pretty much on my own with the grieving. ”
Following the loss of the triplets Karen suffered a long and difficult season and she thought she might not ever become pregnant again. Eventually, Karen had reason to think she was finally pregnant again. “I noticed toward the end of December going into January of ’98, I felt like I might be pregnant again, because my cycle was a little late. And I was excited, but I was so scared. Because I didn’t want the same thing that happened to Stephen, and I didn’t want to miscarry again. So, I was thinking, trust in God.”
Fortunately, this time, Karen had a friend who came alongside her and encouraged her through her pregnancy. “She was pregnant at the time, too. And we would go on walks and we would talk, and she was so dear to me… she just encouraged me… and I am so grateful.”
Eventually, it was time to check on the child’s health. “I ended up going in for an ultrasound, which scared me to pieces because I hadn’t had one done that was ever good,” Karen said. Luckily, for the first time in years, Karen had a positive ultrasound. “I could just cry now. I was laying on that table and they said everything was okay. Its heart was beating, things were developing, things like that.”
Karen delivered a beautiful, healthy baby girl named Katrina. She and her husband were overjoyed. “I just had a hallelujah time of praise to God. Because the baby was born… And it’s a girl!” Katrina grew up healthy and strong, and Karen thanks God for it all.
Karen knows her happy ending isn’t consistent with everyone’s experience. “I know this does not happen to everybody, that you’re allowed to end up having another pregnancy and everything goes well,” Karen said. “And it’s gotta be really hard for those women that it doesn’t happen to. And God showed a lot of grace towards me. And I’m so grateful.”
Carissa Dobson is a junior Professional Writing and Information Design major at Cedarville University.