"Love One Another!" 18/2011 → Suffering and Love
Camilla and I have been married for fourteen years. We have two school-age children. Last October brought big changes to our family. We learned we were expecting our third child.
Together with our children we chose a name for the baby—Joseph or Lucy. The four of us went to the hospital for the ultrasound. After a short wait in the hall, we were told the child’s heart was beating normally. The USG turned out very well. They gave us the pictures, which brought us even closer together. But a few days later, on October 13, problems began to arise. A mild case of spotting signaled alarm. The doctor told us this happened sometimes and could be remedied with medication, but this required immediate hospitalization. So off we went to the hospital. An examination at the admissions ward revealed that the child’s heart had stopped beating. The news staggered us.
We refused to believe our child was dead after barely six weeks of life. It had to be a mistake! They told us Camilla could not stay at the hospital, and that if we wanted a second opinion we would have to find another doctor. We drove home as quickly as we could, but by this time it was evening, and we got stuck in a traffic jam.
Moving along at a snail’s pace, we saw a church and decided to stop there to pray. We were counting on a miracle. Before entering the church, we made a telephone call, requesting prayers from friends of the community to which we belonged. The spiritual support we received then and in the ensuing days greatly helped us to cope with everything we would have face.
When we entered the church, they were praying the rosary. We received Holy Communion. The grace that touched us then removed all sense of confusion, despair, and resistance felt in the face of this unexpected situation. An inner peace came over us, and we were convinced that God, who loved us, was allowing this to happen for some good, that it could not be bad, and that it had to have some sense.
The next day the gynecologist confirmed the hospital diagnosis in his office. He told us we had to return to the hospital and have the child’s body extracted so as not to cause Camilla any health complications. We asked what would happen to our child after the procedure. We wanted to have it properly buried and not disposed of with the rest of the hospital’s waste. The doctor told us it was “not a child yet” since it was too small and had no developed body parts. Worst of all, there was no chance of our being given the remains, as this was only possible after the “fetus” was twenty-two weeks old.
We returned home dejected, at a loss what to do. We could not reconcile ourselves with such callous treatment of our dead child. As we got ready to go to the hospital, we received a telephone call from a friend of ours. Two years earlier she and her husband had experienced a similar loss of their child before birth. She told us how they had managed to have their little daughter registered and legally buried. The dead child had been older than ours, and the miscarriage occurred at home. They had engaged the services of the Forensic Medicine Institute, which determined the child’s sex, and this in turn enabled them to have her registered and officially buried. Despite all the obstacles and problems this entailed, they succeeded! Their example gave us hope and the incentive to act. Clearly, the phone call had not been an accident.
By the grace of God, our doctor gave us another invaluable piece of information; namely, that we could ask for a genetic analysis, which would have to be conducted externally. Such tests could identify the child’s sex and even establish the cause of the child’s death. We seized on this piece of information in the hope that we could get our child out of the hospital, have its sex determined, and then have a proper burial for it.
It was a difficult decision, for there was good reason to believe the tests would prove inconclusive; moreover, it meant a considerable financial outlay for us. But we decided to go ahead, the more so as our children, knowing the grave state of the baby and that it would probably not survive, were asking about a funeral.
The curettage was to take place on October 15. Once again they confirmed our child was dead. With Camilla now in hospital, I drove to the Center for Medical Genetics to pick up the sampling container and brought it to the hospital. In the “instructions for collecting miscarriage material” intended for the doctor, I read that only chorionic material was accepted for testing. “Do not send fetus or fetal fragments,” it stated. I realized then that this was not the way to get our child out of the hospital. We would have to come up with another plan. Meanwhile in the ward Camilla was telling all and sundry that we would be asking for a genetic analysis (something not routinely done) and that we would be picking up the child after the procedure so as to have it buried.
During her case conference Camilla raised quite a stir when she calmly informed the doctors and nurses that she would be taking the child with her after the procedure. What formalities would have to be met to arrange this? — she asked. And then came the miracle. Nobody objected! Nobody scoffed at the request! A kindhearted nurse broke the embarrassed silence, promising she would to look into the matter. Before long word came down from patient management that a child could be registered and buried regardless of age—provided its sex was known! Imagine everyone’s surprise on learning that registry was possible for a child dying in the seventh week of pregnancy! We also learned that mothers who had had a miscarriage were entitled to a maternal leave.
While being wheeled to the surgical ward, Camilla made sure I had our sampling container with us. At the same time she told everyone who cared to listen that the funeral home would be picking up the child from the hospital. This was necessary in order to have the child registered and protected. The doctor removed the chorion for analysis, and the child was taken to where it would have to wait for pick up and burial.
The procedure over, I picked up the container and sample and took it to the Center for analysis. Before leaving the hospital I had left word that I would be informing them of the results of the tests and arranging the child’s pick up for burial. Everything went off with amazing smoothness. That evening, on returning home, we learned that October 15, the day of our hospital experiences, was the National Day of the Lost Child! On this very day Holy Masses were being offered up throughout Poland for all aborted and miscarried children and their parents. Now we understood why everything had gone off so smoothly and why our child had been given the chance of a proper funeral. All that remained now was to wait for the results of the genetic tests.
Three weeks later we received word that we had lost a daughter—Lucy. With the results of the genetic tests in hand we went to the hospital to obtain the documents we needed to register our child at the Civil Registry. The Office issued an official proof of birth. “CHILD STILLBORN,” it indicated. From there we returned to the hospital to secure leave for the funeral home to pick up Lucy’s remains.
We bade Lucy goodbye at our parish cemetery. Our children had been expecting a little brother or sister. For them the funeral was of enormous importance. After all, Mommy had been pregnant, and there was a child. All this time they had been asking what had happened and what we were going to do. Would there be a period of mourning? Were we going to have a funeral? For a child the matter is quite simple: things have a beginning and they ought to have an end. Why must grownups complicate matters? Thanks to children it is easier to understand that the funeral of an unborn child has profound meaning. Every mother and father finds it easier to come to terms with their loss when they have fulfilled their responsibilities, when the family can meet their dead child at the cemetery—just as they do any other deceased member of the family.
We said goodbye to Lucy in this world, but we were consoled by the certainty that, although she died in her mother’s womb, she was the first member of our family to see the face of our loving God and was now interceding for us before Him. Thus we have three children: two here with us, and one in heaven.
We have shared our story to let others know that it is possible to say goodbye with dignity to a child who dies before it is born. We hope our story will be helpful to them. We believe the death of our child can do much good to those who are unable to come to terms with the death of an unborn child for the principal reason that its dignity is not respected, that its—and by extension their own—humanity is denied respect by being refused the right of a proper burial—and this contrary to the law, as it turns out. To date no procedures have been worked out in the hospitals, and no one knows how to proceed when they find themselves in the situation that we did. Perhaps, our testimony will help to push the matter forward.
Our story is also proof that unborn children are persons enjoying full human rights. In this instance, a child dying in the seventh week of pregnancy was recognized as a person and citizen in accordance with Polish law. But the point at which it is possible to determine the sex of the child, which is the current legal limit for demonstrating the personhood of the unborn child—this depends solely on the existing diagnostic methods. Perhaps it will soon be possible to set the limit at the very moment of conception? Genetics relies on incontrovertible facts. It is not only a question of faith. It is matter of scientific fact. At the same time, an official birth document issued by the Registry Office is legal proof that the child has been registered.
Mariusz & Camilla
The article was published with the permission from "Love One Another!" in August 2016.
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