Miscarriages, or spontaneous abortion, is the loss of the pregnancy before the fetus is viable. Miscarriages occur in around a quarter of all pregnancies. It is an unexpected loss during a time of happiness. The mother often forms an attachment to the unborn child early in pregnancy. This feeling of loss may be compounded if the mother has been undergoing fertility treatment in order to conceive. It is the strength of the bond with the baby rather than the time length of the pregnancy that determines the emotional reaction of the mother to the loss of the unborn child.
Whereas in other forms of deaths the customs and rituals of burial and mourning are established, in miscarriages it is not the case. The lack of recognized rituals may cause friends and family not to know how to approach the family, let alone know that the mother is grieving. The family may find itself feeling alone and confused. In lieu of established customs and laws on how to react to trauma of miscarriages, it is up to the mother, or family, to choose her own rituals and mourning practices according to her needs.
Discovery of Loss
Whether the loss of the life of the fetus was discovered while on the toilet at home, in the doctor’s office or at the hospital, the immediate reaction varies from woman to woman. Reactions may include immediate shock, crying, disbelief, great sadness, etc. Women who have suffered recurrent miscarriages say that subsequent losses may not be easier but initial shock is not as great. After the initial shock, comes the need to understand what went wrong and sometimes the medical explanation given is not enough.
Women upon discovering they are going though a miscarriage or shortly thereafter, often search the web looking for answers and find my blog. I am a psychic therapist which specializes in miscarriages. When I spiritually connect to these women, they often feel that they are surrounded by great confusion or within a cloud of great sadness. However before these women can confront the “why” of the miscarriage, they need to deal with more pressing matters such as a decision on whether and not to bury, and also allowing themselves time to grieve.
For hundreds of years the infant mortality rate was very high and in an effort to encourage families to move on with their lives, the bodies were unceremoniously collected from the home by members of the burial society who buried the bodies without formal rituals. Today the mortality rate in the Western world is much higher and death is viewed differently by society. Nevertheless many hospitals still adhere to the same informal relationship to the body of the unborn baby and often dispose of it with other medical waste. If you decide that you want to conduct some form of burial ritual, you MUST make those desires known at the hospital.
In the United States. Canada and Australia, if the miscarried fetus is under 20 weeks there are no legal requirements to register the baby, take out a birth certificate or perform a burial. In the United Kingdon its 24 weeks, while in Israel it is until birth. The public hospitals should offer the parents some options, although in reality most do not. It may be up to the parents to raise the issue themselves.
The options vary from:
No involvement – the hospital can do what it wishes with the remains whether their policy is to add it to other medical waste, or in a mass burial or cremation.
Partial involvement – the parents are slightly involved with possibility of a shared ceremony, burial or cremation.
Full Involvement – the parents take it upon themselves to arrange with a burial society or funeral home to remove the fetus tissue from the hospital.
For those parents that decide on no involvement or partial involvement, it is recommended to verify the name of the burial company or funeral home working with the hospital in case they wish to know the location of the gravesite in the future.
In several states within the United States of America, there are new burial laws that mandates that all fetal tissue to be buried or cremated in a traditional mourning ritual. These laws were brought about by the anti-abortion and pro-life activists and legislators trying to forcefully discourage abortion but has a significant effect on woman who naturally miscarried. The law is currently being argued in court in most of the states and may go up against the United States Supreme Court in 2019.
From a religious point of view*, the laws of burial of a non-viable fetus is centered around the question of ensoulment, the moment the soul enters the body. There has been much discussion on this issue by all the religions and it is the root of the decision of whether the fetus body undergoes a ceremonious burial ritual.
Judaism does not have one answer rather several interpretations to the moment of ensoulment. According to Jewish law, an unborn fetus, a still-birth baby or any child under the age of 30 days is not required to have a formal burial ceremony and the mother is not supposed to mourn. A funeral is seen as a ritual to ease the community and society and the unborn or very young baby is not seen as had enough of a social influence in its community to require such a ceremony.
Christian and Catholic beliefs into ensoulment is a complex one and is often intertwined with the discussion on abortion. From my understanding, burial is an accepted practice and in some regions even encouraged.
Muslims believe that the ensoulment occurs around four months. If a fetus was aborted before this time, the body should be buried but not preyed upon. If the fetus has recognizable human features or has been given a name, formal burial rituals should be performed.
The place of burial is more flexible. There are cemeteries that have a special area for perinatal and very young children. It can be buried at home in the yard or a local forest if allowed by law. Choose a rock or a special tombstone to mark the spot. A poem or prayer can be spoken to mark the occasion. It is up to the parents to decide what is best for them.
I believe in the need to mourn the loss of the unborn baby. Each woman’s grief is different. A woman may grieve the loss of a baby or the fact that she is no longer pregnant. She may feel guilty that her body betrayed her and she was unable to protect her child. Fear that her thoughts and emotions caused the baby to want to leave. Worry that she may never be able to have a family. Each woman experiences a different kind of shock, sadness, anger, frustration, etc. for a different length of time.
In a quick poll taken of over 60 women who lost an unborn child, the mourning time was very variant with no statistically significant difference between the time frames. A woman may not feel the need to mourn, may mourn a week or a month, while some woman may mourn for years or never stop grieving the loss.
Most women find me online while searching the web looking for answers as to why they miscarried or using the search terms the spiritual meaning of miscarriages . I have learned that if I conduct a miscarriage reading immediately after miscarriage, the client is too emotional to hear and embrace the message of the miscarriage. Therefore it has become my policy to allow the women time to mourn the loss of her unborn child. I often allow for around a month after the birth, which is based on Jewish mourning period for one’s child. At times I feel that the mother’s mourning time is less and schedule the waiting time accordingly. Once the woman has overcome her grief, she is prepared to comprehend the message from her unborn soul and the spiritual cause of the miscarriage.
The emotional and physical reactions to a miscarriage is very individual for each woman, parents and family. Without religious and national laws and customs, many women feel even more confused and unsure of what to do after the loss. In most instances, parents are not aware of their burial rights or feel that they can take time off to mourn. It is my belief that during this period it is important time for the woman to be true to their feelings. To take as much time off that she may need to grieve in order to allow her at some point to be able to be fully functional again.
* I am not an expert in any religious customs or beliefs.