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Holy Mary, keep me a child’s heart

A Spanish mother living in London explains how she and her husband responded to the loss of their unborn child

By on Friday, 25 June 2010

Holy Mary, keep me a child’s heart

My 20-week scan found that the baby’s heart was not beating. We decided to induce the delivery. The next day, at 1pm, we went to the clinic. They gave me pills that would start the contractions. I decided not to take painkillers, as I realised that this was going to be the only effort, the only sacrifice, one of the only physical interactions, that I would have with the baby, although he was dead.

The first thing we asked when we got to the clinic was if we would be able to see the baby and what we could do with the body.

The doctor said it was completely up to us if we wanted to see the baby. In the past there have been debates about whether one should, but if we did he would have to prepare us for what we should expect. This was especially so as the baby had died several days, maybe even a couple of weeks, earlier.

The midwife told us about the full range of possibilities concerning the body: we could either let the clinic “get rid of it”, or we could bury him, or cremate the body.

It was up to us to make this decision. With a child who is born one has experiences and memories, a strong love that was built over time, but with this little one we had almost no experiences. We did not have an instinctive love, but a desire to love. We wanted to love more than we felt we loved him.

In effect, it was up to us to decide how human he was by deciding what kind of burial he would have, if he had one at all. Of course our decision did not make any difference to the truth. He was as human as we all are, but in the eyes of the world at that stage “it” is not a human being, just a foetus. The difference is that in Britain parents have the privilege of deciding what to do with the remains. In other countries, parents don’t even have that choice.

How lucky were we that we were able to give a holy farewell and burial to our son. My husband’s sister lost two baby boys, both when she was five months pregnant; one she lost in Italy and one in Austria. In neither country did she have the right to bury her boys.

The midwife at the clinic very kindly suggested we see a priest, who arrived during the afternoon. He was the chaplain from University College Hospital. He told us about the spaces in the cemetery traditionally reserved for babies or unborn babies, and said there was a special ritual for the burial of the unborn. He reassured us that the baby did not need (and should not receive) baptism, although he did suggest it would be a good idea to give him a name in order to make him more present and keep him in our prayers. He blessed me.

We were able to meditate upon all these things during all that time that my husband and I were alone together, waiting. We realised how blessed we had been that everything was taking place in this way. We had the right to see our unborn child, the right to bury him and, most importantly, we had time to think about it all. In many countries you are emptied the same day you find out the baby is dead; often you are put to sleep, anaesthetised, and wake up, without the baby, and that same evening you are back home, empty, and basta – that’s it. Mothers are expected to keep their silence, not to talk about the subject any more, not to mourn.

We were certain that we wanted to give the baby a dignified and holy burial, but were not sure how. With a dog, you would scatter the ashes in some pretty place in the garden. But our baby… We had the right to a dignified burial for our child – not only our son, the fruit of our love, but the presence and image of God on earth.

We decided that we would have the remains of our baby cremated and would bury them in Spain. We were lucky enough to have access to a holy place, where we could bury him. We thought about what our parents would think. Would they find this totally inappropriate? Would they say this is just something that happens and we should get on with our lives? But they insisted on how lucky we were, that we had the choice. Many they knew had suffered the same experience, did not have the choice, and still today feel the same pain. The law allowed us but, more importantly, we were on the same terms as a couple. Sometimes it can be the partner that doesn’t give you the choice.

We remembered and prayed specially for those couples where the wives may even be forced by their partners in taking a decision they don’t believe in, such as the cases of women forced into abortion. Sometimes you marry someone thinking you have the same values, but in circumstances like this may not agree or support you as you thought he or she would.

The baby was born between 8.30 and 9 in the evening. At around one they brought the baby’s body, cleaned up. It was amazing: a little boy. He was the size of my hand. He was perfect, but slightly deteriorated because of the time spent without the strength of life in my tummy.

We said a prayer that I had chosen that had always meant a lot to me called “Garde-moi un coeur d’enfant” by Père Léonce de Grandmaison:

Holy Mary, Mother of God,
Keep me a child’s heart
Pure and transparent as a spring

The prayer meant a lot. I felt that we needed to be more like a child, like a baby – innocent, pure, silent in the pure presence of God.

The smallest of creatures taught us so much, this little one so insignificant in the eyes of the world, taught us how to approach and love God and human beings.

This reminded me of the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. The encounter with God through the most insignificant, the smallest of things, through silence… through what, to the eyes of the world, is empty.

The relics of little Thérèse were in London the following day. My husband and I had not really planned to go. We had always been quite sceptical about the idea of relics and we had a wedding in France to attend. But God and St Thérèse decided to change our hearts. We went to venerate the relics the next day at the Carmelite church. We were transformed. The message was clear: it’s the Little Way that leads to God. We realised the importance of the flesh, of humanity, by taking our little baby in our hands. He came, lived and died in silence, and it is only in silence that we can join him in prayer.

Why did he come to this world, if genetically he was so weak that he would only survive a few months in my tummy? To draw us closer to God, in the communion of saints. Our grief and our loss draws us closer to those who suffer in this world, to the agony of Our Lady when standing at the feet of the Cross, and through the intercession of the saints. With their help we can carry this cross in a way that pleases God, and offer it for all those who decide to terminate their pregnancies and kill the baby they carry.

We rested at the clinic that night and left the next day without our child.

The cemetery would pick up the body directly from the clinic and I would pick the ashes up the following week. When I got there I asked the lady who greeted me if they often had these cases of unborn children. She said it was very common, especially at this cemetery, where the ovens are not powerful, so they can still obtain ashes even if the body is so small.

We flew to Spain with the ashes. Our parents joined us for a small liturgy with a priest.

At the beginning, and for several weeks, we did not give our little boy a name. We were not sure. But we quickly realised that to make him more real in our lives, to be closer to him, it would be easier to give him a name. We called him Lucas.