Pregnancy and Infancy Loss Awareness Month (October 2023)
In the United States of America, the month of October recognizes Pregnancy and Infant Loss. Loss and transition is difficult, especially the loss experienced in pregnancy and infancy.
As people of faith we affirm the dignity and worth of everyone by cultivating sacred space that honors our full humanity. In the Christian tradition we create sacred space through the spiritual practice of lament that allows us as a community to recognize loss, grieve together, and to envision what else is possible through the presence of God in each of us.
Last year, Church and Society in partnership with United Methodists for Reproductive Justice with guest appearance by Congressional Leader and United Methodist, Rep. Nikema Williams, held a virtual service of Lament and Hope for Pregnancy and Infancy Loss. A companion toolkit for the service was also created by United Methodists for Reproductive Justice.
During the month of October we encourage you to rewatch and share this service and incorporate parts of this service using the toolkit.
Provided below is: 1) testimony from Rev. Barbara Dunlap, an Ordained Deacon and Founder of Sacred Worth Ministries, who contributed to the toolkit, 2) a link to access the toolkit, and 3) the worship service as a Youtube video.
In the fall of 2018, I asked the church where I was serving as an associate minister if we could hold a Service of Remembrance for Pregnancy and Infant Loss to coincide with the National Day of Remembrance on October 15. Our church had never held such a service, but we agreed that even if only one family needed a safe space to grieve and remember, we wanted to be that place.
As part of the service, we lit candles in memory in conjunction with the National Wave of Light that takes place at 7:00 pm on October 15 each year. We posted a picture of the lit candles and a prayer from the service on our church Facebook page that evening, and we were surprised by the response. It was widely liked, shared, and commented on—even by people not associated with our church or members in any way. This confirmed our belief that there was a need to hold space for lament and remembrance for our community and beyond.
Statistics tell us that one in four pregnancies ends in a miscarriage. A recent study showed that over 20,000 stillbirths occur annually in the United States. Approximately one in 180 infants (.54%) in the United States are born alive but do not reach their first birthday. These statistics vary by state and demographic, but they show that everyone knows someone who has been impacted by pregnancy and infant loss. There is a great need for churches to set aside time to recognize the lament and grief in our communities.
While I served the local church, we continued to hold an annual Service of Remembrance for Pregnancy and Infant Loss. Not only did we have an in-person service, but we also Livestreamed the service as well. We created a way for people who could not be there physically to send in requests for us to light a candle for them. This virtual service and proxy candle lighting proved to be very important for many people. Some were not able to attend due to distance, but, for many, the taboo and the years of unspoken grief kept them from attending in person. The last year I was on staff, we had requests from 30 people for candles to be lit.
I am part of United Methodists for Reproductive Justice, a group of laity and clergy which seeks to educate other United Methodists about reproductive justice, advocate for reproductive justice in our communities, and empower and equip us all to work for reproductive justice by honoring our bodies. Through United Methodists for Reproductive Justice, I had the honor to help craft a toolkit for churches who are looking for ways to commemorate Pregnancy and Infant Loss in worship. The elements of the toolkit can be used for a full service of Lament and Hope for Pregnancy and Infant loss, or elements can be incorporated in Sunday worship. My hope is that churches will use the toolkit in any way that best fits their context.
“A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.” (Jeremiah 31:15 NRSV) We may not ever be able to comfort all the Rachels, but we can be a safe space for them to weep.
May we as the church continue to create spaces that honor all of our stories, so that we may build the thriving and flourishing communities we all deserve.