Catholic ministry aims to ‘walk alongside’ those experiencing miscarriage, child loss — By: Catholic News Agency

The Behold Your Child ministry is a Catholic-based bereavement ministry that supports couples who are faced with miscarriage, still-birth, infant/child loss, and fatal perinatal diagnosis. / Credit: Behold Your Child

CNA Staff, Oct 15, 2023 / 09:46 am (CNA).

About 10% to 20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage, with 80% of miscarriages happening in the first trimester before 12 weeks of gestation. A ministry in the Archdiocese of Denver aims to accompany parents and families who have experienced miscarriage, stillbirth, prenatal diagnosis, or infant loss.

Behold Your Child, which originally launched in the Archdiocese of Dubuque, Iowa, is in its beginning stages in the Denver Archdiocese. Deacon David Simonton and his wife, Gail, began the ministry at St. Thomas More Catholic Parish in Centennial, Colorado. 

Soon after David was ordained in June 2019, he was assigned to the apostolate of family life ministry at St. Thomas More. Later that summer, he and his wife attended the National Association of Catholic Family Life Ministers National Conference in Denver. It was there where they heard about Behold Your Child for the first time.

“When we started thinking about it and praying about it — what is this family life ministry apostolate? What should it look like? The Holy Spirit really put it on our hearts to focus on this particular issue because we have a personal connection to it,” David said in an interview with CNA. 

Early in their marriage, Gail suffered four miscarriages in four years, which David called “particularly difficult.” 

He explained that thinking about their own experiences and knowing how many young couples go through this, they felt this kind of ministry was extremely needed.

“The more we looked at it, the more we explored it; we didn’t have a real formulated ministry of that type here in the Archdiocese of Denver,” he said.

Ruth Barnes, along with her husband, Landon, and son Samuel, at the Angel Eyes Walk honoring their son Joshua Dean, whom they lost at 10 weeks’ gestation in 2021. Credit: Ruth Barnes

The ministry makes it clear that they are not professional counselors; instead it is a “ministry of accompaniment” by having people pray for you, answer questions, offer resources, and walk with you through your loss, Gail explained.

“In our own experience, when we were at the bottom of our bottom, a deacon and his wife came and visited us in the hospital,” she shared. “So, I think that in people’s times of suffering that it is still a way of evangelizing to walk alongside.”

“We want to be able to share Jesus’ hope with families.”

David added: “It’s one of those things where we just want them to know that they’re loved and supported with whatever experience that they’ve gone through and that they’re not alone in this loss and that there is hope.”

One of the first events the couple launched as part of the ministry is an annual memorial Mass, held for parents grieving the loss of their child, followed by a reception. Whether they lost their child years ago or days ago, parents are invited to come together for prayer and worship and to share their stories with others afterward in the hope of finding comfort and understanding that they are not alone.

“What we hear so often from folks that have gone through this, and we experience this ourselves, is this real sense of loneliness,” David expressed. “So, we really wanted this to be an opportunity for people to come together and be a support for each other.”

He shared the story of one couple who attended a memorial Mass in honor of the child they lost 40 years ago. 

“They came to the Mass because they never really felt, especially the husband, like he was able to have a sense of closure or to do anything for that little one they lost,” he said.

“One couple had heard about the Mass on Sunday, they were still pregnant, and then miscarried on Wednesday, and then came to the Mass on Friday,” he added. “They were just coming off a miscarriage that very week but to have the opportunity to come to a Mass and to remember that little one was a huge thing for them.” 

“So those kinds of stories are just affirmations that we knew that this was needed with folks.”

Ruth Barnes, a Catholic mother who experienced a miscarriage in 2021, has been a part of the Behold Your Child ministry since it first started two years ago.

“The first time I went to the memorial Mass I truly felt like my baby in heaven was seen,” she shared. “I felt that even though the world may not view me as a mother to two beautiful babies, that indeed I am a mom no matter if my babies are on earth or in heaven.”

Barnes expressed that the memorial Mass helped her connect with the Blessed Virgin Mary, “as she has also grieved the loss of her son and understands this unbearable pain.”

She added: “It helped me grow closer to the Church when it easily could have been a time where I turned away.”

As for her advice for someone experiencing a pregnancy loss?

“Any feeling or emotion you’re feeling during this healing journey is valid and normal,” she said. “If it is hard to attend the baby shower, show up for the pregnant friend, or be at the family gathering, that is okay. This is a time where you’re healing physically, mentally, and spiritually is so important.”

“Most importantly I would tell them to lean on God, as he has been the only reason I have been able to keep going for myself and family after our loss.”

Barnes said she hopes that this ministry can help someone “find connection and community during a time that can feel so dark and lonely” and that it would serve as a “home away from home as they navigate the hardest time of their lives.”

The third annual Behold Your Child memorial Mass will be held on Oct. 20 at St. Thomas More Parish at 7 p.m., with a reception to follow. Licensed counselors will also be in attendance for those who may be seeking professional help.

In addition to this Mass, the ministry also participates in the annual Angel Eyes Walk honoring the lives of babies who have been lost, sharing memories, and offering support. And they will be hosting a small-group seven-week Lenten series called “I Am Beloved, Not Broken” at St. Thomas More and St. Francis Cabrini parishes in the Archdiocese of Denver. It is also available for other interested parishes and online through Red Bird Ministries.

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