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Mothers, fathers, families remember loss of children before birth

By KATIE LEFEBVRE, Globe staff reporter
(Email Katie)

The Mass for Babies who died before Birth was a way for Ann and Matt Wittrock to remember their child, Francis, who they lost to a miscarriage.

“I have been looking for an opportunity to honor our child,” said Ann, whose family belongs to St. Mary’s in Humboldt. “We found it in our church bulletin and it was an instant, ‘yes we are going.’”

The couple traveled to Sioux City with their four children, Amber, Molly, Eric and Erin, for the special Mass celebrated on March 27 at Cathedral of the Epiphany in Sioux City.

Ann and Matt agreed that the Mass gave them a sense of closure and put them at ease.

“The fact that this child didn’t get baptized has always been with us,” said Ann. “We couldn’t have a Mass or a baptism. This means we finally did something for this baby. I am really thankful they did this (held the Mass). It was so neat.”

The Mass was celebrated by Bishop Walker Nickless. Richard Port of Akron and David Lopez of Sioux City served as the deacons of the Mass. There were more than 65 in attendance for the liturgy.

God is a loving God

“Many of you have lost a child to death – a son or a daughter, a brother or a sister, a grandson or a granddaughter,” said Bishop Nickless. “By being here you open up the wound of the loss once again. You expose your feelings of sadness, confusion and anger.”

He said the child could have been lost through a miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, abortion or some other tragic way.

“The pain and sadness are always there,” said the bishop. “There is always some reminder, something that triggers a memory that a child has died. Tonight we gather together to support one another and to remember. We do so knowing that God is present in our midst.”

God, he said, also lost a son, “who suffered and died to give us hope and strength.”

“Our prayer tonight is summed up in the responsorial psalm that we just heard sung – ‘O Lord, hear my prayer and let my cry come to you,’” said Bishop Nickless. “These words were prayed thousands of years ago and they still have meaning for us today. We know our God is a loving God and he cares deeply for each of us.”

He said the Mass was a time to vocalize their feelings and ask God to hear them and to give them the comfort and healing they need.

“We will never have all the answers. We will never fully understand, but we know for sure that we are not alone,” said the bishop. “Our God suffers with us and that can make all the difference. God does care and one day we will fully understand. May our babies who have died rest in peace and one day may we see them again.”

Remembering a loss

During the service Karmen Bower, assistant diocesan director of youth catechesis and evangelization, announced the names of about 60 babies. Mothers, fathers and/or other family members came to the front of the church to light a candle and receive a rose and certificate of life for each child being remembered.

Some of the mothers had named their babies and other babies were signified as “Baby (Last Name).”

“Every time we hold this event different people will hear about it,” said Bower. “Even if children were remembered last year, giving them another opportunity to bring their family together and honor the memory of that child is a positive thing.”

The Teen Defenders offered their time and helped with preparation, clean up and as ushers for the Mass. Bower said they were “a huge help and made everything go very well.” Stacy Martin and Regina Ratino also helped with passing out the roses and certificates. Barbara’s Floral and Gifts in Morningside offered the roses at a discount.

“I hope other parishes are open to hosting a Mass for their own parishioners,” said Bower. “I hope this gives families the opportunity to publically recognize the child that they weren’t able to meet or that others might not have known about.”

Acknowledging life

Another Mass for Babies who died before Birth was held on March 26, Feast of the Annunciation, at St. Mary Church in Willey. Father Tim Johnson celebrated the Mass and was assisted by Deacon Ed Miller. Kathy Steffen and Brenda Klein organized the Mass.

As the attendees arrived they signed their babies name in a guest book, a Book of Innocence, to recognize their children.

The parents’ names were called and then the name of the baby they were remembering. Like the Mass in Sioux City, a candle was lit and the mother and/or father and/or family received a rose and certificate for each baby. Forty-two babies were remembered during the Mass.

“We saw a wide range of ages come to the Mass. Some had experienced recent loss but there were others who had experienced a loss 40 to 50 years ago,” said Steffen. “This was the first opportunity, especially for the older people, to really come out and publically celebrate in a Mass the life of their child. They were especially grateful for that opportunity to remember their children with others.”

She added that for some of the attendees it was the first time they acknowledged their loss other than when it happened.

“They hadn’t really had a chance to grieve their loss through their Catholic faith,” said Steffen. “A few of them hadn’t considered naming their children. They found the opportunity to name their child now, even years later, helped give them peace of mind. It made the baby more real to them.”

Terri Prenger, parishioner at Holy Spirit in Carroll, attended both Masses with her husband Dave. She said the Masses were very similar. The Prengers are the chairs of the Pro-life Commission for the diocese.

“It was very touching,” said Prenger. “Your heart just breaks for them. It is so important to acknowledge the peoples’ loss. This shows we do care about the moms, the dads, the siblings and the grandparents.”

Prenger spoke with a mom who attended the Mass last year and asked her what was so important to her. The mother’s response was “the certificate of life.”

“She had hers hung on a wall with her other children's baby photos,” said Prenger. “When a child dies in the womb, you have no birth certificate and no death certificate. It is like the child never existed and we know they did.”

If other parishes are interested in hosting a Mass for Babies who died Before Birth, contact Karmen Bower at (712) 233-7532 or karmenb

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