|Kayla Boesch of Immaculate Conception Parish in Clarksville suffered a miscarriage earlier this year and wants to break the silence surrounding miscarriages by talking about her experience and sharing resources with other women. She is pictured here with her husband Matt and a basket of momentos she received at the hospital honoring the baby she lost. Photos by Theresa Laurence
Immaculate Conception parishioners Kayla and Matt Boesch had planned to welcome their first baby this fall. Instead, they will be visiting the cemetery plot where they buried their baby’s remains last spring.
When Kayla suffered a miscarriage around the 11-week mark of her pregnancy, she and her husband were devastated, but determined to honor the life that existed, however briefly, inside of her.
Now, during National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, the Boeshes are sharing their story to help break the silence that often surrounds miscarriage.
Miscarriage, the loss of a pregnancy during the first 20 weeks of gestation, occurs in about 10 to 20 percent of all known pregnancies, and the vast majority of these are early-term miscarriages, occurring before 13 weeks.
Often, women who experience a miscarriage unjustly feel ashamed and don’t speak up or reach out, Kayla Boesch said. “It’s like this quiet, private, sad group.”
When the Boesches found out that their baby had died in utero, they were initially overwhelmed and weren’t sure how to deal with the practical or emotional aspects of miscarriage. They hope that by opening up, they can help other couples heal. “When you’re so deep in grief, it’s really hard to have clarity about what you should do,” Kayla Boesch said. “The pain would be worth it if we can help someone else.”
Seeking solace in the Church
Kayla found out she was pregnant last Super Bowl Sunday. “We were really excited and we didn’t follow the typical rules to wait until the second trimester to tell,” she said; they quickly spread the news to family and friends. In the early weeks of her pregnancy, Kayla worked through morning sickness and fatigue, looking forward to the first ultrasound.
It was the day of that ultrasound that the couple learned the sad news about their unborn baby. “The tech who performed it asked to be excused from the room, and we knew something was wrong,” Kayla said. “There was no heartbeat.”
Immediately after the ultrasound appointment, the couple, filled with grief and anxiety, sought solace in their church, and met with Deacon Dominick Azzara at Immaculate Conception. As Catholics, “we believe the life begins at conception,” Kayla said. She and her husband knew they wanted to honor the brief life of their unborn baby in a special way.
Deacon Azzara “assured us we were right in our thinking,” Kayla said. He affirmed that “this is a soul, a person,” she added.
But when the Boesches came to Deacon Azzara for support, he didn’t have many definite answers for them. Guidance on ministering to couples who have experienced a miscarriage “is kind of a blind spot” for the Church, Deacon Azzara said. “The Church provides,” he said, “but you have to dig.”
Miscarriage support “is an area that has not been addressed well enough,” continued Deacon Azzara, but there are ways priests, deacons and other church personnel can offer support. When a baby dies in the womb, there are specific prayers and blessings that can be offered for the family. A memorial service, funeral and/or burial can be planned; grief support and counseling should be available, Deacon Azzara said.
“People working in a parish need to be sensitive,” Deacon Azzara said. “People are finally coming forward and saying they’re having trouble,” after a pregnancy loss. For so long, he said, miscarriages were “unspoken and unshared.” Now that more people are speaking out and seeking support, “we need to be aware and ready to respond,” Deacon Azzara said. “It’s a work in progress.”
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops offers some specific prayers and blessings for parents who have experienced a miscarriage, as well as some limited resources on their “For Your Marriage” website, but clear-cut guidance from the Church on coping with the specifics of miscarriage is limited. The Church does not define how a couple should handle their baby’s remains, or whether or not they should have a funeral. It’s largely up to the couple involved, in consultation with their spiritual advisor.
Deacon Azzara assures that couples who experienced a miscarriage but did not know about these options or chose not to take advantage of them should not feel regret. “The Church does not require anything of them,” he said.
Deacon Azzara said there is room for more pastoral training on miscarriage. Kayla Boesch would like to see miscarriage covered in marriage preparation and Natural Family Planning classes. “You learn all about your cycle and family planning, but no one tells you what to do with a loss,” she said.
After learning that the developing fetus inside Kayla was no longer viable, Kayla’s doctor advised her to wait and see if she miscarried naturally; if not she would need to schedule a dilation and curettage procedure, more commonly known as a “D&C” to remove what clinicians refer to as the “products of conception” from her body.
|A section at the Diocese of Nashville’s Calvary Cemetery is reserved for babies who die before birth or under one year old. In recent years, more families have chosen to bury the remains of their babies lost to miscarriage.
That period of waiting “was a depressing, dark time,” Matt Boesch said. “It went by so slow.”
“The world keeps going on around you,” Kayla added, but all she could think about was what was about to happen with her own body, and what to do about it. “The hardest part was knowing that you’re carrying your child but it’s not alive,” she said.
While the couple waited on the natural miscarriage that never happened, then waited for Kayla to undergo the D&C, they decided they wanted to name their baby and take its remains from the hospital and bury them. They also wanted to have a memorial service to honor their unborn baby, which they named Francis.
To do this, they had to find the answers to some uneasy questions. What would they put the baby’s remains in? How would they transport and store them? How do they explain to people what they were doing?
“It can be super uncomfortable to talk about it, but if no one talks about it, no one will know,” Matt said.
They began scouring the internet for resources, and found some sites that walked them through the process, including those most uncomfortable parts, like how to store and transport the baby’s remains.
The Boesches wondered if they were being “weird” or “eccentric” for wanting to honor a life lost so early in pregnancy. “A lot of people don’t view miscarriage as a big deal and don’t understand,” Matt said.
But, Kayla said, “there’s no time stamp on when it’s really a baby and when it should hurt.” For the Boesches, the pain was very real.
Before undergoing the D&C procedure, Kayla had to explain over and over again to hospital personnel that she was planning to take the baby’s remains from the hospital, and had to fill out pages of paperwork to do so. In Tennessee, but not all states, parents have the right to bury the fetal remains from early-term miscarriages. If the parents choose not to take the remains and bury them, hospitals must properly dispose of them.
‘The loss of a dream’
As the Boesches experienced, hospitals can be a place of painful loss, but they can also be a place of healing and grace.
When Kayla was recovering in the Clarksville hospital where she underwent treatment, she received a small basket with a tiny handmade blanket, two roses and a card from the nonprofit organization Minutes of Gold, dedicated to supporting women experiencing miscarriage or infant loss. “That was so beautiful,” she said, “the acknowledgement of someone saying, ‘This was a child.’”
At Saint Thomas Midtown Hospital, “We try really hard to honor each life,” said staff chaplain Rev. Jennifer Jarvis. “A chaplain attends every pregnancy loss. It’s part of our protocol.”
Rev. Jarvis, a Presbyterian minister, spends much of her time offering spiritual support and bereavement comfort to neonatal intensive care unit families and those who have lost children at any stage of development. “It can be a very lonely, isolating kind of loss,” she said.
When she meets with a patient and her family, Rev. Jarvis spends time with them, anywhere from 30 minutes to all day, depending on their needs. Hers is a ministry of presence, allowing the families to have the time and space to articulate their grief. “It can be very overwhelming,” she said. “The loss of a pregnancy is the loss of a dream, taken away in one fell swoop.”
There’s no set script for what Rev. Jarvis says to her patients, but she always conveys the message, “It’s not right, it’s not fair, and it hurts.”
She can help parents make arrangements for their child and offer support resources they may need after leaving the hospital. “I try to make sure they have those touch points,” she said.
Garden of Angels
While the Boesches thought they might be “weird” or “eccentric” for wanting to bury the miscarried remains of their child, they are not alone in this desire. “We’ve done an awful lot of those out here lately,” said Deacon Mike Wilkins, director of the Diocese of Nashville’s Calvary Cemetery.
A section of the cemetery dubbed “The Garden of Angels,” is reserved for the burial of unborn children and infants under 1 year old. The cemetery currently offers this service free of charge, but due to the limited space and the increased demand, that may have to change, according to Deacon Wilkins.
Since 2014, “there has been a dramatic increase in the rate of miscarriage burials,” Deacon Wilkins said. This could be attributed to more awareness of Calvary’s service, or a cultural shift to honor lives lost to miscarriage, he said. “To lose a child is very damaging and having a funeral or memorial and burial can be very cathartic,” Deacon Wilkins said.
Echoing Deacon Azzara, Deacon Wilkins assures couples who have lost a child to miscarriage but didn’t go through the whole memorial and burial process that they should not feel guilty or that they did something wrong by omission. “We know it’s very common for parents to have miscarriage deaths,” Deacon Wilkins said. “The Church is still trying to find our way” to best minister to those parents.
‘You never forget’
Since physically recovering from her miscarriage, Kayla has faced the more difficult challenge of spiritually healing. While miscarriages can be tough on married couples, “I could feel God in our marriage working on something,” Kayla said. “Matt was my rock.”
Going through the whole process together has brought them closer, and helped them heal as a couple.
“Giving a name and having a memorial service really helped,” Matt said.
“It gave us some closure, and was a way to honor Francis,” Kayla added.
Talking about her miscarriage with family and friends and spiritual leaders at Immaculate Conception has also helped Kayla cope with the loss.
However, as Francis’ original due date draws closer, and more friends announce their pregnancies, it can be difficult for Kayla. “Some days are tougher than others, and I start to lose faith and hope, and I wonder if it’s in the plan for me to be a parent.”
Over time, “it’s gotten easier,” she said. “You learn to accept it, but you never really forget.”