Helping families find hope, healing in Christ after miscarriages, infant loss and prenatal diagnosis
June 8, 2021
Jerome's Hope, a ministry of the Office of Pro-Life Activities, works to offer support and healing for parents and families who experienced a miscarriage, stillbirth, infant loss or prenatal diagnosis. (Photo by Insung Yoon)
HOUSTON — For families who recently experienced a miscarriage, stillbirth, infant loss or prenatal diagnosis, finding hope and healing that can only be found in Christ can be very comforting.
Jerome’s Hope, a ministry of the Office of Pro-Life Activities (PLA) of the Archdiocese, provides this healing support for those parents and families suffering from this trauma.
According to Julie Fritsch, director of the PLA, there is often a lack of awareness about the realities of these major losses by parents, which oftentimes makes them feel isolated or abandoned.
She said Jerome’s Hope, one of the first of its kind among U.S. dioceses, provides much-needed resources for parents on how to cope and offer assistance to families, friends and parish communities so they may learn to better respond to their needs.
“The questions facing parents at this time are overwhelming and range from experiencing personal grief, struggling to understand the responses of friends and family, concerns about memorial rites and burial, spiritual worries about the fate of an unbaptized child, and, for families with a prenatal diagnosis, anxieties about the child’s health and how the family will cope with medical needs after birth,” said Fritsch. “The Jerome’s Hope team, made up of parent volunteers who have themselves experienced a loss or prenatal diagnosis, strives to accompany families in navigating all these issues.”
Fritsch said the ministry serves to recognize the great value of each life, no matter how short, while also accompanying those who are suffering.
“The team can also assist with creating a birth plan, which is especially important for children who may live for only a brief time after birth,” said Fritsch. “The birth plan allows for the parents to consider and determine their wishes for this time with their child and for the medical team to be informed of the family’s desires for the time prior to delivery. The team can also answer questions and provide suggestions about burial and memorial or prayer rites, from early miscarriage through infancy.”
Fritsch said perinatal losses tend to be more visible, but parents are often faced with a sense of loneliness and deep misunderstanding as those around them struggle with finding ways to respond to their grief. Fritsch said one parent commented that she felt the need to justify her grief over her miscarriages to family and friends because many around her didn’t see her lost children as “real” people.
“Similarly, parents receiving an adverse prenatal diagnosis feel overwhelmed, frightened, and at times, unsupported by the medical community or by family and friends,” said Fritsch. “Because these are deeply traumatic situations, most people quite naturally tend to avoid thinking about them until they are directly faced and have no other choice. At that time, most of us are unsure what to do or where to turn for help.”
Monica Rivera, a parent volunteer with Jerome’s Hope, knows firsthand how receiving a prenatal diagnosis can impact these families. Her now five-year-old son, Omar, was not expected to live long after birth. Rivera said she had to learn to seek second and third opinions to help decide what she and her husband believed was best for their child.
“When receiving a prenatal diagnosis, sometimes a doctor will encourage abortion or minimal care once the child is born,” said Rivera. “In our situation, we were encouraged to provide comfort care to my child, which would not have given him a fighting chance at life. I advocated for more invasive care, and this has helped my son.”
Today, Rivera feels very blessed to share Omar’s journey with expectant mothers and their families because his life story has given hope to others.
A recent example is when an expectant mother who reached out to Jerome’s Hope was contemplating abortion when she learned her unborn child had a severe heart condition. When Rivera and another volunteer that had received the same diagnosis shared their stories and listened to the mother’s fears and concerns, she decided to have her child. Rivera said knowing her son’s story had a part in this expectant mother’s decision-making process made her feel very proud.
“I suggested that she should seek second and third opinions, and she was able to find a doctor that was more experienced with her child’s diagnosis than the first doctor she saw,” said Rivera. “Giving this support and encouragement can also help mothers make a decision they can live with in the most difficult of circumstances. As a parent of child with special needs, there can be a lot of guilt, whether you choose invasive treatments or not, so I believe Jerome’s Hope can give an expectant mother this support when having to make these difficult decisions.”
Jerome’s Hope is one of 60 ministries supported by the annual Diocesan Services Fund (DSF), which both Fritsch and Rivera believe is important for families living in the Archdiocese that receive a prenatal diagnosis.
“When I learned about my son’s diagnosis, one of the few places I looked for support was the Church, where my husband and I received great support from the priest,” said Rivera. “I believe there is a lot of support within our parishes, and by spreading the word about Jerome’s Hope, we can provide this support to families who have received a prenatal diagnosis or have had a miscarriage, many of whom may not even know that this ministry exists.”
Fritsch said DSF provides funding to train parent volunteers like Rivera, as well as clergy and parish staff about how to minister to the specific spiritual, emotional and practical needs of families facing these difficult situations. She said the ministry also is excited to offer in-person retreats in collaboration with the Rabboni Institute beginning Aug. 28 versus the online format they adopted during COVID-19.
“Of course, parents need not wait for a retreat to receive help,” said Fritsch. “Our team is always available to answer questions, to assist with diagnoses or losses, or just to talk.”
If you or someone you know is in need of help or guidance following a diagnosis or a loss, call the Office of Pro-Life Activities at 713-741-8728 (or 713-440-3443 in Espanol) for more information and connect with the team.