It was a child

Andrzej Tarwid

They lost their babies; some lost even more than one child. Now they are trying to make others aware of the problem of miscarriage, which affects over 100 families a day in our country.

On 11 October 2008 a monument commemorating children dead-born was unveiled in the cemetery in Szczecin. This unique monument presents parents in embrace and there is empty heart-shaped space between them. ‘This monument constitutes a symbol of remembrance about all children that have no graves’, says Anna Smolinska from the Association of Parents after Miscarriage in her interview for ‘Niedziela.’ ‘It is also a grave of my Adas who died in ca. the 20th week of pregnancy. The fact that he existed was only testified by his birth certificate which I managed to obtain from the hospital,’ the co-initiator of the monument adds. There are over 40,000 miscarriages in Poland every year. Most miscarried children have no graves. And the families afflicted by this tragedy experience it in loneliness. Since miscarriage is a topic that people do not speak about at home and among their acquaintances. And hospitals that try to help parents are sometimes attacked for their behaviour.

Silence! ‘It is shameful’

Arleta Pastewska, a teacher from Elblag, had a miscarriage last February. The hospital did not inform her that she could bury her child. ‘I was in the state of shock and forgot about this. When I did it a week later it was too late to organise a funeral. The reaction of my environment was another shock. ‘My acquaintances knew that my husband and I had planned a third child. When I became pregnant I was very happy and I told my colleagues about it. However, after I had lost the baby most of them preferred not to speak about it. They simply wanted to forget it. When some of them stopped contacting us I felt like a leper’, she says. The recollections of other women are even worse. ‘The husband of one of my colleague told her not to speak about it to anyone since ‘it is shameful.’ Another colleague heard that ‘nobody experiences that so deeply’ as she did, so she should forget the whole matter’, say the members of the Association of Parents after Miscarriage. Many a time the medical personnel show an elephant’s gentleness. It happens that a mother who has had a miscarriage stays in one room with pregnant women. One mother was told by the doctors that she should not worry since ‘miscarriage is not painful.’ Some midwife gave another mother a jar and told her to ‘pee.’ ‘If there are blood clots throw them to the toilet. If there are tissues please call me’, she added. There are very few medical centres that implemented special procedures in case of miscarriage. One of the first centres was the Holy Family Hospital in Warsaw. Its personnel had a special training in this area. Moreover, the hospital directed by the well known doctor Prof. Bogdan Chazan organises funerals of children dead-born. His initiative was criticised by the on-line edition of one of the most important newspapers in Poland. Since such information… scares off future mothers.

We have the right to speak

After having left hospital Arleta closed herself at home and read about miscarriage for four months. She created the web site: ‘Thanks to the information and other mothers from the association I know that I have the right to speak about what happened and what I feel.’ It was Monika Nagorko that created the web page and then the association. ‘I had two miscarriages. I did not know how to experience that, how to talk to my husband and child about what happened’, she recollects. ‘I looked for information but all pages were in English. So I got the idea to create a web page that today has 60,000 visitors a day. The page includes a decalogue of orphaned parents, legal and medical matters as well as much practical advice for pregnant women. Moreover, there is information about meetings of support groups, which were organised in the biggest cities. The next step was to create an association since no one wants to listen to a group that is not a legal entity. Hospital directors hang up hearing proposals to organise lectures for their obstetric wards. ‘Our aim is to help people who have lost children and make the medical environment and the society aware of those who had miscarriages’, says Monika Nagorko. ‘Some people still identity miscarriage with abortion. And our families and we wanted to have children’, Monika stresses. The greatest success of the association was an effective protest against the changes in the law that would allow registering babies who were miscarried only after the 22nd week of pregnancy. After the protests the Ministry of Health withdrew the planned changes. Thanks to the actions organised by the association more and more people celebrate the Day of Lost Child in October. This year Masses have been celebrated in the intention of children dead-born and their parents. Apart from the ceremony of unveiling the monument in Szczecin the association organised a scientific-training conference entitled ‘Good practices in situations of lost births’ in Bydgoszcz. Arleta Pastewska, who gave a presentation about miscarriage in the Major Seminary in Elblag, got involved in the association as well. ‘I was positively surprised by the interest of the audience during the presentation and afterwards. It did matter that the Rector of the Major Seminary Fr Grzegorz Puchalski introduced me saying that I was a mother of three. Since my miscarriage he was the first person apart from my family that has treated me and my children dead-born in a normal way’, Arleta says.

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The role of priests: Listen patiently

Fr Grzegorz Puchalski, Rector of the Major Seminary in Elblag:
- Priests should accompany people who feel pain after losing their children. Most of all it means listening to women, their grief and sometimes wrath against Lord God. In cases of miscarriage we deal with parents who awaited their children’s births. Therefore, your first words cannot be simple comfort, ‘Take it easy. You will have another child.’ One should listen patiently and focus on the fact that these people could experience their mourning. And secondly, one should inform parents about their right concerning their lost children: they can take the body from the hospital and bury it in spite of the fact that the child was not baptised. The Church has foreseen such a situation but still many people do not know about it.

Empty child’s bed

Marlena Trabinska-Haduch, psychologist:
‘One should realise that losing a child a woman loses a part of herself. And it does not matter when the miscarriage happened, in which week of pregnancy. Since when a mother expects a child she thinks what her child is going to be and what it will be like in 3 or 10 years’ time. And many a time in the house there are toys and a bed for the expected child. All these things create a strong emotional bond. Therefore, losing a child means shock that cannot be underestimated. One should not console women on their loss. It would be better to ask, ‘How can I help you in this situation?’

"Niedziela" 46/2008

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: