September is Infant Mortality Awareness Month. Infant mortality is the death of a child before the first birthday or first year of life. Premature birth is one of the leading causes of Infant Mortality. Whenever you see a preemie, know that you are seeing a miracle. While I have read scholarly articles to educate myself about the mental health of mothers of premature babies, I am yet to work with these mothers professionally. However, I am blessed to have connections with professionals who have worked with premature babies and their families. So, I contacted Mercia Case, RN, MSN and asked her to provide first-hand insight on how to spiritually and emotionally support families of premature babies and those grieving the death of their infant. I pray that Mercia Case’s words will bless and position you to support these families better than ever before.
Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2 (NLT)
My thirteen years as a nurse was first spent in the neonatal care unit (NICU). Of course, my first impression of the unit was very intimidating and overwhelming in appearance. However, who would have thought I would spend 13 years in the NICU? It was hard to look at little, helpless babies connected to tubes, monitors and ventilators that blew air through their fragile lungs, watching the rise and fall of their transparent chest wall was inherently debilitating. But little did I know, it was an assignment from God.
I fell in love with caring for premature infants. I felt I had a purpose for sustaining life. Watching premature infants grow outside in a strange, cold world rather than a warm and comfortable environment finally brought joy for me to see when the day comes and a preemie gets to go home. It is truly a miracle! Something only God could have done through the willingness of my heart and hands to nurture and skillfully care for such fragile beings, that fought every day for life.
So, I feel blessed and privileged to have worked in the NICU, because it allowed me to empathize and encourage parents as they went through the feelings of guilt, helplessness, denial, sadness, and anxiety to come to a point in their life where they must trust God was a divine assignment God had called me to do.
How can the church support parent with preterm babies?
A preterm birth is a stressful time for both parents and families, the unexpected early delivery may cause negative feelings in mothers and fathers. Such feelings stem from the risk for developmental deficits and delays. The underlying causes of these poorer developmental outcomes, and the role of parents, are still not fully understood. After a preterm birth, parents may feel that their religious and spiritual lives have been challenged and possibly reinforced. The church can play a critical role in supporting parents of preterm infants by forming groups or classes for mothers who have preterm infants to help build relationships, strengthen their faith through prayers and scripture affirmations of what the word of God says about such precious human beings that have been intricately woven in the womb, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:13-18).
What can the church do to comfort those who lost their babies?
The church can support grieving parents following miscarriage, stillbirth or infant loss by visitation. The scripture tells us, “God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living. For he fashioned all things that they might have being” (Wis1:13-14). Death before birth brings immense grief to a mother. It crushes hope and forces mothers to confront death in a very immediate and physical way. Even though, God sometimes permits suffering to happen. “He will swallow up death forever: the Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears” (Is. 25:8).
The church can also offer pastoral support for couples and families. Church families can seek to reassure parents, speaking words of truth, comfort and gospel-hope that God has a plan and trying to conceive again is always an option. The Psalmist reminds us in Psalm 46:1, that “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” There is comfort in those words.
Dropping off a meal or helping with household chores, and continued prayer, and remembering their child on the anniversary of their loss is like an adage saying, “A picture that is worth a thousand words” (Barnard, nd).
What should we say or not say?
Welcoming a new baby into the world is a joyful occasion. But for parents of preemies, or parents who have lost their baby, that joy is clouded by grief or worry over the health and developmental challenges their baby may face. As a former NICU nurse, caring for preemies always touched my heart because preemies fight for survival in a cold and lonely world from the moment they are born. Yes, it is a very fragile and frightful time for both infant and mother. Offering my congratulations to the parents and reassuring them that they can visit and bond with their baby at any time meant so much to them. Receiving this information often raised a spark of hope in the eyes of many parents.
Parents who have given birth prematurely or suffered the loss of their baby are listening to hear words of hope not everything is going to be fine because, you can’t know that.
Mentioning that the baby is so small is not what we should say. Remember, whether it is a loss or a mother dealing with a premature birth, these parents are going through a feeling of guilt, acceptance or denial. However, the word of God is always comforting, giving a feeling of peace, hope, enjoyment, and fulfillment. I love this saying from the book of Jeremiah, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord; “plans to prosper you and not to harm you; plans to give you hope and a future” (Jerimiah 29:11). Such beautiful and comforting words can help parents of premature infants or those who may have experienced a miscarriage or stillbirth know that God truly cares and his plans are always good.
Thank you for reading.
Would you like to become a member of God’s family? Please say the prayer below and let me know about it here.
Say this: Heavenly Father,
I acknowledge that I am a sinner. I believe you exist and you sent Jesus to die for me. I receive your love and forgiveness. Reveal yourself to me. I accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior. Amen
Welcome to God’s family!