(Editor’s note: Read a previous story on this issue at www.evangelist.org.)

I lost my first pregnancy to miscarriage in the late 1980s.

The memory is hazy, clouded by the rollercoaster of emotions and hormonal changes that a woman experiences when she loses a baby. I remember Joe and I watching the ultrasound machine anxiously and excitedly, waiting for the heartbeat that never came. I remember the doctor taking over from the technician and delivering the tragic news. I remember crying.

That’s all. I don’t remember asking if my baby was a boy or a girl. I don’t remember telling the awful news to our family members. I don’t remember asking what happened to my baby’s remains.

Only months later did I learn that the hospital where I lost my baby respectfully buried him in a communal plot in a Catholic cemetery. Thank God. That knowledge comforted me, allowed me to mourn, and gave my heart some peace.

Not all families are so fortunate. Due to a poorly-crafted law, New York State only requires a burial permit and proper disposition for the remains of fetal deaths occurring at 20 weeks gestation or greater. The law is silent on miscarriages which occur at less than 20 weeks, an arbitrary and ridiculous dividing line.

As a result, not all women who miscarry are told they may obtain a permit and respectfully bury or cremate their baby’s remains. Worse yet, if a family does not claim their child’s remains, it is often disposed of as “medical waste” under our laws.

Tragically, the silence of our current law is being wrongly interpreted by some hospitals to mean that a burial permit under 20 weeks is prohibited. It is not.

I recently met with several nurses and the bereavement coordinator of a hospital in upstate New York who tell me that their facility no longer allows them to tell parents of their right to access the permit and plan a funeral for their deceased child under 20 weeks. They say that denying parents the opportunity to say goodbye is extremely harmful and prevents proper grieving and healing from taking place.

Thankfully, a new bill has been introduced in the State Legislature that would correct this wrong. Senate bill 7863/Assembly bill 10013 would require that all hospitals notify all moms who miscarry that they have the right to access the fetal death report and obtain a burial permit if they so choose.

This will allow the remains to be released to a funeral home for proper burial or cremation. This measure deserves the support of all of our state representatives.

We are fortunate that many hospitals, including Catholic hospitals, have already adopted internal policies whereby they inform parents of their right to direct the disposition of their child’s remains, no matter the gestation of the pregnancy.

We’re also fortunate that there are places we can go to mourn. The Shrine of the Holy Innocents Chapel, on the property of St. Mary of the Snow Church in Saugerties, is open 24 hours a day, every day of the week. It’s about an hour south of Albany, and visitors are welcome any time to pray for their babies, unborn or born, who have gone home to God. It is a place to remember, and a place to find healing.

Losing a child — whether unborn, stillborn or live-born — is undoubtedly one of the most painful and heartbreaking events that a parent can endure.

Parents like me who lose a child early in pregnancy know that their child’s life, no matter how brief, was made in the image and likeness of God, and deserves to be respected and honored. 

(Mrs. Gallagher is director of pro-life activities for the New York State Catholic Conference, which lobbies on behalf of the state’s bishops on public policy concerns. See www.nyscatholic.org.)