Perinatal death – death of a child at or near birth – how might a church minister respond – some thoughts – from Net Gains/Study Skills for Ministry (Andrew Pratt)

Perinatal death

By this I mean death at or near to birth, literally ‘around birth’. Here I would include abortions, still birth and spontaneously aborted pregnancies as well as deaths in the first year, cot deaths and so on. None of these can be ‘swept out of the way’. For a woman to have conceived is enough to begin to anticipate the birth. If that birth doesn’t take place then there will be feelings which need to be dealt with. Each situation is different. As with every death listen to what is being said, watch how people are responding and, in turn, try to respond sensitively and sympathetically to different needs as you perceive them. Fathers have feelings too and it is worth remembering that when much attention may be focussed around the mother. If there are tangible memories these are important. Parents may have an ultrasound scan or photos of a still born child and may have held him or her. There may well be feelings of guilt to deal with and, again, anger or depression. In the case of a cot death a lot of questions may be asked about what the parents did or did not do. This can be exacerbated by the presence of the police who will need to be involved in such a death.

Some ministers may think it inappropriate to baptise a dead child but if this is a compassionate action to take at a parent’s request you may well want to over-ride your theological scruples in order to offer comfort. Only you can decide. A funeral is always appropriate if this is requested and undertakers usually charge minimal expenses or even none in the case of the death of a child.

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Andrew Pratt

Andrew Pratt was born in Paignton, Devon, England in 1948.

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