Molly Hickey was only about 18 weeks pregnant when she lost both of her twin babies in 2016. Those babies, Joseph and Grace, were stillborn, and a kind nurse at Rochester General Hospital guided Hickey and her husband through the process of making funeral and burial arrangements.
“My husband and I were just sort of fumbling through this,” Hickey recalled. “I always say it was the most beautiful moments of my life on the worst day of my life. We got to hold them, and our parents got to see them. They were perfect.”
Hickey later reached out to a priest, who prayed with her but wasn’t able to fully relate to her experience. She joined a bereavement group but felt that the group — comprising mostly women in their late 80s — wasn’t exactly what she was looking for, nor were the secular miscarriage and infant loss support groups she found in Rochester.
A friend introduced Hickey to Janene Loughran, who also had suffered the loss of a child when her son, John Paul, died an hour after his birth in 2011. Hickey was grateful to meet someone who could relate to her experience, and the women talked about the need for a local group to support women going through similar experiences. In late 2016, they began the work of establishing a local chapter of Elizabeth Ministry, an international movement that strives to support women and families grieving after miscarriages, stillbirths and infant loss.
“One in four women will experience this type of loss, and I think it’s one of those things that can really push you in either direction,” said Hickey, who belongs to St. Joseph Parish in Penfield. “Either it can be a tremendous strain on your marriage and a really negative part of your life, or, with the right support and grace, it can really become this … beautiful piece of your motherhood that makes you a different person and makes you have a different outlook on your own family.”
Hickey said she hopes the local Elizabeth Ministry can provide much-needed support by connecting grieving mothers with other mothers who can offer a listening ear, insights gained through their own experiences, and maybe even hope.
Sometimes grieving mothers are referred to Hickey and Loughran by friends or family members; other times the mothers themselves will reach out to Hickey and Loughran after hearing their stories.
Shortly after Sarah Eaton suffered a miscarriage in June 2020, her mother suggested she reach out to Loughran, who is a family friend. Eaton initially was hesitant, but said she felt an incredible sense of peace and healing after talking with Loughran.
“I just felt a special closeness to these people that valued life from conception. It wasn’t just the potential for a life. It was a life,” remarked Eaton, director of music ministry at St. Benedict Parish in Canandaigua and East Bloomfield.
Sometimes grieving mothers and family members learn about Elizabeth Ministry after attending a Mass of Healing for Miscarriage and Infant Loss. Loughran and Hickey organized such liturgies biannually until 2020, when the liturgies were put on hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The liturgies are returning this month, however, with a Mass of Healing for Miscarriage and Infant Loss scheduled for Oct. 17 at 10 a.m. at St. Jerome Church, 207 Garfield St. in East Rochester. In previous years, the Masses have been helpful in spreading the word about the existence of Elizabeth Ministry in the Diocese of Rochester, Loughran said.
“There are always women who come up afterwards and say, ‘I lost a baby 40 years ago.’ … This gives an opportunity to talk about it. Whenever you have the opportunity to talk about it, that will bring healing,” said Loughran, who belongs to St. Jerome Parish.
After connecting with grieving mothers, Loughran and Hickey often send them care packages containing personal notes, books about grieving, prayer cards, prayer shawls and other resources. Eaton said receiving her care package made Eaton feel connected to other women who have gone through similar experiences, and she since has starting working with Loughran and Hickey to assemble care packages for women in St. Benedict Parish who’ve experienced miscarriages or infant loss.
St. Benedict is preparing to dedicate a section of its parish cemetery for miscarried children and children who passed away as infants, and Eaton is spearheading a fundraiser to raise money for a new statue for this section.