By Eliana Tedrow
The Sooner Catholic
When Lindsay Juarez unexpectedly lost her daughter, Rosalie, moments away from birth, their world was turned upside down. In a moment, Juarez, like countless other women faced with miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy or stillbirth, was found grieving the unexpected loss of her baby.
“I found out quickly that grief and loss are so very different when it’s your child, and when the death is ‘out of order,’” Juarez said. “I knew I wanted to go to therapy, but I was not sure about support groups. I never liked crying in front of people, and I knew I would cry a lot.”
That all changed one day when she received a pamphlet and personal letter in the mail, inviting her and her husband to join the Saint Anne’s Ministry for Pregnancy and Infant Loss.
Based at Saint John in Edmond, Saint Anne’s is a monthly support group for parents who are grieving the loss of a baby due to miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, stillbirth or other reason. Founded by Rachel Kretchmar and Natalie Clevenger, Saint Anne’s has seen a tremendous response since its founding in 2016.
Saint Anne’s offers participants a supportive, non-judgmental space to grieve and heal with a Catholic perspective.
“We try to shepherd people through their grief process,” Clevenger said. “Saint Anne’s is a safe spot where they can hopefully get some healing.”
Clevenger, herself a mother who lost a child to miscarriage, said Saint Anne’s “gives people hope and ability to talk more about it.” Participants come from as far as Norman and South OKC. Clevenger and Kretchmar are hoping to expand the ministry into more parishes to make it easier for people to attend a group.
“The Catholic Church believes in the sanctity of life from conception to natural death. But, for many women and men who have lost a baby either through miscarriage or after birth, resources to help them through the grief and healing process are scarce,” Clevenger said.
Following two successful pregnancies, Alicia Philips, said she suffered two miscarriages back-to-back last year.
“It was hurtful and very hard to explain to our kids what was going on and why the baby wasn’t in mommy’s tummy anymore.”
One day, her husband, Brandon, looked down at the bulletin in her church and noticed the Saint Anne’s support group. He encouraged her to go and, because childcare was available, they both began participating in the group together.
“After each of the miscarriages, especially the second one, I didn’t feel like I was able to comfort Alicia and help her overcome the grief in any way that was truly impactful,” Brandon said. “I felt that no matter what I said or didn’t say or any action or inaction on my part was what she truly needed to recover from the losses.”
Both Alicia and Brandon said the Saint Anne’s Ministry for Infant and Pregnancy Loss has provided them with a mechanism to become at peace with their loss.
Rachel Kretchmar, one of the group’s founders, agreed.
“Losing a baby can be an incredibly isolating experience. Having a sense of community with families who understand some of the things you are feeling is such a blessing.”
Kretchmar, who also has suffered miscarriage, said that while the circumstances surrounding the loss are all different, “they have a shared experience.”
“Grief is always a complicated emotion,” Kretchmar said, “but when a couple loses a baby, grief can be complicated by several factors. In many ways, their grief goes unacknowledged. As Catholics, we believe that life begins at conception, and for families that lose a baby, this teaching is very real.”
For Lindsay Juarez, and so many other participants of Saint Anne’s, this ministry makes this teaching come alive.
“It’s what I love about this group of women,” Juarez said. “They are unwavering in their support. Whatever you want to say, feel, do to express what you are feeling, you are always welcome. Grief looks so different to everyone, it colors our lives and changes us at our core. We learn to swim through the thick and horrible feelings, we learn to stand again, to live and breathe again. Having a group of women who will walk beside you, not judging, just supporting, has been a tremendous value for me and my healing. I love their angel babies and they love mine. We speak their names and pray for them. I’m forever grateful someone felt led to mail me that pamphlet.”
Eliana Tedrow is a freelance writer for the Sooner Catholic.