NRL News

Little Souls at Rest Foundation: treating miscarried children with dignity

by | Jun 5, 2023

By Secular Pro-Life

The Little Souls at Rest foundation sat down with Secular Pro-Life’s Executive Director, Monica Snyder, to talk about their origins and mission. The following post is a summary of that conversation, put together by Sarah St. Onge.

Despite intense and regular online campaigns to acknowledge the value of children miscarried in the first and early second trimester, pregnancy loss can still be a taboo subject in the US. While families are beginning to receive the social support they need, in clinical settings there is still a tendency to treat pregnancy loss before 20 weeks as insignificant.

When Jena and Alfred Vozzella experienced the loss of their son Michael Joseph at (around) 15 weeks, their delivery experience was a supportive one. Hospital staff did their very best to assure the family was given every opportunity to bond with their son.

Burying him was a different story: after the initial rush of postpartum care, the Vozzella family was left alone in their hospital room with their son’s body, and no guidance regarding how to assure Michael’s remains were treated respectfully. After hours on the phone, trying to find a funeral home which would pick up their “medical waste,” they made a connection through a friend-of-a- friend on Facebook which resulted in Michael’s burial at a local Catholic cemetery.

Reeling from their loss, Jena and her husband were still forced to coordinate everything themselves, from persuading the hospital to release Michael to driving his body to the cemetery for burial. “There has to be a better way to do this,” Jena recalls thinking as she was working through the process.

And Little Souls at Rest was born.

Currently located in Texas, Little Souls has helped hundreds of families navigate early pregnancy loss in a  compassionate way, via a word-of-mouth network of religious orgs, funeral homes, and moms who have lost babies in the womb. They will help any parent in need, but their main focus is on pregnancy loss before 20 weeks.

Pregnancy loss in the first and early second trimester is generally viewed by medical professionals as a relatively benign occurrence. The body of an unborn baby is viewed as “medical waste,” and funeral homes are not equipped — or in some cases, legally permitted — to handle medical waste. Hospital clinicians are wary of releasing the bodies of early gestation fetuses and many families lose the opportunity to take possession of their child’s remains.

Little Souls helps families and medical staff through the process by meeting with nurses directly and coordinating with their network to assure families don’t have to deal directly with some of the harsher realities of the logistics.

“You can’t say ‘baby,’” Jena comments. When a baby dies, there are hospital protocols involved. Hospitals can’t release a baby’s remains to anyone except a licensed professional. And because many funeral homes can’t accept a fetus less than 20 weeks gestation, taking possession of a child’s remains becomes more complicated. But the hospital can release “medical waste” to the patient. Jena and her team walk a cautious line for the families they care for: making sure they use the appropriate language needed to obtain the bodies of these tiny babies, without requiring parents to be involved in those difficult and dehumanizing conversations. “The parents have no idea we’re fighting for this.”

Along with helping parents navigate hospital protocol, Little Souls aids in securing a place for their babies to be buried (burial or crypt) or for the remains to be cremated. In addition to their own private crypt in Texas, they have connections across the country to locations willing to accept early gestation remains. The average cost of such a burial is about $300, and thanks to generous donors, Little Souls is able to provide services for free to those families who can’t afford to pay. Their donations often come from families they have served in the past, as well as from people who love the mission. They are also aided by services from groups like Trappist Caskets (monks who offer free caskets and urns for children regardless of gestational age), and local churches who offer spaces in their cemeteries for babies gone too soon.

Despite its heavy reliance on religious organizations for support, Little Souls provides services for anyone who requests them. They have served families of different faith traditions, assuring babies’ bodies are treated in a way consistent with individual practices, and they have served parents who are not religious at all.

Occasionally Little Souls receives calls for help from women who have taken abortion pills expecting a “heavy period,” only to be shocked and dismayed to deliver identifiable remains of their early gestation babies at home. The org helps them too. Their mission isn’t specific to a type of loss. They simply want to ensure all parents are supported, and the bodies of their babies are treated the same way any other human should be treated: with dignity.

In the abortion debate, questions about what makes us human are fraught with political implications. Efforts like Little Souls remind us that there’s space beyond partisanship, where people are facing real-world tragedies, and all of us can find ways to help.

Categories: Miscarriage