QUAERITUR: Can a miscarriage be a sin?

From a reader:

I was wondering if it was possible for a natural miscarriage to be a sin. The doctors couldn’t tell me why it happened, but statistically miscarriages are more likely when the mother is obese, as I am/was.
And while I never intended the miscarriage to happen, I am clearly responsible both for my weight and the act of becoming pregnant. Ought I to confess it? And since it deals with such a grave issue as human life, is it a mortal sin?

I know you are busy but I am longing for peace of mind on this issue.

A final question, if the miscarriage itself is not a sin, does that mean blaming myself anyway is a sin? I’m not sure I can forgive myself the mistake, even if my intentions were never wrong.

Firstly, I am very sorry for the loss and pain you have had.

It is hard to imagine how a miscarriage could be a sin, unless a woman tries to provoke it or unless she was purposely negligent of her health knowing she was pregnant. While I don’t know all the circumstances or your situation, from what you wrote you don’t have to confess a miscarriage.  All sorts of things can happen which are entirely out of your control.  Put that out of your mind now.

It is true that we are responsible for our health.  Mistreating our bodies is wrong, for , as John Paul II’s “theology of the body” stressed, we are our bodies.  Our bodies are not meat machines in which our real selves ride around.  Our bodies are not our possessions, as if they were things apart from our real selves.  We cannot do anything we want to our bodies, treating them like a mobile phone or a car or a potted plant.   The argument, “It’s my body and I can do what I want to it!”, as if your body were something apart from you which you can possess as an object, is a very dangerous line of thought.  If you can do anything you want to your body, and in so doing you aren’t really hurting yourself, then anyone else could do something to your body and not really hurt you yourself.  Once our bodies are reduced to objects which we can possess, we are open to all manner of objectifcation.

Also, when it comes to mortal sin, there are acts which are objectively wrong considered in themselves, but we can have greater or lesser culpability for those acts to the extent that our minds and wills are engaged in the commission of those acts.  For example, once a person is deeply addicted to something, nearly without human control, her culpability is somewhat attenuated when it comes to individual acts.  However, her behavior which led to that addiction, if she was aware of what was going on, could very well have been, probably was, culpable.  Addiction stems in part from repetition and that repetition started voluntarily.

So, it is possible that a woman can be culpable for getting into an unhealthy physical condition.  However, once she is in that condition, and then tries to take care of her health so that she can bring her pregnancy to term, it is hard for me to imagine how her miscarriage can be a “sin”.  It’s sad, but it isn’t sin.

We should take care of ourselves, always tuning our self-care according to our state in life, our vocations.

For example, women of child-bearing age who are married should always have in mind that they could conceive.  They should have that in mind and keep themselves in shape.  But we can turn the sock inside out too.  There is a real shortage of priests today.  Therefore, priests today have an even greater responsibility to take care of their health for the sake of God’s people who depend on the sacraments only priests can provide.  Just as an officer commanding are large force is obliged to keep himself safe so that he can attain the objective and keep casulties as low as possible, so too a priest has an obligation to see to his own well-being for the sake of his flock.  And if that is the case for a priest, how much more for a bishop or a pope?  The process for naming a bishop is complex.  During the time of an empty see, people are without their bishop.  I remember the controversy stirred when Pope John Paul II insisted that a swimming pool be build at Castel Gandolfo.  He had great resistance.  Popes, apparently, didn’t swim… never mind Peter throwing himself into the water and swimming to shore… but I digress.  In any event, the Pope said “A pool is easier than a conclave.”  The point was that he wanted to keep himself in good health for the sake of the Church.

Thus, while a priest can wax eloquent about how women should take care of their health, it would behoove that priest to follow his own advice regarding his own health.

Thanks, therefore, for the question.  It was a good reminder.  A friend of mine has recently started on a serious plan get into shape and reduce some risk factors.  Sometimes, when we are feeling great, we forget how old we are or what we might face down the line.  Time to take stock and make some plans of my own!

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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21 Responses to QUAERITUR: Can a miscarriage be a sin?

  1. Tradster says:

    Dear Father,
    This is a perfect example of the value your blog brings to so many people around the world. As busy as you are, no doubt it is tempting to just give a brief reply of “No, it isn’t a sin. Don’t worry about it” as so many (most?) priests would do. Instead, you give a detailed, well-thought-out explanation that addresses not only the original situation but also applies as invaluable teaching to all readers. On behalf of all of us, thank you and may God grant you many more years of service to your virtual sheep.

  2. andreat says:

    It is also the case that some people have medical conditions which make it much harder to maintain a healthy weight.

  3. Cazienza says:

    An Ave for this lady.

  4. priests wife says:

    to the grieving mother- Fr Z is correct that we should care for our bodies, but fertility and keeping a pregnancy are very complicated things. Try not to ‘beat yourself up’- we lost our first son at 20 weeks because I had a mild case of undiagnosed lupus (baby was perfect- placenta was calcified and killed him)– to maintain the next 2 pregnancies, I demanded lovenox and progestrone. Try to take control- but we don’t really have control- walk every day, drink water and take a good prenatal vitamin with folic acid until you are 50. Other than that, it really is in God’s hands.

  5. mike cliffson says:

    Dear Grieving mum:
    Easy for me to talk, as a man, and especially one blessed with kids : but have you found a friend or workmate or fellow-parishioner who can appreciate your grief, who you can cry in front of, a catholic who knows her faith? Our antilife culture makes it difficult: a colleague of mine lost one on the way some years back, fellow workmates, well meaning, which she appreciated, were talking about “bunches of cells”. What I said did seem to help her more get through her grief , and would have been better if Id been female and breakdownable with, insisting and taking for granted that she had lost a child, a complete person she was beginning to know a bit as mothers do, a phenomenon fathers and husbands can get the beginnings of appreciating,but no more, who was with God in heaven and fully available for intercession, and talked of the several womenfolk of my family with tendencies to miscarriages and how its been for their heath, emotions, life , and faith.
    I hope this helps-such women were once a dime a dozen, but they’re still, by divine providence, out there.The sort St paul talks about. At coffee after mass? You might be surprised . God send this helps.And think: FR Z has a lot of readers, you’ll be in a lot of prayers.

  6. Amy Giglio says:

    To my sister in Christ, When we lose a pregnancy (I’ve lost 3 babies), it’s natural for some of us to look for reasons why and when we can’t, we want to blame ourselves. It’s important for us to remember that The Lord never intended for your baby to die. He never intended for any of us to die. This is a product of original sin, not your personal sin. Know that God can and will bring some good from this terrible thing that has happened to you and your husband (God bless him, and I will pray for both of you because he certainly must feel this loss acutely). You may never know exactly the good that the loss of your child will bring.

    When it feels right, both of you may draw comfort from praying together and asking the Lord to name your baby. My husband and I did this when we suffered two miscarriages in a row and it helped us so much.

  7. While there is nothing I can say to help the woman above deal with the dashed hopes of a miscarried child, I would just like to put out there a remarkable line I came across in the strangest place. In an early episode of the TV Series , “Route 66″, a young woman with a terminal disease is exhorted by a priest to remember that: “Every life is a triumph, whether it is lived for many years or just for an hour”. I like that: Every life is a triumph. It may be hard for the parents to see it as a triumph, or the well-meaning friends around them. But it’s easy for God to see that little life as a triumph, even though it was completely hidden from the world. Her child was alive from the moment of conception. The triumph was well underway before the miscarriage. So, intellectually speaking, are we justified in feeling guilty over a triumph? Maybe she should stop beating herself up, and be grateful she got to participate in God’s triumph. This may not help, but that little life is a victory.

  8. secondeve says:

    Dear Friend, You have a little child in God’s hands now that is eternally grateful to you for giving him/her life. You can pray to her/him too. When I am going through something most difficult I pray to them. I know they hear their mother.
    God give you peace.

  9. racjax says:

    Dear Original Poster,
    I am so sorry that you are experiencing this emotional pain after the loss of your child. After my miscarriage, I researched all I could find and I came to realize that so many things can interrupt the pregnancy that it seems it truly is a miracle to have a healthy baby born. Do not beat yourself up. As another poster suggested, get outside and walk each day. Even this small bit of exercise will help with the depression with which you are dealing. Please also speak to your OB about your thoughts. I and I am sure all of the others on this blog have you in our prayers and ask that God keep you near and heal your broken heart.

  10. ericrun says:

    Be at peace and have trust.

    Concerning losing the weight, my wife and I have had success with the

    [I deleted the diet and diet book advice from this well-intentioned comment. Let’s not got there, especially in this entry. o{]:¬) ]

    God bless and I hope this helps. We’ve been there once that we know of, but we love the one that he sent next, and we hope for the day we’ll get to meet the lost one in heaven.

  11. chantgirl says:

    A woman can be in perfect health and still lose a baby. As a mother who also struggles with weight as a result of poly-cystic ovarian syndrome, I can relate to the temptation to want to conceive only if you are in perfect health. Sometimes all we can do is try our best to take care of our health, and leave the rest in God’s hands. There is an attitude that is prevalent today that people should only have children if they meet a strict set of criteria; ie they make X amount of money, they have all their student loans paid off, they have a house, they are the perfect body weight etc etc etc. If everyone waited for the ideal conditions to have a child, we’d never have children. If you have done what you can to keep yourself in good health, be at peace. I lost our first child to miscarriage and even though I was in good health at the time, I still felt as if my body betrayed my little one. The feelings of guilt are real, even if misplaced. May God bring you peace and healing.

  12. Lauren says:

    oh my goodness, what a sad post.

    I also miscarried – all my pregancies – so my husband and I never had children. I understand your feelings, but I beg you, please do not ever blame yourself again. Just do not let your mind go there ever again. As others said, a woman can be perfectly healthy in every respect and still miscarry. On the other hand, other women who drink, use drugs, eat poorly, etc., can conceive and deliver babies with absolutely no problem.

    This is not something you can control – it just happens.

    Offer up the pain and sorrow you feel and ask God to help you work through the grief. But let go of the guilt.

    I’ll pray for you.

  13. leonugent2005 says:

    Lauren,

    I agree this truly was a sad post.

  14. levdtrotsky says:

    We were in Utah when my wife miscarried our first pregnancy. Our OB/GYN (in Utah; LOTS of experience) says that he did not have any patients who had three or more children who had not had a least one miscarriage.
    I thought, “Wrong! My mom didn’t and she had five!” Wrong! She had, but no one had eve mentioned it. (Why would anybody ask?)
    It happens all the time. Nobody talks about it.

  15. May the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, give you peace of mind and heart.

  16. James Joseph says:

    My mom had at least five miscarriages.

    Makes one think.

    At 34, I think about my brothers and sisters, whom I’ve never met, nearly every day of my life.

    Makes me sad.

  17. helgothjb says:

    I am a mother of 4 living (well really 5 – one is in utero) children. I have miscarried 6. I have dealt with the real pain of feeling as though my body caused the miscarriage and so it is my fault. Fr. Z thank you for your answer. While I have put what I thought was my responsiblity behind me, your first commenter was right, it is a blesssing to have someone truly answer you.
    Also one of the later commentors mentioned the silence in miscarriage. I tried to start a ministry in our parish for parents who have miscarried. Some people don’t even know they need to morn. I think this area is a weakness in our pro-life movement. For our priests and others to not mention the deaths of these little ones makes it seem like we don’t respect life from the moment of conception. Fr. Z if you have time, could you address the posiblity of funeral masses for these babies. I have heard varying opinions. Originial poster, know of my prayers for you, your family, and all that have been touched by this real tradgedy. Talk about your child, name your child. He/She is real and alive and can hear you. God bless you. Draw close to Mary at the foot of the cross. She hears your tears.

  18. ronconte says:

    Throughout human history, until the early 20th century, most human persons died in childhood. So, historically, most parents have had to deal with the deaths of children; it used to be very common. Before antibiotics, vaccines, and other modern medicines, many child illnesses resulted in death. And the parents, I’m sure, worried whether they were partly to blame, having made a wrong decision in some way. We do have moral responsibility for our decisions. But we cannot take account of all possible circumstances and consequences.

    Suppose that you own a car that has a somewhat lower safety rating than another model. If you get into an accident and someone is injured, does your choice of car model make the accident a sin? It does not. If you drive to the store to grocery shop once a week, whereas your neighbor shops only once every other week, are you not twice as likely to get into an accident? Does this mean you are to blame? No, for we cannot all continually choose the absolute safest path in life. There are many other considerations that must be weighed. There is a risk of death in any car trip. There are many other types of risks in life. Safest is not necessarily the most moral or only moral path.

  19. Mdepie says:

    I would like to make 2 comments. First I am a physician, though not a obstetrician, but I have some basic knowledge of this matter common to all doctors. Most miscarriages are related to genetic or developmental abnormalities in the unborn child, and most of these medicine can not prevent, so no one who gets reasonable prenatal care and avoids obviously harmful behavior, drinking, drug abuse etc should feel guilty about a losing a child in this way. It was not your fault.
    In terms of obesity , Many people struggle with weight issues, This is also not something entirely in your control, ( we do not fully understand what makes some people obese, but there is a large inherited component.) When you are more at peace, with the help of your doctors it is something that you could try to address , while it is not always possible to get to a perfect weight even a small weight loss can have large health benefits. While we do not have total control over this, people with this medical problem can improve it with medical help and a good deal of effort. It is not easy however.

    You should take some solace in the fact that as John Paul II pointed out , these children are in the hands of a merciful God who loves them.

  20. AnAmericanMother says:

    to the original poster:
    Please listen to all these good ladies who have been where you are. My OB, the chief OB at his hospital, a med school prof and also one of the wisest men I’ve ever known, told me after I miscarried my first pregnancy that 99% of miscarriages are completely out of our hands and beyond our control. We tried again, didn’t do a thing differently, and our second pregnancy produced a beautiful, healthy girl. And I am not, nor have I ever been, what anyone would describe as “svelte”.

  21. tioedong says:

    Medical information: Most miscarriages are due to chromosomal abnormalities and often you never even find a fetus, because it didn’t form right.

    Obesity can cause infertility, but only increases “miscarriage” in later pregnancy, usually from diabetes.

    Most “obesity” is caused not by gluttony but by something called metabolic syndrome. This is genetic, (in the past days those with this genetic makeup tended to be able to live through periodic famines) and some docs think it is switched on by chemicals or the availability of high fat food in the modern world. The dirty little secret is that diets don’t work…Even with diets, few are able to take off and keep off weight, because they are fighting the body’s way of coping with a non existent famine. I usually stressed a good diet and exercize, not weight loss, as the way to be healthy.

    Finally, a lot of “gluttony” is actually a way women respond to stress.

    Losing a baby or having a miscarriage is a cause of depression and sadness. And as other comments show, it is rarely talked about in public. So she should realize she is not alone in her grief.