Thursday, May 20, 2010

Baby Constantine

One year ago this evening, while I was in the middle of making dinner in our Pennsylvania kitchen, I completed the miscarriage, at eight weeks' gestation, of our third child.

Little Constantine got his name when his Daddy returned home from vespers at St. Tikhon's for the feast of Sts. Constantine and Helen.

Andrew suggested this name, and I'll admit I wasn't crazy about it at first. I doubt I would have named any of my living children something so foreign-sounding. ("Constantine! Time for dinner!" just didn't sound like our family.) We read through an entry in a calendar containing saints commemorated on that day, and since nothing else sounded any more normal to me, I resigned myself to going with either Constantine or Helen.

"You know, with our track record," (which is two girls) I said, "it's probably a Helen." Since I was only 8 weeks along and the baby, according to the ultrasound a few days prior, had ceased developing around 6 weeks gestation, there was no way of knowing the sex.

My husband replied, "Well, this might be the only boy I get."

"Ok," I agreed. "He's Constantine."

I had been encouraged to name our third child by our family doctor in Chicago (who talked me through the actual miscarriage), and I became very glad I had. Not only did it humanize the baby that internet literature referred to, among other things, as "the products of conception," but it was practical.

Back in Chicago after our move, my girls and I were visiting our good friends who had just had a baby. My four-year-old daughter was delighted, as she always is by babies. Sometime into the visit, she turned to me and said, "Mommy, what is our baby's name?"

Somewhat confused, I asked, "You mean, Susannah?" We still, to this day, refer to her as Baby over half of the time, but I didn't understand why her older sister needed to ask what her name was.

Maggie shook her head, and a thought occurred to me. "Oh, you mean the baby that was in Mommy's tummy? The baby that went to live with Jesus?"

"Yeah!" she said.

"His name is Constantine," I replied, delighted that she still remembered her little brother.

I marveled after this exchange that my four-year-old didn't ask if our baby had a name, but simply assumed it. And later on, when we met a Baby Constantine visiting our church, Maggie was thrilled that he had the same name as "our baby."  She still talks about him, and continues to associate the name Constantine with "our baby who went to live with Jesus."
Here are some photos from last May.  We were blessed to have been able to retrieve the tiny amniotic sac and have a small burial service on the grounds of St. Tikhon's Monastery in Pennsylvania where my husband was attending seminary.

We adorned a tiny box made by Andrew's father with a fabric cross from the vestments my mother was in the process of making.

A small cross (intended to hang in a window) hangs over a brick engraved with our last name, which serves to mark the grave.

Two priest friends of ours lead the prayers for the soul of our departed Constantine.

Our parents happened to be able to be present, along with another seminary family with whom we'd become close over the year.

The children present were very much at home.  They were delighted by the other little markers in this section of the cemetery.  This one has a small sheep on top of the tombstone.

Father and grandfathers filled the grave with earth.

After the prayers were offered, we placed flowers on the grave.  A monk friend of Andrew's promised to tend the grave for us once we had moved back to the Midwest.

This cemetery is a beautiful place filled with many saints.  Only a few paces away rests Fr. Alexander Schmemann.


Once again, I am pregnant, and very close to delivery.  This time, the baby will be full term, as I am already 38 weeks.  God-willing, our little one will be healthy.  But as God knows, anything can happen at any point in a pregnancy, labor and delivery, or life.  In all things, I pray that we are able to give glory to God

Whatever happens during the course of any of our children's lives, they will all be remembered and have a place in our family.

This mosaic icon is located on an obscure rock wall at St. Tikhon's Monastery.  It's up a little hill, so of course kids want to run up to it, climb the uneven rock steps, and venerate it.  Perfectly placed.

But Jesus said, "Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven."  ~Matthew 19:14 


  1. Memory Eternal! I'm so sorry for your loss. The matushka at one of my previous parishes encouraged me to name our child after one of our miscarriages too, and I think that it really helped the grieving process. You and your family are in our thoughts and prayers on the anniversary of your child's repose and as you are anticipating the debut of the newest addition to your family.

  2. This post was beautiful. Thank you so much for writing it. I plan to share it often when talking to loved ones about life and Orthodoxy and the extremely high honor the Church places on human life at every point, beginning with conception.

  3. May Constantine's memory be eternal!

  4. May his memory be eternal.

    How wonderful that you were able to bury your child. Sorry that that sounds strange and awkward. (We weren't able to.)

    And how glorious that you are pregnant again! Congratulations!

  5. Thank you so much for sharing this. We are all known to God before we are knit together in the womb. May Contantine's memory be eternal.

  6. Thank you all for your kind words and prayers.

    Magda, I don't think that sounds strange or awkward. I know many aren't able to for whatever reason (especially with a gestationally early loss like ours). I am sure that is one of the reasons we were able to come through our grief relatively easily and even with fond memories of the burial experience. I do count it as one of the blessings of those difficult days.

    I'm sorry you weren't able to bury your child. Did you give your little one a name?

    Blessings to you and your family.

  7. Thank you for sharing Patty. That was beautiful. I wish we'd been able to bury our little ones. At the time I didn't know anybody did that kind of thing. Memory Eternal Constantine!

  8. Lynn, I happened to be in a community of caring people who were able to help point me in this direction with the actions of those who had experienced this before me. I wasn't really sure if people did this either. Slowly, I realized that, if we believe that life begins at conception, then it had been a full-fledged child living inside of me for a few short weeks, and I became aware that burial seemed appropriate.

    But if any of a number of steps had been skipped in my reasoning or research, I might have overlooked the possibility entirely. That's one of the reasons it gives me joy to tell Constantine's story and show burial (if possible) as an option in how to respond.

  9. Patty,

    May your child's memory be eternal! I loved reading this post about Constantine. It was beautifully written.

    We too lost a baby at 12 weeks a year and a half ago. It was so very difficult for us all, but especially me. I, like you, had a wonderful Dr. who told me what to expect with the miscarriage and so we were able to bury our baby when he passed. I was so thankful for that! We named our baby Michael.

    My girls speak of Michael all the time and we pray for him daily. At first it was really shocking for other people when the girls would refer to "our baby brother that died", but I was glad that they wanted to speak and pray for him.

    Prayers for you all on this day and for the birth of your new little one!

    Love to you all!

  10. Memory Eternal! Thank you for sharing this with us. I know it was a very difficult time for you, and I'm glad to know more now. Baby Constantine will be in my prayers.

  11. Memory Eternal! Thank you for sharing your story with us all.

  12. Sh. Patty: Thank you so much for this. Your husband forwarded me the link. As I'm sure you know, this touched me deeply. Memory eternal!

  13. Sorry for your loss. I went through this too in Dec.I have had 2other miscairraiges and an ectopic pregnancy resulting in another loss. The baby I lost in Dec. was given a proper burial and commital service.We didn't know the sex either but we were inspired to give the name Ezekiel. I am so glad to here of other women choosing to do this. It is a witness to the medical profession and others that they are valuable human beings no matterhow small they are orhow long they lived in the flesh. May God bless you and be with you. I will pray forthe rest of your pregnancy and delivery. Peace of Jesus be upon you!

  14. Nori, I am sorry to hear about the losses of your little ones. I agree about having a burial being a testament to the medical profession. I found it very comforting to have (and looking back, to have had) a burial for our baby, even as small as he was. I hope that others can be made aware of this possibility, circumstances allowing. Thanks you for your prayers.

  15. Benedict Seraphim, thank you. I have been similarly touched by what you have written on the subject on your blog. Thank you for those words.

  16. I'm glad your girls know about and have memories of little Constantine. I miscarried before our other children were born, and I haven't found the right time or way to tell them about their "big sister." (I was 10 weeks along; we didn't know the sex, but we both thought it was a girl.) I was grateful to have been cared for in a Catholic hospital that understood my loss. They were so good to me ... and twice a year, they sponsor a funeral & burial for miscarried babies. Our baby is buried, with others, in the Catholic cemetery in town. I find comfort in knowing that her tiny body was not discarded as medical waste.

  17. Annie, I remember wondering how to tell my girls when it happened, but we'd already told them there was a baby in Mommy's tummy, so explaining that the baby got too sick to come out and had to go live with Jesus worked well. I wish I could remember Maggie's response, because it was precious, but my hard drive failed a while ago and all my reflections went with it. Sigh.

    That's wonderful about the hospital not discarding the bodies of the tiny dead. I didn't have to go into a hospital for this miscarriage, but I gradually realized that we should try to figure out what we were looking for as to not discard our baby.

    If I miscarry again and I were to require hospitalization, it seems that choosing a Catholic Hospital would be the way to go.

  18. Thinking of you today. May Constantine's memory be eternal!

  19. Thanks, Leah! I appreciate the thoughts!

  20. Remembering yours. Remembering mine. Remembering others'. Thank you for writing what is painful to many. Time lessens the pain, but grief never really goes away. Thank you for the pictures especially.


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