Matt Selby was the speaker at a March 19 Equip Day on Miscarriage and Infertility at Mary Mother of the Church Pastoral Center, St. Francis. Selby is the director of adult marriage formation for the Archdiocese of Dubuque (Iowa). (Photo by Doug Ulaszek)

Everyone knows the old saying: first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in a baby carriage.

“But that doesn’t always happen the way we expect,” said Matt Selby, Director of Adult and Marriage Formation for the Archdiocese of Dubuque (Iowa), as he addressed a gathering of clergy members and parish leaders on the March 19 Equip Day on Miscarriage and Infertility.

Unfortunately, Selby and his wife Anna know that all too well. In their 13 years of marriage, they have lost 13 children to miscarriage. So, when Selby was approached by a coworker at the Archdiocese of Dubuque about ministering to families who experience miscarriage and stillbirth, he had personal knowledge of the need that existed for such a resource.

“Even five or six years ago, there wasn’t nearly as much as there is today (in terms of miscarriage support),” said Selby. “I think this is an area (of pastoral ministry) that has been developing in the Church in the United States.”

Selby was the morning presenter for the Equip Day, which was the latest in a series hosted by the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis at Mary Mother of the Church Pastoral Center in St. Francis.

The Archdiocese of Dubuque has developed the Behold Your Child ministry, a parish-based ministry of accompaniment for families who experience perinatal loss. It has been replicated in parishes and dioceses all over the country.

“(Miscarriage) is a silent type of loss. You may be unaware of how common it is in your own community,” said Selby. “We wanted to kind of bring this area to the light and make it feel like people could come to the Church and know that there would be help, know that there would be someone to talk to, know that the Church is here — to walk with them, to support them, to love them through the difficult journey of child loss.”

Behold Your Child has developed a 37-page pastoral guide that includes background information on perinatal loss, directions for implementing a ministry on the parish level, an overview of available liturgical rites and information on care and burial of remains. The ministry also offers free online training based on the pastoral guide. All resources are available in Spanish (the training videos can be subtitled in Spanish).

The ministry is made to be customized to reflect the needs of each individual parish, said Selby.

“It is a ministry of mercy, it’s a ministry of accompaniment, it’s a ministry of presence — just really being present to these families in the midst of their grief,” he said. “The way we’ve structured this is pretty loose. It’s intended to be parish based, but it’s intended to be very adaptable to the local needs. One parish is going to be different from another parish and what that looks like. But the key is really training leaders, training key ministers in a parish to be prepared.”

The pastoral guide also has a chart that illustrates exactly which liturgical rites and prayers are available for specific situations.

“What I found is most people in our clergy aren’t always aware of what all the Church has to offer in these circumstances, through different liturgical rites and through prayer that we can offer,” said Selby. “The Church gives us a lot (in terms of blessings and liturgical rites) that isn’t always known, and we want to make that known, so people know to ask for that.”

Other presenters during the Equip Day included Mary Thiel, Director of Cemeteries for Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services; Tori Franke, Natural Family Planning Coordinator for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee; and Dr. Lauren Weasler, who practices restorative reproductive medicine and is a NaPro Technology consultant in the Milwaukee area.

Following Selby’s presentation, Krys Crawley of Life’s Connection addressed the group, detailing her organization’s Hearts of Hope program.

Life’s Connection, which has locations in Waukesha and Mukwonago, is a community health and education center. Crawley developed the Hearts of Hope program several years ago in response to a growing need from the families Life’s Connection served.

“We have a myriad of services that we provide, but we kept having women coming to us who were in the midst of losing a baby and didn’t know what to do,” she said.

Life’s Connection now offers miscarriage delivery aids for families who wish to preserve the remains of their baby for burial. The organization has developed a relationship with area hospitals and is approved to collect the remains of a baby that has been miscarried in a hospital setting. They also offer mentors to help families through their loss and provide assistance in planning any memorial or committal services the family desires.

“Whatever church is closest to that person that’s facing the loss, we’ll work with them and connect them so that they can bury the baby,” she said.

Crawley recommends that parishes contact Life’s Connection to keep a few miscarriage delivery aids on hand in case one of their parishioners has need of it.

“The ability for us to be able to help as a parish community is hugely and vitally important,” she said.

The March 19 Equip Day on Miscarriage and Infertility was repeated the following day for seminarians at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary.

The next Equip Day is scheduled for September and will focus on evangelizing parents. The purpose of these days is to “equip” clergy, lay ministers and volunteers with tools to face different pastoral scenarios that are “lesser-known or less-talked-about issues,” said Doug Ulaszek, Associate Director of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s Office of Evangelization and Catechesis.

“There are a lot of pastoral issues that are not an issue until they’re an issue — and then they’re a big issue,” he said. “And a lot of times in my experience working in parishes and here at the archdiocese, those are the ones that we need to have a good response and a positive response for.”

For more information on the Behold Your Child ministry and to learn how to implement it in your parish, visit

For more information on Life’s Connection and its services, visit