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What We Know About the Lives and Spirits of Unborn Children

The following is an excerpt from Gone Too Soon: The Life and Loss of Infants and Unborn Children

After having experienced the loss of a loved one, much peace and comfort can be found within the doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its associated scriptures. While it is a common LDS belief that babies who are born alive will be resurrected and returned to their parents to be raised at another time, little has been said about those who have been lost through miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, stillbirth, or even abortion. Spiritually, we do see the lives of these little ones “through a glass, darkly,” and much of how we choose to regard these precious babies who pass so quickly through our lives must be taken on faith. However, while little has been explicitly said about these babies and their eternal fate, there are inexorable truths that can be applied to their unique circumstances.

Within the gospel, we are blessed to have the truths and knowledge of the plan of salvation to assist us through the dark and difficult times. We often hear members of the Church who have lost a loved one say, “I am so grateful for the knowledge that I will see him again. How awful to think that there is no afterlife and that this time on earth is the only chance I will have to be with him.” The gospel and its principles are, indeed, the stronghold to which we cling in times of trial and tragedy.

However, while society at large does not recognize the loss of these tiny babies, what is difficult for many parents is that oftentimes members of the Church do not recognize the babies as “persons” either. And if they are not legitimate “persons,” they are then considered ineligible for resurrection. Should this be true, then this time on earth is the only time parents will have with these little ones. Hence these lives become lost forever, and the precious benefits and comfort of the gospel and God’s plan are inapplicable with regard to these babies and their grieving parents.

But man, in his limited knowledge, has made very arbitrary interpretations as to the will of God. How has it been decided that a baby who is born very prematurely but takes a breath before dying will be resurrected, when another baby, perhaps carried to term but who dies within the womb, will not? With some investigation of the principles we already hold to be true, much comfort can be found and many fears calmed about the lives of these babies who so fleetingly pass through our lives but who affect us so deeply.

Official Church Teachings

Statements regarding the loss of babies have been made only about stillborn children. However, something can be implied about those babies who are not carried to term. In the General Handbook of Instructions, the following is expressed:

The loss of a child prior to birth is an event requiring emotional and spiritual support for grieving parents. Memorial or graveside services may appropriately be held according to the parents’ needs and desires. Although temple ordinances are not performed for stillborn children, no loss of eternal blessings or family unity is implied. If desired, the family may record a name for a stillborn child on the family genealogy group record followed by the word stillborn in parentheses.[1]

Perhaps the most interesting statement regarding stillborn children is from Bruce R. McConkie in Mormon Doctrine. Elder McConkie states that the issues regarding these babies are

not clearly answered in the revelation so far available for the guidance of the saints in this dispensation. No doubt such things were plainly set forth in those past dispensations when more of the doctrines of salvation were known and taught than have been revealed so far to us.
That masterful document on the origin of man by the First Presidency of the Church (Joseph F. Smith, John Winder, and Anthon H. Lund) appears to bear out the concept that the eternal spirit enters the body prior to a normal birth, and therefore that stillborn children will be resurrected. It states: “The body of man enters upon its career as a tiny germ or embryo, which becomes an infant, quickened at a certain stage by the spirit whose tabernacle it is, and the child, after being born, develops into a man.”. . . This interpretation is in harmony with the general knowledge we have of the mercy and justice of that Infinite Being in whose divine economy nothing is ever lost. It would appear that we can look forward with hope and anticipation for the resurrection of stillborn children.
President Brigham Young taught that “when the mother feels life come to her infant, it is the spirit entering the body preparatory to the immortal existence”; and President Joseph Fielding Smith gave it as his opinion “that these little ones will receive a resurrection and then belong to us.”[2]

These statements can be particularly comforting to couples who have lost a baby, even in early pregnancy. Because of medical technology, we know the unborn baby moves and kicks very early in pregnancy, long before the woman can feel it. Brigham Young indicated that the baby’s movements were a manifestation that the spirit had entered the baby’s body. If this is so, then it would appear that even the tiniest of babies would be eligible for the resurrection.

The Breath of Life

The controversy surrounding babies lost through stillbirth, miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, and abortion and their status in eternity is typically centered in the fact that these babies have never breathed outside of the womb. As was discussed in Chapter 1, science has proven that babies breathe within the womb very early in pregnancy, but their lungs and other organs are much too underdeveloped to support them outside of the mother’s body.

Much of this confusion as to what constitutes the “breath of life” can be attributed to the creation of Adam, where God “formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Gen. 2:7; see also Moses 3:7). As indicated in the scripture, Adam was not a “living soul” until God put “the breath of life” into him—he became alive at that instant. This is unlike a baby who is alive within the womb, growing and developing, for several months.

Furthermore, Elder McConkie observes that “there is a distinction between the spirit and the breath of life.”[3] Abraham’s account of the creation states, “And the Gods formed man from the dust of the ground, and took his spirit [that is, the man’s spirit], and put it into him; and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul” (Abr. 5:7). This scripture clearly states that the act of putting the spirit and the breath into Adam were two separate actions. Therefore, in the case of the unborn, even if the breathing done within the womb does not qualify as the “breath of life,” the spirit can reside within the body prior to birth, and the baby would then be considered a candidate for resurrection.

And finally, in the Doctrine and Covenants we read, “And the spirit and the body are the soul of man” (D&C 88:15). If it can be assumed that a developing baby who moves and kicks and grows has a spirit, and we know it has a body, then according to this scripture, it must have a soul. And it would be eligible for the resurrection.

The Resurrection of Every Living Thing

Elder McConkie states, “Nothing is more absolutely universal than the resurrection. Every living being will be resurrected.”[4] It is interesting, too, to note how specific the scriptures are about who and what will be resurrected:

For all old things shall pass away, and all things shall become new, even the heaven and the earth, and all the fullness thereof, both men and beasts, the fowls of the air, and the fishes of the sea;
And not one hair, neither mote, shall be lost, for it is the workmanship of mine hand. (D&C 29:24–25)

There are no exceptions, no footnotes, no postscripts—everyone will be resurrected.

The scriptures and writings of Church leaders go into great detail about all of the life forms to be resurrected. Elder McConkie states, “Animals, fowls, fishes, plants, and all forms of life were first created as distinct spirit entities in the preexistence before they were created ‘naturally upon the face of the earth.’”[5] He further states that “all forms of life occupy an assigned sphere and play an eternal role in the great plan of creation, redemption, and salvation.”[6] However, Paul specified the difference between the kinds of flesh: “All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds” (1 Cor. 15:39). Notice that there is no distinction made between born and unborn flesh.

The scriptures even specify how precious God’s creations are to Him: “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows” (Matt. 10:29–31). Heavenly Father must have a place for these very special babies, who are surely more precious than sparrows and more noteworthy than the hairs of our heads. It is simply not in accordance with the doctrines of the Church and the scriptures for these babies to somehow disappear into a “black hole,” when a sparrow, a fish, or even a plant is precious to Heavenly Father and will have a place in His kingdom.

Restoration

The concept of restoration goes hand in hand with resurrection. According to Alma, “It is requisite that all things should be restored to their proper order” (Alma 41:2). Whether this means that lost babies will be restored as fully developed infants, or restored to their mothers’ bodies to complete their development, is unclear. But comfort can be taken in the fact that they will be restored:

The soul shall be restored to the body, and the body to the soul; yea, and every limb and joint shall be restored to its body; yea even a hair on the head shall not be lost; but all things shall be restored to their proper and perfect frame. (Alma 40:23)

Finally, the Prophet Joseph Smith explained that all losses will eventually be restored: “All your losses will be made up to you in the resurrection, provided you continue faithful. By the vision of the Almighty I have seen it” (History of the Church 5:362).

The Light of Christ

The scriptures tell us that all things are filled with the Light of Christ, which is best explained as the innate goodness that resides in each of us because of our heritage as sons and daughters of Heavenly Father. This Light helps us to recognize truth and enables us to have a conscience. Simply put, it is the “Christ in all of us.” The Doctrine and Covenants explains the Light of Christ and its significance:

He that ascended up on high, as also he descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth; Which truth shineth. This is the light of Christ.
Which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space—The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things.
He comprehendeth all things, and all things are before him, and all things are round about him; and he is above all things, and in all things, and is through all things, and is round about all things; and all things are by him, and of him, even God, forever and ever. . . . I say unto you, he hath given a law unto all things, by which they may move in their times and their seasons. (D&C 88:6–7, 12–13, 42)

If Heavenly Father is “in all things, and through all things,” and “all things are by him, and of him,” then it follows that these babies are special simply because they are His creations and are part of Him. Perhaps these babies are merely living out the lives dictated to them because of the “law by which all things are governed.” Perhaps they are living out “their times and their seasons” according to the will of our Heavenly Father.

The scriptures present a compelling argument that these babies who are lost will be resurrected. From a scriptural and doctrinal perspective, they are significant simply because they have existed on this earth. All things created by our Heavenly Father have a special status—and these much-loved babies should be no exception.

Lead image from Deseret News

[1. General Handbook of Instructions (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1987), 6–10.]
[2. Bruce R. McConkie, “Stillborn Children” in Mormon Doctrine (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966), 768.]
[3. Ibid., “Breath of Life,” 105.]
[4. Ibid., “Resurrection,” 638.]
[5. Ibid., “Spirit Bodies,” 750.]
[6. Ibid., “Animals,” 38.]

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You can find comfort and beautiful insights into the life of your lost little one in Gone Too Soon: The Life and Loss of Infants and Unborn Children

They are gone too soon—precious little ones lost through miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant death. However brief their lives, they are not soon forgotten. And the pain of their loss is very real to parents and family. This book is a tenderly crafted message of comfort and counsel for those who have lost—or for those who know someone who has lost—little children.

Author Sherri D. Wittwer, who knows the poignant reality of such a loss, writes from a Latter-day Saint perspective of special gospel insights that can bring comfort and aid in the healing process as well as strengthen faith in the Lord. Wittwer draws on her own, as well as others’, moving experiences and reflections as she discusses the grieving process for parents and siblings and the spiritual resolution that makes acceptance possible. She portrays the pain, disbelief, anger, acceptance, and finally the peace of those who have endured this difficult trial. With them, you’ll come to understand the kindness and mercy of a loving Father in Heaven who has promised a special place in His kingdom for those precious “angel babies.”

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