Miscarriage and the Love of our Father

I was just over 13 weeks pregnant when I miscarried this time.  Because of a previous miscarriage, my doctor ordered an early sonogram to set my mind at ease.  I saw the heartbeat of my precious baby at 8 weeks.  Already this child was beloved.  Regardless of that vibrant heartbeat, my child died shortly after the sonogram.  I found out at 13.5 weeks when I started to show symptoms of miscarriage.

Years earlier, the first time I miscarried, I was a newlywed.  I didn’t know my faith and wasn’t practicing it.  My husband’s and my reaction to becoming pregnant progressed quickly from surprise, to fear, to elation.  And then I miscarried at 13 weeks.

Without faith, losing my first child was just one big awful painful experience that I tried to stuff inside of me so that it wouldn’t swallow me.  I wept until there were no more tears and then I tried to focus on the future.  No one knew what to say to me and just about everything they said hurt me.  “Oh there will be others,”  “it wasn’t meant to be,”  “there must have been a deformity, better that it wasn’t born.”  In hindsight, through the eyes of faith, I know that all of their comments lacked the intended consolation because they didn’t acknowledge the baby that I lost, the viable life.  They didn’t acknowledge that I was entitled to grieve this loss because it wasn’t a just a medical term, a miscarriage, it was a baby.

I stuffed it all in after the first miscarriage and thought I was coping very well.  Life was back to normal for a while until out of the blue I became deeply sad.  I was on the verge of tears for several days.  I couldn’t understand why I felt like weeping until I realized that it was the week of my due date: my body, my whole being, was missing my child that was to have been born.  Recognizing and admitting the cause of my sadness helped to alleviate it some and gave me some peace.

Over the years I gave birth to 3 beautiful healthy children and, praise be to God, my husband and I began to learn about and live our Catholic faith.

However, despite now being a faithful Catholic, the second miscarriage was still heartbreaking.  Although I had never held this child in my arms, I believed that she was a girl and I had felt her presence in my womb.  Her hormones mingled with mine, leaving me nauseous and lethargic.  I anticipated her birth and met her in my hopes and dreams.   I felt her loss in the depth of my soul.  I wept.  Although my husband handled it differently, he was deeply affected as well.   And now I couldn’t just stuff it all inside of me, I had 3 children who had lost a sibling and were also grieving.  So I prayed and I tried to be strong.   A kind priest said something that I found comforting: “A baby is a baby no matter how small.  Some are born into our families and we raise them.  Some go straight to heaven to intercede on our behalf.”  His words brought me comfort because they acknowledged my baby as a person and a member of our family. They also reminded me that this baby had not been erased, that although she would not be a part of our family on earth, she would still be a part of our family through the communion of saints in heaven.

The priest also quoted  John 11:35 And Jesus wept.  I appreciated the scripture, but at the time its meaning escaped me.

Two days after the miscarriage my husband was scheduled to travel for business.  I told him that he should go.  I wanted to try to get back to normal and really didn’t think there was anything he could do for me at home.  He left for the trip.  The night he left, after I put the kids to bed, I regretted encouraging him to go.  I was overwhelmed with sadness and grief.  Through my tears I prayed in a desperately demanding sort of way.  “Lord, intellectually I know that you are there, but right now I really need to feel your presence physically.  I need to feel your comfort, your embrace.  I need you to hold me.  I need a big strong shoulder to cry on.  Please Lord!”  And then I cried myself to sleep.

In the morning I went to daily mass for the first time since I had miscarried.  My grief and fluctuating hormones left me feeling emotionally unstable so I didn’t want to be near anyone.  I sat in the very last pew.  The closest person was at least 15 rows ahead of me.  Then a few minutes after Mass started, a young man and his son came in and sat directly in front of me.  The man was extremely tall, at least 6’ 6”, and his son seemed to be around 8 years old.  My thoughts were not particularly charitable: “REALLY??? There are 30 empty pews and you have to sit right in front of me.”

During Mass I couldn’t help it; I began to weep softly and silently.  I was distracted and looking off to the right when I felt something touching my left knee.  I turned and saw that it was the man’s hand.  He bent backwards just enough to reach me.  I have to say that having a stranger place his hand on my knee would normally have upset me, but oddly I felt comforted by this stranger’s gesture.  Then at the sign of peace, the man effortlessly leaned backwards and embraced me. I felt consoled, physically.   After Mass he knelt beside me in the aisle and told me that he was praying for me.

Immediately I knew that our Lord, in his great compassion, had answered my prayer and had sent this man to comfort me.  He was so tall, and so compassionate.  I felt our Lord’s embrace and our Lord’s love and comfort. I prayed with gratitude in my heart for this tangible answer to my previous prayer.

A few days later a woman who had been at that Mass approached me.  She wanted to know who the man was that had knelt beside me.  I told her that I didn’t know his name but it seemed that he had been sent by God.  She told me that she had been in line behind him to greet the priest on the way out of Mass.  file000871375277She said that he was weeping.  I remembered, John 11:35 And Jesus wept.

Recently, John 11:35 was included in the Gospel for Sunday Mass.  The priest’s homily touched on why Jesus, who knew all and could change all would weep.  He said that Jesus wept out of compassion because he knew how painful death was and that, but for the fall, death wasn’t meant to be.

I know with both my intellect and my heart that Jesus was with me every step of my struggle through these miscarriages.  He was grieving with me and helping me to carry the pain of losing my babies.  I find great comfort and strength in that.  It makes our heavenly Father’s love so tangible to me.

Yes, I have lost two babies, but I have also received a gift.  If you have ever miscarried, please take any part of my story as your own.  Know that our Lord was with you as well and wept for the loss of your baby also.

Together, my children and I named their two siblings, Jack and Lily.  There is great dignity in having a name.  We registered them in The Book of Life at the Shrine of the Holy Innocents, dedicated to the memory of children who have died unborn.  They sent us a certificate that we keep in our family photo album.  I believe that Jack and Lily may be our most powerful intercessors.

Until Death Do Us Part

Until death do us part.
We repeat these words, and we think we understand what they mean. Marriage is an earthly state. We get that. And we don’t really want to think about that stuff anyway–richer, poorer, sickness, health, that’s hard enough. But death is what happens after the kids are grown and you get through the other hard stuff, like potty training and teaching the kids to drive. And besides, you’ll grow old together, and you’ll have time to talk about all that end-of-life stuff together.

Somehow “death” means our own death. When I die, we will be parted.

But what happens when we’re the ones left behind?

And what does it mean “Until…”? What happens after that?

I’m 47 years old, and a widow. Even writing it seems strange. My marriage ended on August 26, 2011, when my husband Britt died, “suddenly and unexpectedly,”  as I’ve learned to tell people. We had met when we were teenagers, and were married almost 23 years. I had never lived without him my adult life. His death parted not only us, but 6 children who were 5 to 19 years old. The days and months, the first year, afterward are a blur. I really don’t remember a lot of what happened. I was cared for by my parents, 8 siblings and their husbands and wives (and if ever there was a case for a large family, this is it!), neighbors, and sometimes total strangers who signed up on a school signup sheet, who cooked for us, carpooled my children, mowed my lawn, cleaned my gutters and prayed for us. It has only been the last few months that I have been able to begin to contemplate, what next?

A lot of well-meaning people tell me “He’s an angel in heaven now,” or “He’s watching you from heaven.” Well, to say he’s an angel in heaven is no different than saying he’s a squirrel in a tree watching me. As Catholics we don’t believe that. But for the first couple years I did wish that I would “feel” him somehow, get some sign from him that he was indeed watching me, from heaven or anywhere. In my widow support group others shared stories of finding coins just when they were thinking of their husbands, or being able to have conversations with and dreams about their husbands. I had one very well-timed dream that I do believe God gave me as a gift, but other than that I don’t feel Britt with me, and it has really saddened me. Maybe I’m not listening, maybe I’m not trying hard enough, or maybe he really has just left me. Where the heck is he, and does he even care about us anymore? Is that it? I have no connection to him anymore? Just days after his death one of my daughters asked the question, “Does Daddy miss us?” How do you begin to answer that one?

I used to go to bed at night and reword the prayer “Now I lay me down to sleep” and instead ask God to take my soul. I wondered, if Britt is in a “better place,” why can’t I be there, too? If our hope is to be united with Christ, why do I have to wait? You’ll be glad to know I don’t wonder that anymore. I have a theory now, and the best way for me to explain it is in book terms. I’m a reader, a librarian, so this works for me. I have gotten such peace from this.

The rest of my life is like a book that Britt had already read. He finished it a while ago, but I’m still slogging through. It’s a great book with a great ending, and he can’t wait for us to be able to talk about it together, maybe see the movie when it comes out. But he’s letting me finish it first. He’s not tapping my shoulder every few pages asking me how far I am, what’s happening. He’s quietly letting me savor the pages. He knows what happens, so he’s not bothering himself with watching my page-by-page progress. He has much better things to do, and I can forgive him for that!

So that’s the way I imagine him. He knows we’re all here; he sees the end; but he knows this isn’t the important stuff. When I get to a really sad part, he is sad I’m going through it, but he knows it gets better. Even the big stuff–my daughter’s first date next weekend, the father-daughter dance–yes, I’d love for him to be here, and I’m so sad for my kids that he’s not– but I don’t think he’s “missing” it.

And maybe my relationship with the saints and with Christ is the same way. Maybe I don’t need to worry that I’m not “feeling” God talk to me, or I’m not getting the answers to my prayer requests. On the very worst days, when it seems God has forgotten to look out for me, I need to remember He’s there. A priest told me that when he offers mass he imagines all the saints and souls of the departed are at the altar with him at the moment of consecration. The Communion of Saints. Britt may not be a saint, but he’s another voice up there for me. If I can think of him this way, then I can feel closer to the communion of saints and to God. I know they’re all waiting for me.

We believe that marriage should bring us closer to God, that our spouse will deepen our relationship with God, and that God is a partner in our marriage. Even though my marriage has ended, my spouse can continue to lead me closer to God, just as he did in life.

I just need to finish the book.

An Emptiness I Tried to Fill

I got pregnant at age 17.  Roe v. Wade was not yet the law of the land. However, a lot of girls were sneaking off to get illegal abortions or going to states where abortion was legal.   Who knows what I would have done if abortion had been legal, convenient, and presumed by all of society to be a “right.”  But since it was not, abortion never really entered my mind.  My choice was between keeping the baby or giving it away.

It was mostly family expectations and the sheer impracticality of raising a baby at my age that forced my decision to give it away.  But with every week that passed I wanted just the opposite, to keep and raise my baby.  I was extremely depressed for my whole pregnancy, an experience made much worse by the isolation and silence that surrounded my decision.  In those days there was little counseling on how to work through our thoughts and emotions, or on how to evaluate decisions. The only counseling I received was to bury this reality of my depression deeper and deeper inside, to deny its very existence.  I was sent away to a “home” where well-meaning Lutheran ladies tried to keep us busy (I hate crafts to this day) and gave us talks about how to keep our pregnancy secret from everyone, including our future husbands.  After giving birth we were not allowed to see or hold our babies.  They were trying to prevent bonding, but bonding actually starts during the pregnancy and in the delivery, so not being able to see or touch my baby only left me with an emptiness that I tried for years to fill with various addictions.

By the grace of God, however, I was freed from my addictions and brought into the Catholic Church.

More than 40 years after giving the baby away, I made a general confession and had many subsequent confessions with a wonderful priest. I was finally able to let go of that 17-year-old girl’s isolation and understand the whole experience as one of the mysterious ways God called me to Himself.  A few weeks after my general confession (no coincidence I’m sure), I received a call from a social worker who had been looking for me for a long time on behalf of the son I had given up.  Again, no coincidence I’m sure, the social worker had finally located me through my father’s obituary.  I have this picture of my Mom and Dad finally meeting up in heaven, saying to each other, we have some unfinished business.

My son’s first letter to me began simply, “I’m so glad I found you.” We have now been in contact through letters for over a year.  I can tell from his letters what a good and stable family life he has with his wife and children, and how much his adoptive Mom and Dad loved him.  I could never have given him that kind of stability.  He sent me a copy of the obituary he wrote for his Dad’s funeral recently and the closeness and intelligence and love of that family came through loud and clear.

We are making plans to meet as soon as possible.  I am blessed.

submitted from Virginia

Put Out into the Deep

“Duc in altum” are the words Jesus spoke one day after speaking to the crowds from Simon’s boat.  He encouraged the Apostle to “put out into the deep” for a catch (Lk 5:4).   Mine is the story of listening to that small voice that calls you to trust entirely on God and the plans he has for your life.

We were twelve years into our marriage.  We had three beautiful children (all spaced according to our plan).  After the third child was born, we felt the responsible thing to do was to have my husband get a vasectomy.  We had our “perfect” family.   We thought three kids was plenty to handle and to think of having more in this day and age would be crazy.  As Catholics, my husband and I were not well educated on the Church’s teaching regarding contraception.  We both felt it was not a big deal since we had after all been “open to children” in our marriage and were being responsible parents in caring for the gifts God had already blessed us with.

When we relocated from Baltimore, Maryland to Northern Virginia in 2004, our youngest had just turned two.  Our other two kids were 6 and 4 years old.  To say I was busy getting settled into new routines with the kids, the community, and feathering a new nest would be an understatement.  My plate was very full but I was enjoying the time home with my children.   However, despite my “perfect family,” I felt a deep restlessness in my soul.  Contentment within my marriage eluded me and I didn’t know why.   I was becoming a regular on-line reader and poster at the Catholic Answers forums.  I enjoyed and felt drawn to apologetics and learning to defend the Catholic Church’s teachings.   I asked a lot of questions and contributed to many discussions.  Time and time again I was amazed at how the Church had an answer to every objection!   When properly presented, the Church’s teachings proved not only biblical but very reasonable and sound.   As one of my favorite authors, Matthew Kelly, is fond of saying, “There is genius in Catholicism.”  Little did I know that God would use apologetics to open my heart to the beauty of Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.

For more than a year I continued to read and immerse myself in the teachings of the Church.  During this time my husband and I had the chance to attend a talk at a parish not far from ours.  Scott Hahn was the speaker and I heard for the first time his exegesis of The Lamb’s Supper.  All the pieces of salvation history were beautifully put into place and I walked away having an even greater appreciation for the gift of faith and my love for the Catholic Church — ­­especially the Eucharist.  I also knew that my lack of understanding of the role that the Pope and the Magisterium play in handing down the authoritative teachings of Christ contributed to the way I thought about contraception/sterilization.   I knew that my conscience had not been formed properly growing up and for this I felt very sad.

My sadness practically turned to despair after I completed a six week course that was offered at my parish on Christopher West’s Introduction to the Theology of the Body.  About three weeks into the course, I felt like the Apostle Paul as the scales fell from my eyes and, for the first time in my life, I understood the beauty of the nuptial meaning of the body and how marriage so perfectly mirrors the selfless love of the Holy Trinity.   The total, free, faithful, and fruitful gift of self in marriage embodies the gift of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.   When properly understood in this context it is clear how contraception/sterilization disrupts God’s intended meaning of marriage.   For more on this I highly recommend reading Introduction to the Theology of the Body.

Realizing the mistake/sin of sterilization and how it was most likely affecting the lack of contentment that I was feeling within my marriage, I had a long talk with my husband.  I knew we had to repent of our sin and ask the Lord for forgiveness of our pride, selfishness, and lack of trust in God where our family was concerned (which is what contraception ultimately boils down to).  Fully aware that reversing the vasectomy was NOT required by the Church to be forgiven, I began reading how other couples who had gone through a vasectomy learned NFP and practiced it as though they were fertile.  The purpose of this was to instill a sense of sexual discipline where none had been before.  It also allowed the woman to become aware of the signs her body gives off during her monthly cycle.   Although I could see the merit in this, I felt like the Lord was calling me to “put out into the deep.”   I read a book titled Sterilization Reversal – A Generous Act of Love edited by John L. Long, which detailed the stories of couples who reversed their decision to sterilize their marriages.   As I read their stories I could feel my sense of despair change to a sense of hope that maybe, just maybe, my husband would be open to considering having his vasectomy reversed.   I prayed a lot at this time asking only that the Lord’s will be done.  I had this burning desire to restore what never should have been broken in my marriage.  I wanted to restore the fertility that my husband and I had taken for granted and had thrown away.   Knowing now what an integral part of marriage our fertility was designed to be, I longed to live out my vocation according to God’s plan and not my own.

To my glorious surprise, after much discernment and prayer, my husband agreed to have his vasectomy reversed.  We did our homework on the urologists who specialize in vasectomy reversals in this country.  This is a procedure that MUST be done by someone who specializes in this delicate surgery.  It was going to be expensive since our insurance would not cover the cost.  The waiting list was over five months long!  During this time we chose not to tell our extended family what we were planning on doing.  We knew that our decision would be met with bewilderment and that we would be called “crazy” for doing such a thing!   I can still hear my mother’s words ringing in my ears after my third child was born (and suffered terribly with colic): “You’d be crazy to have any more kids.”  Besides, there really was no point in sharing our decision unless of course we ended up becoming pregnant down the road.   Pregnancy wasn’t our goal.  Restoring my husband’s fertility was.

The reversal surgery was scheduled to take place in September of 2006.  It was also a month before I celebrated my 40th birthday.    I participated for the first time in St. Louis Marie de Montfort’s Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary which was beginning in early November at a local parish.   This consecration helped me to better understand the role that Mary plays in dispensing our Lord’s graces as Mediatrix.  I grew very close to our Lady during this time since I felt I couldn’t confide in my own mother for wisdom, comfort, and support with all that was taking place in my marriage.  Mary’s “Fiat” became my daily prayer.  The consecration also allowed me to see how easily influenced I had been by the “trappings of the world” and the falsehoods of the father of lies where my marriage was concerned.  I was so attached to the things that the world offers that I slowly stopped trusting God.

About a month after the vasectomy reversal was complete (no complications, thank God), we renewed our marriage vows with our parish priest.  We felt this was fitting since we were celebrating our 12th year of marriage.  For twelve years we used contraception.  Now we were embarking on a new chapter of our marriage.  We had been reconciled to the Catholic Church.  We had restored my husband’s fertility and we were committed to living out the teachings of the Church.   Saying our vows at this time had so much more meaning for the both of us than on our wedding day.   I sent away for material on Natural Family Planning (NFP).  I read the book and started keeping track of my temperature each day.  To my surprise, it wasn’t as complicated as it seemed.  It was very empowering to understand my body’s cycle and get in tune with the different changes that take place each cycle.  I kept thinking “Why didn’t I learn this stuff BEFORE I got married?”  I wish an NFP class had been mandatory for my husband and me before we got married.  I struggled not so much with the mechanics of NFP but rather with the reasoning for using NFP.  I kept asking myself and my husband the question: “Do we have a just reason to avoid a pregnancy at this time?”  The selfish part of us came up with all the typical excuses why having another child wouldn’t be a good idea, but these reasons quickly dissolved under serious scrutiny.   Our age was an issue (my husband is two years older than I am).  I often thought of all the older women in the bible that God blessed with children despite their “advanced maternal age.”    At the end of the day, it came down to trusting God with this decision.  We surrendered our wills completely to God’s.

I’ve heard it said that you can never out-do God in generosity.  Whatever you give to God, He will multiply it one hundred fold.   Only a few weeks after having our marriage vows renewed, I found out we were expecting our fourth child. As a 40-year-old woman I knew that my pregnancy would be treated as “high risk” for advanced maternal age.   The world tells us that there is a certain age beyond which women should not be having children.  The world provides all the remedies to make sure that we keep those things from happening.  It felt liberating to turn down the volume on what the world was telling us and instead to “let go and let God.”  I often contemplated the Annunciation and Mary’s total trust in God for her life (even if she didn’t fully understand it at the time).   Contemplating Mary’s total surrender to God’s will and her dependency on His love for her helped me to humbly see our own cross of bringing another child into the family in proper perspective.

We gave birth to a healthy baby boy in July of 2007.  He is our constant reminder that nothing is impossible with God.   I believe God calls each one of us to realign our boats, put out into the deep, trust in His love and mercy so that He can show us the true beauty and genius of His eternal truths.

 Submitted from Virginia