I stood with tears streaming down my face on the edge of a lake in Grand Tetons National Park late last summer in the only place where my phone had reception. I listened to my Catholic doctor explain the complicated process of making my womb a habitable place for a potential baby. Then came the agonizing days of discerning with my husband whether to proceed with treatment or just accept my health as it was. With four children on earth and three who passed during the first trimester of pregnancies, we already had much to be thankful for as parents. Further, this treatment could potentially cause more health problems.
We ended up deciding to try the treatment for several months — long enough to give it a chance to work, but not so long as to harm my own health long term. It seemed reasonable and felt right to give my body a chance to carry another child. However, we also acknowledged that my years of fertility might be prematurely over: my being able to bear another child might not be part of God’s plan.
I meditated on the Joyful mysteries to the thump of my feet on the treadmill in the early silence of Holy Saturday morning. Hail Mary, full of grace… The almost wail-like tone of the chanting of the end of the Passion of St. John echoed in my head from the liturgy of Good Friday. It brought me back to another Saturday morning run on the treadmill when my heart was full of hope after I learned I was newly pregnant last Fall. The hope only lasted a few weeks as our baby passed away too soon. While I prayed the rosary my heart ached for our Blessed Mother as I contemplated how her search for the child Jesus in the Temple was a precursor to the laying of her dead son in the Tomb. With all of her sorrow she had to trust in God’s plan and walk away from the body of her son.
The burial of our Léonie (named for Servant of God Léonie Martin).
A statistic that I have been hearing a lot is that 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage. In my case it has been 3 in 7. So, as you can imagine, I have spent a good amount of time trying to come to grips with the fact that we all come into existence with Original Sin, and that Baptism is necessary for salvation, and that I was simply unable to baptize three of my children because they died inside me.
The Church says nothing certain about what happens to these children after they die, only that “as regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them.” (CCC 1261)
What exactly does it mean to entrust these children to the mercy of God?
I walk through my house and every corner reminds me of the memories I will not have of my child. I change my toddler’s diaper and wonder where we will keep a changing table that we do not need once he is potty trained. I look to next June, and the harsh reality of the baby that will not be born then hits me.
The thoughts flit through my mind. I should be thankful for the ones that I have—the ones living and breathing in my home everyday. But my longing for this one who is gone does not take away from my love for them. They also mourn for the baby we will never meet.
I have four living children. I also am a mother to two others. The only evidence I have of the existence of one of my children is a hunch based on careful charting, an early period, and a blood test with traces of HCG, which is a hormone produced by a placenta. His or her existence on Earth, when my eldest was 10 months old, was brief, but not forgotten by us. Our child always was and still is in the hands of God.
Today, October 15, is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. And interestingly enough, in a country where it is legal to murder one’s unborn children, we have a day to honor the loss of innocent life when it happens through miscarriage, through stillbirth, or through the death of a newborn baby…
Today is the Feast of Pope St. John Paul II. Very cool day and very cool saint. But what makes it so significant in our house is that it is the name day for the baby we lost last year at 9 weeks gestation. And since October is baby loss awareness month, I would like to make a tribute to our little one.
He stopped growing around 6 weeks. But it was not until Divine Mercy Sunday (2014) and the day that Pope St. John Paul II was canonized that my bleeding began. It took a few more days for him to fully pass.
We had already been thinking about naming the baby John Paul, and the canonization date so close to the day the baby passed from inside me made it so much more significant. I still think about our little lost baby a lot. And I do pray to him, especially for his little brother.
These days I feel surrounded by the saints, especially the newly canonized St. Zelie Martin. This is what she said about her children who died in infancy:
“When I closed the eyes of my dear little children and when I buried them, I felt great pain, but it was always with resignation. I didn’t regret the sorrows and the problems I had endured for them. Several people said to me, “It would be better to never have had them.” I can’t bear that kind of talk. I don’t think the sorrows and problems could be weighed against the eternal happiness of my children. So they weren’t lost forever. Life is short and full of misery. We’ll see them again in Heaven.
Above all, it was on the death of my first child that I felt more deeply the happiness of having a child in Heaven, for God showed me in a noticeable way that He accepted my sacrifice. Through the intercession of my little angel, I received a very extraordinary grace.”
And today is our little (can I still call him little?) John Paul’s name day. And like all name days around here, we made chocolate cake.
Pope St. John Paul II, pray for us! And little baby John Paul, we love you, and entrust you always to the mercy of God!
“I believe when they put [you] in the ground I think they buried part of me Because I’ve been searching, I’ve been looking all around But I cannot find the heart of me, the heart of me” –All That I Have Sown by Bebo Norman
My dear John Paul, I think I dreamt about you last night. Today was the day we thought you might come when we learned of your existence in March. We looked forward to this Advent with the hope of having you in our arms. And last night you were born in my dreams. You were born, and you were perfect. And I held you. But it was just a dream, you are not here on earth with us.
Your remains are in the ground in the sweet cemetery plot for miscarried and stillborn babies. We visited your grave to pray for you in November, but hope tells me that you are praying for us.
You have blessed our marriage and our family. Your existence, your passing, and your communion with God has been for us more that we could ever have imagined. You are a gift to us, and even though we do not have you in our arms, you are still a gift. Your father and I have grown closer yet because of you, our love and life together has been strengthened. Your sisters still think about you and talk about you. And your new younger sibling is growing well. But these things you all know, and you know that you have part of me with you always.
After F was born it went on for about a month before my husband and I realized something was wrong. I had been doing so well with things: happy and managing the kids and home, and then I was not. It crept up on me, and I was unhappy, overwhelmed, and unable to do more than the minimal effort. The hardest thing was admitting that I did indeed need help, and then admitting it to the receptionist at the doctor’s office on the telephone. I left the message that I thought I had postpartum depression (PPD), and I got an immediate call to come in. With tears in my eyes, resigning myself to the situation, I drove in with the three kids. When I got there, they said that they were going to treat my symptoms with progesterone and that I would notice a difference within hours. It was like night and day. But I noticed bad habits that I had let myself get into over the month of feeling awful that I had to work through. I made it past it that time, but not without seeking the help I needed. I do not know how long it would have lasted, had I not gotten help.
This time we noticed my problems were more than just average “mom tiredness” within days of the first symptoms. After losing the baby, it was natural for me to be tired and sad, but I was managing things and sleeping well. Then M and I had a conversation during which I ended up in tears. I was feeling overwhelmed by everyday scenarios with the children, such as making them lunch. I was having a lot of trouble falling asleep at night. It took me about a half an hour to admit that I needed help. I had had a creeping realization for a couple of days, mentioned it to M on the way to Mass one morning, and his agreement sent my emotions spiraling all through Mass until I made that decision to call the doctor. I went in and again received an injection of progesterone (which, by the way, I am pretty sure I am addicted to…). More progesterone, and again I had an immediate difference in how I felt. This time I had not had enough time to develop bad habits beyond sitting in tears, overwhelmed by my children’s needs.
So, my point here is not to tell you all about my woes of PPD, but to spread that thing called “awareness”, which does nothing in itself. If others and mothers are aware, then maybe someone reading this somewhere can realize that she needs some help. And get that help, which can be as simple as a quick injection and some progesterone pills. PPD does not always mean going on an antidepressant for as long as those normally last, but just getting the right hormonal balance.
Our family altar on the day of the burial. We each brought a flower for the baby.
It has been five and a half weeks since we found out we lost our baby, almost four weeks since I passed the baby, and almost two weeks since we buried our little John Paul.
The burial was probably one of the sweetest things the Church has ever done for me. Did you know that there is a rite of burial for an unbaptized child? That is what Fr. M prayed with us at the cemetery. The children were quiet and attentive, and Father reminded us of what we have been all too aware of these days: when choosing to be open to having children, we are choosing to be open to suffering. All parents go through suffering and loss to some extent over their children, some more tragically than others, and many before they every thought they would. Suffering comes with loving others.
When M and I broke up after the first time we dated, I had just read The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis. This quotation from it was central to my understanding of love at the time:
“Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket–safe, dark, motionless, airless–it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable…The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”
-C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
I think sometimes I fear having another child because I fear the suffering that comes with it, even pregnancy itself has its share of discomforts. And while I am still sorrowful from time to time about losing John Paul, I think now about the possibility of another pregnancy. It is hard not to worry about every little detail of possible future pregnancies. My co-writer at Truth and Charity wrote this sweet and realistic article about Choosing Hope while pregnant after losing babies. I know now is not the time to close myself from suffering, but I am being called to be even more generous to new life.
And then there is still the pain of our recent loss. I am pretty sure I need to have a good cry, but it has not happened since before the baby passed. In college I would have found my household sisters and asked them to pray over me until it happened. (Maybe I just need a phone call with my awesome friend C.) Further, I am still waiting for the completion of my post-miscarriage healing. When that occurs I know I will have a lot more peace about everything. I ask for your continued prayers, and am so thankful for the ones you have already offered.
And don’t worry too much about me, I am feeling particularly melancholic lately; just as long as I don’t stay here… 🙂
I have not decided how much better I have to feel since passing our 6 week old unborn baby two weeks ago in order for me to go work on those lunch dishes. I have been slacking on housework due to feeling wiped out and physically unwell. I had a good weekend with my mother-in-law and the girls while M was away at his conference. Sometime between Saturday and Sunday, I hit that point of postpartum when you feel like a normal person again. M came home yesterday morning, exhausted from a late night and an early flight. He picked out a really nice food processor for me for Christmas/Mother’s Day/my birthday in June, and it is a lovely machine.
The kids asked me to use it to cut up strawberries for with lunch, or as F calls them, “Swah!” The manual has a lovely picture of neatly stacked sliced strawberries on it, and wellthe strawberries did slice, just not as prettily as on the manual. So, that needs to be cleaned… maybe I could just start the dishwasher…
So, my sister called, after I wrote the above, and I got up and ran the dishwasher. That was nice for M when he did dishes tonight (as he always does). It feels good to be helpful again. I even managed to get the Easter baskets put away; we still have candy in a smaller bowl on the counter where the candy crazy toddler cannot find it.We did preschool this morning, a reading lesson this afternoon, and I put away the washed and dried towels and bedding from my mother in laws visit. Then we went to the library and got a new stack of books, which we have not done for six weeks. G actually enjoyed her quiet time since she had so many new books to peruse.
We are burying the baby tomorrow. I am sure it will be emotional for us all. I have not been to a burial since my grandmother died nine years ago. This one will certainly be different than a funeral, but we will have our pastor there with us and the girls are going to bring some flowers from the garden. I guess this will be the final physical goodbye.
Thank you again for all of your prayers. Our time of loss has been so grace filled.