My baby’s heart stopped beating and I don’t know when. All I know is that on Friday it was fluttering and six days later it was still. One moment: Whoosh! Whoosh! Whoosh! Then: Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeep……..
My mother’s heart heard the dirge during the seven week ultrasound when Natalie, for she was to be born around Christmas, measured six days too small. I knew. I knew. I told my husband, “I think we saw the baby in the dying process.” And so, in a sense, when her heart took that final flutter and then beat no more, we, her parents, were holding her in the palm of our hearts as she slowly passed away. She did not die alone the next day, or the next. Her parents had prayed together for her every night for 28 days.
Several days after the ultrasound, with eyes closed, I prayed during Sunday mass, “Lord, how am I to be detached and yet bonded to my child, my sweet unborn baby?” Tears dripped down my cheeks. Upon opening my eyes, I focused on the new power point slide displayed on giant screens: The Pieta! Within me the Holy Spirit groaned, “My God! My God! I am your handmaid, your instrument to give another life.” Christ began illuminating me.
Detachment does not mean emotionless, automated responses or lack of feeling. I am not a robot. I was a mother in her fifteenth pregnancy. I know what it means to gaze upon a fresh creation, unseen by human eyes before. I’ve experienced that profound joy twelve times! At the time I had experienced the passing of two tiny children, born directly into heaven. The angels and the saints and, most beautifully, the Blessed Mother first beheld my Joseph and Mary, and now my Natalie Anastasia. They are wrapped in her mantle, as are I and their father who cherished them.
Ah! The paradox of bonded detachment, of the Pieta, of the cross!
Saint Simeon prophesied about Mary, “Thy own soul a sword shall pierce.” Indeed our Blessed Mother experienced seven dolors. Yet, she loved with abandon. For several days I contemplated the Pieta: Jesus lying as if an infant cradled in his mommy’s arms; Mary, larger than life. I wondered, “Does her disproportionate size symbolize heroic virtue while suffering the pain Detached Bonding entails?” One thing became abundantly clear to me; detachment does not mean you don’t love someone. Detached Bonding means you embrace God’s will for each of your lives as you live the mysterium fidei.
While pregnant with Natalie, I reflected that most 48 year-old women will never experience one, much less two, pregnancies at that advanced age for a variety of reasons. As an NFP teaching couple, my husband and I understand fertility awareness. We have always chosen to let God bless us with children as He willed. I do not believe that I could ever have purity of intention vis-à-vis the powerful gift and awesome responsibility of co-creating with God. Therefore, God has determined our family’s size. My husband and I accepted the call to pregnancy in our late forties despite the known risks.
After my first miscarriage at age 45, I wondered if we should abstain during “Phase II”, the woman’s fertile time, in order to avoid another miscarriage or the fact of my declining fertility. The Holy Spirit instructed me quite clearly, “Sure, you can avoid possible suffering, but you also will lose the opportunity for joy.” I rejoined, “Yep! You can’t win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket!” I decided that I could not live in pain and fear. At that moment, five months after the miscarriage, I chose to live in what I call “Phase II Hope and Joy”. I try to apply this principle to every area of my life as well. I embraced the monthly suffering as God’s will; and, offered it in reparation for my sins, for the end to abortion, and for women suffering infertility. I learned I was pregnant with Thomas Benedict “Ben” exactly 12 months, 7 days from the loss of my little unborn Joseph, so named after Jacob’s son who was thought to be dead, but gave his brothers life. I believe our Joseph went before us to pray us home to heaven.
If my husband and I did not live a complete openness to life, we would not have our Benny Boo, our Benedict, our Blessing. In a sense, Joseph and his sibling saints in heaven are martyrs for my living 12 children. Without the 15, there would be no 12. We are a seamless tapestry of life’s joys and sorrows.
Throughout this pregnancy, I prayed with Jesus, “Please Lord, if it is your will let this cup of suffering pass. Let my baby live. But not my will, your will be done.” During my previous pregnancy that ended in my second miscarriage, I was tormented with anxiety. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I shook with fear for a week. Then, I lost Mary and like St Peter I was filled with grief and sadness over not loving Jesus and his father’s most holy will at the hour he called me. Immediately I went to confession and poured forth my sin and sorrow.
Miraculously, I conceived Natalie within a few weeks of Mary’s loss. I saw the word “pregnant” and rejoiced at the amazing grace God had given me. Like Peter after the resurrection, I could say, “Yes Lord, I love you. Yes Lord, I love you. Yes Lord, you know that I love you.” Like Peter, Jesus gave me a mission: “Love this baby I have given you.” And I did. And I do. My Guardian Angel gave me that scripture verse, John 21, as a gift Holy Week. Natalie Anastasia is my resurrection baby. I lived the 38 days of her life as alive in Christ as a sinful woman can will through God’s grace. Praise God!
As the Holy Spirit purified my will through the theological virtue of charity, I continuously prayed the Serenity prayer specifically to accept the things I cannot change. I repeatedly prayed, “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.” Then the supernatural gift of wisdom overshadowed me and I realized there was something I could change: my attitude! What peace overcame me as I persevered in praying Reinhold Niebuhr’s entire prayer. It takes a lot of courage to trust God’s unseen plan day by day especially in matters of life and death. Scripture provides many examples of human weakness in this area. Specifically, the Israelite’s building of the Golden Calf and their hoarding of manna come to mind. However, Abraham’s courage in trusting God as he ascended the mountain with Isaac encouraged me to journey through my pregnancy with minimal anxiety regarding the things I could not change. I tried to stay away from Dr Google. Through constant recollection, I drew close to the only physician who could heal me, the Gentle Guest of my soul, the Holy Spirit. My only desire in life is to find the “pearl of great price” and enter heaven adorned with it transfiguring my soul. Surrendering Natalie upon the alter of God’s will is partial payment for the priceless treasure of Eternal Wisdom.
At 7 weeks, 5 days pregnant, my sorrowful mother’s heart began bleeding. I realized I might never nurse my Natalie. St Peter spoke to me in that day’s first reading, “Cast all your worries upon him because he cares for you. Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in faith, knowing your brothers and sisters throughout the world undergo the same sufferings. The God of all grace who called you to eternal glory through Christ Jesus will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you after you have suffered a little. To him be dominion forever. Amen.” (1Peter 5). Also, Thomas a Kempis spoke that morning during my morning meditation, “Why art thou troubled because things do not succeed with thee according to thy will and desire…there is no man in the world without some trouble or affliction, though he be a king or pope. Who is it that is most at ease? Doubtless he who is willing to suffer something for God’s sake.” (Imitation of Christ Book I, Ch 22). Even so, as I struggled to live His will during weak, fearful moments, I asked my husband, “What is the meaning of all this suffering if the baby dies?” He quietly answered, “That God is the creator and we’re not.”
The next day I fingered my soft, wooden rosary, as I prayed the drive to my second ultrasound. I meditated, “I am an instrument of the Lord. God has a plan for me and for my baby’s unique life.” As co-creating instruments, my husband and I brought Natalie into the world. Yet, as Job said, “You (God) have decided the length of our lives. You know how many months we will live, and we are not given a minute longer.” Our baby lived one month, one week, and one day. Her heart stopped beating; and, her parents’ hearts broke.
I cannot yet say that I’m glad I conceived my miscarried babies, for who chooses to suffer in this way? A mother longs to nuzzle her newborn and celebrate her child’s life. Right now, while miscarrying, I’m very sad.
I do rejoice that when called to fulfill my vocation as a married 48 years old mother of 12, I said, “Yes! Jesus I trust in you!” In some small way, during this Easter season I lived, “My bread is to do the will of the Father.” If I did not live “Phase II Hope and Joy” through my motto “Rejoicing in Hope!”, I would starve to death. As St Clement of Alexandra said, “If you do not hope, you will not find what is beyond your hopes.”
My babies, including Natalie Anastasia, will receive their glorified bodies at Christ’s Final Coming. Eternal Life is the Easter promise! Jesus said, “…but you shall see me; because I live, you also live…” (John14:19 )
My children are alive in Christ. I will love them until my heart’s final beat.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen!