The 50/200 Paradox: Loving Children Who Die Before Birth

In the Fall of 2009 we unfortunately found out at 18 weeks that one of our twins did not survive. I had a case of H1N1 a few weeks prior, and it affected one of the babies. Thankfully our remaining child was growing well and was not at any increased risk. We named the son that died Nicholas, and the daughter that lived, Mercy.

I have had 12 babies in 10 pregnancies, but only 6 survived to birth. It can be pretty demoralizing to consider that 50% of the children given to me actually lived long enough to make it into my arms. I have as many children in Heaven as I do on Earth. Is this what being open to life gets you? Sometimes it feels more like a cruel joke.

Still, what gives me pause when I’m heading into despair, when I’m asking God what the heck He was thinking, are two questions that I ask myself: 1) Do I really believe that life begins at conception? 2) Do I believe my children exist for their own sake or just for the sake of my own destiny?

If I align my mind consistent with what I know to be true – that the fertilized egg is as much an image of God as I am – then I am a mother of 12, not a mother of 6. We all exist for the same purpose, to have a loving relationship with God and each other, no matter how different our specific roles and abilities may seem in life at any point. All my children existed for the purpose of having a relationship with God, and I am honored to serve them as they become the people God calls them to be.

If I embrace that truth, I am doubly blessed, and my life is twice as rich even though that joy is mingled with the pain of separation. It’s the 50/200 paradox. Have I been “cheated” of half the children that I was supposed to raise? Or has God given me the privilege of being a mother to twice as many children before birth as those I’m called to mother beyond birth? After all, for the entire life of 6 children, I was the only person chosen and honored to literally hold them in love, dignity, and affection.

I do not believe that God lets anyone die before he or she has had the opportunity to fulfill His purpose for that life. Christ died for all people, even the unborn. Therefore I have to believe that my children died having done what they were called to do, and that’s the best that any of us can hope for in this life. I was their entire world, and it is a profound gift to be their mother. Those unborn children spent their entire lives within the confines of my body, in a constant and living dialogue of love. Those children’s vocations were lived within me, my body was the setting for that life. What an honor to be the loving home for someone’s entire life. I am called to be the mother of my children regardless of what the outcome may be, and my children have the right to a loving mother more than I have the right to a living child. None of us knows how long our life will last.

I am not entitled to children who live a long life or a healthy life, because their lives are about their vocations and their relationship with God. I am only the blessed woman who is graced to love all of them, and care for them for as long as God calls me to do so. My life and my love are given over to them without condition or expectation because that’s what I vowed before God in marrying my husband. I promised to accept the fruit of our love and to jump off that cliff, embracing whatever end that implies, because my husband is worth everything I have…even, maybe especially, when that means blood and tears and loss.

Love is a gift. Love is not commerce, or a contractual negotiation made for the mutual benefit of the parties involved. Love isn’t about being safe or about what I receive in return. The God I worship is Christ crucified, and my pain is not greater than His love.

Love is the road to the cross, and even through the pain, I choose it still. That I have children at all is because I have a husband first, and in the middle of this sadness I am called to love more fully – not less – and to live free from fear. That my children may only be mine for a short time is a greater reason to love with a greater intensity, not a reason to withhold love until the relationship is all I hoped it would be.

Ultimately, I choose to love and live by the 200%, not the 50%. I am blessed with all of my children, no matter how long they live and no matter what their vocations are in life. Saints Evelyn, Anastasia, Zoe, Patience, Aine, and Nicholas, pray for me now and at the hour of my death.

Johanna Holmes is a 2006 graduate of the University of Dallas with a B.A. in Theology. She and her husband live in Upstate NY and are the parents of six children on Earth and six children in Heaven.
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