Shortly before Thanksgiving, I learned, for the ninth time in my life, that God chose my body as the place where He would create a new person. Someone got his or her beginning inside my body — someone who has never existed but who will exist for all eternity. A couple days later, I learned that, for the fifth time in my life, I will not get to meet that person this side of heaven. The gift of life and the reality of loss is at once beautiful and tragic.
Despite this pregnancy being something of a surprise, and despite my history of pregnancy loss, I had no fear. I was just completely and utterly happy. I wasn’t afraid of motherhood this time or fearful of the demands this child would make on me. I was just filled with gratitude. I remember when I was pregnant for the first time I wondered if I would be a good mother and if I would bond with my child. I wasn’t a woman who particularly liked children or who enjoyed being around them. But when my daughter was born I was totally blown away by the intense love I felt for her. When I was pregnant with my middle daughter I worried if I would love my second child as much as my first. How could my heart stretch that much again? At times I’ve worried about having a child with a choleric and strong-willed temperament. I’ve worried about having a child on the Autism spectrum, and I’ve even worried about having a boy. Would I love my son as much as I love my daughters? I just absolutely loved having a bunch of daughters and wasn’t sure how I would react to having a son. God, in His wisdom, however, has brought me a child “on the spectrum”, a choleric child, and eventually even a male, (and luckily in the middle of all of that a sunny, easy-going girl). And I love them all so much and so fiercely and can’t imagine my life without each of my children. Are there challenges, and have I been brought to my knees wondering how to parent them all in the way that each of them needs? Yes, but there is also joy — so much absolute and intense, soul-warming joy over each one of them.
So this time, when I learned I was pregnant, I wasn’t afraid. I’ve finally learned that whatever is the personality of this new person, whatever the sex, whatever his or health status or ability, I will fall in love again, and physically and spiritually I will grow to meet the needs of my child, and physically and spiritually my child will fill me up in a way I didn’t know I was lacking. I knew, too, that my other children would grow to love this new person, and our family would be blessed. We would grow together, stretch together, laugh and cry together, and this person would be just who our family needed, perfectly designed and willed by God to both form us and to be formed by us.
So the day I learned I was expecting again I was just happy with anticipation, and the next day too. By the third day, a Sunday evening, however, I had begun to bleed. I opted to avoid the emergency room and to wait it out until I could hopefully get in to see a NaPro physician in the morning. In the middle of the night, in addition to bleeding, I began to experience pain on my left side. I had had four miscarriages so I knew this bleeding was different, and the left-sided pain was definitely different. I suspected a tubal pregnancy. I knew it was an emergency situation, but as the pain was not severe yet, I said a prayer that things would be okay until the morning.
Having been to a number of emergency rooms in a number of hospitals through many miscarriages, I have unfortunately always found lacking their level of compassion, their trust in my knowledge of my body, and their ability to do anything to prevent a miscarriage. On the other hand, when I began to show warning signals of a possible miscarriage when I was pregnant with Nadia, my NaPro physician increased my dose of progesterone and overnighted some HcG shots for me. My bleeding stopped and I was able to carry Nadia to term. So I felt that if anything could be done to save my baby, a NaPro physician would do it, and if it could not be prevented, I trusted that my baby and I would be treated with compassion and dignity.
In the morning, as workmen arrived at my house to begin tearing up old carpet in preparation for new flooring, I called the medical clinic. A friend was able to watch my children for the day, and after dropping them off, my husband and I drove to the clinic. There, I learned that I did indeed have a tubal pregnancy. Though an ultrasound revealed that the gestational sac was in my left tube, the baby could not be found within it, so he or she must have died early in development. Nevertheless my tube was actively bleeding and filling my abdomen with blood. The situation was serious and I would need to have surgery as soon as possible. Before noon I was in surgery. In the end, my Fallopian tube could not be saved. Despite various efforts, it wouldn’t stop bleeding and the doctor had no choice but to remove it.
Though the situation was so serious and big, the procedure itself was a simple outpatient affair. Around dusk, my husband and I left the hospital to go home. My in-laws had picked up my children from my friend’s house earlier in the day and took them to their house for the night. So my husband and I went home to a quiet house, ate some take-out pho that we had picked up on our way home, and just went to bed. The next two days I lay in bed while the workmen banged around downstairs installing the new floor, and on Wednesday afternoon, we packed up our four kids and three cats and went to the AirBnB we had rented as we wouldn’t be able to walk on our floors for a few days once the stain was applied. The week after that we celebrated Thanksgiving and had my middle daughter’s 11th birthday, and then Advent began.
I more or less went through the motions of lighting the Advent candles and putting up our Jesse tree. The children were the ones reminding me to light the candles and to read the story about each ornament this year instead of the other way around. And now we are in the Christmas season, what the culture says is “the most wonderful time of the year”, a season about creating picture-perfect moments and cramming as much fun and happiness into as few weeks as possible.
Perhaps now more than ever, I’m so grateful for the way my faith celebrates this season. Maybe I never noticed it before. Maybe I never needed to notice it before, but it’s decidedly less happy-clappy than the cultural Christmas. I’ve noticed, in fact, that Catholic Christmas is decidedly darker. The Church, in her wisdom, always holds the duality of both life and death together. In Catholic Christmas, this season of celebrating the birth of our Savior into the world, we are constantly reminded that Jesus came to die, and that, this side of heaven, there is suffering. So even at Bethlehem, Calvary is present. We are reminded of this the day after Christmas, when we celebrate the Feast of Stephen — the first Christian martyr, whose death is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. Two days after the feast of Stephen we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Innocents, all those baby boys who Herod had murdered trying to kill the long-awaited Messiah.
Also during Christmas, we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany, when the three Magi from the East came bearing their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Gold was an appropriate gift for a king, frankincense a gift for God, and myrrh was an oil used to anoint dead bodies. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh were quite strange gifts for a little boy, but perfect gifts for Jesus, who is God, who became man, and who was born in order to die. Some Christian communities celebrate the Christmas season until the Feast of the Presentation, on Feb 2nd. At the presentation of Jesus in the Temple, Simeon celebrates Jesus’ birth, but also warns that he will be a sign that will be contradicted and that a sword will also pierce his mother’s heart. Simeon celebrates with joy this little baby — a Savior, come into the world, but does not shy away from the reality of his painful mission.
And so this Christmas, I am enjoying family, and all our Christmas traditions. I am celebrating the greatest gift of God coming to earth to save me, but I am holding this tension between sorrow and joy, and even holding and experiencing them both in the same moment. I am rejoicing at my children in heaven where there is no pain or sorrow and still mourning that I don’t have their physical presence with me now. I have truly enjoyed feasting and laughing with family, and still at some moments grief feels like its wrapped around me like a blanket. And I suppose it should be so because this is Christmas, a season of celebrating life, even life that ends in death.
Baby Cristiana, pray for us.