“but Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14)
There were two—two of our babies that did not make it to term. My first three pregnancies went relatively smoothly, resulting in little wrinkly-faced wonders. When we conceived baby number four we were hopeful for the same. I was 41 years old, not exactly a spring chicken in the fertility department. The two pink lines on the pregnancy test signaled more transition. My body would change, our family circumstance would change and our finances would undoubtedly change. Honestly, I felt a little dread. But deep down I was also really excited. A fourth baby! The big family I had wanted since I was a small child was happening. Yet, I remember remaining consciously subdued outwardly. I am a natural “glass-half-empty” kind of gal, so part of me already understood the fragility of the pregnancy as I did with each one previous. I practiced the classic, “don’t get your hopes up…” not ever comprehending what actually awaited me. Up until that point, my children’s gestations were medically routine as my OB/GYN would acknowledge after the birth of each kid. The only personal knowledge I had with miscarriage was the explanation my mom and dad had passed down about their difficult experience before I was born.
My mom’s third pregnancy ended within the first trimester. My parents shared very different stories surrounding the traumatic event. My mom described it as being the worst pain of her life. “And at the end of all that pain,” she recalled with matter-of-fact resignation, “there was no baby.” My dad, however, shared poignant regret. As he used to tell it, when my mother approached him with the happy news of her pregnancy, he had shamefully answered, “Maureen, what are you doing to me? How are we going to feed another one?” When she subsequently lost the baby, he felt severe guilt and sadness. He wondered if God was teaching him a lesson. But the story ended with him expressing his extreme delight when shortly thereafter they conceived me. This time, he rejoiced in the gift God had presented him. While I don’t buy that God was punishing him with the miscarriage, my dad learned something that he felt compelled to pass on to me. Life is always a gift. That lesson was filed away and ingrained in my psyche.
My husband wasn’t with me for that first ultrasound for baby #4. We had become blasé to the miracle of birth. I’d accept the stack of grainy, black and white mug shots of our new pre-born little alien and later we’d laugh that he had my dad’s nose and toes. This would be no different.
I immediately zeroed in on my doctor’s concerned look as she ran the cold wand over my greased-up belly. The small talk stopped abruptly. A crinkled brow. “Hmmm…” was all she needed to say. I knew. “There’s no heartbeat. I’m sorry. You’ve miscarried.” I didn’t hear much after that. I remember trying to summon something wise in my response to my doctor. “Well, we’ve been blessed with three kids. I’m at peace. I knew if it wasn’t meant to be…” I didn’t cry, but I recall how odd it was that I had walked into her office pregnant and as I went down in the elevator I realized—it was no more. I tearfully phoned my husband from the car. Now the waiting game began, I explained. I would eventually deliver the baby at a time when my body decided it was ready. I could handle this, I assured him. My approach was rather cavalier. I’ve gone through childbirth. How could the passing of an 8-week-old tiny baby be any worse?
It struck a few days later in the middle of the night as we peacefully slumbered. The pain was extreme. My husband was the model of patience and nurturing as I howled and lay on the bathroom floor. He had been at my side for the births of our kids, but so had my doctor and a whole team of attentive nurses. Now, we faced it alone in the darkness of our bedroom. My mom was right. It was the most physically grueling experience of my life. There was no epidural to numb me. And I certainly wasn’t prepared for the deep-seated grief that followed. I cried like a baby for my baby. Nothing really brought me comfort. I missed my own mother who had been deceased for 19 years. I felt disconnected from everyone. My whole “been there, done that” attitude was shot down in a flash of raw pain. About a year later, two more pink lines from the over-the-counter test. Hope. While this pregnancy developed a couple weeks longer, sadly, it ended the same way, with no baby.
Time has eased the hurt. Now, I think only occasionally of those two precious babies that I lost. (That description doesn’t seem apt, as if I misplaced them in the toy aisle of Target.) These are children who were a part of me only a short while, but somehow, they remain. Whereas my three children have gone on to become their own little people, the two little souls who didn’t make it are tied to me. I don’t know them outside the protection of my womb, so they remain intrinsically linked to my own identity. I am confident their souls have reunited with our savior. As our beautiful Catholic faith instructs us, we are connected through our Church here on earth and in heaven, the living and our beloved deceased, the great communion of which I am reminded during the sacrifice of the mass. Through Christ’s death and resurrection, I have a shot at spending eternity with my little ones. I long for the day when I will meet them again. In the meantime, I will continue to consider them for what they are, two cherished gifts from God. The length of their short lives does not in any way undermine their value. They’ve had a profound impact on me and I am deeply grateful for their short existence. For all of you believers who have suffered the loss of a child in utero, I will pray that we all have the strength to persevere until the moment when we meet our babies again. St. Gianna Beretta Molla, patron saint of mothers and unborn babies, pray for us!