There are worse things in life than losing a child before birth, but I have experienced very few of them. The truth is, it wasn’t the first second-trimester loss that nearly did me in, it was the second. It was after that miscarriage that I finally understood something that had made no sense to me before. Joe, a troubled relative, had committed suicide. For the first time, I found myself saying, “Now I know why.” I don’t think Joe wanted to end his life. He just wanted the unbearable emotional pain he suffered from to stop.
The only thing slightly better about the third miscarriage was that by then I had so little hope the baby would survive that I wasn’t shocked. But I was plunged into darkness. When I told my husband that I wished I were dead, all he could do was look at me with his loving eyes full of bewilderment.
Climbing out of that pit took time. But in spite of all the pain, I eventually came to a place where I could sincerely say, “Thank you, Lord, for the suffering you gave me. With it, you drew me to yourself.”
The wounds have not disappeared, but they have begun to heal, and do not hurt so much when they are touched. I used to feel sheepish about being thankful for these scars that God has given me, until I remembered: we worship “the Lamb who was slain.” (Rev 5:12) If heaven does not erase the scars of the world’s redemption, perhaps it will also not erase those of my personal redemption– the marks of my pilgrimage, the proof of my share in the cross.
I had four living children when we lost the three babies. There were those who asked, why keep trying? How can you put yourself through this? And, much more justifiably, why not adopt?
We’d been avid adoption supporters for years – to the point of founding and running a non-profit organization that for ten years raised thousands of dollars to assist Catholic adoptive families. But my husband and I both had the unwavering sense that God had something different in store.
The joy, gratitude, and hope the birth of our eighth (fifth living) child inspired in our hearts and among our family, friends, and parish is indescribable. We decided to invite to the new baby’s baptism everyone who had in any way supported us in the trials and joys of those years. The guest list numbered about 220.
We named our baby Hope.
In time Hope was blessed with a baby sister, and we seemed truly to enter the ranks of Large Catholic Families. I don’t think we’ve ever lost sight of the gratitude we want to return to the Lord for all he has given us. But simultaneously, we could not fail to be aware of and affected by the unique demands of running a large household. They need not be enumerated here. Let it suffice to say that in spite of the longing for new life I had experienced for so long, I wondered at age 43 if perhaps I had finally borne my last child, and whether that might not perhaps be for the best. Could we handle one more?
After the initial shock of learning that God’s answer was YES, I was surprised to find the predominant feeling of my heart to be one of relief. How thankful I am that God — in part because of the openness to life my husband and I have always practiced — made that tough call for us. We couldn’t decide. We just didn’t know. But God knew.
What an amazing testament to His providence and mercy.
For those who understand that motherhood is a vocation through which God leads a woman to holiness, none of this will sound foreign. But there are those — far too many of them among the leaders of the Church — who have seemingly lost sight of this basic truth. The hints that those who bear many children are somehow a queer breed or are in some way acting selfishly are becoming less and less subtle.
I’ve seen this play out in parishes I’ve attended. A woman who is a mother of two and a cardiologist and is actively involved in her parish is held up as a good steward and model parishioner. A mother of eight from the same parish who stays at home to care for her children and doesn’t have time to volunteer is largely ignored. I’m not trying to throw the cardiologist under the bus; I’m just wondering why it’s okay to have a job attending to people’s physical health when it seems that bearing new life is not seen as a valuable thing in the first place.
The implication that a woman who bears many children is somehow merely breeding — that there is no spiritual, vocational, sanctifying dimension to motherhood — makes me want to cry. Not for myself, and not for that forgotten mother of eight. Mothers open to life know the truth. I want to cry for the people who don’t get it, especially for those whose very vocation exists to give grace and spiritual insight to others. If life as a cardiologist is the sort of life that is most valuable to those people, God help them. Have they not learned, through their own priestly vocations, how God uses the ordinary (and extraordinary) sufferings every vocation entails to lead each person closer to His heart? If they have not, or if they have forgotten, I am so, so sorry.
In the earliest days of my tenth pregnancy I told the Lord I wasn’t sure I could meet the needs of seven living children. Maybe there just wasn’t enough of me to go around. He answered me the next morning when my daily reading of the gospel of Mark brought me to the miracle of the loaves and fishes. You’re right, He was telling me, you do not have enough. But I am the One Who makes your “not enough”, enough.
Shared here are only a fraction of the insights and the loving helps God has granted me through my vocation on the road to salvation. I don’t like to think where I would be spiritually if I had closed the door to new life at some earlier point. It would have been closing a door on what should be the primary means of my sanctification.