I felt so sick to my stomach I could barely stand. Something was wrong but I didn’t know what. As I lay on the bed in my little room at the retreat house in Bethesda, MD, all I wanted to do was sleep. But despite my condition, my mind wandered to my husband, who was somewhere in Atlanta at work.
Jim was my second husband, and we had gotten married just one month before this six-day silent retreat took place. Eight years prior, if you had told me I would be on this retreat, I would have laughed. God doesn’t care about me, so why would I give him my time? would have been my response.
Allow me to explain. I’m a traditional Catholic since birth who married at 26 and was divorced at 30. By then, I had lost three children in miscarriage, the last of which occurred at nearly 20 weeks along. Each loss was beyond heartbreaking, and extreme medical circumstances surrounded all of them.
The doctors were never able to figure out what was causing these miscarriages until that final pregnancy. My uterus had widened enough for them to detect the problem, which was a malformation that made it impossible to carry a child to term.
My OB/GYN was hopeful. He said if I had come to him with this problem a few years before, he wouldn’t have been able to help me, but now there was a groundbreaking surgery that could correct my problem. So I signed up and went under the knife. The outcome was successful. Sort of.
The surgeons had been able to fix the problem as they’d hoped, but the procedure was so invasive, it left me sterile. In fact, the odds of my ever conceiving a child were now fewer than 1 percent. I was heartbroken and angry, to say the least. Then my husband left, never to return.
For years I struggled with these losses in a way words can’t really describe, and it took quite a toll on my relationship with God. I used my anger as an excuse to behave badly at times, and whenever I looked to the future, I saw nothing to look forward to, especially not children. What a scourge it is to be barren.
Fast forward seven years, and I was a different person. I had made a lot of changes and experienced a lot of personal growth. I was happy again, and much of that happiness came from repairing my relationship with God. I realized my self-worth was rooted in him, not in what had happened to me or in what people thought of me. When my then boyfriend, Jim, proposed marriage, he had no problem with my not being able to have children.
So here I was on the second day of this week-long silent retreat, far away from Jim and wishing I could be with him. I lay on the bed feeling awful when suddenly it occurred to me … Wait a second, I know this feeling … this is morning sickness!
I wanted to jump up and run out to tell the other women — one of whom was my new mother-in-law — but I couldn’t. It was a silent retreat. I didn’t have a cell phone back then, so I couldn’t call Jim. And then it dawned on me, the brilliance of what God was doing. It almost felt deliberate that he was the only one I could share my joy with for the next four days. He wanted me to recognize the miracle he had brought about and how great his love for me was. Despite all the doctors had predicted, I was going to have a baby!
Weeks later, as I sat in my doctor’s office, she said to me, “I hope you realize what a miracle this is. Someone with your history should not be able to get pregnant.” She didn’t have to tell me, I knew better than anyone. And today, I have three healthy, happy miracles who are the joy of my life.
I share this with you because if you’ve experienced great personal loss, I want to encourage you to hang in there. Don’t give in to discouragement. Life throws a lot of curveballs our way, and it’s easy to look to the future and feel as if all your good things are gone and you have nothing to look forward to. But Romans 8:28 reminds us that God works all things for the good of those who love him. That means even in times of personal loss.
Stay close to him in your struggles, and trust him with your future. Your plans might look different from his, but he ultimately knows how to make you happy.
Lisa Duffy is the author of The Catholic Guide to Dating After Divorce.