I am the first to admit that I am blessed. I have an awesome, tight family who instilled in me a love for and obedience to the Church, so much, in fact, that when I went away to college, my version of youthful rebellion involved going to church each week and cantoring the 8:30 a.m. Mass.
I lived the perfect life, and I felt Jesus with me every step of the way. I developed a closeness with Him without any of the troubles or tragedies that typically bring people closer to God. So, when my husband (whom I met through campus ministry) and I decided to add to our family, I had great expectations. All those years of devotions and acts of service for the glory of the Lord, what could go wrong?
God did bless us with a child, and I had what we thought was a normal pregnancy until the routine 20-week ultrasound. Our daughter was measuring much smaller than expected. When I, along with my husband and mother, returned two weeks later for a follow up exam to check for growth, there was no heartbeat. None of us expected it. We were in shock. It is a moment that none of us will forget.
Immediately after hearing the devastating news, we were ushered into the doctor’s consult office. As I sat in grief, I was presented with two options. The first involved the dilation and evacuation procedure, often used to terminate pregnancies beyond the 12th week. Afterwards, I would not be able to see my baby because she would not be intact due to the procedure. Or, I could be induced in the hospital’s maternity ward to undergo the traditional labor process. With God’s grace and what I would later discern as divine intervention, I ended up being induced.
The next day, with my husband and parents at my side, I lay in a hospital bed for twelve hours, under the constant supervision of a wonderful hospital staff and monitored by machines. A little after 2 am, I delivered, without complications, a 6 oz. baby girl with ten little fingers and ten itty-bitty toes. For a brief moment, I held her in my arms. She was not a “product of conception” as one doctor had described a day earlier. She had my husband’s profile. The doctor remarked that she came out feet first with her arms extended. My dad, whom my mom and I are convinced has the gift of wisdom, made the connection—she was positioned just like Jesus on the cross. Her cause of death was never determined, but I do know she was perfect.
I recovered well after the delivery, physically that is. My daughter’s death destroyed me, emotionally and spiritually. Instead of picking out a crib, I picked out a casket and designed a grave marker. I was angry at Jesus for taking my daughter away from me. In protest, I stopped wearing my Sacred Heart medallion (one that I had worn since high school). To this day, I cannot put it back on. Instead, I wear one with Our Lady of Sorrows. I stopped going to Mass for a few weeks. Even when I did drag my feet to church, I often left early due to uncontrollable fits of tears. For a couple of months, I refused to receive Jesus in the Eucharist because of the darkness in my heart.
The images and sounds from those days played over and over in my mind. I did not know how to make it stop. So, I dove into my work as a distraction, but it was not enough. Then, on a whim, I turned to the Blessed Mother. I began reciting the rosary. It was the only thing I could do to momentarily stop the blizzard of memories and emotions. Whenever I was alone with my thoughts, I prayed. Each day I would need to say a minimum of 30 decades.
A few months later, instead of grieving on the day that we calculated would have been our daughter’s birth, I was expecting, literally. I found out that I was pregnant again. This second child was projected to arrive around the anniversary of our daughter’s death. We saw the Lord’s work in this timing. In our time of great sadness, we had hope.
Now my prayers were focused on this child instead of the one I had lost. I asked my daughter to look after her little brother. As she sat on Jesus’ lap, I told her to whisper into His ear (since I was still not on talking terms with Jesus) my request for a healthy baby.
Well, this pregnancy was certainly quite different from the last. I had the “any time of day” sickness, a non-flu flu-like illness, pink eye (for the first time in my life), and my blood pressure started to creep up. At 29 weeks, I ended up in the hospital with pre-eclampsia. I made it an extra week and a day before requiring an induction to save my life and that of my son.
With all these complications, I was scared that once again my world would shatter. I clung to my rosary beads. I finally asked for His help, and I knew I was not alone. Despite my fear and residual anger, He had not abandoned me. Before rolling me into the operating room for an emergency C-section, my doctor whispered into my ear, “I am praying for you.” My rosary became a big thing in the operating room, even the anesthesiologist asked to make sure that I had it on me during the procedure. Jesus and the Blessed Mother were there for me and my baby.
Due to his prematurity, my son spent the first nine weeks of his life in the intensive care nursery, but, today, at 4 years old, he is a robust little man. He does not suffer any complications due to his early arrival. He is a perfect gift from God.
Despite surviving the pregnancy and witnessing the miracle of my son’s birth, I still struggled spiritually, burdened by the weight of losing a child and then stripped of the joys of a pregnancy. Then, while listening to Pope Francis’ first homily of his papacy, I was struck by these words:
“When we walk without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, and when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord. We are worldly, we are bishops, priests, cardinals, Popes, but not disciples of the Lord. I would like that all of us, after these days of grace, might have the courage to walk in the presence of the Lord, with the Cross of the Lord… My hope for all of us is that the Holy Spirit, that the prayer of Our Lady, our Mother, might grant us this grace: to walk, to build, to profess Jesus Christ Crucified.”
In that moment, I realized that my cross was the cross of a mother whose child had passed, and I needed Our Blessed Mother’s grace to continue because she understands.
I see the Pietà. Like the Blessed Mother who held the dead body of her son, I cradled my daughter in my arms that bleak night. As she grieved for the loss of her son, I grieved for the loss of a future with my daughter; yet, she had hope that her son’s death would redeem us all, bring us to new life. What I would learn in a few short months is that my daughter’s death brought me new life in the form of my son. He is my hope.
The pain of the loss of my daughter and the pain of the circumstances of my son’s birth are still present. It is a pain as raw as if it were yesterday. I will always carry this pain in my heart. That is my cross to bear.
So, I take up my cross. Instead of weighing me down, my cross inspires me to cherish my family, smother my son with kisses, and proclaim the truth about who we are created to be. This journey is not easy, but I know who walks beside me—Jesus and Our Blessed Mother.