How fecundity and multiple miscarriages are teaching me the same lesson in the school of surrender.
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Not so long ago, I had a 7-month-old boy baby, Thomas. He was so little in my arms and heavy on my time and space. He was my third child in five years, and I felt submerged. When he was 7 months old, barely mouthing his first pears, I got pregnant again. It was the result of a certain kind of newlywed-style Catholic NFP that doesn’t try too hard, because marriage makes babies and that’s okay.
But when I found out I was pregnant with my fourth child when my third was 7 months old and my oldest was 5, I was thrown off balance. When I found out it was another boy, I cried. I had just had a boy, and if I was going to be pregnant again so soon, some novelty would have been great.
That fourth child of mine was born on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in 2012. His name is Francis Joseph Ulysses, and he is a confection. He is blonde, when the others are dark. He is pudgy, when the others are slight. I cannot imagine not having this child in my bed, his feet shoved between my legs for warmth, his enormous head pinning my shoulder to the mattress. I am as pliable as a pillow for Frankie.
Four years ago, when Frankie was flourishing in my body, I thought I could not possibly continue to endure the incoming tide of my own fecundity. This wave of life was bringing babies as quickly as I could gasp at the surface for air. I was so overwhelmed with the demands of little children, visceral and insistent. I could only plow through each day responding to those demands: spoon-feeding people, rocking people to sleep. And then starting all over again each day, and then again with each new baby.
But then, the tide inexplicably receded as fast as it rushed in. I have had three miscarriages in three years. I’m not drowning anymore; I’m thirsty for that new life. Three babies have been swept away, and I didn’t even notice when the tide had changed.
This is the dark side of the moon. Because we know, don’t we, that being open to life is also, necessarily being open to death.
The only way to make sense of it is to consider that it is simply the change of the season, or the receding of the tide, which has left behind treasures to delight the slow beachcomber.
A Hidden Grief: Offering Support Through Miscarriage and Infertility
It is heartbreaking, of course, as all goodbyes are. But just as gasping for air while drowning in life was instructive, so too, God is softening me by letting me suffer death in this way, in my smallest ones, because ultimately the only path to life is death. “Whoever would save his life will lose it, while whoever loses his life for My sake, will find it” (Matthew 16:25).
To be open to life brings progressive losses. You lose your bodily autonomy – you are not just “me,” but “we.” You lose the sweet twosome of marriage — the eyes that were once firmly fixed on each other are now darting around anticipating and responding to the needs of these little ones. You lose control over your time and your environment. The pretty flowers you put in a vase are knocked off the piano. The date night you planned is lost to a fever or a troublesome cough.
And once you have accustomed yourself to these losses, it seems, you graduate to a new school of surrender. This is the loss I am experiencing now. Quickly, without warning, I’m not having new babies anymore, and three of my babies died before I could hold them. Those small people who are here, who made me give up my body, my leisurely reading, my contemplative prayer, and my date nights are now getting big and sturdy, and I’m saying goodbye to their childhood.
With this fresh suffering, the suffering of before seems different. The losses have become progressively deeper, and more essential.
We are in a school of surrender. We are being taught by God the art of letting go, to practice losing our lives for His sake.
This is not a concept unique to Christianity. If anything, this is a concept shared broadly in the world’s religions. Thich Nhat Hahn, in The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, tells us, “When you have suffered from the cold, you know the preciousness of warmth. When you have suffered, you know how to appreciate the elements of paradise that are present. If you dwell only in your suffering, you will miss paradise.”
Or as Fr. Jacques Philippe says in Searching for and Maintaining Interior Peace, “We would have not chosen the folly of the cross for the means of redemption.”
There’s a hidden prayer in the final petition of the Hail Mary
The only way to reconcile this suffering is to accept that it is ordered to life, ultimate life, but that it can only be dimly grasped now. “What eye has not seen nor ear heard, what the human heart has not conceived, what God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9)
I know the struggle of the drowning feeling. It is real and terrifying. But now I’ve been introduced to a new kind of suffering, the next stage in the school of surrender.
Faith alone tells me that I can take my pain and unite it with Christ on the Cross, and then I can let it rise and dissolve in the Resurrection, which makes all things good. This is the hope of my empty hands.
If you would like to read more testimonies of hope and faith found in miscarriage, see here:
Finding the gift in everything … even after miscarriage
After my miscarriage, I was suddenly surrounded by the culture of death
How the Holy Rosary brought me real comfort after a miscarriage
After a miscarriage, with the Blessed Mother at the Cross
And if you’d like to accompany parents who have lost a child to miscarriage, these moms speak of the gifts that helped them most: