[Note: I have been very indecisive about whether to actually press the publish button or not. If you’re reading this, I guess I chose vulnerability.]
This post is going to stray quite far from my usual superficial-on-the-blog self. It gets personal and even a little controversial [I know, I know…]. You’ve been warned.
Last week Ryan and I were blessed to find out we were expecting a baby. Words cannot begin to do justice to our excitement and gratitude! Due to nursing, my cycles had just returned, so we were humbled and thrilled that we conceived so quickly. We didn’t tell anyone, but we were going about our days with giddy grins and dreams of the future. We scoured the internet for the perfect “Big Sister” tshirt for Philomena, plotted how we were going to announce to our families, made our first appointment with our nurse-midwife. I even began a Word document of potential names [all very Catholic and obscure, of course.]
We just kept thanking the Lord and St. Gerard (who we had been asking to intercede on our behalf) over and over again. Tempering our joy was the reality of a few couples very close to our hearts, who have had difficulty conceiving and maintaining pregnancy. We started praying even more fervently for them, because it is the only thing we can do, and even more, we believe it is the most important thing to do.
Tuesday, January 22 was the 40th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade. Every year this day is particularly solemn for me, as I spend it thinking about and praying for the 50 million babies who have lost their lives due to abortion. My heart aches for every single mother and father who made this decision- for their healing, for the difficulties that led them to this act. This year was especially poignant and moving, in that I had this innocent life growing inside me, and although I had only known about him for a few days, I would still give anything to keep him safe. This little baby was only the size of a poppyseed, yet he had a soul, and a mommy and daddy who were madly in love with him.
That evening as I prepared dinner, I listened to an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air. The first guest was a woman journalist, who had an abortion last year in her 20th week of pregnancy. She was quite obviously very intelligent, well-spoken, and well-informed on the issue. Her words struck me deeply for a few reasons. First, she didn’t even attempt to use any euphemisms for the life she chose to end. She plainly called the being in her uterus a baby, and even used the pronoun “him,” for in fact, she was far enough along to know the gender. She had two chosen sonograms, in which she was able to see clearly all the baby’s human parts and features.
Also, she wasn’t having an abortion because she was poor, the victim of rape, or even very young. She was married with a child, and indeed, she and her husband desired another baby. She kept saying over and over again that this was a “wanted baby.” The reality, however, is that she wanted a baby, just not this baby. For you see, this particular baby had a serious neurological condition. She didn’t give the details or name of the disease, but the baby’s chances of making it to full-term were questionable, and if he did survive he would have a painful struggle with the condition.
She repeatedly explained that it was her parental “instinct” that led her to end the pregnancy: “And so to us, it was actually – it was a terrible choice; it was a heart-wrenching one. But it was also a simple one because as his parents, we chose what we believed was best for him, to prevent him from knowing a life of pain. And that was, in fact, quite a quick choice we were able to make as well, within minutes of my doctor giving us the terrible news. It was also almost an instinctive response about the choice that we would make.”
When I heard these words, I started crying. The depths of my soul ached for this little boy, his life ended, because his parents thought (instantly!) his death was better than a life with possible pain. And I was filled with anger at our world, our society that has built such a stronghold into this worldview, in that these well-intentioned, honest parents had the “instinct” that it is better NOT to live than to live a life that is less than ideal, a life that is marked by suffering. And I hurt very much for this woman, who was so reviled by the thought of suffering that she chose to kill her own son. And it seemed opposite from my experience, in that every parent I know would give their own lives in a heartbeat to save the life of their child.
Of course it is a mother’s instinct to shield her child from pain [the mere thought of Philomena enduring even trivial hurt is enough to send me into a panic], but to choose the death of the child to avoid the possibility of pain? What if this boy was diagnosed with the disease when he was 10 years old? Or 5? Or a few months old? Would her instinct have been the same? If it had been, she’d be in prison right now.
The purpose of this rambling is not to point fingers at this woman, because, as I said earlier, she is merely a reflection of our society that claims to prefer death over a life that does not meet some arbitrary ideal that is devoid of suffering.
But really, are any of us immune to suffering in some form or another? I know a lot of people who have extraordinary pain and suffering- even very young children- and they have just as much dignity as I do. And quite frankly, they teach me quite a bit about what it truly means to live, not just muddle through our days.
Ryan and I discussed the interview at length throughout the evening. I kept tearing up and saying, “don’t people know? Don’t they know that every. single. life. has immense beauty! Even with the suffering. Often because of the suffering.”
I remember in prayer that night literally holding my stomach and telling our little poppyseed just how wanted, how loved he was, no matter the difficulties he would face.
The next morning I woke up to miscarrying the little baby, confirmed by a subsequent visit to the doctor. Blessedly, Ryan left work immediately, and we spent the day praying and mourning the loss of our little life, who though we didn’t know the gender, we aptly named Gerard. Some people might find it strange that we named our miscarried baby. However, even though he was only in our lives a few weeks, he has an immortal soul and is just as much a person as 13-month-old Philomena.
After my rant the night before about beauty and suffering, the Lord allowed us to experience both the next day (albeit in a small way). Without doubt, Gerard is beautiful. God allowed us to be co-creators with Him, and He knit this tiny being in the secret of my womb (Psalm 139:13). We were blessed with a few short weeks with him here on earth, but Gerard will live forever: I pray fervently some day we will meet him in the heavenly Kingdom. And our slight taste of mourning is nothing compared to what many others have endured, but it was a reminder of the presence of Christ, the One who gives meaning to all of our suffering. Without Him, even our greatest acts, like the creation of life, are nothing.
I didn’t write this post to incite pity. Honestly, we’re okay. We’ve had a tough few days, but we also have been celebrating the gift of our little Gerard. There are couples who have had multiple miscarriages, or who have had them much later in the pregnancy, which no doubt brings immensely more pain, both physical and emotional. I would never want to take away from their significant trials.
I honestly don’t know why I wrote all this. It would have sufficed to say:
“The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Job 1:21