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Waiting for Tess

alec vanderboom

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Up until age 32, I thought I belonged to the "super-fertile" club. I had 4 pregnancies in 4 years. I felt pretty cocky about the whole baby-making process. Quick conceptions, beautiful, healthy babies and easy c-section recoveries. I wasn't so confident about my mothering abilities once my little ones emerged from the womb, but the reproductive aspect of mothering seemed like it was "in the bag."

Then came a long and fearful drought.

For 2 and 1/2 years, I didn't have another baby.

For a long time, my monthly period coincided with my church's Women of Prayer meetings. Every third Saturday, I would wake up and find blood in my drawers. I would start to cry. From Mass at 9 AM to 1 PM, I would try not to cry in public. I'd listen to prayers and uplifting conversation meanwhile my insides were dying.

I asked everyone I knew to pray for me to have another child, yet I didn't talk much about this sudden, unexplained infertility. It hurt to much. And honestly, I felt pretty stupid. I had three beautiful young kids and a miscarriage I'd made peace with.

But this loss of being the "easily pregnant one" hurt. I got older- 33, 34, 35. I never knew if I'd ever have another baby. I felt like I finally fallen in love with motherhood only to have the dance suddenly stop without a warning or my consent.

At age 34, I went on my first overnight retreat since I became a Catholic. I went on the retreat with the intention of begging God for another child. On Day 2, I suddenly felt more peace about my pregnancy quest. I felt like God would give me another baby--once the time was right.

I went home and fell in love again with my hard to love, red-headed toddler. I still felt sad at every menstrual cycle-but I stopped sobbing out loud at Saturday Morning Mass.

On January 1, 2010, Our Lady's Day, I prayed my familiar prayer "Lord, please give me another baby."

This time there was an answer in my heart. "You're prayer has already been answered. Go take a pregnancy test today."

I'm still a poorly formed Catholic- so my first response was "Wow! That was a weird thought." Then one of my kids misbehaved next to me and I forgot the entire matter by the end of Mass.

Many hours later, my husband causally inquired "So it seems like it's been a long time since your last period..." We'd been married for 8 years. My husband had NEVER before kept track of my last period.

"That's really strange of you to mention that . . " I said. I describe what happened to me in the middle of Mass.

"Maybe you should take a pregnancy test now," my husband suggested.

I peed on that stick in total fear. I couldn't even sit still in the bathroom for the three minutes for the test result. I went to the living room and started praying intensely by the couch. "Lord, if I'm not pregnant again, it will still be okay. I will still love you."

I was in the middle of telling the Lord that I'd still love him even if I didn't get the gift of a new baby this month, when Jon nudged me. He didn't say anything. He handed me the electronic pregnancy test which said "Pregnant" in loud letters.

I started jumping around the living room screaming YEAH!

That was the beginning of my Baby Tess.

She was conceived on the Eve of St. Nicholas, a mere two weeks after my husband and I received our Brown Scapulars and became official members of the Carmelite community. I called her "Mary's Gift" and "the Carmel Baby." I asked everyone in my Third Order Carmelite Community to pray over my baby bump.

Then my baby got sick, so sick that she almost died. I spent 3 weeks by her crib in the NICU, thinking about my journey with her.

Infertility seemed less like a barren desert and more like a time of preparation. What if the long stretch of time between Maria and Tess had less to do with my aging body or my toddler's refusal to sleep through the night? What if I NEEDED that Brown Scapular before I conceived Baby Tess? What if I needed to become an establish Carmelite before I could gracefully cope with a child born with a severe birth defect?

Instead of waiting for Tess, what if God was waiting on me?