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Filtering by Tag: Miscarriage

Suffering Part III, Life with Christ

alec vanderboom

Conversion Diary's Jennifer F. sent me over to a site where a non-religious (Jennifer likes to use the term "secular") woman is dealing with the grief of miscarriage. Reading her posts touched my heart. Please join me in offering some prayers for this grieving mother.

I wanted to say that I'm so, so profoundly grateful that I had become a full fledged Catholic before my miscarriage. That event made it so clear to me why it matters that I'm a now Catholic, instead of remaining a vaguely happy Christian following Jesus on my own.

The Catholic church has clear rules, and those rules act as safeguards when you are in trouble.

When I walked into that ultrasound room . . . when the nurse practitioner told me that my baby no longer had a heart beat, that same baby whose teeny finger tips I could now make out on the monitor . . . Boy, was I in trouble.

I need gentleness. I needed the support of a real, sacramental of marriage. I needed to be married to the baby's father. I needed to know in my bones that my husband missed being a father just as much as I missed being this lost baby's mother.

I needed the gracious support of my beloved Parish priest. The same celibate guy who sat in the confessional and helped me discern when to open myself up to conceive this baby, who forgave me when the stress of pregnancy caused me to yell at my older children, who included my littlest guy during the blessing of my children by making an extra sign of the cross over my non-bulging tummy.

This beloved Father helped me plan the baby's funeral. He hard my confession and absolved me of all my fears that I'd accidentally hurt my baby. (Should I have double checked with the pharmacist to insure the antibiotic I took for an earache really was safe to take while pregnant? and so forth). I knew in my head that no one was to blame for the miscarriage, of course. I still needed to hear the words out loud to soothe my heart.

I needed Catholic friends who treated this miscarriage as the loss of a real baby.

At the same time, I needed some strict discipline.

The Sunday after my miscarriage, I couldn't face going to church. We had to take the bus. My husband had done all the heavy lifting to get a 2 year old, a 1 year old and myself dressed in church clothes and waiting at our bus stop in time for 10 AM Mass. The bus was late.

I walked a few feet away from my family. I ignored my good church dress and laid down in the grass. "I can not bear to go to church right now!" I said.

"Are you feeling badly. I can take the kids alone to church, or go another time, if you don't feel well enough for Mass," my husband said with anxiety.

"No, I'm physically fine. It's a mental thing. I just can not bear to go to Mass. Last week we were all there together. I rubbed my tummy and felt so happy. We got chocolate milk shakes after church. I felt so excited to be buying three kid size milkshakes on Sundays in a few months." I spit out the words. I felt crummy.

"You can stay home. I'm sure it's alright," he said.

"No it's a sin. A big one. If I'm not really sick then I have to go to Mass." I pulled myself up, with so much disgust at the Catholic church. I really wished that I was Protestant again. I wished I got to skip church whenever I wanted to.

That gift of knowing "mortal sin" saved me. Because if I hadn't gone to church on that terrible Sunday after the miscarriage. That Sunday when I was so mad at God, so mad at all the pregnant mothers at the swimming pool who blithely commented about "life with this baby" without realizing that in a second this whole baby gift can suddenly disappear while a dead body still floats in your uterus, and so overwhelmed with the thought of returning to the church its happy stain-glass windows of Mary cradling the newborn Jesus, I don't know when I would have ever returned. It could have been a week. But it probably would have been much, much longer.

My mother was a Sunday School administrator once at our Protestant church. I remember her telling another teacher that it was such a lovely thing to sign up Sandra at last to teach 5th grade. My mom said "Sandra says she hasn't been to church for 2 years since her father died. Having her teach Sunday School will be such a beautiful way to get her back into the church. At least she'll be in the same building!"

As Catholics, we don't have the option of hanging out in the Sunday School classroom while we manage our grief. We don't get to take a break and arrange our face before we meet God.

Each Sunday, we are required to be in a pew at Mass. And that is not a pain-in-the-neck requirement. That is a grace.

Because it is when we are bleeding, it's when we are in pain and angry and lost, it's the times when we so don't want to be in a Church--those are the times that God has the most to say to us.

That Sunday that I didn't want to go to Church, I realized that it was because I couldn't bare for my life to go on as normal. I couldn't bare for my church to seem to forget my son. I didn't know yet that death is talked about each and every Sunday.

I walked into my church feeling so bitter and closed up. "I'm only here because you are making me!" I thought. Then I found this little King figure that Alex had left in our pew the week before. The doll had sat there undisturbed through a week's worth of Masses. The doll was about 4 inches long and had a crown on it's head. It was the same size as my dead son's body. I picked it up, and squeezed it in my hand all during Mass.

The stain-glass window that lay behind my regular pew turned out to be Our Blessed Mother holding her Jesus as he came off the cross. I scooted down to be in the blue shadow from that window. "Mary lost a son," I thought. "She knows how I feel."

I cried openly all through that Mass. I cried at the Holy Scripture reading. I cried when we had to shake hands with a family of three. "Oldest girl and 2 younger brothers. That's what we were supposed to have," I thought at the passing of the peace. I cried during communion.

I didn't get the sense while I was in church, squeezing my little King doll and wishing that I Francisco's body was back in my womb, that my burden was easier as a Catholic mom. Now I do.

Catholicism has hard rules. And when the way is blurred with tears ---the church makes sure that your grief doesn't harden your heart and lead to sin. The Church make sure that you are face to face with God on Sunday. The church insures that you don't short-cut your ethics in exchange for preventing the conception of another child and thus spare yourself ever feeling this intense pain again.

The church is our Mother. She can't prevent all of our pain from the Great Fall. She does care, however. She bandages our wounds and showers us with "feel better soon" kisses. I love our Blessed Mother. I love our Mother Church.

Let's pray that all those in mourning soon feel comfort. Let's also pray everyone makes it home to feel our Mother's love.

Making Sense of Suffering

alec vanderboom

Today is day three of a light, but lingering depression. It's anniversary grief. Saturday I felt this weird, phantom pain. Jon took the kids out for a massive three hour swim. When I was home alone with the baby, I suddently felt so odd. It's like I wasn't sad, but my body held the memory of sadness. I couldn't figure out what was going on. I finally looked up Francisco's file in our file cabinet. July 19th was his funeral.

I had totally forgotten. I knew we had passed the miscarriage date in the flurry of our trip to Vermont to visit Jon's hospitalized father. I thought I was sort of past it this year. I didn't remember the actual date of his funeral. It was so strange. It was like my body remembered. My body remembered this feeling of intense, physical sadness on this date and threw me back there, even when my conscious mind was somewhere else.

So July 19, 2008 marks two years since my son's funeral. Right after it happened, things were so intense. Each morning I would wake up and the first thought was "I'm not pregnant anymore." My first thought, before I even registered that it was morning or that we had moved into a new apartment or even that my husband was sleeping next to me. My first thing each morning was this loud shouting sentance "I am not pregnant!" I would just realize that my stomach was fine and my muscles weren't sore and the whole host of physical sensations that are so annoying when you are pregnant were missing. Feeling back to normal was my punch in the gut. My grieving thing would start all over again.

I spent most of July 2006 not wanting to get out of bed. Jon would go to work and leave me alone with a 3 year old and 1 year old. Hannah would just pull on my hand, "Mom get up. Get up. I need you." I felt this weight of sadness that was like a physical presence hovering three inches over my bed. I'd snake my body under it, not being able to sit up like a normal human being. I'd have to snake out of the bed, get on my knees and crawl to wherever she needed me. I'd make her a peanut butter and banana sandwich or find a misplaced toy. Then I'd crawl back into bed.

It was such a weird feeling. I loved Hannah and Alex with so much intensity after losing my third child. At the same time, I was so numb with this raw 'missing something" feeling, I could barely concetrate on fufilling their most basic needs.

Last year, at the one year marker, I had a shiny, six week old newborn. The rawness of that anniversary grief of my miscarriage hit me with such a surprise intensity. My whole pregnancy with Maria I was totally convinced there was a real possibility that we would not be taking her home. My c-section doctor said "It's almost baby time!" as he made the inciscion. I immediately mentally added "If God wills. If He takes her, that's alright!" Both Jon and I really thought it was a possiblity to leave the OR without holding a live baby.

The mental image that got me through my fear a picture of newborn baby in her Winnie the Pooh carrier next to Francisco's grave. If Maria is safely born by mid-July, that first anniversary isn't going to be that hard. I'll just miss knowing my son. I won't worry that my body will continue to fail me for all future babies, in addition.

So it was a complete surprise, when I suddenly start throwing up with grief before July 4, 2007. The Fourth of July used to be my favorite holiday. It was a big Rupp family celebration at my grandparent's Lake House. I loved the colors. I loved marching in the funny parades. I loved sailboats and silly patriotic deserts and endless recitations of lines from the Declaration of Independence.

Suddenly, I sat in the middle of the capital of the United States and I hated everything. Everything made me cry. Everything made me throw up.

On July 4, 2006, my family had a beautiful day. We went to the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival. I sat in the sunshine on the National Mall. I rubbed my big, 4 month belly while I watched my older kids ride the same Carousal I rode as a kid. "Everything is going to be okay," I thought optimistically. We'd been through some rough water. But now we had a new start. My husband had a new job. We were finally living in our own apartment (after 4 months of living with relatives.) I rubbed my belly and gave thanks. "Thanks for bringing us home!"

July 9, 2006, was a Sunday. Jon and I had an unbelievable Sabbath. We were on fire. We felt so incredible. We were planning on how to bring cellphones to the Congo, and decided that this feeling must be proof that we were one to this micro-finance task that was supremely blessed by God.

The next day, I went for a routine ob appointment. The doctor couldn't find a heart beat. She wasn't worried and I wasn't either. Fifteen minutes later, I had an ultrasound. The baby had died the day before. Jon and I had felt so incredible during the Sabbath, not because of anything we had done, but because one of our children had entered heaven.

This year, I had thought I'd already skipped over the "hard" dates of 4th of July, of the ob appointment and of the miscarriage itself. But my body remembered. My body remembered carrying him and my body remembered the grief of suddnely not carrying him.

This year, I'm not bowed down by sadness (or the hormones of carrying for a newborn). This year, I'm going to sit a little more quietly with my sadness. I'm offering it up for a woman who is sad after having an abortion. This pain of lost children hurts all women. Even if you kid dies incredibly young. Even if you won't admit to yourself that your fetus had a name.


alec vanderboom

Being a convert is an odd thing. On the one hand, it's frustrating innocence -when is that Holy Day of Obligation in August again? Then again, the ability to start your faith anew as an adult is an incredible blessing.

One of the things I'm so proud of as a family, is that we buried our son, Francisco, in a full Catholic mass on July 19, 2006 even though he had only lived for 12 weeks and 6 days in my womb before he died. Burying my son was one of those things, I just had to do as a mother. I had one son who was eighteen months old at the time and I couldn't imagine treating his younger brother any differently at death.

I've got a shaky smile on my face in this picture while my hand is on his tiny coffin (only five inches long) because I was finally successful in my quest. It wasn't easy to let my doctors allow me to have a natural miscarriage, and to get his little body across state lines and into a cemetery without a death certificate. Because Francisco was so little, his body was medically termed "medical waste" and not a still birth. We had no legal right to recover his body for burial, but thankfully, no laws prohibiting his burial either.

For an entire week I fought red tape to have a Catholic funeral and burial for my son. First the doctors demanded a D & C. Then I couldn't be assured of getting his body back from the pathology lab. Then the doctor refused to sign a death certificate, so the funeral director couldn't transport him across state lines. On and on and on. I had read somewhere that a body should be present for a funeral mass "if at all possible." People kept telling me that it didn't matter if we had a service without my son's body. But Francisco hadn't died at sea. His body wasn't lost in the rubble of 9/11. He was simply such a little guy that American law didn't recognize his remains as human. But we did as his family. And my newly adopted church --also respected him as an equal soul.

So out of shear determination I planned a Funeral Mass. I picked out the readings with my priest. I hired the cantor and organist. I sang "All Through the Night" to my son. His father read a favorite Spanish poem. The priest's homily talk about Francisco's equality before God. The young deacon looked carefully at the funeral handout which featured pictures of our happy conception party for Francisco that April. His brother and sister blew bubbles at the grave site and left plastic bath toys at his grave.

It all helped, and then none of it helped. I still hurt. I still couldn't get out of bed for two weeks because my first thought every morning was "I'm not pregnant anymore." I would watch Hannah and Lex race around the sofa and think "there was supposed to be another little boy joining this game."

My family loved me, but they didn't get it. It was just a miscarriage. Why are you taking it this far? My Dad didn't come to the funeral because he didn't think that it was going to be a big deal.

Yet my church family got it. I was a mother with one soul already in heaven. Francisco's little body mattered, and so it was gently laid in a grave. His funeral honored a great spirit, not a tiny or unformed one. One of my thoughts during the Mass was "he's got a big boy funeral at last."

Because he was a real boy to me, having a funeral Mass helped me mark his place. It made my grief more tangible and more intense. At the same time, wrapping myself in the mystery of faith gave me the courage to become pregnant again with another child.

One of the things that the Catholic religion does, is help you focus on the right questions. After Francisco died, my first sad thought was "can I have another child?" It seemed so painful to lose another, that I thought "NO WAY." Then then I remembered that as a Catholic, contraception was out- so even on NFP, we were probably looking at having at least one more in the decade or more left of my fertility. So then the question became "when can I be open to having another child?" At first I thought, "ten years." Then "well, maybe three." "Okay, maybe one year." And the surprising answer for both me and my husband "right now!"

Maria Lois Elizabeth was born on the feast of the Visitation, May 31, 2007. She is a fruit of my faith journey. A blessing to me and the world.