Saturday, December 24, 2016

Hyperemesis Gravidarum, Suffering, and Christmas

Sorry I left you hanging!

We've had two ultrasounds since my last post, and both have revealed a beautifully developing baby, with a strong heartbeat, debuting this summer! Here's a little wave from the newest member of our family:

However, not one to break with tradition...I've had hyperemesis gravidarum again. And it's the worst bout I've ever had. Hospital trips for IVs, multiple oral meds, and even home health for a subcutaneous pump. I keep telling Andrew that this pregnancy has made our marriage "level up", as he's by my side in the ER watching IV bags drain, held back my hair and cleaned out my puke bucket more times than I can count, and helped me change my pump site. The pump is really what made us level up. The medicine it pumps into me 24/7 is a skin irritant, and, since the tube is feeding medicine into my skin, we have to change its location every day or two. It leaves behind a lovely trail of bumps and bruises on my belly, but I think it's helping. Oh, but the catch is that my needle fearing husband has to assist me with changing the location of my tube, which...drumroll please... means watching me stick a needle in my belly every day or two! So, yes...our "in sickness" vow continues to be one we get to practice.

Despite more aggressive treatment than I had in any of my previous pregnancies, I'm sicker than I was for any of them. I have one foot out the door of my first trimester, and I still live in bed. This pregnancy motion, noise, light, talking, my phone screen, watching TV, touch (including the feeling of my feet touching, certain fabrics, plastic bags, etc.), smell, drinking, and eating have all triggered intense nausea as well as dry heaving and vomitting. I've lost weight, scraping by on 500-1000 calories on a good day (usually way less than 1000), and fight a battle against dehydration every day. I can't sit up or walk without feeling sick. I've missed Mass multiple times, and when I go to Mass I sit quietly in the pew and don't move to keep from getting sick. I use a wheelchair at the doctor's office, because walking through the building to get to it would make me too sick otherwise. For just about two months, I've spent almost every day, all day, in a dark, quiet bedroom, by myself (save when I've been on duty watching the girls...then I have to leave my door open so I can supervise from bed). It's been incredibly lonely. Talking on the phone or being around people makes me sicker, so I've had to be mostly cut off from everyone. Adding to that all the stress and worry that comes with a first pregnancy after a miscarriage and it's quite overwhelming at times.

I share all of that, not to say, "Woe is me!" But because hyperemesis gravidarum is so rare a condition (often confused with normal morning sickness) that people don't understand it. It's hard to understand the toll of being a young, healthy woman who is suddenly too ill to leave bed for months. A woman with hyperemesis gravidarum lives like a terminally ill person for months...And sometimes, you forget that you're pregnant, not dying. You forget what it's like to eat, drink, walk, and talk without it all causing you to throw up and be crippled by nausea.

This is my second time that I've had HG at Christmas. Unlike last time, I am too sick to even have Christmas lights in my bedroom (because light is a trigger). Since I've been stuck in bed, I haven't gotten to partake in any of our Advent traditions, didn't get to decorate the tree (or even be well enough to lay on the couch and look at the lights). I can't eat Christmas cookies -let alone bake them- or partake in the usual Christmas treats. I can't sing Christmas carols, and I'm often too sick to even listen to them. I can't watch Christmas movies. I can't enjoy the company of family or friends. I can't eat a Christmas meal with loved ones.

Lots of moms with HG struggle during the holidays. There isn't the guilt of, "I didn't get to do everything I wanted to do with my kids!" There's just the realization, that, "I didn't get to do anything."

But something strange and wonderful happens. When you've lost all the trappings of Christmas - the lights, the food, the music, the parties - you're left with only one thing.

The Christ child.

If I can do almost nothing else, most days I try to read the readings for the day. And in them, I find an answer for my loneliness and longing. When life is literally darkness and loneliness, you find yourself straining to look for light. And as the days count down to Christmas, the daily Scriptures are full of promise. "Hark! My Lover, here he comes!" "He will come to you!" "The people in darkness, have seen a great light!"

All of us, whether we realize it or not, are yearning desperately for that light. But normally, it's easy to forget that. It's easy to forget that suffering borne for love, is what Christmas is actually about. It's easy to forget the longing for Christ and heaven imprinted on each of our hearts.

But when all the comforts, company, and festivities are taken from you by suffering, you are able to realize what they are all for. You are able to approach the manger with empty, yearning hands. When you have no Christmas feast to look forward to, but the hope of being well enough for Mass long for that feast. When you feel so alone, you realize that, in the end, He is all you have. But you also realize what those poor, cold shepherds did on a Christmas night long ago...He is enough.

The first Christmas was one of great joy, because Love Made Flesh, embraced suffering for love of us. He was born in a poor, strange place, not a palace. He did not choose a life of ease. He choose to bear suffering for love of us.

That is the real meaning of Christmas. The great love of a God who loves enough to suffer by taking on our human nature. To suffer, even as a newborn, in a cold, poor stable.

We don't think of Christmas and suffering being so intimately connected, but they are. Don't you see? The cross is foretold by the manger.

In realizing that, I've found comfort. As with my other three children, I love this fourth child with all my heart. I have suffered so much this pregnancy, but I willingly embrace it because of how passionately I love this child. I willingly bear suffering, for the sake of love. When I said my wedding vows, I never imagined this. I never imagined how real God would make His love to me, in the midst of suffering.

And so, it is in suffering in love for this baby in my womb, that I've been led in adoration to the Baby who chose to suffer for love of me. In suffering in love to bring forth life, I am reminded of the One who suffered that I might live.

Because, don't you see??? The whole Incarnation has transformed our human suffering into an opportunity to partake in the Divine love.

Dear one, if you are reading this and suffering in any way this Christmas, know...You do not suffer alone. For God chose to take on flesh, so we needn't ever be alone in our suffering again.

And, in a real way, if you are suffering in any way this Christmas - as many are - know that you experience Christmas in a more real way than it seems. Know of the incredible love of that Child in the manger for you - the love of He who chose to suffer in love, so that you would know that you are never alone.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Not the Path I Planned for Myself

Just a few short weeks ago, I took a pregnancy test on a whim. Surprisingly, it was positive.

I'm currently pregnant with our fourth child.

Even looking at this screen right now is significantly increasing my nausea guessed it...I have hyperemesis gravidarum again. It's quite possibly my worst HG yet, and I'm most bedridden, even while on two strong anti-nausea medications.

This should be cause for so much joy. But unfortunately, a week ago, I went to the doctor for my six week ultrasound...and all they could find was a yolk sac. If you know alot about embryonic development, you know that a six week ultrasound with only a yolk sac is not necessarily a death sentence. But you also know that many babies are seen on ultrasounds at six weeks, hearts beating strong.

I'm going for another ultrasound in the morning. I ended up needing to switch doctors because the first ultrasound for this baby was held in the same room as the room where I found out that we had lost Gabriel...and I just felt like I was re-living that trauma. I'm not naive, and I know that doing an ultrasound someplace else does not mean my baby will be fine. But even if the worst happens, it will not happen in that room that forever stole my innocence.

With Gabriel, I had mild hyperemesis gravidarum. With medication, I actually didn't lose weight (in fact, I gained weight), I could only eat particular foods but eating was doable, and I could spend my days on the couch. Despite that fact, it was still harder than your average pregnancy, and it made losing him that much harder. Moms with HG cling to the hope that their suffering equals a healthy baby, and when that hope is robbed from you, it's hard to go on.

With this little love, I have moderate hyperemesis gravidarum. Even on two strong anti-nausea medicines, I spend my days in bed, in a dark room. Thank goodness for technology, because I'm able to cover all of our school work electronically and Therese hasn't fallen behind at all. And double thank goodness that we live in a relatively small house, because I can lay in bed all day and know exactly where people are and what they're doing at all times.

But despite that fact, at seven weeks, this pregnancy has already been incredibly hard. We had to return our sweet puppy (the pregnancy wasn't the deciding factor, but I think it tipped us over the edge) because there is no way I could give her the care she needs right now. Andrew has to do everything for me - bring me food and drink, help me get dressed, help me with my medicine, turn the shower on for me and make sure that I have fresh clothes laid out. I can't be upright for long without feeling incredibly nauseous and often dry heaving, and talking for longer than a few words makes me dry heave. My tolerance for food and drink has been low, but so far I've been able to manage without an IV. I basically live in bed, and sleep when I can, since it's my only escape from the nausea.

But despite all of that, I would gladly go on this way for another 33 weeks. Because the first time I went through HG I ended up with this...

And after the second time I ended up with this...

And they have both brought me more joy than they can ever know. As I lay in bed every day and watch them play, and hear their little feet pounding up and down the hallway, I know...the suffering was worth it. Every moment of it was completely worth it.

The great consolation for a mom with HG is holding her living, breathing, healthy child at the end of her pregnancy. HG pregnancies are notoriously traumatic, and holding that child is the best balm for weary souls...which is why losing a child while suffering HG is so traumatic. 

But even Gabriel taught me's all worth it. I haven't yet healed fully from losing Gabriel, nor from his pregnancy. But despite that fact, despite not getting to experience the joy of holding him in my arms (a joy I should have been experiencing any day now) I still believe the suffering that I endured for him was worth it. He made us a family of five, and helped point our family to heaven.

And this little bean has made us a family of six. Nothing can ever change that. Not even if we lose this one can we ever change the fact that we are a family of six.

But that being said, I hope with all of my heart that this will be the child who lives. Were I to lose this one, I would lose this one when I should have had Gabriel and I can't bear the thought of that double grief. This little one would also be due right around my birthday, and I hope very much to hold a living baby of mine by my 31st birthday. I hope with all of my heart that God will let us raise this little one.

I know a lot of women who have lost children to miscarriage or stillbirth, but I also know many who haven't. And I can't help but feel jealous of them, and of their innocence. I wish their innocence was still mine. I wish I could rest in the certainty of holding a newborn in my arms, come June. It would be worth 8 months of nausea. 

But the reality is - none of us has that certainty, ever. All we can do is trust in God.

That being said...I hope so very much for good news tomorrow morning. I hope to see a healthy baby, with a strong heartbeat, measuring right on target. Very early on in this pregnancy, I was driving and I suddenly wondered, "Who is this baby's patron saint?" In an instant, St. Rita came to mind. It was crystal clear and definitive. So, I've been asking people over on Facebook to join me in a novena to her, for baby's survival. Since Mother Angelica's name was Rita, I've been asking for her prayers, too.

So, please...join me in praying for a miracle. Please join me in praying that this baby will live.

St. Rita, pray for us.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Getting Me to Heaven

Oh, these children of mine.

I just keep learning from them.

Our oldest just turned six, and that feels surreal. She was (and is) a very compliant child, but she certainly taught me so much about life and mothering. She is the one who made me a mother.

Our second is three years old, and that implies everything you think it does. She can be the most affectionate, tender person I have ever met...or she can be more spirited than I feel capable of dealing with. It was easy with our first to think that we were good parents...but this little girl reminds us that we need so much grace to parent.

And, of course, there's Gabriel, who taught me that all of my children are gifts...and gifts that can never be taken for granted.

But even after almost seven years as a mother, I still get thrown an absolute curve ball sometimes. One of the more recent curve balls was courtesy of my lovely three year old who came into contact with a bat. We were touring a tall, beautiful tower and...she found a sleeping bat on the wall. She thought it was cute. She reached out to touch it, and we still don't know whether or not she petted it. We thought about it a bit (since she didn't seem to have been bitten and scratched) but since a bat sleeping by itself in broad daylight seemed weird, and there was a rabid bat found in our county in the last month, we decided (along with her doctor) to go ahead and do a round of rabies shots. Did you know, by the way, that untreated rabies is pretty much 100% fatal? Yeah. Not something to mess around with. (Ironically, her final shot from bat exposure is on Halloween.)

Anyway, she and I had had a really rough week the week before, but then this whole rabies/bat scare thing happened and it helped me realize how much I love her and don't want to lose her. Now that she's halfway through the rabies shot series, my patience and feelings of tenderness have waned. But I still realize...I don't want to lose this little one. 

And honestly, that's how I feel about all my children, after losing Gabriel. Before Gabriel, losing a child felt like an abstract, scary possibility. Now that I've experienced it, it feels too possible.

But in order to properly love my children, I'm having to learn to trust God. I am so bad at it, and I'm convinced that my purgatory will consist of God asking me over and over again, "Do you trust me? How about now? Do you trust me know?"

It's a slow, slow process. I'm trying to learn to trust. But really, so much of the time, I still just feel so afraid - so afraid to love because I may lose.

And then, sometimes, I see God provide so unexpectedly and wonderfully for me even in the midst of loss. The pretty little Marian shrine in these pictures is a beautiful example of that. I grew up in the Chicago area, and never had any desire to leave. When we discerned that God was calling our family to move further south, it broke my heart. I cried in the car on our first trip down to visit our new city.

Over five years later, I am so grateful for this new home of ours. We have been blessed with incredible people in our lives, with friends and a community that I could never have imagined. And the fact that my husband is now a seminary professor and I can be an active part of helping him live out that vocation? It is all such a gift.

But despite all of that, I've really been missing living near the Great Lakes. I miss standing by an open body of water, the soothing beauty of waves ebbing and flowing, the hum of boat motors. Even though we live near the Mississippi River, the part that passes through the city and south of the city is brown and murky and gross looking.

Then, one Saturday a few weeks ago, I drove up north to go to a book sale. When I arrived, I saw a sign saying that the sale wasn't until the following week, and I decided to just drive and explore. What I found was an entirely different Mississippi River than the one I'd known for the past five years. I found a wide, blue, beautiful body of water that reminded me of the harbors and the channels of the Great Lakes. I found a riverside town that reminded me of the lakeside towns tucked throughout Michigan. And for the first time since moving down here, I felt like that longing was satisfied. While I was in that small riverside town, I even found an unlocked Catholic church to sit in and spend some time with my dear Jesus in the tabernacle. It was unexpected and beautiful and it filled me up in a way that I didn't even realize I needed to be filled.

When I said yes to God call to move (and stay) down here, I thought I was saying goodbye to places like this. And now, God has given it back.

And it's moments and minutes and hours and days like that that fill me with hope. The cross will always be there, but God will also, somehow, always provide.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Healing With Tolstoy, Agnes, and My Vocation

The other day I got a call from the owner of our puppy's mother. She was checking up on Agnes, and trying to make sure that she was doing well in her new home. 

"So? How's it going? Is she everything you hoped she would be?!"

"Oh, yes," I replied. "She's just the sweetest puppy."

"How are your girls doing with her? I know they were very dog shy. I was telling my friend how they were climbing on you like little chimpanzees!" (Note: this is not an exaggeration.)

"Oh, they love her! She's so sweet and gentle with them, and she puts up with just about anything!"

"She's fixing things."

Fixing things indeed. 

Apparently, all of Aggie's litter mates (and Agnes) have a pronounced gift for sensing what is broken or needy and trying to fix it. Agnes's previous owner went on to regale me with story after story of the other puppies in the litter and how they each were remarkably gentle and intuitive. "I've never had a litter like this before," she said. "They are all so intuitive."

As she described this, I almost started crying. There was an aspect of Agnes's story that I didn't want to share on the phone with her previous owner, but as I was talking to her all I could think about was the way this little puppy has been healing my own heart. Aside from helping me overcome my own latent fear of dogs, she's been a tremendous comfort for my heart that is still, very much, grieving and in need of healing. 

Initially, I think that having a new puppy made me feel worse...almost like God was offering her to me as a replacement. Of course He wasn't doing that, but it initially felt like God was like, "Oh, I'm going to take your baby away, Here's a puppy instead."

Then, recently, I realized that what He was actually saying was, "Oh, Michele. I'm so sorry you lost your Gabriel. Here's a puppy to help console you."

That's my Agnes. She seeks me out when I sound stressed or sad, and she lets us all smother her to bits and pieces. 

What really amazes me, though, is how much losing Gabriel has focused life for me. I recently joined a Well Read Mom group, and we met for the first time the other night to discuss The Death of Ivan Ilych. First of all, I'm embarrassed to admit that it's the first work of Tolstoy that I've read beginning to end. (Although, I am slowly but surely working my way through Anna Karenina, which is basically like a Russian Downton Abbey. At least, that's how I picture it in my head.) Anyway, I don't know how I made it through the first three decades of my life without reading that book, but I found it incredibly healing. The title is pretty self-explanatory - the book is about the slow but dramatic demise of Ivan Ilych and (spoilers!) his eventual conversion.

This week, one of my very dear friends found out that his mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. My whole heart ached for him, and I felt that same old feeling of fear that always come when we're near to someone dying. Is death coming for me next?

This book was a beautiful remedy to that fear - a reminder that fear of death is normal, but not necessary. What's necessary is looking at how we live life.

In our Well Read Mom discussion group, I shared how Gabriel has changed the way I view heaven. Whenever I begin to doubt, I think of him. And suddenly, life takes on a very different meaning for me. Before Gabriel's death, it was easy to go about my life, trying to hide from the reality of death (which is what Ivan does for much of the book). But now, knowing that I have this tremendous hope of Gabriel already being in has changed everything. I have always longed for heaven to some degree, but now heaven is more real. A member of my tiny, immediate family is already there, waiting for the other four members of his family. I have this image of all five of us being reunited some day, and I image what a joyous reunion that will be. I imagine that he's praying for the four of us, still mourning and weeping in this valley of tears. And I realize that...heaven is real. Something deep inside of me - even in moments of incredible fear and doubt - somehow knows that in a way I didn't know before.

Throughout my life, I feel like God has sent various opportunities my way to overcome fear. Too many of those are too personal to share on this blog, but I will say that many, many of those opportunities have come through my vocation. With each time that I've faced a fear (and as someone with a history of anxiety and depression, more scares me than you would probably think) it's been a little practice for death. It's been an opportunity to let go of control, to cross a threshold I was fearful of crossing. Childbirth. Miscarriage. Surgery. Marriage. Even dog ownership. Each threshold, little and small have been an opportunity to grow in trust. I'm convinced that my purgatory will basically consist in God asking me, over and over again, "Do you completely trust me?" To try to shorten the length of my stay in purgatory, He's lovingly given me this vocation, which continues to mold, strengthen, and stretch me in ways that only this particular vocation could.

 The other day was so hard. I was struggling a lot with depression (which might even be some latent post-partum depression from Gabriel, given the stage that I'm at post-partum with him). My second born was being more of a handful than usual. Agnes was trying to eat all the toys in the house. I just felt so exhausted, so weak, and so spent.

That day was our seminary day, the day we get to go to Mass and lunch with Andrew every week. I was trying not to cry too much during Mass. On top of everything else, it was the optional feast of Blessed Marie Rose Durocher, who I know next to nothing about, but who is labelled in the Missal as "virgin." Normally, I'm like, "Lovely! She's a religious, and I'm a wife and a mother and both of our vocations are beautiful." Not that day, though. As we went up to receive Communion, the choir sang the Communion antiphon,

"The wise virgin has chosen the better part, and it will not be taken from her."

 What's my vocation?! I thought. Lord, I've given up my life to follow you in this vocation...this vocation with so much suffering. Isn't this good enough? Haven't I chosen the better part? If I haven't...what's the point.

Then, holding back tears, I listened to the antiphon again.

"The wise virgin has chosen the better part, and it will not be taken from her."

I realized that the antiphon applied to me in a way I hadn't previously considered.

As a young, unmarried woman, I had offered myself to God. I had prayed to know my vocation. God had made it abundantly clear what He had asked of me, with all it's possible facing of fears and sufferings. And I had chosen to say yes. I had chosen the better part.

I looked down at my Maria, as she walked beside me in the Communion line. I was conscious of my little Therese walking behind me, beside her daddy. And I thought of our sweet Gabriel.

Had I not given God my yes, had I not confronted fear, had I not been willing to die so many little deaths (and even embrace the death of my third child)...these three little ones would not exist.

My vocation matters. It infinitely matters.

There is healing in that. There is healing in being willing to embrace the ways that God is working in my life - even through dogs, Russian novels, and diaper changes...and even the ways that He is working through grief and fear to prepare me for heaven.

St. Zelie Martin, who lost a number of children herself, said it best. One of my dearest, oldest friends gave me this lovely print the other day to remind me of that:

Heaven is what matters. In fact, in the end, it is all that matters. 

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month. Don't be afraid to reach out to a grieving mother! Thank you to all those who have loved me and my Gabriel.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

The Book of Job, Grief, and Learning to Trust

This past week the lectionary readings were taken from the book of Job. For those of you unfamiliar with the story, Job has the perfect life and is totally faithful to God. The devil notices this and is like, "Well, God, of course Job is faithful to you because his life is perfect." So, God says, "Do whatever you want. He's still going to be faithful to me." Long story short, a ton of terrible things happen to Job and he loses everything - his livestock, his possessions, and...his children.

That part of the story really stuck with me this time around.

In the end, Job is faithful to God. God basically reminds Job that He has a bigger, broader view than Job ever could have, and Job affirms his trust in God. The book of Job ends with God restoring everything back to Job in even greater abundance than what he had before. He even gives Job more children and a long life in order to enjoy his progeny.

There is only one problem. Whenever I read this, I always think, "Yeah...but those children can't replace the first ones. They aren't the same children."

This week, in reading the daily readings, this stuck with me more than ever.

I don't think I've ever shared this, but I had a miscarriage scare when I was pregnant with Therese. My pregnancy with her was difficult from the start, and then I remember having spotting one night. I was probably only six or seven weeks pregnant at the time. Despite the suffering I'd already endured, I was already so in love with her. I knew that there was a child in me, and I loved her. After seeing the spotting, I remember curling up on my bed and sobbing and begging God, "Please, please God. Spare this baby. Please don't let this little one die. I love this baby so much already!"

And He did.

I prayed the same prayer for Maria, with each of my ER visits with her. He heard my prayer and spared that child, too.

I look back on those pregnancies (especially my miscarriage scare with Therese) and I find it hard to believe that these two beautiful girls are the ones who were in me in tiny form. If I had lost either one of them, no other child could have replaced them. As someone who suffers from anxiety and depression, I worry about losing them all the time. And I know, I just know that they are irreplaceable.

So, when I was pregnant with my third, beautiful child, I prayed the same thing. Then, when it looked like we might be losing him, I prayed harder than I ever had in my life. But that third, irreplaceable, much loved child was not spared.

I loved Gabriel. I still love him, so much. I hope and pray that God will bless us with another child in the future, but even if I am able to be pregnant again, that child will not replace Gabriel.

So, I struggle with the ending of the book of Job, because it makes it sound like, "Look...God gave Job even better children than before! His new daughters were drop dead gorgeous!" But I know the three child I have, including the one that I have lost. And I know that they are irreplaceable.

But maybe there's more to Job's story. God never tells Job, "Stop sniveling and man up! Look, I'll give you better kids, okay?" Instead, God allows the devil to do what he does (because, remember, God never does evil, but sometimes He permits evil) but in the end, He uses the awful stuff that happens to Job to lead Job to even deeper trust.

And, let's be honest, Job's trust must have been an even greater feat, because he didn't have the hope that I have. Job couldn't say, "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?"

But I can. I have the hope of heaven for my child.

And God, in His goodness, knew that one day Job would be reunited with his children, too. So, maybe, the new children He gave Job weren't replacements. Maybe they were consolation offered until Job and his original children would be reunited again, once Jesus threw open the gates of heaven.

Maybe, what God is asking of Job is just that trust. And maybe that's what He's asking of me, too.

The day we found out that we lost Gabriel, I remember getting on the elevator after leaving the doctor's office and being momentarily showered in incredible hope and having a mental image of a chubby, blonde little girl. Somehow, I knew, clearly, in that moment that God was going to give us another child as a consolation. He hasn't given us that child yet. I don't know how long we'll have to wait for another baby. But I know one thing...little by little, in the midst of ongoing grief, I'm learning to follow Job's lead. I'm learning to trust.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Grief and That Dumb Dog

I just don't get the way that God is working in my life lately. This whole year has just completely baffled me.

First I was hoping and praying for a baby. Then God sent one to me, and took him back. Then a million other things happened. Andrew graduated from graduate school. We bought a house. Andrew started teaching full time at the seminary. We got a dog.

Sigh. That dumb dog.

I just want to make it clear...I don't actually think she's dumb. She's a cute little stinker. And, as puppies go, she's a pretty good one. But I didn't grow up with a dog, and I'm about as illiterate in puppy language as it is possible to be. In fact, bringing Agnes into our home has left me feeling almost as overwhelmed as I felt after bringing our first baby home...without the benefit of the rush of hormones that made me bond with my newborn.

No offense to Aggie. It's just that I had visions of bringing a new, sweet baby into our home this year. But, in all my imaginings, it wasn't a puppy baby I was envisioning. It was the baby that was growing in my womb. 

Instead, that baby's tiny body is buried in the ground and I'm left with a puppy who steals my heart half the time, and makes me want to pull out my hair the other half of the time.

There are times when this dog reduces me to tears. I took her out with the girls the other day and was so overwhelmed you would have thought I had an extra toddler in tow. It didn't help that I took her to Petco (or "Pets Go" as our oldest thought it was called) and the people helping me were referring to her as a cute kid. Don't get me wrong - I'm starting to get the "dog parenthood" thing. I don't refer to myself as a dog parent (mainly because I'm still overcoming the latent fear of dogs I had as a child) but having a dog is TONS of work and requires lots of love and patience. Having a puppy for two weeks has made me had more respect for those who have dogs, and who have had them for years. Let's acknowledge that God asks us to be good stewards of creation, and caring for and loving and treasuring pets is an incredibly beautiful way to live that call out.

So, really, it's nothing wrong with Aggie. It's me. 

It's that stupid, dumb grief. I can't seem to shake it. 

Every new thing that I take on, since the death of Gabriel, seems like a betrayal of him. Because my pregnancies are so stinkin' hard with my hyperemesis gravidarum, there are a lot of things that I don't know that I would have been able to tackle, had he lived. I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to make it to Andrew's graduation. I can't imagine buying a house and moving - let alone painting the entire upstairs of a house - pregnant. And I can't imagine getting a new puppy while pregnant. So, poor Agnes is just one piece of a path that leads me farther and farther away from the child I lost.

Sometimes, I think I'm subconsciously resisting the marching on of life. Sometimes I run forward, full throttle. Other times, I can sense myself resisting. I don't want it to seem like he never existed.

I had multiple encounters this week with triggers...triggers that reminded me of Gabriel and what I lost all over again. One trigger was when we went to Mass at the seminary on the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, and the priest was talking about how Mary had lost her only son and I was like, "Oh, right. I lost mine, too." (Although, technically, we don't know for sure that Gabriel was a boy, so I may have lost my third daughter. Either way, still the grief of a child lost.)

Later, I was talking to one of my good seminarian friends, and I told him, "It feels like all I wanted was a baby, and God just gave me a dog instead."

Because that's really and truly what it feels like. I used to dream about getting a puppy when I was younger. This would normally be a fun new thing to take on. Instead, it's wedged into the experience of grief.

Every once in a while, I take something to prayer and feel semi-ridiculous praying about it, because I know that God has already given me the answer. I prayed pretty hard when we were looking for a dog, that God would lead us to the right one. Agnes is clearly, clearly, the right temperament for our family.  She's a puppy, which means she's crazy at the moment, but you can just tell after a few minutes with her how excessively sweet she is. 

But now, even after getting her, I feel like I sometimes come to God and am like, "So, this puppy. I can't take it anymore, God. We just have to return her!"

But God knows me well enough to know what I'm really praying, "Give me back my baby. I want that craziness, not this craziness."

And God seems to respond, "Nope. Be patient. This dog has a role to play in your life."

Sometimes I haven't the faintest idea what that role is. Other times it's glaringly clear.

I came home last Saturday night, fresh from writing on this blog and writing a different article about Gabriel for another site. I was a wreck. Before I came into the house, I was literally sobbing in the car because I missed Gabriel so much. I came in the house and was instantly greeted by that ridiculous puppy of ours. And then...I gathered her up in my arms and cried into her fur, and was surprised by how much it helped.

So maybe God is going to work through her after all. Still don't understand what He's doing, but I can see He's doing something here. I just need to learn to sit back and trust.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Not the Monastery I Was Expecting

The girls had their first day at our (large and remarkably well  run) homeschool co-op. The Catholic homeschooling community in our city is extensive and so supportive.

The girls are taking three classes together. The first one of the day is Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, and if you have been reading this blog for a while, you know how much I love CGS. My three year old was nervous about going into atrium by herself, but she managed to separate from me. When the girls got out of atrium, my first thought was of Maria, and how she had managed. What I wasn't expecting was the picture that my dear Therese handed me. I think I will treasure it forever.

She drew a picture of her siblings. Both of them. I almost cry seeing this picture, but the tears are more happy, grateful ones than anything else. I worried so much, when I was pregnant with Maria that I was doing Therese a terrible disservice by being so sick and not being as good of a mother as I wanted to be. Needless to say, one second of seeing these little sisters together wiped away all my doubts.

But when we lost Gabriel - after another difficult pregnancy - I worried it had all been in vain. I worried that the suffering had been for nothing. At the very least, I worried that I was the only one who knew how precious the child was who had been lost, and how much the suffering I had endured (and continue to endure) was worth it for him.

But I see this picture and I realize - they get it. Therese and Maria love their youngest sibling. They always will. They will always pray for him, and ask him to pray for them. And one day, when they are reunited in heaven, it will be a joyous reunion for them. The suffering was worth it, because the love that Andrew and I had for this precious baby enabled our girls to love him, too. And he is forever a part of their lives. 

I'm thinking about this today, because a friend said something (half jokingly) to me at our big girl's first soccer game this afternoon, and it really got me thinking. He joked, "Michele, you're living the American dream - at a soccer game on a Saturday, kids, house, does it feel?" 

(By the way, we did get a puppy. That's another story entirely, but I owed my sweet, long suffering husband this puppy. Her name is Agnes, and yes, he named her after the saint. And, coincidentally, we named her Agnes on Mother Teresa's canonization day, completely forgetting that that was Mother Teresa's given name. Thank you to Andrew's godmother for reminding us!)

Meet Agnes.

Anyway, that comment about "living the American dream" stuck in my head and made me think. I remember a night, over a decade ago. I was in my room, saying my prayers before bed, and looking out my window I saw our neighbors having an impromptu get together with friends. These neighbors were incredibly dear people, and so my thoughts were no reflection on them, but in my teenage zealousness for the faith I remember thinking, "I don't want that for my life. I don't want my life to be ordinary." I didn't know what God would call me to, but I was hoping it would be something dramatic and different and something that would be an obvious path to sainthood. 

Surely, God would call me to religious life. Something set apart, something different. Surely, God would call me to be set apart. Was there any other way to be holy?

I remember, as an undergraduate at Notre Dame, searching through the library's stacks and desperately trying to find books about married saints. I think I found one - one book in a thirteen story library. In my heart, I felt that tug to marriage and family life, but I was so terribly afraid that it was too ordinary for holiness. 

Fast forward many years later, and I never dreamed that God would call me to the life that He has called me to. I never dreamed that I would be the abbess of my own domestic monastery. I never dreamed the ways that God would humble me, over and over again, day after day. I never dreamed I would be trying to pray the Liturgy of the Hours with a puppy jumping on me and a small child asking for a yogurt tube, or that my daily rosary would be said over the insistent questions of a child in the backseat of the car, on our way home from homeschool co-op. Basically, everything I described in those two sentences was the opposite of how I imagined God would call me to holiness.

But the remarkable thing is, I can't imagine any other way that I could become a saint. I need my Therese, Maria, and Gabriel. I need my Andrew. I even need that ridiculous puppy of ours. 
I need the many ways that my life is in direct parallel to the life of a monastic. 

A daily rhythm of prayer, even in the early hours of the morning and late hours of night? Check.

A schedule not entirely under my own control? Check.

Obedience to the needs of others? Check.

Sufferings and joys hidden away from the world? Check.

Beauty in the unexpected? Check.

And...holiness in ordinariness? Check.

Because that's the thing about both the monastic life and the life of the domestic monastery - it is deceptively simple looking to outsiders. The daily routine is deceptively ordinary. Working, praying, sleeping, eating, playing? What's so remarkable about that?

But God does not see as we see. And what we consider to be ordinary, He knows to be extraordinary. 

G.K. Chesterton, in one of my all time favorite quotes of his, says, 

“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” source

I didn't understand this before this vocation of mine. God exults in monotony. He also exults in the ordinary.

In fact, He exults in my (and your) own, ordinary life. 

And in the midst of this ordinariness, there is a beauty that I could never have anticipated. This is the lesson that Therese and Maria teach me daily. But that beauty can only be truly found in the midst of suffering in love, with an eye always to heaven. That is what Gabriel reminds me every day, that child of mine who has already journeyed beyond this earthly pilgrimage. Earlier today, I had to go to the store and get a few more articles of clothing that Maria's needed for her fall wardrobe, and I was contemplated swinging by a new St. Vincent de Paul store that recently opened, to find a few more pieces for my own fall wardrobe...not clothing that I needed to buy today. Then, in that moment, I imagined my Gabriel - possessing nothing, and possessing everything, all at once. "...for everything belongs to you...all belong to you, and you to Christ, and Christ to God." (1 Corinthians 3:21-23)

In that moment, I no longer felt the need to go shopping for something that wouldn't satisfy. Gabriel reminded me that God alone is enough. His way of ordinariness is enough for me.
This is not the monastery I was expecting. But it is clearly the one that I needed.

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