Saturday, May 21, 2016

The Gift of Spiritual Motherhood (and a Godson Update!)

I've finally gotten to hold my sweet godson. You know, the one we were praying for a miracle for?

To say his healing has been miraculous would certainly be an accurate statement. 

The week that I asked for your prayers was an incredibly rough week for this little guy. His first week of life was full of ups and downs...mostly downs. His wealth was far more fragile than the doctors were expecting, and it quickly became clear that the doctors weren't optimistic about him making it.

Then you all prayed. And you asked Servant of God Leonie Martin to pray. And wonderful things began to happen. His kidneys began working. His lungs matured. He went from 100% breathing support to none. He began to be able to nurse and bottle feed. He was finally able to be held, to be awake and alert!

His battle is far from done, but it looks like we will all have the pleasure to watch this little love grow up. I'm not sure what God's plan is for him, but I have the feeling it's a big one.

The day after Gabriel's funeral, our godson's sweet mother called me and told me that he was finally strong enough to have a few more visitors added to his list. Andrew and I were officially approved to come and see him! Of course, this lovely friend of mine was incredibly understanding and told me that if that made things harder I should feel like I had to go see her little guy. I honestly wasn't sure how it would make me feel, holding a sweet, living baby boy in my arms after saying good-bye to my own. But one thing I did know - I was grateful that God had saved my friend's sweet son. And I wanted to get to meet him.

About a week later, she called, needing someone to drop off some of her pumped milk at the NICU. When I arrived, she was still there, and she took me back to meet my godson, for the first time. (I wasn't able to be present at the Baptism, but Andrew was.) She placed him in my arms, and took photographic proof of our meeting.

It was my first time ever in a NICU, and it was more overwhelming than I was expecting. There are some incredibly tiny, sick babies in there. Just a little over a month ago, this little boy was the sickest one in there (which is saying something, considering how full this particular NICU is). He no longer is, but he still is facing a lot of challenges. Your prayers are definitely, definitely still needed and appreciated. (More on that at the bottom of the post.)

Because this little guy was born at full term and is now doing much better, he's needing a lot more social interaction, so his mama graciously invited me to visit him whenever I could - to hold him and talk to him and get to know him. Yesterday, I got to go on my first solo visit to my godson. 

I have to confess, I was more than a little bit nervous about visiting a NICU by myself. I was afraid I would be too germy, or that I would do something the wrong way and make my godson cry or something. I also was worried about whether or not holding a baby boy that is not my own would be upsetting. Our pastor had emailed us that afternoon to check in on us (which was MUCH appreciated - as Laura so eloquently wrote, it's easy to feel forgotten about when you're grieving the loss of a baby). It reminded me the truth - I was only two week out from Gabriel's funeral, and three weeks out from losing him. And it still hurts. The hurt isn't as sharp as it once was, but I know it will always be there in some way.

I knew I had to get my first solo visit to the NICU over with. I knew that I just had to try getting to know the little boy who is my godson. I had to try to step in as a godmother to him. 

I felt so awkward, walking back to his pod in the NICU, but the second I stepped in the door, his nurse gave me a big smile, and settled me in with him in my arms and a bottle in my hand. And something happened - I remembered how much I love babies. I remember how good I am with babies, and how confident I've become after having two newborns of my own. My voice naturally fell into a sing-song rhythm. As he hungrily sucked down his bottle - no small miracle! - I talked to him. I talked to him about his mama, his brothers, and I told him all about the many, many people who are praying for him. He looked at me with his big eyes, taking it all in. He studied my face. He wrinkled his nose in between gulps. He is just a little love, plain and simple.

I burped him, I made up little songs, and I rocked him in my arms until his fussing died down and his eyes became droopy. His mama is an absolute expert when it comes to babies. I knew that I was a poor substitute for that great lady, but I also knew that I had a unique gift to give this child. I am his godmother. That maternity is real, but different. And it is no small thing.

For the time I held that little love yesterday, my heart stopped aching. His snuggles, his weight in my arms, helped to soothe my weary heart. I could barely manage to let him go when it was time to leave, and if I felt that way, I can only imagine how difficult it must be for his mother to leave him each day. The suffering of NICU mamas is real and all too often hidden and forgotten. 

When I was just a mother of one, and we were hoping and praying to get pregnant again, one of my best friends asked me to be a godmother to her second child. I cannot even begin to tell you how much of a comfort that was to me at the time. I wanted to be able to hold another baby in my arms and to have us belong together in some way. The opportunity to have a second godchild (and my first godson!) at that time was an absolute blessing. It allowed me to be fertile in my infertility.

It is hard struggling with infertility. It's heartbreaking to lose a child. I'm surrounded by fertile families aplenty, and it's a constant reminder of what I'm lacking. 

But there's physical motherhood, and then there's spiritual motherhood. All women are called to be spiritual mothers. Every last one of us.

Here's another piece of that - even physical mothers are called to be spiritual mothers to their children. Spiritual motherhood brings a richness to relationship. A spiritual mother preaches the Gospel through her unconditional love, taking in children wherever she goes and perpetually pointing those children back to God. A spiritual mother is forever embracing new children, and whoever comes in contact with her knows that they are loved. 

Have you read C.S. Lewis's The Great Divorce? One of the people the main character encounters is a "great lady." The main character wonders who she is, and is told she is an ordinary woman who loved greatly. He and his guide have the following conversation:

“And who are all these young men and women on each side?”

“They are her sons and daughters.”

“She must have had a very large family, Sir.”

“Every young man or boy that met her became her son – even if it was only the boy that brought the meat to her back door. Every girl that met her was her daughter.”

“Isn't that a bit hard on their own parents?”

“No. There are those that steal other people's children. But her motherhood was of a different kind. Those on whom it fell went back to their natural parents loving them more. Few men looked on her without becoming, in a certain fashion, her lovers. But it was the kind of love that made them not less true, but truer, to their own wives.” (source)

That is the kind of spiritual motherhood we, as women, are invited to aspire to. That is the kind of spiritual motherhood we are called to. The kind that loves so much that it enables others to love, too. The kind of mother who loves in such a way that her "children" come to know the love of God.

One of my children's sweet spiritual mothers.

This is a comfort to me, when I think of Gabriel. All I have left to give him is my love and my prayers. I pray daily that he may be in heaven, and I ask God to let him know that my love goes with him always. Being able to spiritually mother him is a real comfort.

But don't you see? Those of us who suffer from infertility, loss of a child, or from not having found a spouse yet...we can embrace spiritual motherhood in a particular way. Mothers of many physical children are called to be spiritual mothers, but those of us whose arms are empty or emptier than others have a freedom to mother many. We have a freedom to call a friend in need, to hold a sick baby, to listen to the vocation story of a seminarian, to respond in love and prayer to a friend on your Facebook feed, to pray for a friend who is doubtful - we can embrace many. And when we do, then one day, in heaven, we will be surrounded by many children, too. It may not seem like much consolation on earth, but to love is worth the suffering. It is worth the sacrifice. It is worth the pain. And it is worth the waiting. Spiritual motherhood encompasses all of that. 

If you're wanting to be a spiritual mother...can I invite you to begin by praying especially for the continued healing of my godson? Your prayers have already had a huge impact! Specifically now, we are praying for healing for his kidneys...miraculous healing, even! We are also praying that he may be able to have all oral feeds, and that he may soon be healthy enough to go home. Join me in asking Leonie to pray?

Dear Léonie our Sister,
You have already intervened with God on our behalf,
and we would  like to be able to pray to you officially,
so that many more might know you.
Come to the aid of parents who risk losing a child,
as you nearly died at a very young age.
Continue to uphold the families
where different generations have problems living together in peace.
Enlighten youth who question their future and hesitate to commit.
Show to all the way of prayer
which permits you to bear your limitations and your difficulties with confidence,
and to give yourself to others.
Lord, if such is your will,
deign to accord us the grace that we ask of you
through the intercession of your servant Léonie,
and inscribe her among the number of the venerable of your Church.
Through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Going On and Still Holding On

Linking up with Like Mother, Like Daughter.

Somehow, life continues to go on, without my sweet little Gabriel.  Sometimes, it seems like a dream. Was I really pregnant, just over a week ago? Did I really just bury my third child a couple of days ago? It seems like someone else's story, like a dream. Part of that is, of course, what you need to do to survive grief. You need to make a space around it, if you are to go forward. I have two other children to raise, a husband to walk beside - I can't spend all my time in tears. 

Nighttime is hardest, of course. I've had a number of friends who have had miscarriages or stillbirth reach out to me and remind me that grief is unpredictable and looks different for everyone. Somehow, most of mine seems to come rushing in at night, especially as I lay in bed or on the couch (the two places where I spent most of my time during my HG pregnancy with Gabriel). Then the tears linger in the corners, and my sweet son's loss is all too real.

But there have been some beautiful consolations that have emerged. Flowers and fruit sent to our house. Meals delivered by friends. Fudge from one of the kindest women I have ever known. And a beautiful spiritual enrollment for Gabriel, just like what was given to each of his sisters at their baptism. 

And there are my other two children. In the two weeks in between my first and second ultrasound with Gabriel, I was battling both intense anxiety over whether or not he was alive and miserable with hyperemesis gravidarum level nausea. I was not at my finest, and my poor daughters (especially my secondborn) took the brunt of that. But now, after losing Gabriel, I look at my other two children with fresh eyes. I see them, really see them, for the first time in a long time.

I was looking at Therese the other day, and remembering when I was six or seven weeks pregnant with her and had some spotting. I remembering laying on my bed and sobbing, begging God to spare her. He did. I remember how they had a difficult time examining Maria's heart on her anatomical ultrasound, and I spent several weeks in agony, hoping she didn't have some sort of serious heart defect. She didn't. I spent weeks praying for Gabriel, too, but God didn't answer those prayers the way I expected. And some days I really, really wrestle with that.

But then I look at my girls and realize that they are such a blessing. I know dear women who are begging God for even one living child, and I have two. I know of women whose small child is or has been desperately ill. Mine aren't. And I think that, before losing Gabriel, I never appreciated what a miracle that was. I am so grateful for my all three of my children, and I realize what an incredible gift it is to have all three of them, even if I have one of them in my life in a very different way.

I've spent the past week looking into my two year old's eyes and really trying to hear her. And our relationship is completely different than it was a week and a half ago. It also helps that she is probably one of the snuggliest people I have ever meant. When we hiked up to the seminary for their end of the year softball game, that little love wanted to ride on my back in the Ergo. And as we walked, she snuggled the heck out of me. I told Andrew that if I had to have this long wait without a baby, God knew what He was doing by sending me Maria. 

Then there is this crazy, wonderful seminary community that we're a part of. There's the fact that it's basically a miracle that they are now our community for the foreseeable future. I can never really share all the intimate details behind it (including some dramatic twists along the way) but it really was a work of the Holy Spirit. God opened doors, windows, storm doors, skylights, and everything you can imagine to enable us to be at the seminary. The other day I told Andrew, "I am so glad that you ended up at the seminary." And he said, without a moment's hesitation, "Me, too."

I spent a good month mostly in bed and on the couch, battling my third go-around with hyperemesis gravidarum. And now, just over a week beyond delivering Gabriel, my episodes of nausea are finally starting to dissipate, and I'm getting my strength back. I was hiking this crazy hill earlier, realized there was a storm coming, and had to run full throttle down the hill to get back to the main trail. As I was walking back to the car, gasping for breath, I realized that that was something I couldn't have done when pregnant. More and more, there are things that I'm doing, food that I'm eating, etc. that can't be part of my life when pregnant. (It's harder for me to even sit upright longer than a few minutes when pregnant, without having a dry heaving episode.) There's a bittersweetness in that - the same relief I experience whenever I have delivered a baby, but the sadness in knowing I would gladly have endured seven more months of nausea if it would have meant having Gabriel.

I'm the kind of girl who sees everything as being black and white. But grief - especially grieving a child, even one as small and young as Gabriel - isn't linear. It isn't clear cut. It is filled with ups and downs. It is filled with unexpected obstacles and inexplicable moments of relief.

I'm learning that all I can do right now is try to trust God (the thing I struggle with the most!!!) and to just keep trying to take baby steps forward.

(I want to throw out one thing, though, because it's something I think most moms who suffer miscarriage don't know. Post-partum depression is possible after a miscarriage. I'm living through my third bout right now, thankfully with abundant support and resources at my fingertips. So be mindful of that, and don't be afraid to ask for the help you need! End of public service announcement.)

Thursday, May 5, 2016

See You in the Eucharist (Saying Good-bye to my littlest Love)

Today we said good-bye to Gabriel.

I suppose we already said good-bye to him, but today was his burial and funeral Mass. And today my heart broke in a way that I hoped it never would.

Before going to the cemetery, we stopped and bought flowers to lay at Gabriel's grave. The girls both wanted roses, since roses are special to their patron saints. (Therese said, "I want to give him a rose so he'll know his big sister's name is Therese." Maria said, "Mary have roses!!!")

I didn't think about it too closely, but Andrew and I ended up picking out violets. And now I'm glad I did, because violets are everywhere around here this time of year, and they will always remind me of my Gabriel-love.

We arrived early at the cemetery (with a little comic relief along the way as Maria tried to figure out how to make herself say "cemetery" instead of "seminary", and when she finally figured it out, she yelled from the backseat, "Got it!!!"). Soon some of our dear friends and "seminary family" arrived, followed by our pastor. And we drove to Gabriel's grave.

I know that I won't ever regret doing this all the way we did it. I know that this was the way we needed to grieve Gabriel as a family, but I was not at all prepared for the sight of those chairs lined up alongside his grave site. I cried as we approached it. And then I cried even more when I saw his casket. The funeral home we went through buries miscarried and stillborn babies free of charge, which means that they just have a standard-sized casket. Our little sweetheart was only a few millimeters in size, so the casket was ridiculously large for him, but knowing that somewhere in there were his little remains broke my heart. It broke my heart even more to see Andrew carrying that little casket up the hill to the grave site. I wanted to see that child, living, laughing, fussing, in his arms. Not like this. 

A sweet, sweet friend of mine, who also suffers from hyperemesis gravidarum in her pregnancies and lost her third child just a couple years ago gave me this beautiful cloth for us to drape on Gabriel's casket. It's made from a piece of her wedding dress. She said she had a friend do the same thing for her. It's all I have to hold that touched Gabriel in some small way, and I'll treasure it forever.

The burial was the hardest thing I've ever had to do in my life. The words of the prayers were an incredible balm for my soul. So beautiful, to hear our child prayed for by name, and acknowledged as a child of God. So soothing it was for me to hear those prayers being said, commending him to God, to see the holy water liberally doused on his casket. I know that many people who miscarry aren't able to have a burial, let alone a graveside service done by a priest, and I do feel so blessed that we had that.

But I sobbed straight through the service none the less. That little body should still be inside of me. I should be 10 weeks pregnant today, getting ready to feel his first kicks (I felt Maria move at 11 weeks). I shouldn't have been sitting in a cemetery, staring at that little casket. 

She asked me to take this picture, and it completely breaks my heart. 

As much as I'd looked forward to being reunited with his little body, I'd been dreading this moment. Dreading having to actually say good-bye to his tiny remains. The girls each kissed his casket. Andrew stroked it. I wrapped my arms around it, kissed it so many times, and sobbed. I didn't want to leave him there.

It was Andrew who gave me the strength to leave. He was so incredibly tender, wrapping his strong arms around me throughout the whole service. 

"I can't leave him, Andrew," I sobbed.

"Oh, sweetheart," he said. "You just need to give him to God."

After the burial was over, we had the funeral Mass. (The order is a bit different for an unbaptized baby, and one of the suggestions we had read was to do the funeral Mass after.) As we drove away from the cemetery, poor little Therese was so sad, but I told her, "The sad part is over. We had to say good-bye to Gabriel's body. But now, we get to be with him at Mass, because all the saints and angels are there! And Gabriel is now a saint."

There were two different priests at the burial, and then there were these three dear men at the funeral Mass. The middle priest is one of our very dear friends and one of our favorite Confessors, and the other two are also incredible spiritual fathers of ours. I was so touched by their insistence on con-celebrating! I was hoping we would be able to find at least one priest to offer the funeral Mass. Our pastor wasn't able to make it, but he arranged everything so the Mass could still be at our parish. And our sweet Gabriel got to experience one of the benefits of being the child of a seminary professor - priests in abundance!

And as awful as the burial was, the funeral Mass was more comforting than I could possibly say. Therese's best seminarian friend (who was recently instituted as a member of the order of "lector") read the readings at Mass, one of the priests read the Gospel, and our dear priest friend gave a beautiful homily, reminding us of how loved Gabriel is, by all of us at the Mass, by friends and family who couldn't be there, but especially by God. "Gabriel is loved."  He read Mother Angelica's beautiful prayer for miscarriage at the end of the homily.

Then, the Eucharistic prayer was prayed and I received the greatest consolation possible. One of my biggest worries has been not knowing for sure where Gabriel is, since we couldn't possibly baptize him (other than the conditional baptism my ob/gyn did over his remains). But the Scriptures and prayers in the Funeral Mass for Unbaptized Babies were beautiful and emphasized the incredible hope of heaven and the fact that God is caring for this child. They spoke of heaven, and of God revealing things "to the little ones".

So, during the Eucharistic prayer, I focused on the very real possibility of Gabriel being in heaven. And I realized that that meant he was there with us, right then and there, because whenever Mass is offered, all the saints and angels are present, too (as participants in the never-ending heavenly liturgy that our own liturgy taps into). As the priest elevated the host, I realized - at Mass, our family could be reunited. It's the only time that we'll ever be together, living, on this earth. It's the only way that we can be together this side of heaven. But nevertheless, because of the gift of the Eucharist, we haven't lost our Gabriel entirely. We will always see him in the Eucharist. When I received Jesus in the Eucharist, I was aware of the other half of that reality. Normally, I focus on my union with Jesus in the Eucharist, but the other half of that reality is that we are, in that moment, united to all the saints and to everyone in the whole entire Church.

Although my heart was broken, although I've had moments where I've questioned why Gabriel had to go so soon, I was deeply consoled in the moments after receiving Jesus. I thanked Him, so, so much for the gift of my Gabriel. And I asked Him to tell Gabriel that I loved him. But I also knew, in that moment, in the Eucharist, that I was as close to Gabriel as I could possibly get on this earth. We were forever joined in the Eucharist. Whenever I go to Mass, or adoration, I will be praying with Gabriel. We will never be totally lost from one another's side, because we are united forever in Christ's Eucharistic presence. I've long known that theology, but I never knew it as fully as I did today.

Thank you to all of you who have reached out to our family. Thank you for your kind words, your flowers and cards. Thank you for your prayers and messages. They have been more of a comfort to us than I could ever possibly say.

I am also incredibly grateful, though, for where our family has ended up. My dear Andrew will be teaching at the seminary (as a full time professor of patristic theology and ancient languages) for the foreseeable future. And both of our hearts have been overflowing with gratitude over that. But this whole experience - my rough pregnancy with Gabriel and then losing him - confirmed for us how truly blessed we are by the seminary community. The comfort and love that they all have shown us has meant, so, so, much. Knowing that that is where my husband goes to work every day, knowing that everyone there loves our whole family deeply, it is the greatest consolation in all of this. We are so blessed to have them, and to have been able to grieve with them at our sides.

After Mass, one of the priests who concelebrated embraced me, and then gently took me by the hand and said, "Gabriel knows that you love him. He knows how much you love him. And he is beholding the beauty of the face of God."

Those words...they were exactly what I needed. They were the words of consolation that I was longing for. 

One of my very best friends (whose children are my children's best friends) embraced me and told me, "You are such a good mama."

I needed those words, too, today. I desperately needed them. Because, my Gabriel will never celebrate a Baptism, a First Communion, a Confirmation or Marriage or Ordination. These liturgical services today, the conditional Baptism he was given at the hands of my dear ob/gyn, they are the only sacramentals that I will ever be able to offer my child. That breaks my heart, but as hard as today was, I knew that if I had the opportunity to give this to him (something many mothers who miscarry their little ones don't have) I had to give it to him. I had to send him on his way with every grace possible.

No funeral luncheon for our little love. We had to grieve him in our own way, the way that only the Chronisters could. So we went home, changed out of our church things, and headed out to the nature reserve for a Culver's picnic. It was such a little thing, but having dinner that way felt like we were incorporating the memory of our son into the fabric of our own family life. There was something vaguely liturgical about that ritual, in a "domestic monastery" sort of way. Maybe we'll do something similar for his birthday each year. 

Because here's the incredible thing. I have this sense that Gabriel's story is far from over. I have this sense that he is paving the way for the rest of the family. I have this sense that all five of us are still connected, connected in a way that no one else (save future, hopefully living children) can ever be a part of. Gabriel is a part of us. He always will be a member of our family. Nothing can ever change that. But he is now a part of something bigger, something we don't understand yet.

I feel like I'm in labor right now. Labor is so excruciating, and when you're in the midst of it, the pain is so intense that it feels like it will never end. You vaguely know it will, but it feels like it won't. Then, in an instant, the pain ends and there is a child in your arms, and the joy is so intense that they pain you endured seems like nothing in comparison.

This life, this life is labor. Heaven is birth. And I'm trying to trust that, when my little one dances with me at the gates of heaven, this valley of tears will seem like such small suffering in light of such great joy. 

A few days ago, I remembered something else, something else that has caused me some peace. Earlier on in my pregnancy with Gabriel, I was at a night of adoration at the seminary. The seminary chapel is dedicated to St. Joseph, and as I prayed I gazed at the words painted above the altar, "Ite Ad Joseph," which translates, "Go to Joseph." I was feeling a great deal of anxiety that night, but then I saw those words and it filled me with peace. I went home that night and told Andrew, "I don't know why, but I feel very strongly like Joseph wants to be the patron saint of this pregnancy." It didn't make any sense to me at the time. Was it because we might move? Because Andrew was in the job application process? Should we name the baby Joseph? What did it mean? Joseph wasn't a traditional choice for patronage of a pregnancy.

But the other day it hit me. St. Joseph is the patron saint of a happy death.

From the beginning, he was probably praying for Gabriel, and in his final moments (unknown to us) he was probably praying for Gabriel to be given the grace of a happy death.

The Sunday after we saw Gabriel, alive but too small, on the ultrasound was the Sunday that I received Anointing of the Sick. After I was anointed, our pastor prayed a very beautiful, very moving prayer over Gabriel. I don't remember the exact words, but he basically prayed that we would be blessed to have this baby serve the Church. He meant, of course, to have Gabriel raised in our parish, serving the Church with his gifts. But God knew at that point, what prayers Gabriel actually needed. He needed that blessing because he was about to serve the Church in a much bigger way than we could understand. We don't know the exact moment that Gabriel died, but timing-wise, it is entirely possible that he died right then - minutes after I received the Eucharist and Anointing of the Sick, and as he was being blessed. Incidentally, my nausea began improving not long after that. I thought at the time that it was because we adjusted my medicine, but maybe it was because our little love was already gone.

And yet, I find comfort in that. That was Gabriel's second blessing in the womb. He'd had countless prayers offered for him at that point, and countless hours of suffering offered for him. He'd spent much time with Jesus in the Eucharist. He got to live through the Triduum! We had such a short time to prepare him for heaven, but I think that God allowed us to give him as much preparation as we possibly could have in such a short time. He was - and is - so loved. He always will be.

Something that Gabriel has made me realize is what a gift our children are, and how much they truly are seperate entities from ourselves. I think that I would have come to that realization when the girls were grown up, and I had to let them go to college, get married, join the convent, or whatever. I would have seen how God's plan for them extended far beyond little old me. But Gabriel taught me that far sooner. My love will always, always go with him. I will never stop loving him. But his life - his life continues on far beyond me. God's plan for him was very different than mine was. And he knows true joy. Whenever I start to get mad at God, I stop and realize - He is giving to Gabriel so much more than I ever could. I am grateful that this child lived, that he was entrusted to us for so brief a time, and selfishly, I wish we could have had him for far longer. But as a mother, wanting what is best for him - I am also happy for him. If he truly is living out the beautific vision, how could I begrudge him so great a joy? It is what I ultimately wanted for him, and God's timetable was just very different than my own.

So now, a word on children. I was raised in a generation of women that were (and are) terribly, terribly afraid of having children. Even when we were going through marriage prep, I (pro-life as I was) didn't really want a big family. (Andrew won me over, and God opened my heart.) But I was raised to believe, by the culture, by the media, that children were something to be feared. Children were something to be spaced and controlled.

As scared as I am to undergo another HG pregnancy, now living with the possibility of miscarriage, I wouldn't trade my pregnancy with Gabriel for all the riches in the world. I wouldn't trade my girls or my pregnancies with them either. Because their stories, their significance goes far beyond myself. God has allowed us to be a part of bringing new souls into being. Through all the suffering and difficulty and sacrifice, this remains - openness to their lives is what is making  me a saint. They are my vocation, the fruits of our marriage - Therese, Maria, and now Gabriel. They are gifts beyond compare, and I hope with all my heart that God will allow us to hold and raise more children.

So that would be my words of wisdom to you - don't be afraid of motherhood. Don't be afraid of children. And don't take your ability to have them for granted. Conception doesn't come easily for us, and I know more people who struggle with infertility and miscarriage than you would think. If you are able to welcome a new soul into your family, do not be afraid. The gift of a new soul is worth it, a thousand times over.

Gabriel was worth it. He was worth and is worth every moment of suffering. I love him, and he is making me into a saint no less than my living children are. And I am so, so overwhelmed with gratitude for him. Thank you, my dear Jesus, for my Gabriel. Thank you so much for him.

Monday, May 2, 2016

The Story of My Third Child, Gabriel Chronister

I have a third child. His name is Gabriel. I will never get to hold him, see him, talk to him, nurse him, or sing him to sleep. And it makes me hurt every moment of every day.

On Palm Sunday we found out we were expecting our third child. We were so, so happy. We've been trying for a long time to get pregnant, and it took us much longer than it had previously. Maria would be almost three and a half by the time the new baby was born, but no matter...they would be close enough to be friends!

Almost immediately, the hyperemesis gravidarum started, earlier than it had with the girls. I had bloodwork done and it was beautiful. Everything looked wonderful, and we focused on keeping me fed and hydrated. We had tell tell the girls very early, because I was already so sick. 

But we (all four of us) were so happy. We had all been hoping and praying for a baby. All of the other wonderful Catholic couples we knew who had been married as long as we have have at least three children. Finally, our wait was over, and we began looking forward to the idea of having a new little one in our arms by the end of the year. 

Then we went for our first ultrasound, when I was seven weeks and one day pregnant. There was a heartbeat, but it didn't seem to be as fast as I remember the girls' heartbeats at that age. Our baby was also measuring a week small, and it was clear that something was wrong. We spent two weeks storming heaven with prayer, emailing tons of religious orders and asking them to beg God to spare our baby.

Those were the longest two weeks of my life.

The only pictures we have of Gabriel alive.

A few days after that first ultrasound, I received Anointing of the Sick, because I was suffering so much from my hyperemesis gravidarum. I had already been living in bed or on the couch for about two weeks, struggling to find food I could tolerate and ways to stay hydrated. Struggling to find a position to lay in that didn't feel like pure torture. Dry heaving more times a day than I could count. As part of the Anointing, we also had our pastor bless the baby. I don't even know if he was alive any more at that point, but the blessing was so beautiful that it brought me to tears.

My HG improved a little bit, but I hoped it was just because we had adjusted my medication, not because the baby had stopped growing. I was still terribly sick, though. And I knew. I just knew that something was wrong. I held out, hope against hope, that maybe all would be well. But I think that God was preparing my heart for the worst. I just knew that the baby wouldn't be alive by the next ultrasound, and I tried desperately to reassure myself otherwise. I had dream after dream of miscarrying, and I tried to brush it all aside. 

I begged God to spare my child. I offered up sufferings for him. But in my heart, I couldn't imagine him living. I just knew, in a way I can't explain.

Sure enough, we went to my follow-up ultrasound at nine weeks one day, and the doctor couldn't find the baby at first. I thought I saw something that was the baby, but it was just a part of my uterus. When he finally found the baby there was no heartbeart, and he still measured six weeks one day (in fact, he looked like he had begun to shrink a little, which may mean he had died a while ago). 

I wasn't shocked, but I was heartbroken. And I will forever be grateful for this amazing, amazing Catholic pro-life doctor of mine. He took my hand and prayed with me. He spoke words of comfort to me and my husband. I hadn't miscarried naturally because I had been on progesterone support (preventing my body from passing the baby's body) and it was clear the baby was gone and probably had been for a while. I was still incredibly sick from the HG (which is common for HG moms who miscarry). We scheduled the surgery (to remove his remains) for very early the next morning. Through sobs I asked my doctor, "Please, when you deliver his remains...can you do a conditional baptism?" With tears in his eyes, he reassured me, "I will. I always do."

We had to tell the girls. Maria was confused, but reassured by the thought of Mary, her patron saint, taking care of the baby. Therese was absolutely heartbroken and just sobbed in my arms. I told her, "Why don't you pick the baby's middle name?" We had felt like he was a boy (my pregnancy felt different than with my girls) so she flipped through her little picture book of saints, looking for a good boy saint. She landed on St. Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows, pictured with the sorrowful Mary, and said, "How about this one? Because Mary looks sad." I have long loved St. Gabriel the Archangel, so we decided that his name would be Gabriel (one name, but two patron saints).

I slept for only a few hours that night, and woke up with a terribly headache (from dehydration and from crying so much) at 2:00 a.m. and couldn't go back to sleep. We had a friend come over to watch the girls and left for the hospital at 5:00 a.m.

My only "bump" picture, taken right before we left for my surgery to deliver Gabriel's remains.

I tried to memorize every detail of that morning. Even if I wasn't delivering a living child, it was still the birthday of my third child, April 29, 2016. I remember the purple hospital gown I put on, and I tried to look carefully at the white and striped hospital blanket. And I stroked my belly, over and over again, low where his little body lay. I didn't really say good-bye, because I knew that he was long gone. But I also knew it was the final moments that I would hold his body inside of me. 

If you've ever had surgery before, you know that they verify your name, date of birth, and reason for surgery about a million times before the procedure. Every time I had to say out loud my reason for being there, my heart broke all over again. My baby was dead.

My doctor came to see me right before, and I told him Gabriel's name (so he could use it in the conditional baptism) and jokingly told him, "Gabriel's guardian angel mentioned to my guardian angel that the place could use a little sprucing up in there. So, if you need to go make an Ikea run to tidy it up for the next kid..." My doctor started laughing. In that moment, empowered to laugh in the face of death, I thought, "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?"

They wheeled me back, I drifted off to sleep, and woke up an hour later in recovery. Surgery had apparently gone smoothly, but as I woke up I heard my nurse buzzing frantically and making phone calls. "She needs the Rogam. Yes. Yeah. I know, can you get it to us? Her doctor ordered it." Before rolling me out of recovery she tenderly rolled me over and gave me a shot in my lower back. "Have you had this before?" In a rush, I realized what she was giving me. My blood type is rh negative, and with each of my pregnancies I've had to have a shot in case the baby's blood type was rh positive, to prevent my body from developing defenses that would reject the following baby. Since we didn't know Gabriel's blood type, I needed the shot, just as I had with my girls. "To protect your next baby," my nurse murmered, before delivering the painful shot. Somehow, that moment made it all too real. That connection to my previous pregnancies made my heart ache. Medically, it was impossible to ignore that a baby had lived and grown inside of me...and then died. 

In the days following, I've been surprised by how similiar my recovery process is to my previous (live) deliveries. I've had friends who have miscarried remind me, "It is a delivery, even if the baby you deliver is dead, and even if he's little. So go easy on yourself." My nausea still lingers, and I still need a little boost of HG medicine from time to time, but it's beginning to fade. Other physical symptoms haven't, and I've been surprised by the reality of "afterpains" even when the child you delivered was no longer alive and was very small. And the beginnings of post-partum depression have settled in, just as they did with my girls by this point. 

The day of the surgery, we also took the girls with us to the funeral home and the cemetery. The Catholic hospital I delivered in will bury miscarried babies in a mass grave, free of charge. But I knew that, long term, I would want to be able to visit my baby's grave. So we decided to pay the fee to have him buried in his own plot, with a grave marker. We spent the weekend talking to our pastor and other priest friends, planning his graveside service and a funeral Mass to follow for this Thursday afternoon. (There is a funeral rite for unbaptized babies, so we'll be offering that for the repose of his soul.)

And it's been a hard weekend. This weekend was also deaconate ordinations for the seminary, and so I had to face a lot of people for the first time since losing Gabriel. I ran into a friend I hadn't seen a while, and she happily told me she was expecting! I congratulated her and then awkwardly told her we had just lost our third.

And physically, I was just needing to (and continue to need to) rebuild my strength from an HG pregnancy. I was in bed for a good month, and I need to build my stamina back up again. I also continue to have occasional waves of nausea, as well as painful reminders of the trauma of HG. HG messes with your brain something awful. For the first few days, even thinking of my bed (where I spent a lot of time) made me want to dry heave. I had to keep reminding myself I could sit up, too, that I didn't have to lay down.

But the worst thing is just missing Gabriel. I miss him with my whole heart. 

I hate not knowing for sure where he is, since it was impossible to baptize him when he was alive. I've read Aquinas and Mother Angelica on the matter, and it seems like I have good reason to hope he is in heaven (especially since I told God during the pregnancy, over and over again, how desperately I wanted him to be baptized). I find comfort in the old tradition that official catechumens, were they to die before baptism, would be treated as if they were baptized. The intent alone would set them apart, and guarantee them heaven. I reminded God that my baby was practically a catechumen. ;-)

Andrew has assured me, over and over, "Just trust God. Trust that he knows what is best for Gabriel." In the midst of it all, I have this very strong sense that God chose us for Gabriel, and that Gabriel had and has a purpose in his plan. Without getting into the nitty gritty, his conception shouldn't have been able to happen when it did. My fertility has been off, Andrew had been traveling, and somehow everything aligned perfectly so that he could be conceived. 

Also, Gabriel probably shouldn't have still been alive when we went in for that first ultrasound. He had stopped growing a week earlier. I truly believe that God granted us that little miracle, of keeping him alive long enough that we got to see him alive, and had some time to prepare ourselves for the possibility of him not making it.

I can't be mad at God right now, because I know how hard it is for us to conceive and Gabriel - the fact he existed at all - just seems like such an incredible gift. I don't know how to put into words, but I just have this sense that there's so much more to his life and his purpose that I will ever know in this life. But I know that Gabriel was no accident. He was meant to be in our family, meant to be surrounded with so much prayer and love for his brief time on earth. I somehow know, deep in my heart, that God chose me to be his mother, Andrew to be his father, and Therese and Maria to be his sisters. Gabriel was meant for us, and God entrusted us to prepare him for heaven in that short amount of time. We tried us best to surround him with love and prayer, and lots of prayers of blessing.

I may not be mad at God, but I feel mad at the whole rest of the world, for just continuing to spin on its axis. As much as it hurts to lose him, right now it almost hurts more to know that we will probably struggle again with infertility, that I will have to suffer through another HG pregnancy, and that the space between our children will grow even more. People always say, "Oh, so and so is such a great Catholic family! They have (5,6,7,8...) kids!" No one ever says, "Those guys are such a solid Catholic couple! They have two kids, spaced about three years apart." It's hard to be in the pro-life community in a time like this, to be surrounded by so many pregnant women (I know six women who are due within weeks of when Gabriel would have been due), so many women who are on their second or third child since my last one and know...I don't know when I'll be able to have another child. And my heart and arms ache for a baby.

On the flipside, it's a blessing to be surrounded by so many pro-life people. The support and comfort we've been offered in this time is overwhelming, and is definitely not the norm for families grieving a miscarried child. We've had people bring us meals (and one of our favorite priests even brought us ice cream the other night!), send us flowers and gift cards, write us beautiful notes and emails, hug us, and promise to pray for us. We've had priests offer to say Mass for us, and countless seminarians offering to pray for us. I also have quite a few friends who have lost a child to miscarriage and stillbirth, and they are what has kept me from completely falling apart in the past few days.

But despite all that...I just miss Gabriel. I miss him so much it physically hurts. And nothing can take that away. I don't want to be grieving. I don't want to have funeral home brochures lying around, or a little cloth on my desk waiting to be wrapped around his tiny casket...I want to have maternity clothes and brochures for birthing classes. I don't want him to be gone, but no matter how many times I say that, it won't change that he is.

I just want Gabriel back. I miss him so much. And it really, really hurts.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Happy Holy Thursday! Some Inspiration for Your Triduum...

First of all, thank you sooo much to everyone who has joined us in praying for a miracle for our godson.  Keep up the prayers! He has had some positive strides recently, but is still having a lot of trouble with breathing and fluid retention. So please, please keep up those prayers! And know that they are already working. Servant of God Leonie, keep praying for us!

I pulled out our materials for the Triduum, and we did the cenacle last night. So much more special now that Therese is in her second year of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. I can't wait for her sister to start next year!

In case you're looking for some inspiration, I'm linking to some of our old posts below. This Triduum will be pretty simple for us...mainly just living the liturgies. We've been helping teach RCIA this year, and we're looking forward to being sponsors/godparents to some of the catechumens!

Holy Week

Were You There?

Hosanna! Blessed Is He Who Comes in the Name of the Lord!

Holy Week Inspiration

Holy Thursday

The Cenacle

Holy Thursday

Why I'm Grateful for Seminarians

Good Friday

At the Cross Her Station Keeping

Holy Saturday

Blessing of Easter Food

Have a blessed Holy Week!

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Please Join Me in Praying for a Miracle

(I don't know if it's a universal phenomenom, but both of our girls have fallen head over heels in love with their patron saints when they're two years old. At least this one hasn't started in with the possessiveness we witnessed with Miss, "No! My St. Therese!".)

This week has been an exhausting one, and I can't even really share the reasons why with you because it's a lot of things I can't really talk about just yet. Suffice it to say it started with a husband across the country and ended with even more uncertainty about our family's future, and add in a number of other things that came up and...yeah. It was a long week. 

I wasn't going to hop on here at all today, but I have something really, really important that I have to share with you. I'm begging you all to pray with me for a miracle. 

I shared with you last week that our newest godson was born (and baptized) and my tone was very optimistic at the time. But poor baby boy has had some very serious ups and downs in the NICU and his future is very, very uncertain. We're praying for miraculous kidney (and lung) function improvement. That's all the details I can go in, but it's a really serious situation. His mama is one of my very dearest friends, and my heart aches for her having to see her baby go through all these ups and downs. What we need, friends, is a miracle. A good, old-fashioned miracle. 

This little guy and his family (and godparents) all have a special love for the saints of the Martin family. When I was digging around trying to find a patron for our cause, I stumbled on dear (now Servant of God!) Leonie, whose cause for canonization was very recently opened. I found a prayer for her canonization/asking for her intercession. Won't you join me in saying it, faithfully, every day? I can't reveal any personal details about my godson, or tell you his name (out of respect for his family's privacy) so you can just offer it for "Michele's new godson" and she'll know who you're talking about.

Dear Léonie our Sister,
You have already intervened with God on our behalf,
and we would  like to be able to pray to you officially,
so that many more might know you.
Come to the aid of parents who risk losing a child,
as you nearly died at a very young age.
Continue to uphold the families
where different generations have problems living together in peace.
Enlighten youth who question their future and hesitate to commit.
Show to all the way of prayer
which permits you to bear your limitations and your difficulties with confidence,
and to give yourself to others.
Lord, if such is your will,
deign to accord us the grace that we ask of you
through the intercession of your servant Léonie,
and inscribe her among the number of the venerable of your Church.
Through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

Imprimatur: March 25, 2012
†  Jean-Claude Boulanger
    Bishop of Bayeux-Lisieux

Let's absolutely storm heaven, you all!!! Thanks in advance!!

Saturday, March 12, 2016

When Your Life is Full of Prayer Intentions

At least that's what it feels like these days - like life is full of prayer intentions. It's a good, good life, and there are so many prayer intentions that are being answered. So this is more a reflection on the fact that life is full of big things these days, and it feels like all the big things are happening at once, if that makes sense? 


I never got to link up with Rosie last week, but maybe I'll get to join her this week! The What I Wore Sunday link-up is a lovely one to take part in. 

And yes, I chopped off all my hair. I always think that I'm going to like having long, curly hair, but then it becomes too much to maintain. It's been ages since I had it this short, but I was inspired by Nell and her adorable cut.


We had spring parent/teacher conferences this week, and of course our girl is doing phenomenally. I am so, so grateful that we've had a really good school experience with her. It makes me more confident about our call to homeschool next year, because we aren't making the decision out of bitterness toward bad schools or anything like that. Her school is lovely, and if you know me in real life and are looking for a preschool in our area I would highly, highly recommend it. But when there is so much goodness and there is still a silent, gentle call to something - well, that's usually the sign of God at work. He works in those quiet ways, you know? 

I am so excited about teaching her next year. I'm excited about the curriculum we're looking at, excited about settling on a co-op (for our very social girl) and excited about what our lifestyle will look like. Slower, quieter, and with more space to breathe (and play!) I hope.


One of the things I am most excited about is the blossoming friendship between my daughters. As any parent of siblings know, it is a full time job trying to nurture that relationship and teach them how to interact. (i.e. Teaching them that hitting, yelling, tattling, etc. are not acceptable.) But the fruit of the labor is so very, very beautiful. We were at the seminary recently, and an argument broke out between them, and I stopped what I was doing to mediate and try to teach them how to solve it. Then I turned back to the seminarians I had been talking to and said, "It's all about character forming. It's moments like this when I realize I am so much more than a babysitter..." They loved that (because they want to be good parish priests and are fascinated by the vocation of motherhood) and it was the first time I had thought of it that way. Motherhood isn't just about childcare. It's about forming character, and teaching virtue. That's the kind of thing you can't put on a resume, but it's also the job for which there is no replacement.

Anyway, I just love their relationship. The other day, we were driving to Catechesis of the Good Shepherd and they randomly started playing "I Spy" in the backseat and I just had this moment of revelation, "Ohhh...I won't be a referee forever. They're going to start being able to interact and have conversation more!" And that was a wonderful realization.


The other night, our newest godson was born and baptized. Andrew was able to be present for the baptism, and I came to the hospital once the babysitter arrived. 

His parents knew he was going to need some extra help, so the baptism and everything had already been planned. His mother is an amazing woman, and watching her and her husband navigate these waters...well, it's just been an honor to be able to call her friend, and to get to be a part of the beginning of this little boy's life. Not sharing any names here, out of respect for their privacy, but could you please offer a little prayer for this little guy and his parents and older siblings? He is one tough little boy and will be alright in the end, but he's got a bit of a journey ahead of him.


This little girl has been living vicariously through everyone she knows who is expecting a baby brother or sister, and she was so excited for her godbrother to be born. I asked her if I could take a picture of her praying for him, and she consented.

The rest of her adoration session was equal parts adorable and hilarious.

Me: Sweetheart, are you ready to go?

Maria: Almost. (Pause) I love you...Jesus! 

Me: You're showing Jesus your shoes?

Maria: Yeah! Hmm...Socks? Jesus...Mah-ria tutu? 

Me: Oh, you're showing Jesus your tutu? 

Maria: Mommy, show Jesus shoes!

Me: Show Jesus my shoes? Okay....are you ready to go now, sweetheart?

Maria: Almost.

Jesus must just love when two year olds pray.


I finished reading The Martian Chronicles yesterday, and it was so good. Bradbury does not disappoint. The next book on my Kindle is a library one, the new Harper Lee book, Go Set a Watchman. I've barely started so I can't comment yet, but it sounds like most people either love it or hate it. I'll let you know what camp I fall in, soon enough. 

I have been flying through and loving my other library book, Till We Have Faces. It's C.S. Lewis at his finest, and it really lives up to all the hype. I don't know when I last enjoyed a book this thoroughly!

I'm reading Go Set a Watchman because it's a library one, and I was on the waitlist forever, but I do know which one I'm going to read on my Kindle after that. I had a hard time falling asleep one night last week and was looking for a "boring"book to help me drift off, and I started Jane Eyre, thinking it would fit the bill...but I was so, so wrong. Now I'm itching to start reading it in earnest. Any Bronte fans out there? 

I've been especially wanting to read her since hearing that she suffered from (and mostly likely died from complications associated with) hyperemesis gravidarum. It makes me so, so grateful to be living in the time I'm living in! 


Finally, for all of you who have been following our family in this time of transition - still no definite answers on our future, but still lots of prayer and discernment. So, if you have a moment, can you say a quick prayer for us, too?

Linking up with Kelly and her Takers, and with Like Mother, Like Daughter because there's so much {pretty, happy, funny, and real} in this post!

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