Dealing with Miscarriage Part III: It’s a Journey

It is National Infertility Awareness Week, so I am re-visiting a series that I wrote about my repeated miscarriages and secondary infertility. I hope it helps you. God bless.

Swimming the Depths

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When I started writing this series on miscarriage, I did not know where it would go.  I just started typing.  I let my heart do the talking and my fingers do the telling.  A friend said to me that writing it down may be a form of healing for me, and I think that she is right.  It has been a really stressful year for my family.  We are at a point where we expect an emergency or tragedy every month.  It has made it difficult for me to really grieve and heal from my most recent loss.  Perhaps taking the time to share my experiences with others is helping.  I do not write as someone who has all of the answers.  Like most people, I am struggling through the questions, the doubts, and the pain.  I have moments of clarity followed by moments of despair.  This life is…

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Dealing with Miscarriage Part II: Grief

This week is National Infertility Awareness Week. I wrote yesterday about what it is like to be Catholic with only one child without even realizing that it is Infertility Awareness Week. Infertility comes in many forms from the couple who cannot conceive to people like me who have a child and then suffer repeated miscarriage. I know that many people suffer from the grief of miscarriage. I want to re-visit a series that I wrote on my own experiences and I hope it ministers to you. God bless.

Swimming the Depths

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Blessed are they who mourn; for they will be comforted. Matthew 5:5

Grief is one of the most difficult aspects of life.  We are guaranteed that it will come our way.  Most of the time it blindsides us.  Grief in miscarriage can be lonely, deeply painful, infuriating, and cathartic all in the same day.  The grief sets in when we are told that our child is dead or it may set in once the bleeding starts or stops, or it may take years for the grief to overtake us.  Miscarriage is something that our society, and I hate to say it, the Church largely ignores.  This is probably for a number of reasons.  I would say some of it has to do with the abortion culture, some of it is privacy, and a lot of it is fear.  Fear on the part of the family who has lost…

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Being a Catholic Mother of “Only” One Child

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When my husband and I got married we figured given our somewhat later age (I was 29 when we got married) that we would have four or five kids. We had undergone a radical conversion while dating thanks to our priest sending us to a Theology of the Body seminar. We finally understood the why of the Church’s teaching instead of just the no. We decided that we would be open to children, even as I applied to graduate school. In fact, I was accepted to graduate school and then discovered that I was pregnant with our daughter. I put graduate school on the back-burner at the time.

Pregnancy was very difficult for me. I did not leave the house for a month because I was vomiting so much. Then something happened that was never on our radar. We went to our first ultrasound to detect the heart-beat. Our daughter’s heartbeat was strong, but we discovered that she had a twin who had died. What? Is all I could think of at the time. I had lost a baby, my daughter’s twin. It never dawned on us that we might lose a child in the womb. On the happy day of the wedding and Sacramental joining it doesn’t typically dawn on the couple the suffering that will be asked of them. It should. Through our Baptism we are united to the Cross of Christ and the mysteries of his life and death, but most of us don’t give it enough thought and prayer. It usually happens as it did for us, with a complete and total shock.

I was over-joyed that our daughter was healthy, but my heart was broken for the child that I had lost. I was sick and alone with my grief on many days while my husband worked. Eventually God gave me some peace in prayer that my other baby was in fact in Our Lord’s arms. It was enough to help me through the unexpected grief. But, it never occurred to me that I would be in this state of grief for years to come.

My daughter was born healthy and beautiful after an un-planned c-section. I was so happy and cried when I heard her for the first time. The first few weeks were the typical sleep deprivation and wonder of being a new mother. It is a time that I honestly don’t remember well and unfortunately it was marred by a rapid descent into post-partum depression. Ladies, PPD can come on suddenly and with bizarre symptoms. Get help immediately if you start having weird thoughts, anxiety, or depressive symptoms. I spent months crawling back out.

Five months after I had my daughter, I discovered that I was pregnant. I was pretty shocked, but happy. The pregnancy started differently. I had more energy and only threw up once or twice a week. It was a vast improvement from my previous pregnancy. I should have known better. One day I woke up and just didn’t “feel” pregnant anymore. It was a strange sensation. A friend (may she rest in peace) mentioned that with her miscarriage she stopped feeling pregnant. I knew deep within me that something was seriously wrong. About 12 hours later I began to miscarry. I was devastated. My husband grieved quietly so as not to add to my burden. I do wish men would share in that grief with their wives. It isn’t a burden.

Once again I descended into grief. The Church offered little help in this area. I read Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on Limbo, which has never been a formal teaching of the Church. I spoke to multiple priests. I couldn’t baptize my little children before death, so I was concerned. Everyone told me to leave it to God’s mercy. So that is what I have done.

Ten months later I discovered that I was pregnant again. I was happy, but scared. Then I went through what I can only describe as the pregnancy from hell. I would have four days of horrendous vomiting and then three days of debilitating depression and anxiety. It was hyperemesis and PPD together in one pregnancy. Then I went in for the ultrasound to detect the heart-beat. I really dislike those ultrasounds. The doctor came into see me and I knew it wasn’t good. There was no “fetal pole”, but I could be off on my dates. I knew I wasn’t. I chart after all. I went back a week later and all I heard was “blighted ovum”. The baby had died just days after conception, but my body missed the memo. Since I was at the 8 week mark, he said that we could see if my body miscarries naturally or I may need a D & E. I might need the same operation that they use in abortions. I was devastated. I chose to go home and wait, I had been through this before.

I began to miscarry shortly after, but it was not normal. The bleeding was extremely heavy and pouring out of my body at one point. I was terrified. This was not how things had gone before. I talked to the on-call OB who didn’t quite believe me. I am seasoned in miscarriages and knew something was wrong. Soon she told me to go to the ER, where they scooped me up like the actual emergency that I was. I can tell you that when the ER responds to you like you are an actual emergency it is very disconcerting. I had large clots and my body was incapable of having the miscarriage. I needed an emergency D & E. I remember they put me out cruciform on the table before I went under and I just thought of the Cross.

I also went through periods of post-partum after my miscarriages and my body never fully recovered from my last miscarriage. My hormone levels tanked and have never returned to normal, which is why I have to have my husband give me a shot of hormones four times a month in order to help my body function normally.

This is what my husband and I went through in the first four years of marriage. It had not dawned on us that we may only have one child. I didn’t want my daughter to be alone. My husband and I both have siblings and an only child was never our plan. Our plan. Isn’t that the great lesson? Even when we are Catholics who do not, I repeat, do not use contraception in any form, how many children we have is not up to us.

Catholics need to work on charity in this department. I am very happy for those families who are able to have tons of children. What a blessing! The reality is that God’s will is not the same for every family. For whatever reason, he may will only one child for us and we are under no obligation to justify that to others. The illusion of control in this department is rampant in our contraception laden culture, but it is also rampant within the Church. The open to life crowd forgets that being open to life also means being open to death. We have three beautiful children in Heaven precisely because we were open to life. We opened ourselves, albeit unknowingly, to the mystery of the Cross.

God wants me to be able to serve my family. Pregnancy and miscarriage has decimated my body. I am now on hormones for medical reasons and on a low dose of Prozac because of what I went through. Hormones are closely linked to neuro-chemistry. While a good many Catholics ignore Church teaching to their detriment, not all families do. My husband and I work hard to live as faithful Catholics and only having one child doesn’t change that fact. People who use NFP do so for a whole host of reasons, many of which are medical. NFP cannot be used in a gravely sinful manner, and at most, it could result in venial sin. Let’s try to remember that the families sitting in the pews next to us have a story that we know nothing about. I am the woman who still cries when she sees a new baby.

God has blessed us with one beautiful, intelligent, and amazing daughter. It comes with it’s own Cross. My daughter is extremely social and loves people. It makes me ache constantly that she is alone, but God has his reasons. God sanctifies each of us differently and watching her times of loneliness is a time to unite our suffering to the loneliness of the Cross. The next time you are at Mass, pray for the smaller families and the bigger families. We have no idea what is going on with them and the Crosses that Christ has asked of them. I am deeply grateful that I am the mother of my only child. She is the greatest blessing that my husband and I have been given. God bless you in this Easter season.

The Shock and Awe of Becoming a Contributor for Catholic Exchange

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I learned a few lessons yesterday as I began my contributor relationship with Catholic Exchange. The story of how I ended up writing periodically for them is one that I can only look back at in wonder. A few weeks before I was asked by the editor to become a contributor, I had emailed a good friend of mine and told him that my writing goal for this year was to get a piece published on Catholic Exchange. I had seen on their editorial page that they take submissions, as do a whole host of other Catholic websites, some of which I am waiting to complete my Master’s before I write more scholarly submissions. My friend thought it was a great idea and wished me success. I had set the thought aside as I began to prepare for final essays and exams for the January semester. Then something completely unexpected happened.

I read Catholic Exchange articles throughout my week because their focus is on deepening the Catholic faith of their readers and inviting others to investigate the greatness that is Christ and His Church. I happened to see an article that stopped me in my tracks in that the title was a theological error. For some reason I felt compelled to write a theological response on my own blog and share it on their Facebook page and in the comments section.  I didn’t expect a response and had written it so that readers could see a theological argument in response and study the subject more. I will not re-hash my post here, as it was quickly corrected by the author and editor. What happened next greatly humbled and amazed me. The editor contacted me to tell me a correction had been made and asked if I wanted to become a contributor for the website. I was stunned and over-joyed. This was a site I read regularly that I felt truly represented the Catholic mission to the world in its refusal to fall strictly into polemics. They are striving to help us grow in holiness. After a few years in polemics, I had found their website and had seen what type of writer I truly wanted to be.

I was exhausted from the battles that Catholics wage with one another constantly over every minute detail. I see that parts of social media are tearing the Mystical Body down rather than lifting it up. I contemplated this last night after having survived my first day as a contributor for a major Catholic site that reaches hundreds of thousands of people.

Honestly, I was stunned by the level of support and sharing my piece generated, as well as the other amazing authors at Catholic Exchange. I saw that thousands of people were reading and sharing the articles from yesterday. It made me wonder, do sites focused on polemics generate this kind of buzz? I looked over a few of the major Catholic political sites and saw very quickly that they are not nearly as popular. While this was an anecdotal and small pool of research, I could see that people are thirsting for the authentic Catholic Christian message. Yes, polemics are interesting. I still sit back and watch the arguments on my friends’ social media pages, but arguments don’t quench that thirst. Messages of hope, reflections on Scripture, the lives of the saints, and deepening of theological understanding feeds the soul in social media and in real life. The world is noisy and places like Catholic Exchange invite their readers into the silence of God. That is precisely why they are so popular. They are feeding Christ’s sheep.

My experience of joining them as a contributor was one of deep humility and shock. I struggle with pride, intellectual pride, and God completely stunned me with this direction in my writing. I quickly discovered that this is one of His tools for teaching me humility. I was nervous when my post was published. I was worried that I had made unintentional errors, and I actually did. They were quickly fixed. As a natural debater, I learned that I don’t have to respond to every comment posted. In fact, I really didn’t want to engage in debate since that is not the goal of my writing these days. I merely want to share the beauty of the Catholic faith with others and let God do the work. So while I responded to a few comments on my article yesterday, I realized very quickly that I didn’t need to and that is how I will keep things in the future unless any major questions arise. I want people to offer fraternal correction when necessary and I will happily contact the editor to make sure my mistakes are fixed, but I want my writing to help with silence and peace, not turn into fights over minutiae. So this natural born debater learned to trust and let things go. If the editor has approved my piece, then it is fine. Both of us are orthodox and never intend to lead people astray.

To write for a large website is to offer yourself up to the readership. It is to trust that God is using the talent he has given me to serve Him, not myself. I write because I want people to deepen their love of the Blessed Trinity. I am also human and I have to fight pride daily. There is a real danger of pride in being a writer. We can lose sight of the mission, but I see now that God is using this to teach me humility. I don’t like every writer that I read, so it is impossible for everyone to like my writing all of the time. People will tell me such and that is a great reminder to be humble and serve God, not myself. It is also deeply humbling to see so many people using this website to grow in their Catholic faith.

As a writer and a student, I tend to walk forward in fear and trembling. This is what we all should be doing, but I am amazed at what God has done with me in the past few months, especially as I go further into my Master’s program. I am learning so much and it makes me want to share it with others. I am growing in wonder and amazement as I delve deeper into the truths of Christ and His Church. I will even be teaching high school theology online this coming fall for Kolbe Academy Home School.

Yes, my primary vocation is wife and mother. That is the greatest gift, but I am thankful that he is using me precisely in my vocation. I can teach and write from home. He is fulfilling that deep intellectual yearning that He gave me, but also keeping me firmly planted at home with my daughter and husband. What a tremendous gift! The last few years have been hard. I suffered three miscarriages, post-partum depression, and a long period of refinement in the furnace of suffering, as one of my Confessors called it. The grief was painful and I was constantly reminded of Christ on the Cross. Through all of that suffering Christ has conformed me more closely to Himself that I may serve Him in charity, truth, and humility. So here I am in awe of what He is doing in my life. I hope you have a great weekend and a blessed Easter season.

My First Piece as a Contributor for Catholic Exchange: A Few Lessons from the Life of St. Bernadette

I am very happy to announce that I was asked to become a contributor for the popular Catholic website, Catholic Exchange. My first piece has been published today. You can start reading it here and then jump over to Catholic Exchange to finish and let me know what you think.  God bless!

A Few Lessons from the Life of St. Bernadette

The story of Saint Bernadette Soubirous is well known throughout the Church because of her remarkable connection to the Marian apparitions at Lourdes. St. Bernadette was a young, simple, and impoverished girl who was chosen by Our Lord and Our Lady to witness a miracle. Today marks the anniversary of her death. She died on April 16, 1879. She died devoting her personal suffering to Christ and with these words on her lips: “Blessed Mary, Mother of God, pray for me! A poor sinner, a poor sinner—“. She was canonized in 1933. Her rather recent canonization means that she is a great saint to learn from in our current era. There are many things to learn from the life of this great saint, but today we will focus on these examples: child-like wonder and obedience, trust, and perseverance.

Child-like Wonder and Obedience

St. Bernadette grew up in humble circumstances marred by poverty. In fact, at the time the apparitions of Our Lady began, she and her family dwelt in a one room basement residence that had previously been a jail. She spent much of her life suffering from chronic breathing problems and was never physically strong. She had great faith, however, and worked hard to receive her first Holy Communion when many did not take her desires seriously. Her dedication to her faith would prove invaluable when the extraordinary events that began on February 11, 1858 changed her life forever….finish reading over at Catholic Exchange.

Guest Post from My Dad: Mom on the Mend

Today I want to share a post by my father, Mike Rapkoch, from his Ricochet site. My grandmother became critically ill about 2 weeks ago. My husband and I rushed out on the drive from Virginia to my home-state of Montana, expecting the worst. Instead, my grandmother recovered and amazed us all.  My father was her care-taker during this episode and these are his words:

As time goes by I am ever more convinced that O’Henry’s reflection in the Gift of the Magi, that life is “made up of sobs, sniffles and smiles, with sniffles predominating,” is the truest description of human experience ever put to paper. I’ve spent the last two weeks at my mother’s side as she’s struggled–and I mean struggled–through a mysterious illness that has caused huge weight loss, brought on nearly constant nausea and vomiting, and triggered other very unpleasant gastrointestinal manifestations. The condition developed slowly over several weeks and had her doctors completely stumped. When she was ordered into the hospital things looked grave.

Since I’m not one to panic my initial reaction to the news was, odd as it may sound, to smile. Mom’s a tough old bird and has battled her way through a bout with cancer and a couple of major operations with, if not ease, at least with grace. I figured she’d be back on her feet toot sweet so there was no point in worrying too much.

Then mom called and the tone of her voice instantly wiped my smile away. She sounded so sick. She sounded so frightened. She sounded so desperate. Although she insisted I stay home, I was in the car and on the way in ten minutes. For all her protests of “you don’t need to drive up,” there was no escaping the plea in her voice “please come help me.” If she wasn’t sobbing I was.

I arrived in two hours, breaking one or two traffic laws along the way. Concerns over personal safety drain away quickly when someone you love needs you.

As I walked into mom’s hospital room I saw, for the first time in my life, true fear in her eyes. With a mock scold she said “I knew you’d come even though I told you not to.” Her words plunged like a dagger into my heart. “I knew you’d come” meant “I knew you loved me.” It was childlike and I cannot think about it without sniffling a bit. I was here now and could hold her hand as she faced down an agony she could not understand.

When I was a kid I had to be confined to bed for a year with Rheumatic Fever. It was a lonely life. But mom was there. On Christmas Eve, as she tucked me in, I saw deep love and pain in her eyes over my suffering. I can still see that look clearly in my memories eye. It was a look I hoped to one day repay. This was the day.

As the week went on mom began to tank. Wednesday evening she began to vomit uncontrollably. I was helpless. I pulled out my Rosary and began, in a daze, to run the beads though my fingers as I recited the prayers and sobbed. Every time mom began to gag and wretch I stopped, went over and put my hand on her shoulder, and said the only thing that made any sense: “I love you mom.”

Then, as the spasms of nausea took total control of her she looked at me and said “I’m so sick.” Like a child she was stating the obvious because the obvious was all that made sense. I am sure that the look on my face matched that loving look she gave to me all those years ago. The look of a broken heart which can do nothing else but join the suffering in love.

For a few brief moments the vomiting subsided and mom’s eyes closed at the brief and merciful reprieve. I went back to my Rosary. My brother Dan arrived and, as is the way of the Rosary, simply joined in. There’s no fire in the Rosary. It is a deeply meditative prayer. It is a prayer of thanksgiving and it is a prayer of desperation. As Dan and I reached the end my sobs turned into sniffles as we prayed the last prayer, the Hail Holy Queen, with its heart rending words to the Blessed Mother “to thee do we cry, to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.” It is the perfect match to O’Henry’s insight. We sniffle, we sob, and we find comfort in the words “turn then O most gracious advocate thine eyes of mercy toward us and after this our exile show unto us the Blessed Fruit of thy Womb, Jesus.” Then we can smile–even and especially– in the face of pain.

More than that we can rest, like a child in his mother’s arms.

I count it a miracle that, as our Rosary came to a close, mom fell asleep, perhaps from the anti-nausea drugs, but certainly with the comfort of knowing her Heavenly Mother, and her two worldly sons, were with her. I went to mom’s house at about 2AM, and fell asleep, even though I was sure that I’d never see her again this side of heaven.

Of course I was wrong about that. I got back to the hospital about 8AM, and found mom quietly sleeping. The nurse informed me that the nausea had subsided around 3 and that mom had slept through the night.

A few minutes later my brother Geof walked in. Mom woke up, smiled, said hello, and sat up to talk. I was flabbergasted. A few days later they sent mom home, many pounds lighter and still weak and unsteady, but on her way back to her old ornery self (just kidding if you ever read this mom). She’ll be with Home Health for a few weeks. The therapists have assured her that if she does what they tell her she’ll be back in the swing of things in short order. And I’ll be heading home in a few days. That’s going to mean some sniffles but, as hard as it is to accept after such a scare, I have to let mom get back to her own life. She’s only 87 after all. Besides, by the time I’m ready to leave mom will be pushing me out the door because, well, she’ll need a rest from me.

I don’t really know how to close this. I’ll just have to give it a rest. Thanks again for all the prayers. Peace.

Forgiving Until It Hurts and then Some….

Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”  Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.       St. Matthew 18:21-22

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Forgiveness is one of the greatest struggles that we human beings face during our sojourn here on earth. In our struggle with sin and the weakness that sin has created within us, it can feel nearly impossible to forgive. Many people deny that forgiveness is their responsibility and they even ignore the above Scripture passage in order to hold on to some long held grudge or hurt. I understand as I have been there, but that doesn’t make it right. In fact, resentment keeps us from growing and maturing in the spiritual life.

Everything that God instructed within Scripture is meant to lead to our ultimate good. Christ teaches us what we need to be fully human and those things that will unite us to the mysteries of His life and the Blessed Trinity. All that He asks of us is in order that we may be conformed (be like) the love found within the Blessed Trinity and that includes forgiveness. Not just any forgiveness, but forgiveness until it hurts, even until we don’t think that we can give anymore. It is actually marriage and motherhood that is teaching me this indispensable truth.

I fail daily in my vocation of wife and mother. I don’t serve as I should. I can become selfish or irritable. I can lose my temper with my daughter and then hurt deeply because of my failures. This is where I am learning that I must forgive quickly and teach my daughter to do the same. I have developed a habit of seeking my daughter’s forgiveness when I fail her. She is only 3 years old, but I want her to hear me say that “I am sorry” and for her to respond with “I forgive you”. Like the virtues, forgiveness is something that can be fostered at a young age and with practice. In learning to forgive early, my daughter will not grow up holding onto resentments and I will learn to overcome some things that I was never taught. She can also teach me to forgive my husband quickly, which I must confess is still a work in progress.

The love I have for my daughter is teaching me a lot about the love the Father has for each one of us. My daughter is also learning to seek forgiveness when she falls short. She may not be able to fully reason in events that have transpired, but she can learn contrition now. My anger at a situation regarding my daughter’s behavior is extremely short-lived. It is always tinged with pain, because I dislike having to punish her, but I love her and she has to learn. This is the same as God’s love for us. He hurts (not as humans hurt, but we understand through language) when we sin, but knows that we will be healed if we repent and come back to him. Contemplate that for a moment.

Perhaps this way of looking at sin will help people to understand why Christ instituted the Sacrament of Penance (also known as Reconciliation or Confession). First, God responds to us in our humanity that is through our body and soul reality. Confession is the uniting of a physical movement: confessing sins, contrition, and satisfaction (penance) with God’s pouring out of sanctifying grace which leads to perfect contrition (Thomistic theology) and the forgiveness of sins.

When my daughter or I sin in our relationship what do we do? We return to one another in sorrow and physically through words voice our need for forgiveness and the other returns the forgiveness.  There is no relationship on earth that allows me to internalize in my seeking of forgiveness. I must return to the person and ask in order to receive forgiveness. Now they may have already forgiven me, but the movement is needed. God requires us to go to the Confessional because we have a tendency to deceive ourselves and we need to verbally state what we have done in the presence of the Church’s representative who is also standing in as the person of Christ. This is how the Church has done it from the beginning, although, it was much more public in the Early Church. There was no “me and Jesus” in the Early Church because the hierarchical nature of the Church and the sacramental reality of the Church opposes such thinking. Not to mention that after rising from the dead, Jesus gave the Apostles (the first Bishops) the power to forgive sins by breathing life into them.

What should be clear at this point is that forgiveness is critical in our journey to holiness. In fact, forgiveness is one of the ways God strengthens and sanctifies each one of us. It is something that we must foster from a young age and encourage in others. If that is not a possibility, then as adults we need to work to establish a habit of forgiveness. If we struggle then we need to ask God for the grace and strength to forgive as he does. Think about it this way, Christ forgave those who crucified Him WHILE he was dying in agony on the Cross. That is our call. Mediate on Christ’s first words to the Apostles when He appeared in the Upper Room after His Resurrection: “Peace be with you.” He returned in forgiving love, even when they abandoned Him.  That is how we must forgive time and time again.  I hope you are having a very blessed Easter season.